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Business Air News Bulletin
Business Air News Bulletin
The monthly news publication for aviation professionals.
Gulfstream: Highlights from 50 years since GII certification
At the same time as the Beatles released their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, so the Gulfstream Aerospace Corp, then named Grumman Aircraft Engineering, relocated its civil aircraft production to Georgia in the United States.
Read this story in our November 2017 printed issue.

At the same time as the Beatles released their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, so the Gulfstream Aerospace Corp, then named Grumman Aircraft Engineering, relocated its civil aircraft production to Georgia in the United States. This Savannah facility housed production and facilitated flight testing of its first business jet, the GII, which received type certification 50 years ago on 19 October, 1967.

Since that time there have been many advances in performance and design, and its reliability and iconic look, particularly the signature oval windows, have earned it a loyal following. Today the company has two brand new models about to enter service – the G500 and G600. And these modern descendants of the GII are on the verge of receiving their own type certification.

The GII was the first large-cabin, purpose-built business aircraft powered by jet engines. It entered service on 6 January, 1968, and was the first business jet to fly non-stop from the US to Europe. It may have adopted the familiar windows of the twin turboprop GI, but it was the first Gulfstream aircraft to feature the T-tail design, swept-back wings and engines mounted on the aft fuselage.

Among the large fleet of jets and turboprops at Lanseria International airport-based Swift Flite is an early Gulfstream GIIB which was flown by South Africa-based pilot Captain Larry Beamish on behalf of the company at the Grand Rand Airshow in 2016.

Beamish loved the aircraft, which he says is powerful, graceful and gentle to fly. “The roar of the Rolls Royce Spey engines is from a dying breed of yesteryear and actually gave me goosebumps,” he says. “And the amount of Jet A1 that these beauties guzzle is somewhat eye opening, but awesome at the same time.”

Once cleared from the display holding area into the box he flew a very gentle, slow show with 10 degrees of flap and no faster than 180 knots to allow the Gulfstream as much stage time possible. The display consisted of two figure of eight turns followed by a 360 with the gear cycling out and retracting on the second pass. He ended by applying full thrust and climbing away at maximum rate which gave an initial rate of climb in the region of 15,000 fpm. “Of course we had to close the throttles and extend the speed brakes a few seconds later so as not to bust our assigned altitude,” he adds. And even landing the aircraft at Lanseria was a pleasure because the aircraft is stable and responsive.

Swift Flite captain Willem van Schalkwyk joined the South African Airforce in 2010 as a reservist pilot for 111 Squadron, a small group of pilots bringing Gulfstream IIs, one Gulfstream III and a few HS125 aircraft to the reserve fleet of the airforce. His favourite is the Gulfstream: “The performance outshines anything else I have flown before, including the Impala, an Italian Siai Marchetti 326 trainer and light attack fighter, made under licence by Atlas in South Africa.” And their robust construction and triple system redundancy ensured that pilots were seldom unable to dispatch on the next mission.

Getting airborne off Waterkloof, on the outskirts of Pretoria and at 5,000ft elevation, at maximum all-up weight of 69,700lbs, only becomes a challenge above 25°C, and landing distance also places very little limitation on the aircraft. It was challenging to fly in to Ysterplaat Airforce Base in Cape Town with its 5,200ft runway with the GII still equipped with metal brakes, but the GIIB and GIII with carbon brakes removed that worry.

The vertical speed indicator can be pinned at 2,000ft/min all the way up to flight level 400 while maintaining Mach 0.75, and there is no time to waste pulling back on the thrust levers to reign in the two thirsty Rolls-Royce Spey engines from pushing the sleek airframe beyond the Mach 0.85 maximum operating limit. But regardless of the weight of the aircraft, van Schalkwyk's time from takeoff to levelling off at cruise altitude never exceeds 20 minutes.

The old Gulfstream jet cockpit is spacious and comfortable but the layout and positioning of selectors and switches differs radically from aircraft to aircraft, so it is not uncommon to spend two to three minutes looking for a particular switch the first time you fly a new serial number aircraft. “Every simulator flight instructor will remind you of a phrase,” he says. “If you have seen one Gulfstream cockpit, you have seen one Gulfstream cockpit.”

Overall, from exotic and exclusive island destinations to volatile military airfields, the type never left him feeling outclassed or incapable.

Since 1968 the manufacturer has brought a family of other models to the market, and EBAN readers have shared their thoughts on Gulfstream operations in our region.

Saudi Arabia-based private aviation company NasJet com-menced operations in 1999 with the lease of two GIVs. Thanks to a process of constant expansion today it has more than 10 Gulfstream aircraft in its fleet of 24 fixed wing business jets, which have been managed over the course of the past 18 years. “We are proud to say that NasJet is the largest Gulfstream operator in the Middle East,” says CCO Yosef F Hafiz. The popularity of the brand in this region stems not only from the reliability of the aircraft and its larger, oval-shaped passenger windows, but also its range. A positive point for the Middle East community is the ability to fly direct from Riyadh, Dubai or Jeddah to London non-stop with ease, and while NasJet flies to many of the main VIP destinations around the world, the more common requests are for London, Dubai, Paris, Nice, Teterboro and local destinations around the Middle East.

“I think that Gulfstream is one of the first to market the advanced cockpit features that we see today, such as in the G450 with the PlaneView system and the HUD that used to be seen in military jets, which enables you to see through fog and lower visibility when you are landing,” Hafiz says. “They were one of the first to bring this technology to market. The fact that people could use a phone within the aircraft and connect it to a special router was also pioneering.”

NasJet operates a G650, a GV, three G450s, four GIVSPs and a GIV classic. The G650s can fly for up to 14 hours non-stop, and as a consequence of the long range capabilities it has seen an improvement of 15 to 20 minutes flight time between Jeddah and London, and between the US and Saudi Arabia a reduced flight time of almost one hour.

Hafiz feels the technology in the G650 has made all the difference; NasJet's GV also has long range capabilities and can fly up to 13 hours non-stop. Hafiz says the newer products like the G450s, G550s and G650s have all drastically changed the image of Gulfstream and the G500 and G600 will bring further product enhancements. “We are seeing a drastic improvement in the performance, the capabilities, the connectivity and technology on board and in the design of the interiors. Gulfstream continues, in our opinion, to be the market leader in private aviation,” he says.

Gulfstream's strong presence in the Middle East means spare parts are readily available. NasJet has used various Gulfstream maintenance facilities, particularly at the headquarters in Savannah and at London Luton, and the experience has always been positive. “In our opinion, as an operator, they probably have the best customer service out there,” he says. And since NasJet now has considerable expertise in Gulfstream products it intends to expand its product range going forward.

Elit'Avia has operated Gulfstreams under its Slovenian AOC since the company was founded more than a decade ago. It currently has three under management: a G450 and two G650s. The G450 is popular with charter clients thanks to its combination of cabin size and long-range performance, and is widely used in operations across Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Africa. The G650s are used for private operations, the first under the company's Maltese AOC and the second is managed with an Isle of Man registry. Director of sales and marketing Menelaos “Manny” Kapranos says: “The G650 is one of the top business aircraft in service today. With a 7,000 nm range and an exceptionally large cabin, purpose-built for private aircraft clients, our customers greatly appreciate its perfect merger of performance and luxury. With the addition of our San Marino AOC earlier this year we hope to attract more Gulfstream clients by offering a wide range of registration options tailored to the operational needs of each client.”

Warsaw, Poland-based AMC Aviation purchased its G280 in April 2016 brand new from the factory, since when it has flown more than 750 hours. Deputy flight operations director and chief pilot Sebastian Mozdzierz has flown many types of aircraft, the Fokker 50, ATR, Airbus 320, ACJ319, CJs, Hawker 900 and a Falcon 900LX, but considers the Gulfstream to be one of the most sophisticated.

“Everything is pretty simple,” he says. “Compared to the Falcon, for example, which is more or less the same size, pilots have much easier and quicker access to information. On a Falcon, if you have a problem with the electrics or hydraulics, you often have to really concentrate to find the information and find out what is going on. But with the G280 you have really quick access. You know exactly where the problem is and how to solve it.”

And it's a paperless cockpit, unlike in the Airbus where he says the quick reference handbook procedure is still a paper procedure; they can put it on iPads but that is just for additional information.

Last month AMC opened a new hangar in Warsaw that now houses a G650. On comparing the two aircraft he finds that although the G650 has a much bigger cabin, for a pilot the two are absolutely the same. But the big plus with the G280 is its power to weight ratio; it is lighter and therefore feels more powerful than the G650. “We can put maximum fuel and maximum passengers straight in to flight level 410, and ten or 15 minutes later we can be at 430,” he says. This is especially useful during the summer season in Europe where there is a lot of unavoidable turbulence at a lower level, but which the G280 can quickly get above.

When flying an Airbus Mozdzierz has had to fight the weather all the time. Of course, a bigger cabin provides greater potential comfort for the passengers, but from a safety point of view he finds the clever construction of Gulfstream aircraft makes them some of the safest in the world.

The engines are the same family as on a Challenger 350, but the design of the Gulfstream fuselage is robust and problem-free: “The only thing we have had to change is the batteries, but this is normal. In three years we have only had one AOG and this was due to a battery going below a certain voltage. I can't recall any other aircraft from before that had as few failures as this one.”

The only disadvantage for him is the lack of dedicated lavatory for the pilot; he has to walk through the cabin. While this is quite normal for a midsize jet, it is not always the case in bigger jets.

Negotiating Swiss mountains and valleys

Alpine Sky Jets is a family aviation services company based in Switzerland and operates the VIP North Terminal at Berne airport as an FBO. Following the sale of its Citation Excel it now exclusively manages a G280 that was delivered in August 2017 and overflown to Europe in the first week of September. It has been registered in Austria under the AOC of partner company Alpine Flightservice. “The purchase price, performance, operational costs and cabin space made it an attractive proposition for the owner and for management,” says CEO Matteo Mätzler-Gribi. “It perfectly matched the company's operational and financial requirements.”

ASJ is now building a jet hangar at the terminal. It is currently going through approval procedures and should be finished during autumn 2018. In addition to housing the G280 it will be possible to hangar at least one additional aircraft up to Falcon 900 size on a long-term basis, eventually providing daily hangar parking for other aircraft visiting Berne airport as well.

Implementation of G280 operations means ASJ will expand its service to mid and long range destinations, allowing it to build up a new customer segment outside of Europe. Good runway performance opens up commercial flights to short field airports like Lugano, Cannes or Bolzano.

The aerodynamically efficient G550

In 2003 Gulfstream replaced the GV with the large cabin, ultra-long range G550. The first flight took place on 18 July, 2002, and it entered service on 17 September the following year. It has a range of 6,750 nm at Mach 0.80, advanced PlaneView and Enhanced Vision System cockpit systems, more cabin volume, additional windows and better fuel efficiency and takeoff performance. In the first five years of service it set 40 city-pair records and its production run has just exceeded 550 aircraft.

The G550 development team won the 2003 Collier Trophy, and it was, and still is, popular as a special missions aircraft for VIP transport, airborne early warning and atmospheric research. Indeed, as a High Altitude and Long Range Research Aircraft (HALO) it supports Germany's atmospheric research and Earth observation programme.

SaxonAir operated up to midsize jets until it took over the operation of its G550 in 2016. That was a fairly big leap for the company, and required the acquisition of a worldwide AOC, but the aircraft has proved itself in terms of reliability and performance.

Group commercial director Chris Mace finds the G550 to be a good all-round aircraft with great range, economical operating costs and good runway performance. All this in an aircraft that can accommodate up to 14 passengers and with seats that can be converted to beds. While the G650 has greater range, it loses on runway performance and has greater operating costs, and the G450 can't do trips such as London to LA non-stop.

Most impressive for Mace is the reliability of the aircraft: “For us, coming in to Gulfstream products, reliability stands out. Its dispatch reliability when compared to the rest of our fleet has been the best by far.” SaxonAir now has clients that will only fly in Gulfstreams and they are specifically asking for the aircraft. The company says customers know the products and they know that they can be relied on.

The flagship G650/ER is a one-stop round-the- world aircraft

The ultra-large cabin, ultra-long range G650 entered service on 20 December, 2012. For Gulfstream it established a new market segment and represented the largest cabin in its class with the best cabin environment. With long range at fast speed of 7,000 nm at Mach 0.85, it can also cover shorter distances at Mach 0.925. It has advanced technologies, improved fuel economy and is environmentally efficient. Indeed comparisons to the G550 show 28 per cent more volume, a 14-inch wider cabin and 1,500 nm more range at Mach 0.85.

The first delivery of a G650ER came in November 2014. It has a range of 7,500 nm at Mach 0.85 and can reach the same maximum speed as the G650. In fact the two types are virtually identical except for a 4,000 lb increase in fuel capacity, maximum ramp weight and maximum takeoff weight for the ER.

“The wing design of the G650 is really amazing,” says Captain JC Coetzee, Gulfstream 650 pilot for Dubai-headquartered Empire Aviation Group, which operates mostly to north west Europe and occasionally to the US and the Far East. “It achieves the same performance as competitive aircraft without augmentation devices such as slats.” The older types may have better reliability as teething problems have been resolved, but his passengers like the G650 with its spacious cabin, big windows and low cabin altitude. Long flights are a pleasure and they arrive refreshed and ready for business in an executive aircraft that has all the comforts of home.

For colleague Captain Shawn Abdollayhi, also a Gulstream 650 pilot, the stand-out features are speed and comfort. The G650's maximum cruise speed of Mach 0.925 makes it the fastest commercial aircraft in service at the moment and is combined with excellent performance and range. “Cabin pressurisation is phenomenal too,” he says. “At the maximum cruising altitude of 51,000 feet, the cabin altitude will be less than 4,000 feet.”

Within its European management fleet TAG Aviation UK currently has six G650s with another arriving imminently, and five other Gulfstreams alongside ten Globals and ten 7Xs. President, aircraft management and charter Graham Williamson believes that in the last two or three years the G650 has been largely unopposed in its category, but the Global 7000 should introduce a little competition.

With all new aircraft there can be teething problems, as was the case with a couple of the first G650 entries into service, but he says he received responsive, rapid and high end customer service from Gulfstream.

“We had an AOG with a very important client a few weeks ago, who was departing the UK on his way to Hawaii via Los Angeles,” Williamson says. “The aircraft had a repeat technical problem but Gulfstream took care of everything, including getting the client to Hawaii. Things do go wrong, but the key is how people react.”

Yet to come: the G500 and G600

Gulfstream announced the G500 and G600 family of aircraft on 14 October, 2014, and anticipates certification of the G500 in 2018 with entry into service also next year. The G600 certification will follow with entry into service later that year. The biggest differentiators with these models are the combination of best-in-class speed, safety and cabin comfort. A high-speed cruise of Mach 0.90 will save operators up to an hour per flight versus flying at Mach 0.80.

The aircraft are powered by the new Pratt & Whitney Canada PW800 series engines, which deliver fuel efficiency, fewer emissions and less engine noise. The combination of the new engine and the Gulfstream-designed wing are said to make for industry-leading fuel efficiency for both models.

Along with Active Control Sidesticks, the first in business aviation, the G500 and G600 will include 10 touchscreens and incorporate a third-generation Gulfstream Enhanced Vision System, Synthetic Vision-Primary Flight Display and Head-Up Display II as part of the Symmetry Flight Deck. Both models offer a multitude of layouts to create distinct living areas that can include office and conferencing space as well as areas for resting and entertaining. The G600 features the longest cabin in its class and can be configured for up to four living areas.

“The G500 is replacing the G450 and the G600 is replacing the G550,” says NasJet's Hafiz. “That is where we are seeing a drastic improvement in fuel burn, in design and in technology onboard the aircraft. We are also seeing a big improvement in reliability. As Gulfstream produces better aircraft, they become more reliable, in our experience.”

Influencing the process of jet design

In line with Gulfstream's customer-centred approach whereby it receives input through regular meetings of its Customer Advisory Board and Advanced Technology Customer Advisory team, Hafiz visited the Savannah design centre about a year ago to view a mock-up of the G500 and G600 cabins. He recalls how Gulfstream encouraged and invited customer feedback on the functionality of features such as the monitors, the lighting system or a particular drawer or door, and its engineers were on hand to implement the design changes on the spot. The company brought pilots in to fly its cockpit mock-up and asked for people to sit in full replicas of the cabin, making subtle design changes as per suggestions.

“I think they are always in constant evolution to try and improve on their engine performance,” says Hafiz. “They have selected a new engine manufacturer, Pratt & Whitney, for the G500 and G600, which is a departure from Rolls-Royce. But they are continuing to evolve in making the engines more efficient.”

Felix Bureš, ABS Jets' G550 chief pilot, believes Gulfstream has always wanted to lead the market, rather than follow it, and so he feels the company has its own unique approach to product design. Future planning, he suggests, is driven by present high-speed travel going hand in hand with reducing costs and environmental impacts. This means more efficient engines, aerodynamics and fly-by-wire technologies.

Thanks to its parent company General Dynamics, Gulfstream enjoys continued and consistent investment in research and devel-opment. Engineering innovations cover advances in computer capabilities, design and analysis software, improved aerodynamics and improved engine performance, and it is always up-to-date on safety protocols, environmental issues and airport regulations.

Gulfstream continues to invest actively in research and development so as to be prepared to meet the industry's long-term sustainability goals. The G280, G650 and G650ER aircraft, for example, were designed to decrease their environmental impact through establishing a balance of noise, emissions and fuel consumption while maintaining the speed, range, comfort and reliability required of the best business jets in the world. They offer best-in-class fuel efficiency and are well below the limits for noise and emissions.

Mozdzierz has flown AMC's G280 from St Petersburg to Tokyo, and from Moscow to Bangkok, with one stop, as well as a couple of transatlantic flights from Warsaw to Carolina in the US. “These are the same sort of trips that the Falcon 50 will do, but the Falcon 50 has three engines so a much greater fuel burn. Our aircraft burns 750 lbs per engine per hour on a cruise, which is really low,” he says.

Additional technology that enhances the environmental performance of its aircraft includes the Data Concentration Network (DCN), an advanced data delivery infrastructure that centralises the onboard data system, reducing wires and cables, which saves weight and decreases power consumption and maintainability requirements. Structural optimisation, systems refinements, aerodynamic improvements, engine technology advances and flight deck capabilities all influence the environmental efficiency of the aircraft, and the technology in the flight deck is a major contributor.

Gulfstream is also using renewable fuels on its demonstration, flight-test and Gulfstream Field and Airborne Support Team aircraft. Its agreement with its fuel supplier, World Fuel Services, requires it to purchase up to 300,000 gallons of fuel annually. Each gallon of renewable fuel used achieves a more than 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, relative to petroleum-based jet fuel, on a lifecycle basis. This fuel blend also emits less sulphur and fewer fine particle pollutants than Jet-A. The company says it is committed to maintaining and using its renewable-fuel supply and helping that industry grow.

What do Gulfstream customers want next?

If not supersonic flight, then Bureš would like to see something related to flight crew training, along the lines of the Airbus A320 family where one type rating fits all. But in the meantime he feels Gulfstream could combine the stunning performance of the G650 with the G500/G600 series' innovative flight deck.

Hafiz, too, mentions a supersonic jet and believes that Gulfstream will be the first to bring one to market after development is completed on the G500 and G600. But he acknowledges that the company would keep such work low key, since special projects are worked on at a separate engineering centre in Savannah. He notes that there are some independent companies working on supersonic models that have strong investors behind them, but having visited Gulfstream's facility he thinks this could be its next big development. Indeed, he says it is what the community suspects: “As customers we feel and know that the next step for them would be to build a supersonic business jet, with the range to be able to make it from the Middle East to London and be able to cross from London into the States. Probably producing a six or seven-hour range aircraft.”

Hafiz adds that Gulfstream also has an excellent reputation for bringing new aircraft to market on time, and usually before the target date that is announced when the new model is initially introduced. This is an area where Gulfstream's competitors may be severely lacking. As for Gulfstream itself, it says the biggest challenge any business aviation company faces is to develop new products and services that customers need. To ensure success in any market conditions, it must have products and services that are high quality, reliable and innovative.

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