As the investigation into the cause of the fatal crash of a Gulfstream G650 during an April test flight continues, company officials acknowledge there will likely be some certification delays for the large cabin jet, but they have confidence that the inquiry will conclude soon enough to allow it to complete the FAA certification program this year.
Speaking during a first-quarter earnings call, Jay Johnson, CEO of parent company General Dynamics, responded to pointed analyst questions regarding the status of the ultra-long range jet, stating, “I said we would deliver approximately 12 green G650s this year, and I’m still in a place in the year where I believe we can do that.”Gulfstream voluntarily suspended flight operations for the four remaining G650s pending the results of the NTSB investigation, causing a delay in the program’s rigid testing timeline. “Obviously, the type certification and the FAA restart with the NTSB authorization is elemental to that,” said Johnson. “But at this point, I’m quite comfortable suggesting that we can carry out the plan.”
The company announced it is carrying on with all other engineering, ground test and production activities, including starting construction on the 13th G650 airframe. According to the OEM, the program’s fatigue test article–the sixth airframe–is in the structural test hangar where it will spend the next three years demonstrating the structural integrity and durability of the airframe. During that time, it will experience conditions that will simulate the accumulated wear and tear of 100,000 flying hours during more than 42,000 flights–the equivalent of two-and-a-half life cycles.
At the time of the accident, which destroyed S/N 6002 while it was attempting a takeoff from Roswell International Air Center Airport in New Mexico, killing its two test pilots and two flight engineers, the flight test program had completed more than 1,570 hours out of its 2,200-hour certification requirements. According to the NTSB, the large-cabin twinjet was performing a takeoff with simulated engine failure when its right wing scraped the runway, causing the airplane to hit the ground its landing gear to collapse. It then caught fire as it skidded several thousand feet before coming to rest near the airport’s control tower.
Immediately after the accident, the airframer pledged its cooperation with the investigators. “We’re working with the NTSB [on the investigation],” said Pres Henne, Gulfstream’s senior vice president of programs, engineering and test, who spoke at a press conference at Ebace in Geneva last month. “They are responsible for announcing the causal factors. We’re working with the FAA on when we can safely resume flight testing. The accident occurred during a difficult test. This was an engine-out, low-speed, high-angle takeoff test. In the near-term, we’ll increase speeds a bit to get some margin,” he said. Among the test items that have been completed in the program are airspeed calibration, flutter, powerplant and auxiliary power unit operations, flyover noise and water ingestion, according to the manufacturer, which has said it will consult with the FAA and NTSB before resuming certification flight tests.
Plans for the aircraft’s pilot training program are also progressing. The full-motion flight simulator that is expected to received FAA level-D certification was delivered to FlightSafety’s Savannah, Ga., facility. Training for the G650 will reportedly take between 13 and 24 days depending on the pilot’s familiarity with other Gulfstream types.