““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
Bombardier's Challenger 350
Though its predecessor has been a formidable competitor in the super-midsize market, this new model offers even more.
The Bombardier Challenger 300 has dominated the super-midsize class for the last decade and today there are more than 400 flying and another 100 on order.
Although it took a while, the competition is now diligently playing catch-up. In 2013, Dassault began delivering the more economical, $25 million Falcon 2000S, which can use short runways yet has a 3,350-nautical-mile range; Cessna revised the Sovereign and the X and launched the Longitude; Embraer attacked with the ultra-modern Legacy 500; and, after purchasing Galaxy, Gulfstream tossed out everything save the fuselage and remade it into the G280, a fine aircraft that already has set all kinds of range and speed records for its class.
Given these market dynamics, how would Bombardier respond? We found out last May when the company showed off the Challenger 350.
Bombardier unveiled the aircraft in Geneva with the help of actor and accomplished jet pilot John Travolta, who participated in the aircraft’s flight test program. And no, he did not come down the airstair to the tune of “Stayin’ Alive” from his career-making 1977 homage to disco, Saturday Night Fever. But maybe he should have.
The 350 is going to do more than keep Bombardier in the super-midsize game—it seems likely to help the company maintain its supremacy.
At $25.9 million, the 350 rings the register for $1 million more than the 300 does. It keeps the 300’s basic success formula—but adds to it.
Improvements on the 350 include tweaked engines, faster climb times, more fuel capacity and range, winglets, updated avionics, a refreshed and more comfortable cabin with new Ipeco lie-flat seats and a better galley, cabin windows that are 20 percent larger, the latest cabin-management system and high-definition wireless entertainment electronics from Lufthansa Technik.
The 300 on which the 350 is based enthralled customers because of its large, comfortable cabin; efficient engines; modern avionics; and great speed, range and time-to-climb numbers. That and the small matter of serendipity. Namely, the other entrants into the super-midsize market fell short of their potential and disappointed buyers for a variety of reasons: the Falcon 2000 was great but expensive; the Hawker 4000 had an interminable gestation period followed by bankruptcy and discontinuation; Cessna’s Citation X was really fast but at the price of a tight cabin; Cessna’s Citation Sovereign was cheaper but had the same tight cabin and was slower; and the Galaxy’s execution was so poor that it would make a dandy Harvard Business School case study.
To succeed in this environment, the Challenger 300 needed only to be competent. It was, and then some.
For the 300, Bombardier used new computer-assisted design and assembled a global supply chain with components from companies in Australia, Canada, Japan, Northern Ireland, Taiwan and the U.S. The parts and pieces come together in 12 major subassemblies on Bombardier’s Montreal shop floor and are assembled into a finished airplane in just four days. The Honeywell HTF7000 engines (6,826 pounds of thrust each) help make the aircraft fast and efficient. Fully loaded, it easily uses runways less than 5,000 feet long, and it climbs at better than 4,200 feet per minute (sometimes a lot better). Yet it can burn as little as 178 gallons of fuel per hour at high-speed cruise settings, or around 470 knots, at altitude. From takeoff, the 300 will climb directly to at least 41,000 feet on its way to a maximum cruise altitude of 45,000 feet. With eight passengers, a crew of two and full fuel, a standard-weight 300 has a range of 3,065 nautical miles, according to Bombardier.
The 300’s 860-cubic-foot cabin offers an abundance of space. From cockpit divider to the rear pressure bulkhead, it measures nearly 29 feet long. That includes a 16.5-foot main seating area, lavatory and adjacent walk-in luggage closet with 105 cubic feet of additional space. Cabin height is 6.1 feet and width (from centerline) is 7.2 feet. The 300 was the first business jet to be equipped with the Lufthansa Technik Nice digital cabin-management and entertainment system. Nice uses 24 transducers, mounted behind interior cabin panels, in place of conventional speakers to create near-uniform cabin sound, much like surround sound. Customers loved the 300 and it soon became a prominent part of fractional ownership and charter fleets.
The 350 builds on this success. What little was lacking in the 300 got fixed and/or updated.
The 300 would climb directly only to 41,000 feet, where you had to loiter and burn off fuel before ascending higher. The 350 gets to 41,000 in as little as 18 minutes and keeps going directly to 43,000, thanks to its new Honeywell HTF7350 engines—7,323 pounds of thrust each, 500 pounds more than on the 300. The revised engines do this without burning any more fuel and while cutting emissions. Combined with its capacity for 750 pounds of more fuel, the 350 can now transport eight supersized passengers (225 pounds each) 3,200 nautical miles—135 nautical miles farther than the 300—at a respectable Mach 0.80. Top speed is Mach 0.82—the same as on the 300. The new winglets increase the wingspan to 69 feet and overall the airplane is 1,750 pounds heavier than the 300, tipping the scales fully loaded at 40,600 pounds.
In the cockpit, the 350 will be equipped with the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 Advanced avionics system with four large LCDs and all the latest goodies: synthetic vision, dual inertial reference system, paperless cockpit, MultiScan weather radar that can detect turbulence, XM satellite weather and a bunch of other acronyms—Fans 1/A, ADS-B out, CPDLC, RNP basic and authorization required and LPV guidance—that mean the airplane has the capability to go just about anywhere in any weather.
Deliveries of the 350 begin later this year. It should ensure that Bombardier is doing more than just “Stayin’ Alive” in the super-midsize market.
2014 BOMBARDIER CHALLENGER 350 AT A GLANCE
Base price: $25.9 million
Range: 3,200 nm*
Long-range cruise speed: 459 kts
Maximum altitude: 45,000 ft
Takeoff distance: 4,835 ft
Landing distance: 2,710 ft
Cabin length: 28 ft, 7 in; width: 7 ft, 2 in; height: 6 ft, 1 in; volume: 860 cu ft
*NBAA IFR 200-nm alternate fuel reserves, eight passengers (225 lb each), two crew.
Mark Huber is a private pilot with experience in more than 50 aircraft models.