Pieces for first G650 coming together at Savannah factory
What’s the latest on the timeline for production of the first G650, and
then getting into next year with the first flight?
We are preparing to start the initial phases of assembly for the first G650. We have done some of the early panel assembly that will ultimately make up the fuselage. It will start out rather slowly because there is an awful lot of integration that’s going to take place with some of the components coming from our suppliers. So not only will the structural work take some time, but also the logistics of getting everything here in Savannah, putting the airplane together and getting prepared for first flight in the second half of next year will take time. We’re still holding to that plan, and we still look good on it. There has been a lot of good activity at our suppliers. They’re going to be going through the same certification hurdles as we are–fundamentally, the airframe is going to be going through a lot of certification–but certification is still planned for 2011 with deliveries starting in 2012.
How comfortable are you with the certification schedule given that this is a completely new airplane on a new type certificate?
We’re still very comfortable with it. I’m always a little bit careful when I look at programs because I’ve been involved in so many new ones. Knowing all the things we have to do in a major certification like this, there are so many different steps involved, not only flying the various flight-test airplanes but also the structural testing that has to take place, as well as the certification not only here but also
the certifications at our suppliers, with engine and wings and so forth. You know there are going to be issues; that’s just inevitable. But we have a pretty good track record of managing our way through them and I think we are going to be able to do the same thing here.
So we’re still very comfortable with the time line. We’re in the early stages, but so far we’ve seen some good progress. We’ve got an integrated test facility, for example, where we’re going to be doing some avionics testing.
One thing we did when we decided to construct that facility was to actually build the nose in the new building. We were able to test the fit characteristics, and the parts characteristics, for the nose well ahead of time as a result of trying to build the first integrated test facility. That’s new for us to do that. It was very successful, and we were very pleased with the results.
Our intent was to design and build this airplane with 50 percent fewer parts, and a lot more machined parts, and it went together beautifully. It fit like a glove. Our Catia 5 model methodology for design was first tested out rather effectively on this nose section, which typically is a very complex build process. So some really good things are going on right now.
As far as what you’re planning as you move into eventual production in 2012, can you take me through what needs to occur?
You can imagine with a timeline for an aircraft like this there are things that stretch way to the left prior to the assembly ever starting, and that includes the build of the engines from Rolls-Royce–which by the way is going very well; we’ve already test run the engine–and the wing supplier at Spirit [AeroStructures]. They have their fixturing up and they’ve received the first series of upper and lower panels for the wing. So the early build process is already well along before we even start seeing these components arrive here at Gulfstream. We have suppliers putting together the empennage, the wing, the engine, the avionics–many of the components that are going to go on this airplane are coming from outside of Savannah. So as we look at their performance and their progress it’s been pretty good so far.
How many employees are you adding specifically for the G650 program?
We’ve added a number of people, primarily in the up-front process with engineering. As a matter of fact, our research and development offices house over a thousand people, and many of them have been working on this particular model. So that gives you a sense of the research and development effort. As we move into production the number will go from a handful of people to over 300 people within a year-and-a-half or so.
Has the order intake for the G650 leveled off since the initial flurry of activity when you launched the airplane last spring?
The order intake has been very good. We can’t give you numbers–I know
you know that–but we have had a very strong demand for the airplane, and
that’s about as best as I can say it. We’ve been very pleased with the acceptance
of the airplane.
Given the economy and high fuel prices, are you seeing a drop off in orders for other Gulfstream models?
If you were to compare last year–which was a record year for us; there really is no comparison–it has slowed down relative to what we did last year. I think we’re seeing a leveling off. It’s not a dramatic slowdown. It’s not something that we’re overly concerned about. The emerging markets certainly have helped to buffer any slowdown in some of the other more traditional areas where the market’s been strong for us. I think we’re doing okay, but relatively speaking it has slowed down for us a bit.