Gulfstream: Feelin' So Fly

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It's been just over a year since Gulfstream delivered their first G650 business jet. That first delivery took place on December 20th, 2012, and since that time, close to 50 of Gulfstream's flagship aircraft have been delivered.  With 12 different floor plans to choose from, the G650 is billed as the ultimate business jet, combining range, speed and comfort into its 2013 ticket price of $64.5 million.

Slow and Tragic Start

From the time the G650 project began until its release to market, nearly 7 years passed. The internal company project began in May, 2005 and was publicly unveiled in March, 2008. I was one of the crowd of 7,000 or so employees, contractors and business partners there at the launch, which was impressive as well as extraordinary as the launch was webcast, which I believe was an aviation firstt I was in Savannah at the time taking delivery on a G550 for Global Jet in Luxembourg, and a paperwork delay got me an invitation to the launch!

The G650 was first flown on November 25th, 2009, and, despite an extremely short maiden voyage - a mere 12 minute flight, Gulfstream expected certification in 2011, with a 2012 target for entry into service.

That schedule never happened.

In April, 2011, S/N 6002, one of the seven G650s being used in the test program, crashed on takeoff from Roswell International Air Center in New Mexico. All four people on board - two pilots and two flight test engineers, were killed in the crash. The crew, had been testing engine stalls at take-off. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that Gulfstream had a takeoff safety speed (V2) that was too low, which caused an uncommanded roll, which, in turn, made the right wingtip to touch the runway, sparking the flame that caused the fire and the ultimate crash. It took a year and a half for the NTSB to investigate and deliver their report, in October, 2012.

Certification and Retrofitting

Production of the new aircraft, however, was well underway in Gulfstream's plants. By the end of 2011 there were already a dozen green aircraft built, hangaring around, awaiting approval from the Federal Aviation Authority and it's European counterpart, EASA. When that approval finally came through, in November, 2012 from the FAA, 30 aircraft needed to undergo retrofitting to comply with the certification. By June, 2013, Phebe Novakovic, the CEO of Gulfstream's parent company General Dynamics, said the production/completion "disequilibrium" had been solved.

Demand and Visibility

Customers were also waiting, with 200 of them having slapped down $5 million deposits "within hours of the announcement," according to Scott Neal, senior vice president, Worldwide Sales and Marketing, Gulfstream. With help from the Far East Movement, an LA-based hip hop group, the G650 became a product young people had seen and started talking about even before it came into service. Their song "Like a G6" topped the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and iTunes in October, 2010, and featured a shot of the G650 at the end of the music video.

The majority of the first 47 G650s were delivered to US customers. Companies like Wynn Resorts, Disney and Starbucks, to name just three, were on the delivery list -- but there were international buyers who got their G650s in 2013 too, like a father and son in Egypt who received their G650s three days apart from each other in November.

Today, if you want a new G650, it will probably take 3 years before you'll get it in your hands.

Appreciation

There is a great deal of buzz around the G650 in the resale market. In September, 2013, a G650 owned by the wife of Formula One's Bernie Ecclestone, was sold for $72 million - just a few short weeks after it had been delivered. That sale made the Ecclestone empire an easy $6-10 million profit. Since then, a 2nd G650 has hit the resale market, this time with a $70 million price tag. That sale, between a US owner and Japanese consortium proves the resale market on this aircraft is hot, and the G650 is a property that owners are willing to pay a premium. There are currently a handful of G650's for sale with prices undisclosed except for serious buyers. A search on pre-owned G650s also returns at least one delivery slot.

Speed Records

Since conception, Gulfstream knew the G650 was going to be fast. In February, 2011, in a test flight, G650 S/N 6004 left Burbank, California with 10 people on board, arriving in Savannah, Georgia a short 3 hours and 29 minutes later. Since then, it has collected many city-pair speed records -- including shattering a 25-year-old Savannah-Paris record that had been previously held by a Gulfstream GIV.  The G650 beat that record by over an hour, taking 7 hours and 12 minutes to complete the flight. The average speed on those trips is Mach .90. The city-pair speed records are verified by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA).

The city-pairing records, in addition to adding even more polish to the brand, demonstrate the real-world capabilities of the G650. Other city-pair speed records include Nice, France to São Paulo, Brazil in 11 hours 10 minutes and Las Vegas to Madrid, Spain in 9 hours 15 minutes. The G650 breaking these records is a Gulfstream demonstrator which went into service in January, 2013 and has been part of Gulfstream's worldwide marketing campaign - having visited over 75 cities in its first 6 months of operations. The G650 holds currently holds over 30 city-pair speed records.

Range

The G650 isn't just fast, it's got range too. In July, 2013, the G650 demonstrator took off westboud from San Diego, California and 3 fuel stops and 41 hours and 7 minutes later, touched down in back in San Diego once more. This record-breaking circumnavigation of the earth saw stops in Guam, Dubai and Cape Verde for a cumulative refueling time of 1.5 hours. 

Cabin Comfort

For the passengers, the cabin is spacious and includes supersized versions of Gulfstream's signature oval windows. These windows are the largest available in the business jet market and make the long, wide and tall cabin feel even bigger. And, to make flights to far away destinations even more worthwhile, the G650 has the lowest cabin altitude of any business jet – 4,850 feet(1,478 m) at the maximum cruise altitude of 51,000 feet (15,545 m) – to help reduce fatigue on long-range flights.

Feelin' So Fly

A reference to the lyrics from "Like a G6", "feelin' so fly" is a reference to being happy, and that's how Gulfstream is feeling these days. In their press release marking the 1st anniversary of the G650 being in service, Larry Flynn, Gulfstream's president, called the G650 a "game changer".

“The G650 has proven to be a game-changer, not only for Gulfstream, but for business aviation overall,” said Flynn. “Customers continue to tell us how impressed they are with the aircraft, which sets a new world standard for performance, range, speed, safety and comfort.”