For the Record
For the customer, the question was crucial: Their business interests in China required travel every few months from the U.S. Midwest to Shanghai. Could the Gulfstream G650ER make the trip nonstop?
Some flight tracking computer models said no. Gulfstream models said yes.
“Rather than present a lot of numbers to validate our statement, we said, ‘Let’s get in the plane and do it,’ ” recalls Lor Izzard, director of Strategic Projects, Gulfstream.
Fourteen hours and 35 minutes after departing Ohio’s John Glenn Columbus International Airport one day last November, the G650ER landed at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport. The Gulfstream flagship covered 6,750 nautical miles at an average speed of Mach 0.85, its long-range cruise speed.
The flight made the business case for the Ohio company, which now flies a G650ER, but it also has been recognized by the U.S. National Aeronautic Association and is awaiting international approval from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale in Switzerland to stand as a world speed record for a flight between the two cities.
The Gulfstream G650ER and G650 have earned a combined 65 city-pair world speed records, which recognize the fastest flight time between two cities.
But more than a measure of speed, city-pair records are a demonstration of the unique capabilities the G650ER and G650 provide—and the business opportunities they create for their owners.
As Direct as Possible
Sean Lancaster, vice president of Bristol Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based aviation brokerage, represented the Ohio company, but has more clients with similar ultralong-range needs.
“I have a lot of clients who are going deep into China, deep into Russia, so when we talk about range, speed and operating costs, city pairs are something they really respond to,” Lancaster says. “On the China trip, that was proof of concept for that client. This is a very specific trip, and time is everything for him.
“Some of our other clients have oil companies in Houston with business interests in remote areas of Saudi Arabia,” Lancaster adds. “They don’t want to divert to a regional airport, they don’t want to have to stop in Shannon, Ireland, or Gander, Canada. They want as direct a line as possible. The G650ER is so unique in what it will do. Nobody else has an aircraft that can do that kind of range.”
Another Lancaster client needed to regularly fly a team of employees between Los Angeles and New Zealand for an extended project.
“This airplane gave him that flexibility,” Lancaster says. “And when we start talking about long-range city pairs, it gave him certainty that this airplane would allow him to do what he needed to do.”
Recording which aircraft gets across the finish line first has been the business of the NAA since the early 1900s. The association serves as the U.S. national authority for all aviation and air-sport record-setting activity, including any attempted in commercial aircraft, gliders, balloons and parachutes.
About 90 aviation records are established each year, and city pairs account for almost half those. Art Greenfield, the NAA director of the Contest & Records Department, oversees the documentation of each attempt. He sees value beyond the immediate in aviation records.
“They serve to document the history of aviation,” Greenfield says. “I think records of all types—speed, range, altitude—encourage advancement and development in aviation.”
For a city-pair record, a designated flight crew member, usually the pilot in command, submits documents showing flight details, such as starting and finishing points, and the aircraft manufacturer and model. Aircraft classes are designated by the weight of the plane at takeoff to allow for similar performance comparisons. Once a flight is completed, the NAA receives documentation from an air traffic control officer who noted the start and finish times or takes information from the onboard Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, a digital data link that transmits and records short messages, including time and position, between the aircraft and the ground stations. The NAA then takes the distance as calculated from airport digital chart supplements to determine the great circle distance, which takes into consideration the curvature of the Earth when calculating the distance between two points. From there, it’s a matter of the math. To qualify as a new world record, the flight can be the first flown between those two cities, or, if vying to become a new world record, must be documented as at least 1 percent faster than the existing record.
For around-the-world speed records, which the Gulfstream G650 set westbound in 2013, an onboard observer is required. When a five-member Gulfstream pilot crew flew around the world in four legs—traveling at Mach 0.90 for each one—an NAA official traveled with them. In 41 hours and 7 minutes, they set a new record.
Records by the Hundreds
Gulfstream aircraft hold more than 435 records across a number of aircraft classes and types. The company’s “Hall of Records,” which stretches down a long corridor outside Flight Operations, is testament to the enduring tried-and-true performance of Gulfstream aircraft.
Given that the G650ER and G650 make a regular habit of cruising thousands of miles at Mach 0.90—something no other business jet achieves—these aircraft are establishing new benchmarks in flight.
“In some of the more recent submissions, they are setting the bar pretty high,” Greenfield says. “For anyone coming behind them, it will certainly be a challenge to beat those times.”
As the Gulfstream G500 enters service—anticipated in the coming months—a new round of city-pair records will be attainable. The G500 is in a lighter weight class than the G650ER and G650, and already has two world speed records pending for May flights from Savannah, Georgia, to Paris and from New York to Paris. Average speed for both flights was Mach 0.90.
The New York to Paris flight commemorated the 90th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s first nonstop solo trans-Atlantic flight in May 1927. Though Lindbergh’s single-engine Spirit of St. Louis is far more basic than a G500, comparing the details of his record-setting attempt to the G500’s Paris flight illustrates Greenfield’s point about city pairs documenting aviation history and innovation. The G500 made the flight in 6 hours and 21 minutes. Lindbergh reached Paris in 33 hours and 30 minutes—about eight hours shy of the time the G650 needed to circle the globe in 2013.
Gulfstream aircraft hold more than 435 records across a number of aircraft classes and types.
For all the records achieved, Gulfstream’s flight demonstration team, which last year logged 14,700 flight hours, doesn’t make a new city pair an utmost priority.
“We try to pick city pairs that are important to our customers to show them the capabilities of our aircraft,” says Scott Evans, director of Demonstrations and Corporate Flight Operations, Gulfstream. “It allows us to say ‘Here’s a recognized accomplishment between these two city pairs.’ ”
When a record attempt is made, it’s treated like any other flight. Customers are invited, baggage is loaded and catering is brought on board as it would be for any other flight.
“We try to make it realistic to what the customer would do so that they have the confidence that they will have the same result when they make the trip,” Evans explains. “The beauty of our aircraft is that we’re going to run Mach 0.90 for any city pair we can. Time is the one commodity every company and person wants more of. With the majority of business jets being business tools, it is about performing in a world economy.”
Advertising a city-pair attempt to customers also isn’t much of a priority on a demonstration flight—the Columbus to Shanghai trip included.
“We didn’t even tell them it was a speed record until we landed,” says Izzard, “and then we told them ‘Congratulations, you’re going to be part of a new city-pair record.’ ”
While the G650ER and the G650 are setting impressive ultralong-range city-pair records, other Gulfstream models have dozens of pairs, too. The Gulfstream G280 has earned nearly 60 pairs since entering service in 2012.
Dave Austin, director of aviation for a corporate fleet, has partnered with Gulfstream to assist with G280 demonstration flights. He’s flown from Jacksonville, Florida, to London, and from New York to Rome. Citing official city pairs, such as the recent sprint from Singapore to Melbourne, Australia, provides added confirmation of range. That trip is 3,332 nautical miles.
Such long-distance flights also offer the time to realize all the cabin comforts.
“If they haven’t flown in a Gulfstream, they don’t know how extremely quiet and stable they are,” Austin says. “People typically will remark ‘Wow, we’re flying really fast but it’s so quiet in here!’ ”
Speed and range questions are typically the most often posed, but sometimes, a city pair is a proving point on the ability to access an airport. The Gulfstream G550 owns 54 city-pair records. Its long-range performance includes a 2015 Macau to Las Vegas flight of 6,586 nautical miles, averaging a speed of Mach 0.80, a performance that still stands.
The G550 is also renowned for its takeoff and landing ability at high altitude and in high temperatures. Both conditions challenge aircraft because higher and hotter air is thinner, which reduces lift and requires more speed and more runway length to take off.
When performance is a question, just as with distance, sometimes the best impression is a real-world example.
“Instead of bantering back and forth,” Evans says, “we would rather just show you with a world record.”
A city-pair flight from Toluca, Mexico, to Stuttgart, Germany, proved the point. Toluca is 8,458 feet above sea level. With two pilots, a flight attendant and five passengers on board, the G550 arrived 10 hours and 11 minutes later in Stuttgart with 5,700 pounds of fuel remaining.
Even with such well-rounded performance across the Gulfstream fleet, Lancaster expects a lot of attention to remain on the G650ER, perhaps fitting given its status as a worldwide range leader.
“The implications of this airplane and what it will do are just phenomenal,” Lancaster says. “I see a tremendous growth pattern because of its capabilities.”
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