Gulfstream has suspended flight testing of its G650 program, as an investigation continues into the cause of a fatal crash last weekend in Roswell, New Mexico.
The manufacturer says it is cooperating with NTSB investigators, and "will only resume flying the G650 when we and the Federal Aviation Administration are satisfied it is safe to do so,” according to a company press release.
Four people died in the accident, including test pilots Kent Crenshaw and Vivan Ragusa and flight test engineers David McCollum and Reece Ollenburg. All were residents of Savannah, Georgia, where Gulfstream is headquartered.
Extending his "deepest sympathy to their families," Gulfstream President Joe Lombardo said "we ask for your kindness, support and understanding as they, and the rest of the Gulfstream family, grieve the passing of these fine professionals."
NTSB Points to Wingtip Scraping
According to a preliminary NTSB report, visual meteorological conditions (VMC) prevailed at Roswell international Air Center Airport (ROW) on the morning of the flight.
At approximately 9:34 A.M., the crew was testing single engine take-offs to determine runway requirements with minimum flap settings.
Witnesses told investigators they saw smoke and fire coming from the airplane's wingtip and say the aircraft was fully engulfed in flames while it was still moving.
The aircraft - which the NTSB referred to as a GVI - hit several obstructions before coming to a stop some 200 feet from the base of Roswell's control tower. Rescue workers are said to have responded quickly, but they were unable to save the four onboard.
NTSB reports that wingtip scrape marks are evident on the runway and continue 3,800 feet from where they began until the tragic end.
Gulfstream says it has dedicated flight-test and engineering personnel to assist the NTSB in its investigation. Such investigations normally last up to a year, although sufficient data is expected much sooner to enable Gulfstream to continue flight testing and certification of the aircraft.
About the G650
The G650 is Gulfstream's largest and fastest business jet to date.
Featuring a cabin height of almost six and a half feet, everything about this aircraft is super-sized, including the distinctive oval windows which are 16 percent larger than previous Gulfstreams.
Aviation experts differ on how long the accident will delay G650 certification and deliveries, with estimates ranging from four months to a year. No order cancellations have been reported as a result of the crash.
Five aircraft had joined the flight test program since the G650 first flew in November, 2009. Total flight time exceeded 1,570 hours of which 425 were flown by aircraft destroyed in the accident.
Gulfstream, a division of General Dynamics, says that despite the tragedy and flight test suspension, pre-certification ground testing continues.
“The G650 will take its place atop the long line of safe, reliable, high-performance business jets on which Gulfstream has built its superb reputation,” said General Dynamics Chairman and CEO Jay L. Johnson.