After a year economic downturn and bad publicity endured by the corporate aviation community, Gulfstream took a moment to celebrate with the roll-out of its new large-cabin G650 business jet.
Seven thousand employees, executives and local officials filled the aircraft's newly built final assembly building to see the first G650, T1, unveiled as it taxied into view under its own power at the company's Savannah, Georgia facility.
After shutting down the twin Rolls-Royce BR725 engines, test pilots Jake Howard and Tom Horn and flight engineer Bill Osborne joined the celebration along side company leaders.
The three men will crew the G650 on its maiden sortie this year.
Joe Lombardo, executive vice-president, General Dynamics Aerospace, says the first half of 2009 was particularly difficult for the company with a drop in demand and a political climate hostile to business aviation.
"The bad wrap has died down substantially," says Lombardo.
© Jon Ostrower/Flight International
Lombardo says that even with the changing industry fortunes, Gulfstream holds about 200 firm orders for the $64.5 million business jet, which represents the first new cross-sectional design for the company since the GII in 1967.
Lombardo admits that the entire business jet industry was caught off guard by the rapid downturn in public opinion.
"We were caught flat-footed. There's no doubt about it no excuse for it. We found out we didn't have the right level of data to go out and talk to people in the local community, we didn't have the right level of understanding of the significance of aviation. We had anecdotal information, but it wasn't co-ordinated," says Lombardo.
As the industry has begun to move past the externality of public opinion, Gulfstream's attention remains turned inward as it prepares to fly the G650.
Gulfstream will operate a five-aircraft certification programme that will amass 1,800 flight test hours over about 18 months leading to certification in 2011 and service entry the following year. Three of the G650s will be fully instrumented, with two partially instrumented aircraft, including a fully outfitted cabin demonstrator.
Pres Henne, Gulfstream senior vice-president of programmes, engineering and test says that the G650, which is designed for a maximum cruise of Mach .925, will be tested to the point of M1.
The airframer has built three G650s to date, including two flight-test vehicles and one static test airframe that is undergoing safety testing.
T1 has undergone low-speed area taxiing as it progresses through safety of flight readiness testing. T2 is in final assembly inside the G650 final assembly line, with the panels for T3 on the line.
Lombardo says the next available delivery spot for a G650 aircraft is in 2016.