The recession has caused the cancellation of some business aircraft programs and the slowdown in the development of others. Gulfstream, on the other hand, made the strategic decision to stay on course in its development of its new super-midsize G250 and long-range, large-cabin G650. It did this even though last year it had to reduce its production rates (primarily its midsize aircraft line), cut costs and lay off some 1,200 employees (about 10 percent of its workforce and primarily workers involved in production).
“One thing we didn’t do is reduce our planned investment in research and development,” said Joe Lombardo, president of Gulfstream and executive vice president of aerospace for parent company General Dynamics. “This was a very important decision for us. If we had reduced R&D, then the programs that we’d already announced and anything else we were working on would have been pushed out to the right. We’re not prepared to do that; it’s not our business model at all.”
Both new models are clearly important to Gulfstream’s product line, but while the G650 is the up-and-coming heir apparent to the crown, the G250 is more a tried-and-true royal cousin with an extreme makeover.
“The G650 opens up a whole new market segment for Gulfstream,” Lombardo told AIN. “Even before the program started, it was getting attention. It will fly farther, faster and with a larger cabin than anything close to it.”
“The 650 will be the new flagship in the Gulfstream fleet. It is setting a new standard for us. It’s a big deal. It’s really a niche above the G550,” added Pres Henne, Gulfstream’s senior vice president of programs.
Regarding the G250, Henne said, “It is clearly identified as the replacement for the G200. The objective for the airplane is to be the best in class for super midsize. I think we’ve done it. It has an absolutely fabulous cabin for super midsize. It has a 3,400-nautical-mile range at Mach 0.8. Balanced field length will be less than 5,000 feet at max gross weight. The model launched the Fusion cockpit for Rockwell Collins. With new engines and a new wing, it is a dramatic upgrade of the G200.”
Lombardo added, “We increased the volume of the G250’s cabin by removing the fuel tank, so now you can walk through the cabin to the baggage compartment. The airplane even looks more like a Gulfstream.”
Orders Roll in for G650
When Gulfstream formally launched the G250 at the October 2008 NBAA Convention in Orlando, that year’s financial storm clouds were already turning from gray to black. “We weren’t sure where the economy was going. There was much uncertainty,” Lombardo said. “After the announcement of the airplane, it did not get a lot of orders, certainly nothing comparable to the 650 when it was announced seven months earlier [on March 13, 2008]. Our position has been not to talk about orders for the G250. Our belief is that, when economies around the world start to recover, there will be more interest for it. Our midsize clients like the airplane, but there haven’t been a lot of orders for it yet.”
Almost exactly one year after the NBAA’08 announcement, outsiders got a quick glimpse of the G250 order book at the rollout of the first G250 at IAI’s facility in Tel Aviv, Israel. IAI builds and assembles the G250, as it does its predecessor G200, which IAI originally certified as the Galaxy. During a press conference just before the Oct. 6, 2009 rollout, an IAI official said that eight G250s had been ordered to date. Gulfstream officials attending the press conference would not confirm this number and continue not to comment on it.
Gulfstream more willingly talks about orders for the G650, which it says stand at more than 200. “The G650 was different because it generated a lot of interest before it was announced,” explained Lombardo. “There was a lot of anecdotal information about orders being circulated outside the company, so we felt we had to talk about them.” Also, Gulfstream’s large-cabin market has held up much better than the mid-cabin market over the last year-and-a-half.
While quite different aircraft in most ways, the two new models do share a few similarities. Perhaps most significant to the development and certification process is the fact that both will obtain original type certificates. As a “clean sheet” design, the G650 obviously has to get an original type certificate (TC), but the G250, although a derivative of the G200, will also get a new TC. With all the changes made to the G250–including a new wing, new cockpit avionics and relocation of a fuselage fuel tank–it just made sense to do this, according to Gulfstream officials.
Obtaining an original TC is not an easy exercise for any aircraft manufacturer. Gulfstream has not obtained an original TC since the GII was certified in 1967, as every Gulfstream model since then, all the way to the current top-of-the-line G550, has been grandfathered onto the GII’s TC. [This does not include the G100 and G200 models acquired from IAI.–Ed.]. So working on two original TCs at the same time is not only a considerable challenge, it’s a first for Gulfstream. Henne said, “There are a lot of people breathing real hard here.”
While both TCs are original, they will be issued by different authorities. The G250 will get its from the Israeli civil aviation authorities, with U.S. and European validations added to it either concurrently or soon thereafter. This is expected in 2011. The G650’s TC, also expected in 2011, should be issued concurrently by the FAA and EASA.
Concurrent type approvals are often the goal of aircraft manufacturers, but rarely achieved. As frequently happens, one or the other authority is not fully satisfied with something–frequently software, paperwork or flight-test items. “We achieved concurrent certification of the G150 on the same day,” Henne said, “and we expect same-day certification for the G250 and G650. We don’t see any reason why we can’t get it.” He explained that the key is to comply with the most stringent certification regulations of whichever authority has them and to expect and plan for complications.
The similarity of the airplanes’ schedules is striking. The G650 publicly rolled out–under its on power, mind you–on September 29 last year at Gulfstream’s Savannah, Georgia headquarters. One week later to the day the G250 rolled out–under its own power–in Tel Aviv. Most new models are towed out for their first public debuts.
About two months after their respective rollouts, both test airplanes made their first flights. The G650 (T1) lifted off Savannah/ Hilton Head International Airport on November 25 and the G250 (S/N 2001) made its maiden flight from Ben Gurion International on December 11. Some six months after these respective first flights, the second test aircraft of both types made their first flights: the G650 (T2) on February 26 this year and the G250 (S/N 2002) on March 30.
The G650 has accumulated more than 100 flight hours, most of that time, logically enough, on the first aircraft. It is exploring the operating envelope, flying up to 0.9 Mach and 48,000 feet and doing initial stalls. “At high speed, there are no surprises,” said Henne. When the airplane went to 0.9 Mach, its chase airplane (No. 501, the first GV), which was providing airspeed calibrations, couldn’t keep up. And Henne told AIN that the test pilots are giving rave reports about the 650’s fly-by-wire system. “They’re having trouble finding a bad landing,” he said.
The G650’s planned maximum operating Mach number (Mmo) is 0.925 Mach. Henne said it “will have to reach 0.99 Mach” to have this Mmo approved. An Mmo of 0.925 is about three knots faster than the Citation X’s 0.92 Mmo and so will make the G650 the fastest civil airplane in operation. (Cessna officials say they have plans in the works to boost the X’s Mmo so it will regain this honor.) The second G650 is due to start temperature trials at the U.S. Air Force environmental test facility at Eglin Air Force Base in May. Five airplanes will be used in the program, which is expected to accumulate about 1,800 flight hours.
The G250 has more than 80 hours, again most of this on the first ship, which was recently in the shop getting final-configuration, instrumented Honeywell engines installed. It has flown to 0.85 Mach and up to 45,000 feet. All G250 flight testing will be done at IAI. Three aircraft will be used in its test program, which will take about 1,300 flight hours. This lower total is partly due to the difference in the ways the Israeli CAA and FAA accept accredited flight test time flown by company pilots. After certification in 2011, the companies plan to send one test airplane to Gulfstream, where it will be used to obtain supplemental type certificates (STCs) for optional equipment.
Although Gulfstream is estimating certification of both models in 2011, the G250 is expected to enter customer service that same year, while the G650 is planned to enter customer service in the second half of 2012.