The National Transportation Safety Board has quietly released hundreds of pages of information on the Gulfstream G650 crash on 2 April 2011 in Roswell, New Mexico, although a final report has still not been released. You can browse all of the documents on this page on NTSB's web site. It's a rare glimpse inside a major safety investigation while it is still in progress.
Flightglobal's John Croft filed two in-depth feature articles after reviewing the documents for nearly a week. The first article is posted below, and the second will appear later. More updates also will follow as part of our news coverage from Geneva, Switzerland, the site of next week's EBACE convention.
6002, the second of five flight test aircraft in the programme, scraped
its right wing seconds after becoming airborne. It then ploughed along
the ground, caught fire and eventually became engulfed in flames as it
exited the runway on the right side. The two pilots and two flight test
engineers - who were all killed inside the aircraft by smoke and soot
inhalation and burns - were performing the ninth and final test of the
day as part of Flight 153, a heavy take-off weight field test
performance flight with 10˚ of flaps and the right engine at idle to
determine lift-off and climb-out speeds that would later be used for US
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification runs. The tests are
needed to develop procedures that pilots will follow after engine
failure late in a take-off run.
I received word this morning of the passing of legendary Grumman test pilot Robert "Bob" Smyth. Smyth, 84, was responsible for an extraordinary contribution to civil and military aeronautics and astronautics.
After leaving the US Navy as a pilot in the Grumman F8F Bearcat, Vought F4U Corsair and McDonnell F2H Banshee and de Havilland 112 Venom, Smyth joined Grumman Aircraft Engineering in 1955. Smyth served as assistant project pilot of the Gulfstream I, consulting pilot and astronaut liaison to NASA on the Lunar Excursion Module during the Apollo program.
Smyth was at the controls for the first flights of the Grumman A2F (later the A-6A Intruder) and captured the experience in 2001, writing:
Now, the real purpose of a first flight is to make a successful landing. There is a tremendous level of interest at this point. Hundreds of people have worked long hours for months to reach this point; a large part of the company's future is tied to the airplane's success; and the customer is anxious to see what he's buying. All this creates a great deal of pressure on all concerned. One person has it within his power to bring instant relief to all hands: the lucky guy who gets to make the first flight.
His career spanned an extraordinary variety of aircraft, being the first to fly the Gullfstream II and as chief Grumman test pilot, flew the F-14A for the first time in 1970. Smyth left Grumman and joined Gulfstream Aerospace in 1981 and retired as vice president of flight operations in 1993.
Smyth spoke to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in 2007, discussing his incredible career and his indelible contribution to aerospace in the video above.
Smyth passed away yesterday at his home in Florida and is survived by his wife, Sally, and two sons, Robert and Andy.
The National Transportation Safety Board issued its preliminary summary of events of Saturday's Gulfstream G650 accident in Roswell, New Mexco. Much of the information had already been shared by both the Federal Aviation Administration and the NTSB, though the important fact that the crew was conducting a simulated engine-out takeoff - presumably post-V1 speed - was confirmed by the safety agency that had been floating amongst the aviation community since just after the accident occurred.
On April 2, 2011, about 0934 mountain daylight time, a Gulfstream GVI (G650) airplane, N652GD, was
substantially damaged after impact with terrain during takeoff at Roswell International Air Center
Airport (ROW), Roswell, New Mexico. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and a company flight
plan was filed for the 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 flight. The two flight crewmembers
and the two technical crewmembers were fatally injured. The flight had originated from ROW about
0700 for a local area flight.
The airplane was operating under a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Experimental Certificate
of Airworthiness and was performing a take off with a simulated engine failure to determine
take-off distance requirements at minimum flap setting.
Wingtip scrape marks beginning on the runway approximately 5,300 feet from the end of the runway
lead toward the final resting spot about 3,800 feet from the first marks on the runway. Witnesses
close to the scene saw the airplane sliding on the ground with sparks and smoke coming from the
bottom of the wing, and described the airplane being fully involved in fire while still moving
across the ground. The airplane struck several obstructions and came to rest upright about 200 feet
from the base of the airport control tower. Several airport rescue and fire fighting (ARFF) units
responded quickly and fought the fire.
Coupled with what witnesses say was a unusually high angle of attack seen just before the right wingtip struck the runway, begins to paints a clearer picture of the events.
APRIL 2 5:45 PM ET: The Federal Aviation Administration has confirmed a Gulfstream G650 test aircraft crashed at 9:30 AM MT on its takeoff roll on runway 15 21 at Roswell International Air Center Airport in Roswell, New Mexico, killing all four aboard.
According to FAA spokesperson Lynn Lunsford, the aircraft had been out spending the morning - 2.5 hours - conducting brake testing when the aircraft had been cleared for takeoff. On the roll the aircraft had "just gotten airborne" when the right wingtip struck the ground, causing the aircraft to lose altitude, collapsing the gear, skidding on the runway and catching fire. (Update: Winds were 10kts and under at the time of the accident)
Two test pilots and two test engineers were onboard the aircraft at the time. Both NTSB and FAA investigators are enroute to the scene. Gulfstream is expected to release a formal statement on the accident shortly.
A source familiar with the accident says that N652GD was the airframe involved and was operating as Gulftest 31 at the time.
ATLANTA -- During Gulfstream's Monday press conference at NBAA, I had a chance to ask Joe Lombardo, president of Gulfstream Aerospace, about the prospects for a G450 and G550 large-cabin replacement aircraft, purported to be in development. Here was the exchange:
Jon Ostrower: Can you speak to what you're hearing from your customers in terms of demand for replacement in the G450/G550 market?
Joe Lombardo: All we can do is point to our history, we're not ready to make an announcement as far as what we're ready to do with the 450/550. Just from our history we're a company that continues to look ten to fifteen years in advance. When we're ready to make an announcement. we'll do so. We appreciate the question, we're just not going to talk about it."
Gulfstream's G250 is making its show debut here in Atlanta after a 14h 31min, 6,192nm from Tel Aviv, with station stops in Shannon, Bangor and Savannah.
Ronen Shapira, chief pilot for Israel Aerospace Industries and the G250 was accompanied on the transatlantic crossing by Captains Ravi Palter and pilot Dov Davidor on the trip from Tel Aviv, along with technicians Uzi Mizrahi and Amir Levi.
The longest of three legs for Serial Number 2003 (4X-WBJ) clocked in at 5h 49m, between Israel to Shannon, Ireland, was stretched to 6h 12min and included avionics testing in Ireland. The testing included a full approach, missed approach testing of the aircraft's Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics, for which the G250 is the launch customer.
As it transited through Europe, Shapira says air traffic control frequently called up to the new jet to ask what type of aircraft the crew as flying. Prior to its flight, the aircraft had received reduce vertical separation mimumums (RVSM) approval, enabling its 41,000ft initial cruise and later climb to 43,000ft on the first leg to Ireland.
Shapira says this was not the aircraft longest flight for the G250 since its first flight, 2003's second flight topped out at 7h 1m.
As part of the first over-water crossing, the super mid-size Honeywell HTF7250G-powered twin flew no more than about 400nm from land at any time during the transatlantic leg.
The aircraft touched down on US soil for the first time on October 15 in Bangor, Maine after another 5h and 56min leg, landing in dreadful weather conditions, prompting a 30 degree, 20 gusting to 29kt crosswind approach in heavy rain.
"We had landed previous with a higher crosswind component in Israel," says Shapira, a former IAF F-15 pilot. "It was quite uneventful. When you consider the integration between the airplane, the auto-pilot, the auto-throttles and the new wing, you have and airplane with flying qualities very similar to the G550."
The aircraft departed Bangor on 16 October with 8,600lbs of fuel - below maximum - and climbed directly to 43,000ft at Mach .80 in 18m and flew to Savannah, Georgia, home to the head office of Gulfstream Aerospace, touching down at 11:25 local time.
The aircraft, serial number 2003 transitioned to Atlanta and Peachtree DeKalb Airport on Sunday marking the types show debut along side the large-cabin high-speed Gulfstream G650.
Following its visit to NBAA, G250 will continue its flight test campaign in the US, heading to Bakersfield, California for far-field noise testing and high altitude takeoff performance in Alamosa, Colorado. The aircraft will visit Savannah once again before returning to Tel Aviv. Shapira says the aircraft plans to return to the US in January for natural icing tests.
For the G250, 2011 will be spent accomplishing its certification campaign as it aims for joint certification from European, American and Israeli regulators, with first delivery to follow by the end of that year.
Two additional airframes, S1 and F1, are part of the static and fatigue ground test campaigns. Limit load testing has already been completed and ultimate load testing is under way.
Further more, the G250 integration test facility has also completed more than 1,400h of testing on software version 2.1, which is currently flying on the test fleet.
As of October 12, the G250 had completed more than 214h over 73 flights since first flying in December. The three aircraft flight test program includes dedicated aircraft for aircraft performance, systems, and avionics testing.
When I sat down to think about the remaining thirteen and a half weeks of 2010, it became immediately apparent how pivotal this time will be for the future of commercial and business aviation. Decisions from Boeing, Airbus, Embraer, Bombardier and Gulfstream will shape the industry in 2011 and 2012 in the near term, but these same decisions could guide commercial and business aerospace for the next decade to come.
In the just the last two weeks, three mystery facilities across the United States have come to the fore with varying degrees of clarity, and three of the worlds biggest aircraft makers are closely involved and not saying a word.
The second facility in Jacksonville, Florida is a new hangar being leased by Embraer. Again, mum's the word as the company would provide no specifics about its future plans in Florida beyond saying:
Embraer spokeswoman Christine Manna said the Brazilian company, which has an office in Fort Lauderdale, continued to peg Jacksonville as "the location of choice for our defense-related activities in North America, if an opportunity arose."
Embraer's decision to exercise the option for leasing the hangar would hinge on whether it successfully lands an aircraft contract, said Jacksonville Aviation Authority spokesman Michael Stewart.
Stewart and Manna declined comment on the nature of work Embraer would do.
Super Tucano production in the US perhaps, maybe a EADS/Airbus style tactic for landing a KC-390 contract with the US Air Force?
Where Project X might fit into this equation, in terms of scope and impact, is anyone's guess at this point. But the simple fact that it carries a code name and is shrouded in the kind of secrecy that suggests multiple confidentiality agreements have been signed would indicate that this is no "Mom and Pop" operation.
Beyond the unknown purposes of these three facilities, one thing is certainly evident: Aerospace manufacturing is expanding, not contracting, in North America - a distinct bright spot amid a shaky economic recovery.
Gulfstream is developing clean sheet successors to its G450 and G550 large-cabin business jets, incorporating concepts and systems designed for its flagship G650.
Industry sources familiar with the new aircraft say that the smaller model, set to replace the G450, is currently in the engine selection phase for the first of the two aircraft.
Gulfstream declined comment, saying the company "does not comment on new programs or rumors of new programs until it is ready to announce a program publicly."
The company is currently holding a competition to select a next generation engine to power the new aircraft, say industry sources.
The G450 sports a range of 4,350nm at M.88 with eight passengers and three aboard.
Production of the G450 and G550 has slowed in the past year as the global recession forced deferrals and cancellations of the company's large-cabin aircraft.
Gulfstream expects to deliver 77 large-cabin G450 and G550 aircraft this year, up from 75 in 2009, but still down from 2008 when the airframer delivered 87.
One industry analyst say that the company's book-to-bill ratio is less than one, meaning that Gulfstream's backlog for the large-cabin G450 and G550 aircraft is declining as deliveries outpace new orders.
Gulfstream's second G650 test aircraft - designated T2 (N652GD) - made its first flight from Savannah/Hilton Head International airport on February 25th with pilots Gary Freeman and Scott Buethe at the controls. The aircraft reached an altitude of 37,000ft and a speed of M.80 and flew for 2h 33min.
This is the second of five flight test aircraft that will be used during the certification program and will focus on testing the aircraft's systems during the 1,800h flight test campaign. The first aircraft T1 (N650GA), has amassed more than 43h over 18 flights since it first flew on November 25.
T3, when it joins the flight test program, will focus on testing the G650's avionics, while P1 and P2 - production standard aircraft - will evaluate the cabin systems and reduced vertical separation minimums (RVSM), respectively.
The G650 is expected to receive FAA/EASA certification in 2011 followed by first delivery in 2012.