““[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.’” ”
Well, the 1970s are back. Yes, the decade that spawned stagflation, the Misery Index, badly built automobiles and lowered thermostats seems to be making a reappearance.
Granted, the '70s were the decade of orange shag carpets and avocado-colored kitchens, but they weren't all bad: In today's '70s-like "less is more" climate, the Gulfstream G350 could experience a popularity resurgence. Its price/performance equation hearkens back to the GIII transcontinental workhorse that in many ways established Gulfstream as the large-cabin business jet leader back in that fabulous decade.
The G350 features a large cabin, coast-to-coast range and a price tag only slightly more than that of a super-midsize jet. Compared with its long-range G450 sibling, the G350 costs $5 million less, has a maximum takeoff weight that is 3,000 pounds lighter and has only 550 nautical miles less range. Gulfstream calls the G350 a "limited production" aircraft, and if you ordered a new one today you couldn't take delivery until 2011. But you can find lightly used ones at great prices, according to the aircraft pricing service Vref. A 2005 model can be had for as little as $18 million.
The G350's prime appeal is simple: When it comes to aircraft cabins, size has no substitute. Realizing this, Gulfstream introduced the G300 in 2002. It was admittedly a niche player, a large-cabin business jet with slightly reduced range and a lower price than its G400 sibling. The G350 was first delivered in 2005. It is basically a G300 with the PlaneView avionics system. This allows pilots to fly it and other PlaneView-equipped Gulfstreams, such as the G450, G500 and G550, with the same type rating. Such a mixed fleet works well for larger flight departments. Before it entered bankruptcy, for example, General Motors operated a highly efficient fleet that included five G350s and two ultra-long-range G550s.
PlaneView is Gulfstream's adaptation of Honeywell's Primus Epic series avionics. It features four large 14-inch LCD displays and can be operated via an outboard, ergonomic electronic tiller Gulfstream calls a "cursor control device." This is serious whiz-bang. The cockpit's fingertip-controlled CCD is sort of a cross between your kid's video-game joystick, a computer mouse and the sidestick on a fighter jet. It's easy and fun to use-even if you hate the iDrive controller on a new 7-series BMW. More importantly, it gets critical information to the pilots quickly and lessens their workloads. It allows them to layer windows of information on a single display or impose live weather radar depictions atop moving maps. It is an intuitive and predictive system with logical interfaces, but at the same time doesn't overwhelm pilots with a surfeit of data.
From the outside, the $32 million G350 and $37 million G450 are almost indistinguishable. The sole external visual cue is the small window on the G450's nose. It covers the infrared camera lens of that air-plane's standard infrared enhanced-vision system (EVS), which helps pilots identify runways, taxiways and surrounding terrain sooner when they're flying instrument approaches in limited visibility. Buyers can also choose to add synthetic vision, giving the pilots a 3-D virtual view of the world on the flight displays that includes terrain, obstacles and runways. These technologies can be lifesavers in places like Vail and Aspen. Under certain circumstances, EVS allows aircraft to land when the ceiling and view down the runway are minimal. Both technologies are available as options on the G350.
Behind the cockpit, the G350's 40-foot-long cabin is every bit as opulent as the one you'd find in a G450. Typical layouts feature executive seating for 12 to 16 across six main available floor plans. You can choose from forward or aft galleys; an optional second lav (forward); and mix-and-match, plug-and-play layouts within the three main cabin zones, each with separate temperature control, featuring various combinations of club, conference and divan seating. If you like to sleep in the air, an aft stateroom layout with either one or two berthing divans could be a good choice. Through the aft lav, you'll have in-flight access to the 169-cubic-foot baggage hold, so this configuration provides a segregated sleeping, wash-up and changing area. The galley is big enough for two meal services and comes with a microwave, high-speed/temperature convection oven, two coffeemakers and cold drawers.
Gulfstream's 100-percent fresh-air system makes for a more alert cabin environment and its maximum 6,000-foot cabin altitude provides for a more comfortable one. Twelve large signature oval windows provide ample natural light. The latest in-flight information and entertainment systems, including satellite television and Internet access, are available at additional cost.
With a normal cruising range of 3,800 nautical miles, the G350 will fly from Washington, D.C., to Alaska, from Rio to Miami and from Sydney to Singapore-with eight passengers, two pilots and a flight attendant. At its maximum takeoff weight of 70,900 pounds, the G350's twin Rolls-Royce Tay engines (13,850 pounds of thrust each) allow it to use runways as short as 5,050 feet (sea level) and climb to 41,000 feet in less than 20 minutes. The updated Tays are about as indestructible as jet engines come, with a recommended time between overhaul of 12,000 hours-about 30 years of average use. The engines also have been fitted with digital controls and tweaked to produce slightly more power and fuel efficiency. Big thrust reversers help bring the G350 to a quick stop, generally in less than 3,000 feet.
The G350 won't get you to China on a single load of fuel, but if all you need is a comfortable large-cabin, transcontinental jet, it does virtually everything well. And it does it for less.