Gulfstream G650 nears first flight

 - October 30, 2009, 8:07 AM

Under a bright blue sky on September 29, Gulfstream Aerospace rolled out the first wide-cabin G650 under the power of its two Rolls-Royce BR725 engines before a crowd of about 7,000 people at the company’s Savannah, Ga. headquarters. The $64.5 million (2009 $) twinjet–dubbed T1, for test aircraft one–is currently undergoing ground tests and is scheduled to fly by year-end. The clean-sheet aircraft was publicly unveiled in March last year and is expected to obtain FAA certification in late 2011, with deliveries to follow in 2012.

Speaking on the day of the rollout, Gulfstream president Joe Lombardo said, “We’ve all been looking forward to this day since we officially announced the G650 program last year.” He added that “the G650 is a statement about Gulfstream,” referring to the company’s willingness to invest in new aircraft programs during troubling economic times.

Jay Johnson, president and CEO of Gulfstream parent General Dynamics, called the G650 “the new Gulfstream standard,” surpassing the G550 as the manufacturer’s flagship product. Lombardo said the company currently has orders for more than 200 G650s, which he acknowledged is beyond initial internal sales predictions.

Before the rollout, T1 had started “slow” taxi tests, which are now being followed by higher-speed tests. Once all the systems are cleared, the first flight is to be conducted by Gulfstream test pilots Jake Howard and Tom Horne and flight engineer Bill Osborne.

Meanwhile, the second G650 airframe is undergoing static testing, and T2, the
second of five flight-test aircraft, is nearing the end of the production line. The five test aircraft are scheduled to fly about 1,800 hours over the next 18 to 20 months. Lombardo said the Mach 0.925 jet is to be taken up to, but not over, Mach 1 during the test campaign. The current speed king of civil aircraft–the Mach 0.92 Cessna Citation X–is said to have surpassed Mach 1.0 during its flight testing in the mid-1990s, although Cessna never officially confirmed that the twinjet went supersonic during that testing.

Compared with the G550, the G650 is longer, has a three-inch-taller and 14-inch-wider cabin, offers 28 percent more volume, has a larger main entry door and 16-percent-larger cabin windows. Its wings are swept six degrees more than the G550’s. The wide-cabin G650 will displace the G550 as the flagship product at Gulfstream, although both models will coexist within the lineup.

The 99,600-pound mtow G650 is designed to have a balanced field length of less than 6,000 feet at mtow and a 3,000-foot landing distance at max landing weight. Performance targets include 7,000-nm range at Mach 0.85 and 5,000 nm at Mach 0.90. Maximum ceiling is to be 51,000 feet. With the G650, Gulfstream intends to regain its title as “biggest, farthest, fastest” among dedicated business jets.

The cockpit is to be equipped with PlaneView II avionics–using the Honeywell Primus Epic II as its platform–and fly-by-wire flight controls. The G650’s flight displays are to be identical in size to those in the G350/450/500/550 and to incorporate the same drop-down-style menus and graphical flight-planning tools as the current models. They will also feature synthetic-vision technology and RNP approach capability.

Manufacturing Efficiencies

Besides its quest for a “bigger, faster, farther” aircraft, Gulfstream also wanted the G650 to represent a model for more efficient production and easy maintainability. Lombardo said the effort began with computerized 3-D modeling to reduce the parts count and improve maintainability well before any metal was ever cut. The result was a test aircraft that had no fit problems during its build, he claimed.

“We normally have problems with the wing-to-body attachments on new aircraft models because the tolerances are so tight,” Lombardo said. “But we were pleasantly surprised during the G650’s wing mating since all the holes lined up perfectly.”

Regarding manufacturing efficiencies, Lombardo cited metal bonding as one of the key technology drivers to reduce production time and costs. “With bonded panels,” he noted, “we limit the amount of fasteners used. This speeds up the production process.” Other production-line technologies include automated riveting machines.