A composite-fuselage Gulfstream?

Conspiracy theory time. Aviation International News is linking the appointment of new director of composite technology at Gulfstream to the company’s plans for a new flagship bizjet. An aircraft with a composite fuselage. And AIN is not alone in making the connection.

Here’s how the thinking goes. Gulfstream’s parent General Dynamics makes no secret of the company’s plans to launch not one, but two new business jets in 2008. Industry sources tell us Gulfstream is working on a widebody jet with a cabin larger than its current flagship, the G550 – an aircraft than can out-size Bombardier’s Global Express.

gulfstream550interior.jpg But think about those signature Gulfstream cabin windows – big, oval, light-giving apertures that every other bizjet manufacturer eyes with envy. Windows that are only possible because certification of the fuselage structure of every large-cabin Gulfstream has been grandfathered back five decades to the original GI. Gulfstream won’t – can’t – give up those windows.

The only way to have such big apertures in a new wider fuselage under today’s certification rules is to have a composite structure. That is a big step for Gulfstream, which uses minimal composites today, but not for the wider industry. Hawker Beechcraft builds the fibre-placed carbonfibre-fuselage Premier and Horizon, sorry Hawker 4000. And there is the 787, of course. True conspiracy theorists would point out that the CEO of Spirit AeroSystems, which builds 787 composite fuselage sections, recently revealed his company has contracts to produce aerostructures for two unannounced business jets. Hmmm.

A look at Gulfstream’s product line-up suggests that, if the company is going to build one new widebody jet, it will build two. Take the G350/G450 and the G500/G550 – in each case the same platform with two different performance specs, equipment fits and price points.

Conspiracy or fantasy we will know soon enough. GD’s CEO says Gulfstream will build prototypes of the new aircraft next year at its new manufacturing facility in Savannah, Georgia. A new Gulfstream is something worth waiting for.

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