Everybody's been somewhere and done something. But Israel Aerospace Industries chief test pilot Ronen Shapira has been a few more places and done a few more things than most of us.
The 58-year-old former Israeli Air Force pilot completed his military training in 1974 and six years later was flying an F-15 in the 1982 Arab-Israeli war. Twenty-six years later, with a certificate attesting to graduation from the rigorous National Test Pilot School in Mojave, Calif., nearly 11,000 flight hours in his logbook and ratings in 56 different aircraft, he is the chief test pilot at Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) at Ben Gurion International Airport.
These days, Shapira is finding the airplanes he flies considerably more luxurious than the F-15, though perhaps not as much fun.
Most recently he was at the controls part of the time for the ferry flight of the Gulfstream G250 from Israel to the U.S., where it is on display at the static aircraft display as part of this year's NBAA Convention. Shapira has been involved in the G250 project since before the first flight, along with Gulfstream chief test pilot John O'Meara and teams from Savannah and Tel Aviv.
The G250 is the successor of the G200. Actually, it goes a bit further back to when it was called the Galaxy, a super-midsize business jet built by IAI and marketed by Galaxy Aerospace. General Dynamics bought Galaxy Aerospace in 2001 and a little rebranding turned the Galaxy into the Gulfstream G200. The G250 is scheduled for certification next year.
The G250 on display at DeKalb Peachtree Airport is one of the flight test aircraft. Shapira and fellow IAI pilots Rafi Palter and Dov Davidor ferried it to Atlanta via Shannon, Ireland, and Bangor, Maine and Savannah, stopping at Gulfstream's facility there. With 3,400-nm range, the super-midsize business jet made each leg easily, Shapira said.
The flight also marked the G250's first transatlantic and long overwater flight. In fact, Israeli CAA regulations required the model to have a minimum of 50 hours of flight time before it would be approved for long overwater flights. "The airplane had 49 hours when we took off from Tel Aviv," Shapira told AIN, "but the authorities agreed to accept our first hour over the Mediterranean as fulfilling the 50-hour requirement."
The only thing out of the ordinary during the journey, he said, was a go-around request at Bangor for the purpose of an avionics test. Was it difficult? Not so much.
"The only thing we did was push the go-around button," Shapira said From that point, the autopilot and autothrottle kicked in and the pilots didn't have to touch the controls again until just before touchdown, he explained. But Shapira is being a bit disingenuous. He didn't mention that the procedure in Bangor was complicated by heavy rain and winds at 20 knots, gusting to almost 30, coming 30 degrees to the left of the runway.
Asked what he likes best about the G250, he laughed and said, "There's a lot of like in this airplane."
Among the "lot of like" is the flight deck design, which he said borrowed liberally from the G550. And there's the fly-by-wire rudder, which automatically compensates for the off-center thrust if an engine goes out. The brake-by-wire is also pretty nifty, as is the cabin management system that can be controlled by downloading a Gulfstream app to an iPod or iPhone.
But Atlanta isn't exactly vacation time. Shapira and his crew will spend two weeks in flight tests in the U.S. before flying back to Israel. And in January, he will be back in the U.S. for icing tests.
Does he like the job? Silly question. "It's something new every two years," he said.
So when the G250 is certified, what's next? Only the folks in the executive suites know for sure. And they're not talking.