Flying the Super-MidSize G280
Aircraft performance modifications and specifications can sometimes be confusing. But not when it comes to Gulfstream’s new super-midsize G280. There is no particular technical expertise necessary to understand that the G280 is much more than just a pretty “T” tail.
To summarize what an outstanding aerodynamic and technological achievement the G280 is, compare it to the G200, the aircraft it succeeds in the G650 lineup. The G280 climbs to cruise altitudes several thousand feet higher, flies faster, cruises for 3,600 nautical miles/6,667 kilometers nonstop, offers more cabin room and—now is the most amazing part—the G280 burns up to 12 percent less fuel than anything else in its class. That’s not to say that the G200 isn’t an amazing aircraft in its own right—because it is. The point is that the new G280 is not the next generation G200 but rather a new generation airframe designed from the onset to be the most advanced, most efficient and most superb aircraft on the market in the super-midsize category.
Increasing every significant performance and comfort measurement of the G280 compared to other super-midsize jets is an impressive achievement. And doing all of that while burning less fuel borders on being magical.
But there is no magic involved in the G280, unless, of course, you consider Gulfstream’s legendary mastery of aerodynamics and drag reduction supernatural. The reality is Gulfstream engineers have perfected a smooth, elaborately contoured wing technology that carries its aircraft to a higher altitude quicker than other jets, and once there cruises with minimum drag.
The “super” in super-midsize means that the cabin has more than 6 feet/1.8 meters of stand-up headroom compared to about 5.6 feet/1.7 meters in a traditional midsize business jet. Passengers appreciated the cabin comfort of the G200 but wanted more speed and longer nonstop range, and also wanted in-flight cabin access to a pressurized baggage compartment. The G280 has all of that, plus even more room in the cabin.
The fundamental performance change in the G280 results from its long, swept wing with blended winglets. The wing is actually a scaled version of the clean aerodynamic design that is classic to Gulfstream’s large-cabin aircraft.
Gulfstream wings are long—63 feet/19.2 meters of span in the G280—and they are also totally smooth. Even a casual observer will notice that other jets have fairings and pods hanging down below the underside of the wing, or humps and bumps and other unsightly protuberances on the upper surface. Look down the G280 wing from the tip toward the fuselage and you see a perfectly smooth surface with a contour that gradually changes shape across the entire span. It’s a thing of beauty.
The smooth uncluttered wing is possible because Gulfstream locates all wing flap tracks and mechanisms inside the wing.
Other jets mount the flap tracks externally which requires large drag-inducing fairings or “canoes” to cover and protect the otherwise exposed mechanisms. Anything mounted externally on an airframe causes parasitic drag that reduces speed, reduces range and reduces fuel efficiency. These are not attributes associated with Gulfstream aircraft, so Gulfstream engineers go to great lengths to keep their airframes “clean,” fast and efficient.
Gulfstream has also perfected what is called a “hard leading edge” wing technology, meaning there are no movable slats on the leading edge that other jets require to improve low-speed performance and maneuverability. The Gulfstream wing weighs less, is less complex and easier to maintain, and most importantly, has the shape that controls drag when flying at very high speeds and very high altitudes.
The G280 wing is an excellent performer during takeoff and landing, as well as at cruise. At maximum takeoff weight, fueled for a trip from London to New York, for example, the aircraft requires less than 5,000 feet/1,524 meters of runway. Even from demanding high-altitude airports such as Aspen, Colorado, or Guatemala City, the G280 can depart on a warm day with enough fuel to fly 3,600 nautical miles/6,667 kilometers.*
The “super” in super-midsize means that the cabin has more than 6 feet/1.8 meters of stand-up headroom.
The new G280 wing is so efficient that it lifts the aircraft directly to 43,000 feet/13,106 meters in 20 minutes after takeoff, and under most weight and atmospheric conditions can carry the G280 all the way to its maximum cruise altitude of 45,000 feet/13,716 meters without the need to level off at lower altitudes. The ability to climb to high cruise altitudes is crucial for efficiency, which extends range, and to get the G280 above other traffic and most turbulent weather conditions.
The other major contributor to G280 performance and efficiency is the Honeywell HTF7250G engines.
The engine is an improved version of an engine that has a million flight hours of experience, and sets new standards in low noise and high efficiency with minimum emissions. The engine is 25 percent better than the proposed future standard for emissions, which makes it very environmentally friendly. And, the reduced emissions mean the fuel is being burned, converted into thrust and adding range, instead of being discharged into the atmosphere.
To see the G280 strut its stuff, we loaded on enough fuel to fly from Gulfstream’s home in Savannah, Georgia, to California. The manuals said we needed just under 4,000 feet/1,219 meters of runway for takeoff, considerably less than some other jets of similar size.
The G280 cockpit is very similar to the large-cabin 450, G550 and G650 with large flat-screen PlaneView® avionics. The G280 has three 15-inch screens to show both pilots primary flight information, along with every conceivable map and navigation display, plus synoptic pages that show the function of all primary systems in real time.
Gulfstream also incorporated a head-up display (HUD II) in the G280, another first in the category. The innovative HUD display allows pilots to see both the outside world ahead, and crucial flight information as it is projected on the HUD glass placed directly in the pilot’s line of sight through the windshield.
Gulfstream’s equally impressive infrared Enhanced Vision System (EVS II) peers through darkness and low visibility conditions to show pilots a view of anything in the aircraft’s path (runway on approach, mountains, taxiways, etc.) that may otherwise be obscured. With EVS and the HUD pilots can descend 100 feet/30 meters lower on a standard instrument approach than can pilots of aircraft without such sophisticated equipment.
The G280 is also one of the first business jets to have autobraking. I experienced that feature recently when I had the opportunity to fly the G280 with Gulfstream demonstration pilots Chip Leonard and Erik Kauber. As we lined up for takeoff I put the autobrake control in the rejected takeoff position. If an emergency were to occur during takeoff the autobraking system would apply maximum brake force instantly after I reduced power. No pilot can match the reaction time, and the application of maximum brake force, that the computer-controlled “brake-by-wire” system does automatically, so takeoff safety is enhanced. And on landing, the autobraking system brings the G280 to a smooth stop with maximum passenger comfort and minimum brake wear.
Another G280 first-in-the-category is standard autothrottles. Like autobraking, autothrottles are the norm in larger aircraft because they increase efficiency and enhance safety. For takeoff, the touch of a button on the throttle levers sets takeoff power, and after the G280 is up and climbing—which happens very quickly—the autothrottles manage the power to maintain the desired airspeed.
Once airborne, air traffic near Savannah was light and controllers were able to clear us to ever-higher altitudes without need to level off. In just nine minutes after takeoff the G280 was climbing through 30,000 feet/9,144 meters. It took only a total of 13 minutes for the G280 to pass through 40,000 feet/12,192 meters even though the air temperature was eight degrees warmer than standard—a condition that robs engines of power and wings of lift. Despite the less than ideal atmospheric conditions, we hit 43,000 feet/13,106 meters in 16 minutes after liftoff, and kept on climbing to 45,000 feet/13,716 meters in 19 minutes.
Leveling at that lofty altitude, the G280 quickly accelerated to its normal cruise speed of Mach 0.82, which equals 470 knots/869 kilometers per hour of true airspeed. The total fuel burn was about 1,500 pounds per hour, less than several much smaller and slower jets would burn. The G280 flies its maximum tanks’ full NBAA theoretical range at Mach 0.80, yet flying at the faster Mach 0.82 only reduces range by approximately 130 nautical miles/240 kilometers. And, unlike many other jets, slowing down below Mach 0.80 doesn’t really stretch range. The G280 is simply designed to fly fast.
The thin air of very high altitudes is challenging for any jet, but the vast experience of Gulfstream in creating high-flying aircraft is obvious in the G280. Being assured to do so, I maneuvered the aircraft into a steep banked turn—something pilots would not normally do at this altitude because of the increased demands placed on the wing’s lift—but the G280 responded perfectly with complete and precise control. That is solid evidence that if a G280 were ever to encounter unexpected turbulence while flying at its maximum altitude there would be no issues of control and performance.
The G280 pressurization system is more effective than other super-midsize jets and holds cabin altitude to 6,000 feet/1,828 meters when the airplane is flying at a typical cruise altitude of 43,000 feet/13,106 meters. If there should ever be a depressurization emergency, the G280 has Gulfstream’s automatic descent mode that reduces power, turns the airplane 90 degrees to avoid any traffic conflict, and automatically descends the airplane to a safe altitude where it levels off.
The G280 cockpit and cabin interior noise levels are remarkably low and compare favorably to the industry-leading cabin sound level of the large-cabin Gulfstream fleet. Even when I pushed the G280 over into a maximum speed descent, the sound level barely rose above a low hum. Clearly Gulfstream has created an aircraft with very smooth, undisturbed airflow over the airframe, even at very high speeds, because it is turbulent air passing around the airplane that makes most cabin noise.
The G280 cabin is similar in cross-sectional size to the G200, but the cabin is longer, and most importantly, you can access the baggage compartment of the G280 in flight. As in the large-cabin Gulfstreams, there is a door in the lavatory that opens into the huge 120-cubic-foot baggage compartment. The space is so large people of typical size can easily walk around in the compartment.
Another G280 first-in-the-category is standard auto-throttles.
The lavatory in the G280 is now what anyone would call full size with added windows and a vacuum-flush toilet. There is space for a large sink and vanity, plus storage drawers and cabinets. The added comfort of a best-in-class lavatory cannot be overstated in an airplane designed to traverse continents and oceans.
Gulfstream used the VIP cabin control system developed initially for the G650 in the G280. Apple and Android devices allow passengers to select the lighting, operate the entertainment system, set the temperature or call the cabin attendant.
The G280 galley is a new design that includes hot and cold running water, storage for full-size catering trays, huge ice drawer and lots of counter space. A microwave oven is standard, but a convection oven is available. A touch-screen in the galley provides control of cabin lighting and environment. And Gulfstream created an ingenious jump seat that can face forward in the normal way, or can be quickly reversed providing a seat for a flight attendant.
The G280 cabin is, of course, finished to the industry-leading quality standard of large-cabin Gulfstreams. A new three-place sofa is available in the G280 that reclines by sliding the seat out and tilting the back. The seat can also be pulled out all the way to make a flat berth. And the life rafts slide under the sofa to be easily accessible, but out of the way. Gulfstream’s standard equipment list for the G280 is unusually complete so most owners will be simply choosing among cabin floor plan and furnishing options, not adding more equipment.
The G280 is a remarkable achievement in every critical aspect. The aircraft’s development and entry into service was on schedule, and it has met every weight and performance goal. Actually, that’s not completely accurate. The G280 has exceeded all important design objectives. The empty weight of aircraft coming out of completion is below what was promised, the required runway distances are shorter, and the nonstop range under real-world flying conditions is better than initially announced.
Meeting and exceeding any of those crucial design objectives would be unusual in another aircraft. But not the G280, because it’s a Gulfstream. Delivering more of what every business jet owner wants is the norm for Gulfstream.
* Range shown is based on NBAA IFR theoretical range at Mach 0.80 with four passengers. Actual range will be affected by ATC routing, operating speed, weather, outfitting options and other factors.
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