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.
Revolutionary 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.
Flight controls are a mixed approach on the 280, with fly-by-wire spoilers and rudder, conventional manually powered ailerons with geared tabs for good control feel at any speed, and a hydro-mechanical elevator control with electronic hardover protection. There are several additional flight control failure protections built in, including independent roll control — so the failure of the spoilers or ailerons are not a deal-breaker — and the pilot and copilot can disconnect their controls from each other in case of a control jam.
Performance Plus The key to a winning airplane program these days is creating a product that has value, a quality that is arrived at by looking at the model’s combination of performance, reliability, economy and comfort, among other factors, and deriving some overall number. All of those factors are important, but the key one, it’s fair to say, is performance, for without that ingredient no one will be interested in the airplane to begin with.
The original goal for the G250 was a range of 3,400 nautical miles, but soon after flight testing commenced, it became clear that the airplane was going to do better than that — and it did, soon stretching out to its official figure of 3,600 nm NBAA IFR range with four passengers at its high-speed cruise of Mach .80. You can actually squeeze almost 100 nm more out of the 280 if you pull the power back to Mach .78. Conversely, at the airplane’s high-speed figure of Mach .85 (Mmo), the G280 will travel 3,000 nm, given the same assumptions as above. This is likely the speed that many crews will use when traveling in North America or within Western Europe. If you’ve got the speed, use it.
The result of this kind of range with speed is an airplane that will reliably do both New York to London and London to New York against 85 percent probability winds — the only airplane in its class, according to Gulfstream, that can make that claim. From New York, the 280 can fly nonstop to Lima, Peru, or Quito, Ecuador, plus most of Western Europe and Scandinavia, as well as Anchorage, Alaska. From London, more attractive city pairs open up, including the highly attractive destination of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, as well as all of North Africa, the entire Middle East and much of the northeast United States. As an example of just what the airplane can do, Gulfstream flew the G280 with two crew and five passengers from Paris to New York in 7 hours and 40 minutes. The trip included a direct climb to 43,000 feet, which took just 22 minutes.
Despite its high cruise speeds, the G280 is a good performer on the runway, too, even when it gets hot outside. At maximum takeoff weight, its balanced field length is just 4,750 feet, meaning it can use many airports the airlines can’t dream of accessing. At maximum landing weight, the G280 requires just 3,050 feet to get down and stopped, something I experienced firsthand in a dramatic fashion on my test flight.
With better climb and takeoff performance than its predecessor, the G280 boasts impressive hot and high capabilities too. With four passengers on a 77-degree day, it can take off from a 5,000-foot-high runway using just over 5,000 feet of runway and fly for 2,500 nm thereafter. In other words, from Colorado, you can take off on a warm day with a good load of happy passengers and their luggage and fly anywhere in the United States with ease, something not many bizjets can claim.
Efficiency and Power Part of the magic behind the G280’s remarkable performance are its new engines, Honeywell HTF7250G turbofans, upgraded variants of the engines that power the Challenger 300 and will be in the Embraer Legacy 450 and 500 emerging midsize jets. The engines enable the kind of performance Gulfstream is banking on to make the G280 a long-term sales success. The new turbofans, which feature full-authority digital engine control (fadec) and an automatic power reserve that can be relied on in a pinch if more power were to be desperately needed, put out 7,445 pounds of thrust apiece.
Thanks mostly to experience gained on the Bombardier Challenger 300, the Honeywell HT7000-series engines have a million hours of fleet experience and have proved themselves as stars in their thrust range. The HTF7000-series engines are powerful, efficient, quiet and sophisticated. They help the G280 come in a remarkable 16dB below Stage 4 noise requirements, and the NOx emissions are 25 percent below the latest and most stringent standards, according to Gulfstream.
The Honeywell engines were key to the G280 hitting its performance goals, because not only are they powerful, for high speeds in cruise, but they are efficient as well. Thanks to those engines, as well as the wing design, the G280 burns 7 percent to 12 percent less fuel than older-generation jets. That allows the G280 to use less jet-A per mile, making it both a longer-legged and a faster airplane, two traits that often are mutually exclusive.
Fusion Adoption The avionics suite in the G280 is the PlaneView280 flight deck, which is a development of the Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion flight deck. As with avionics suites from other manufacturers in its other models, Gulfstream has taken Fusion and made it its own, using a combination of symbology, display arrangement, cursor control device and other hardware design to make the avionics solution feel familiar to pilots of other late-model Gulfstream jets.
Pilots control the cursor and function selections though the use of side-mounted cursor control devices that resemble side-mounted control sticks.
In the G280 the layout gives the crew three 15-inch displays. The center display can be windowed in a number of ways, and because the screens are so large, even when the approach chart, for instance, is on half the display, it still is large enough that you can read the chart easily without leaning forward or squinting.
The avionics allow several capabilities that older Pro Line packages, such as that in the G200, don’t have. These include approach charts, satellite weather and, notably, WAAS for LPV approaches, something that’s increasingly a must for business aircraft, which often fly to airports that might not have runways with ILS approaches but often have LPV approaches with low minimums.
The package also includes autothrottles, which are nicely integrated into avionics displays and the automatic flight control system. The autothrottles make the pilots’ jobs easier, safer and more predictable, and they also offer a level of precision that’s hard or impossible to achieve while controlling the power manually.
In addition to the autothrottles, there are a number of safety features that you don’t find on airplanes in this class, including autobraking and an emergency auto-descent mode, as well.
There are a couple of optional safety features that are rare on airplanes in this class, including an available head-up display (HUD) for superior airplane control, and second-generation enhanced vision system (EVSII) for reduced approach minimums, down to 100 feet AGL in some instances.
Cabin Class When Gulfstream decided to build a better super-midsize model, it committed itself to creating a best-in-class cabin, and it did just that. The cabin can be configured for eight, nine or 10 passengers, and there are multiple layouts within some of those seating options, several of them with a new side-facing divan.
With a 6-foot, 1-inch ceiling height, 23-inch wide aisle and nearly 7 feet at the shoulders, the cabin is huge by midsize standards. Speaking of the center walkway: In the day of flat-floor cabins, having an aisle at all seems outmoded. In this case, however, it’s not really an aisle at all. Instead of the walkway being recessed to offer better center headroom, Gulfstream has put raised platforms under the seating sections in order to seat passengers at the widest part of the cabin. By using highly articulated seats (which are comfortable too), passengers can slide their seats outboard toward the aisle to give themselves and their row mates even more space. It’s a remarkably spacious cabin.
The first thing you notice stepping into the G280 cabin is the quality of the light. Not only are there more windows (an extra two per side), but the windows also look even larger than they are, thanks to a brilliantly designed new window reveal that seems to add a few inches to the size of the glass while adding an unmistakable touch of style.
Gulfstream also introduced a new passenger-first approach known as “cabin essential” design, a philosophy intended to give the cabin facilities the same kind of redundancy as the main aircraft systems have.
One big new feature is the rear baggage area, which, with the removal of the fuselage fuel tank, is huge, with a capacity of 120 cubic feet of bags. It’s also now accessible in flight, something that passengers love.
The galley is much larger, too, as is the lavatory, both of which will be much appreciated on those seven-hour legs that many owners will be buying the airplane to fly.
Wringing It Out I traveled up to Dallas Love (KDAL) in the Cirrus to meet the folks from Gulfstream and to learn about and fly the G280. As with the G200, the G280 will be built in Israel by Gulfstream partner IAI, then flown “green” to the United States, where it will get paint and interior at one of Gulfstream’s completion centers.
I had the chance to tour Gulfstream’s Dallas facility and see the many ways that Gulfstream makes the interior of the G280 very light, very strong and very stylish.
When it came time to fly the G280, I hopped into the left seat, with Gulfstream flight test pilots Bob Wilson in the right seat and Brian Dickerson in the jumpseat. The startup checklist is extensive and takes some time to complete, especially with a pilot new to the airplane along for the trip. But the Plane-View suite makes it go faster, speeding up the process by doing such things as automatically displaying the page for the system being checked.
Startup of the Honeywell engines was, as in all fadec turbofans I’ve flown, a matter of hitting the “start” button and then monitoring the start sequence. If there were to be a hot or hung start (an unlikely occurrence), the system would handle the shutdown procedure automatically.
Taxiing is done with a tiller. Like many jets taxied with these side-mounted steering handles, the G280 feels a little twitchy on the ground until you learn to make exceedingly small inputs. After a few minutes, I felt right at home.
On the takeoff roll, I used the tiller to steer the airplane until 80 knots, which happens very quickly, at which point I transitioned to the rudder pedals for directional control before, shortly afterward, moving both hands to the yoke passing V1. Before I could blink, we were at rotation. I commanded gear up, and away we went, rocketing all the way up to, well, 2,500 feet, as we were smack-dab in the middle of Dallas’ Class Bravo airspace. I hand-flew, getting the feel for the 280. It, I was not surprised, flies like a Gulfstream — solid, precise and satisfying.
Once we were farther west, the controller cleared us up to the flight levels, though we suffered through numerous level-offs along the way. Once climbing, the G280 performed just as Gulfstream claimed it would. Autothrottles engaged, and, climbing directly to FL430, the airplane seemed to have plenty of power in reserve.
The cockpit of the 280 is a very nice place to do business. The seats are remarkably comfortable; there’s a multi-zone environmental control, so it’s always comfortable up front; the controls are large and easy to use; and even the sunshades are best in class.
At FL430, we were indicating Mach .85, the 280’s Mmo, and the numbers were all as Gulfstream said they would be.
I’d say fuel management was easy, but after you have the airplane fueled back at the airport, there’s no actual managing to be done. It’s all completely automatic.
We descended back down to the mid-teens, asked for and got a block of airspace from 13,000 to 17,000 feet, and did some airwork, including steep turns, stalls to the stick pusher in various configurations, and some simulated single-engine work. It was all a delight, with no surprises, other than the realization that it would be really hard to get into trouble in this airplane in many of the usual boneheaded ways. We even did a couple of low-speed protection maneuvers, setting the airplane up to have an autopilot stall, only to see the autothrottles come to the rescue before anything bad could happen.
After airwork we headed over to Abilene and did some landings. For those of you who haven’t landed a relatively large jet like the G280, it’s a very different kind of experience than landing a light airplane, in part because the jet is traveling over the ground very fast — Vref in the G280 is typically in the neighborhood of 120 knots — the landing gear is fairly tall, and the sight picture looks very different from what you’d expect. That all said, landing the G280 was very straightforward from a midsize jet perspective — I won’t say it was “easy,” because it’s a specialized skill, but there was nothing unexpected in the process. At Abilene we did a couple of normal landings and then following a V1 cut (where the power for one engine is reduced to simulate an engine failure immediately after you’ve committed to the takeoff).
With one engine pulled back, the airplane offers some automatic asymmetrical thrust compensation help, but it really didn’t feel bad without it. The 280 climbed very well out of Abilene despite the hot day, and I brought it around for a single-engine pattern and approach to a full stop.
After that we did something that was the highlight of my flight, perhaps of many years of flights: a rejected takeoff with autobraking. With the autobraking set at the maximum value, we lined up, and I advanced the throttles. At around 80 knots my copilot announced “abort, abort,” and I pulled the throttle levers all the way back. Immediately the autobrakes took control, braking the airplane very aggressively and in an incredibly straight line — much better, no doubt, than I would have done. The whole maneuver, including accelerating, pulling the power back and letting the autobrakes do their thing took about 2,000 feet total. Wow.
We taxied back, got our clearance and made our way back to Love, where a healthy crosswind was blowing. Once we arrived, for once in my life I saved my best landing of the day for last and for an airplane I hope to fly again soon.
Finally a Gulfstream Now that Gulfstream has earned certification for the G280, it has on its hands the leading midsize business jet — and a beautiful one at that. It is, however, much more than that: It is an airplane that combines great range; a remarkable cabin; numerous innovative safety features, including autobraking and autothrottles; a cutting-edge avionics suite; available HUD and EVS; and Gulfstream’s famous aftermarket support. In short, Gulfstream has, for all its hard work, spirit of innovation, commitment to safety and vision, created a super-midsize airplane that is in every way a Gulfstream. Not a bad result.