Wings Magazine

Four killed as Gulfstream aircraft crashes in test flight

April 4, 2011, Roswell, N.M. - A Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. business jet conducting flight tests in Roswell, N.M., crashed Saturday and burst into flames, killing the four people on board. The Wall Street Journal reports.

April 4, 2011  By The Wall Street Journal

The new Gulfstream G650, the largest and fastest business jet ever developed by Savannah, Ga.-based Gulfstream, struck its right wingtip on the ground as it took off from Roswell International Air Center around 9:30 a.m. local time Saturday, according to a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman. The plane then hit the ground, causing the landing gear to collapse, and skidded along the runway before catching fire and coming to rest only 40 feet from the control tower, he said.

Two company pilots and two test engineers aboard the jet were killed in the accident, Gulfstream said. The pilots were identified on Sunday as Kent Crenshaw, 64 years old, and Vivan Ragusa, 51. Gulfstream identified the test engineers as David McCollum, 47, and Reece Ollenburg, 48. All four were residents of Savannah.

The Gulfstream name has become synonymous with large, luxurious business jets. The big Gulfstream IV and Gulfstream V models have long been popular with celebrities, athletes, major corporations and wealthy individuals who use the jets to fly long distances, often transoceanic routes.

Though the business-aircraft industry was hammered during the recession and has been slow to recover, the large-cabin, long-range segment dominated by Gulfstream, a unit of General Dynamics Corp., and Canadian rival Bombardier Inc. was less affected by the downturn.


Gulfstream has proceeded full-bore with the development of the G650 and has delivered more than 200 of the upgraded G550, which was based on the popular Gulfstream V model. Last October, Bombardier introduced two new long-range big jets to its portfolio of Global Express business jets.

The accident is a blow to the G650, which hasn't yet been certified by the FAA for delivery. The company has an order backlog of about 200 and a waiting list of five years for the big business jets. Designed to seat as many as 18 passengers and fly up to 7,000 nautical miles nonstop, the airplane carries a list price of about $64.5 million.

Flight tests on the G650 began in late 2009, and before Saturday's crash, Gulfstream had expected to receive FAA certification of the plane sometime this year. First deliveries were expected to begin in early 2012. Company officials haven't yet said how the accident will affect that schedule, but one area investigators will likely examine is the G650's new fly-by-wire flight-control system.

Unlike traditional flight control systems that connect external surfaces like ailerons, rudders and elevators directly to the yokes and rudder pedals in the cockpit, fly-by-wire systems send electrical signals to various controls, instead of a direct mechanical connection.

Fly-by-wire has been standard on some types of commercial jets for years, but is largely new territory in the business-jet industry.


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