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Speed wars… Cessna and Gulfstream go head-to-head

Posted 12 November 2012 · Add Comment

The latest generation of business jets are focusing again on speed. Alan Peaford looks at two models that are taking it to the limit.


It was just over 100 years ago that Clyde Vernon Cessna, a farming engineer from Iowa in the USA, made his first airplane – the silverwing – and began a legacy that led to the aircraft company still bearing his name today.

Famously, Clyde once said: “Speed is the only reason for flying.” That philosophy is still bearing fruit in today’s Cessna company in Wichita, Kansas.

Back in 1996 Cessna introduced a new flagship for its Citation family of business jets. Called the Citation X (the X is the Roman numeral for ten) the aircraft could outstrip the famous Learjets and all but one civil airliner. And when that one, Concorde, finally ceased operations in November 2003, the Citation X, with its top speed of Mach 0.92, took over the mantle as the world’s fastest civil aircraft.

For eight years Cessna employees basked in the glory of being business aviation’s speed kings – but then the conservative king of comfort, Gulfstream, took the wind from their sails with a flight test of its newest aircraft.

The Gulfstream G650 had been designed to head the class for long-range, large business jets. The Savannah, Georgia company – now part of General Dynamics – worked with its ‘advanced technology customer advisory team’. While addressing issues of comfort and capability, speed became an issue. Gulfstream’s design team set to work to see if they could deliver all of the things required. And they did.

“The G650 speaks to all that is good about business aviation: safety, security, flexibility, comfort, and capability,” said Larry Flynn, president, Gulfstream. “We’re extremely proud of what our entire organisation has accomplished with this aircraft.”

Gulfstream announced the G650 on March 13 2008, five years after it began designing the jet. It rolled out under its own power on September 30 2009 and flew for the first time nearly two months later, on November 25.

Over the next 35 months, seven flight-test aircraft were involved in the flight-test programme, accumulating more than 3,889 hours over 1,181 flights.

Then on May 2, 2010, the G650 demonstrated its exceptional high-speed, fuel-efficient cruising capabilities when it flew at its maximum operating Mach number of 0.925 for the first time.

It achieved high-speed cruise in October 2010, when a test aircraft flew a 5,000-nautical-mile (9,260km) closed circuit at Mach 0.90 over the Atlantic Ocean in 9 hours and 45 minutes.

In February 2011 the G650 flew from Burbank to Savannah, a distance of more than 1,900 miles (3,545km) in just 3 hours and 26 minutes. The aircraft accomplished the mission at speeds between Mach 0.91 and 0.92 with a brief segment at the maximum operating Mach number of 0.925.

The trip set a city-pair speed record and was named a most memorable flight for speed over a recognised course by the National Aeronautic Association – and most importantly it had broken the record set by golfer Arnold Palmer in his CitationX to become the fastest civilian aircraft in the world.

In Wichita, the Cessna design team were back to the drawing boards. The then president, Jack Pelton, came to EBACE and made a bold claim: “We will not be beaten by speed!”

When Pelton left the company during the downturn there were doubts that his claim would be realised. But new company president Scott Earnest recognised the importance of the speed claims to the Cessna brand.

The result was the Citation Ten, a new variant of the X that included upgraded AE3007C2 engines with new fans, Garmin G5000 flight displays with three 14inch screens and a heads-up display. The elliptical winglets that were available as an aftermarket option on the Citation X become standard on the new aircraft.

Cessna added an extra 38cm to the cabin to improve passenger comfort and, more importantly, saw increased thrust, increased payload of 97kg and, vitally, a potential increase in cruise speed.

“No one was really sure just how much extra we could squeeze from it,” a Cessna insider said.

Meanwhile Gulfstream was heading towards certification with the G650 and awaiting final papers from the FAA.

But at the end of August the Ten hit a new milestone. To make a point Ernest shared a platform with motor-racing idol Chip Ganassi at the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma to announce that the super-midsize Ten had regained its title as the fastest civil aircraft in the world, having achieved Mach .935.

“At Cessna we design, engineer, manufacture and fly the fastest civil aircraft in the world – not for us, but for our customers so they can work faster, more efficiently and get the job done,” Ernest said.

“Through innovation, creativity and a desire to exceed our customers’ expectations, the Cessna team took the already powerful Citation Ten and made it that much better. That’s why partnering with racing legend Chip Ganassi makes so much sense as he knows a little something about speed as well.”

Two weeks later, the G650 received its type certificate from the FAA.

And there were no signs of disappointment that its speed record had gone. Instead, there was a clear focus on the Gulfstream claim that it had more than met expectations in all areas.

Gulfstream expects to deliver the first fully outfitted G650 business jets to customers before year-end and has received more than 200 orders for the aircraft. The Middle East region is seen as an important market for the type.

“The G650 sets the new world standard for business-jet performance, range, speed and comfort,” said Jay L Johnson, chairman and chief executive officer of Gulfstream’s parent corporation, General Dynamics. 

“The Gulfstream team has done an outstanding job in designing and manufacturing what is already the envy of the global market and is sure to become a milestone aircraft in aviation history.”

And it is a spectacular design. It offers a full three-axis, fly-by-wire system that delivers a number of benefits, including flight-envelope protection, passenger comfort, increased redundancy and reduced maintenance. The system is the result of extensive testing, leading to a redundant fly-by-wire system that exceeds certification requirements. It has a separate and dedicated back-up flight-control computer that provides an additional level of safety.

To ensure optimum system performance, the G650 uses PlaneConnect HTM. This aircraft health and trend monitoring system provides near-real-time aircraft condition monitoring by recording up to 10,000 predefined parameters, and transmits that information to the operator’s maintenance department with an optional copy to Gulfstream Technical Operations.

Gulfstream can, if necessary, request additional data from the plane without any crew interaction, leading to exceptionally fast maintenance turnaround times and the ability to predict fleet maintenance trends.

Up front, the G650 is equipped with what has been described as the most advanced flight deck in general aviation.

PlaneView II includes four 14-inch, adaptive, liquid crystal displays, a standby multi-function controller that combines current display controller functionality with standby flight instruments; automatic descent mode; wide area augmentation system/localiser performance with vertical guidance (WAAS-LPV), future air navigation system (FANS) 1/A; controller-pilot datalink communications (CPDLC); automatic dependent surveillance-contract (ADS-C); and a fully automatic, three-dimensional scanning weather radar with an integral terrain database for efficient ground-clutter elimination.

In addition, it uses state-of-the-art vision systems to improve pilot situational awareness and flight safety. These standard systems include the Gulfstream enhanced vision system (EVS II), the synthetic vision-primary flight display (SV-PFD) and the head-up display (HUD II).

The G650 has a range of 7,000nm at long-range cruise speed enabling it to link Dubai with New York.

Meanwhile Cessna is working towards certification and entry into service by the end of 2013. When delivered the Ten will be capable of pairing Dubai with London just a little bit faster than the larger Gulfstream, but one heck of lot faster than the commercial traffic that it leaves behind and below.


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