We Fly: Gulfstream G650
To avoid the need to negotiate with Center controllers for our strange flight plan, up to 45,000 feet and back down in stages, with maneuvering and slow flight in the mid-teens, Tom flight-planned us out to a military operations area off the coast, which we’d get to share with a bunch of fighter jets that day playing in and among the clouds like we were. None of that stuff was in the FMS, but Tom played the system like a virtuoso and we were soon on our way out over the Atlantic.
Our journey up to Flight Level 450 took just over 20 minutes at an airspeed of 300 knots and between 1,500 and 2,000 fpm. To get the feel of the fly-by-wire controls, I hand-flew the airplane on the departure and up through the mid-20s, using the HUD for primary reference and letting the autothrottles handle the thrust.
At 45,000 feet we leveled out and were able to see the airplane’s maximum forward speed of Mach .925. At that same altitude and Mach .90, we were burning a total of 1,500 pounds of fuel per hour, a remarkably low figure but one that is specifically crucial in the airplane achieving the kind of range figures it boasts.
At 45,000 feet hand-flying the airplane is easy. There’s plenty of control feel, and maneuvering feels very natural. I commented to Tom that if I hadn’t known it was a fly-by-wire airplane I never would have guessed. Gulfstream nailed the control feel.
We headed down to 15,000 feet at .90, so we got there fast and proceeded to do a number of maneuvers designed to demonstrate the smart envelope protection built into the system. With the airplane in landing configuration, for instance, you can hold the stick back and the plane will descend, never getting too slow but staying very slow, down to around 90 knots. Yikes. We also did an alpha limit demonstration, where we climbed at the maximum angle of attack, the envelope protection never once letting us get too slow, while allowing us to climb at maximum effort.
Heading back to KSAV we used another cool Gulfstream G650 safety device, its sophisticated 3-D weather radar, to pick our way between the buildups back to the base. As we listened on frequency, we heard a number of airliners calling the missed approach on the ILS and heading for an alternate. Instead we asked for the LPV to Runway 19 and got vectors toward the final and were cleared for the approach.
On final and on glidepath, the autothrottles kept us right on Vref, and using the HUD, I kept the needles centered. At our decision altitude (DA), I could see the runway lights through the enhanced vision system on the HUD — Tom said he saw the runway from there, and I believed him. The rain was lashing the windshield, and I was ready to go missed, but acquiring the runway environment at the normal DA allowed us to descend to 100 feet on the approach, so I kept it coming down, ready to go missed at any second. We needed every inch. I saw the runway, flipped up the HUD and landed. There is no automatic braking, but the big and powerful anti-skid brakes coupled with the powerful reversers got us stopped in no time, water flying up and in back of us as we made the first turnoff, less than 3,000 feet from touchdown, in a blinding rainstorm while airliners diverted elsewhere. I’m still smiling.
And that, my friends, is what the Gulfstream magic is all about.
A while later, after shutting down and grabbing a few last pictures, we regrouped in the briefing room. A wry smile on his face, Tom again asked what was the best airplane I’d flown. I smiled back. “I just got out of it,” I said.
With the G650, Gulfstream has created an airplane that is at once instantly recognizable as a Gulfstream while being a brand-new airplane with best-in-class performance, comfort, safety features and support.
At a cost of $65 million, the Gulfstream G650 is competitive within its market, even more so because that price represents an all-up cost. You get paint, interior, EVS, synthetic vision, cabin management and much, much more, all of which are very substantial extra charges on some airplanes.
Gulfstream has orders for about 200 G650s, and at this writing it has delivered around 20 of them. My airplane, the factory demonstrator, was lucky serial number 13. If you were to order an airplane today, you’d get it in 2017. Having had the chance to both fly it and fly in it, I can only say this: It would totally be worth the wait.