In September, Gulfstream saw its hard work and investment in new products pay off in the certification of not one but two business jets: the remarkable, clean-sheet Gulfstream G650 and the nearly equally remarkable Gulfstream G280 supermidsize model. I had the privilege of being the first non-company or government pilot to fly the G280.
As many of you probably know, the G280 is a derivative model, at least technically, of the G200, an airplane that started life as the IAI Galaxy. When Gulfstream purchased that program in 2001 (the smaller IAI Astra, on which the Galaxy was partially based, also was part of the deal), it brought into the Gulfstream family two airplanes that fit desirable lower-cost niches, into which Gulfstream wished to expand its lineup. In retrospect, Gulfstream likely planned all along to make major changes to both models over time to bring them up to its exacting standards.
The Galaxy, a super-midsize model that never got much market traction, is a very good airplane to begin with, with good speed and decent range. Although adoptions in aviation sometimes are successful, the Galaxy/G200 was very different from other Gulfstreams — all of which, through 2001, had had a common genealogy. Therefore, Gulfstream’s decision to launch an updated super-midsize version of the G200 that was more in keeping with the company’s DNA came as little surprise.
That proposed model, launched at NBAA 2008 in Orlando, Florida, was the Gulfstream G250, though that designation subsequently was changed because, as it turned out, the number 250 has unfavorable connotations in the Mandarin language. When it launched the then-G250, goals for the airplane — in terms of performance, comfort and features — were ambitious, but the company hit or exceeded (by a lot, in some cases) all of them while creating a bizjet that appeals to customers who want it all: a transatlantic bizjet with excellent operating economies and a great cabin.
Although technically the G280 is not a clean-sheet airplane, for all intents and purposes it might as well be. It retains the fuselage cross-section of the Galaxy, but not much else. The interior cabin itself is longer by 17 inches; there are two additional windows per side; and the tail, you might notice, is the traditional Gulfstream T-tail, replacing the somewhat-dated-looking cruciform tail on the Galaxy. (By the way, the stabilizer on the 280 is fully trimmable, another big-jet feature.)
The result is an airplane that looks for the first time very much like a Gulfstream instead of the adopted model the G200 is. I saw the 280 on the ramp sitting next to a G450, and it looked, somewhat surprisingly, smaller than its large-cabin sibling. But it also looked very elegant, I daresay — even more so than the regal G450 or another even more upscale Gulfstream, a G550, sitting a couple of spots farther down. The G280 is a gorgeous airplane, and one whose proportions are perfectly balanced, not at all elongated, as some larger-body bizjets can appear.
Early on, Gulfstream knew the airplane would need a new wing, so it designed one that borrowed heavily upon the design of the wing of its current and former flagships, the world-class, ultra-long-range Gulfstream G550 and the most capable production airplane in the world, the Gulfstream G650. As on those airplanes, the wing of the 280 features no leading-edge devices, though it does boast blended winglets. It’s surprising that in the new millennium the ideal of the very largest and most capable models would become not a complex wing with a plethora of high lift devices but a clean and simple structure with a stunningly precise and efficient aerodynamic shape. These new wings answer the difficult question, “How do you get very long range, very high cruise speeds and solid runway numbers on an airplane with a large cabin?” Take a look at the Gulfstream wing. It has answered that question. The result is an airplane, at least in the case of the G280, that gets tremendous range — 3,600 nautical miles — at a cruise speed of Mach .80 while providing exceptional passenger comfort as well.
It’s hard to believe, too, that the predecessor G200 used pneumatic boots for ice protection. The 280, as you can see, dispenses with those antique (by midsize bizjet standards) systems and uses heated-wing leading-edge devices instead. The wing, too, is a thing of beauty, longer than the G200 by several feet, more swept at 31 degrees, and with a simple Fowler-style flap on the trailing edge. If you ever have the chance to gaze upon the wings of the G650 and G280, you’ll see hints that their development was going on side by side.