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Gulfstream IVs have few blemishes on safety record

Hanscom takeoff crash is second fatal one

More than a dozen National Transportation Safety Board investigators scoured the crash site at Hanscom Field in Bedford on Monday.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

More than a dozen National Transportation Safety Board investigators scoured the crash site at Hanscom Field in Bedford on Monday.

The Gulfstream IV, the type of business jet that crashed Saturday while attempting to take off from Hanscom Field, has an excellent reputation for safety, having crashed during takeoff only one other time since the aircraft’s debut in 1987, according to experts and federal safety records.

“They are very well-built airplanes,” R. John Hansman, a professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Monday in a phone interview.

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Investigators are trying to determine why the plane left the runway, struck an antenna, and burst through a chain-link fence before sliding into a gully, killing all seven people aboard. An airport employee told investigators the aircraft never took flight, a National Transportation Safety Board official said.

Aviation experts told the Globe that investigators would probably examine whether the pilot tried to abort takeoff and encountered a problem, such as a blown tire or brake failure, that prevented the aircraft from stopping while still on the runway.

“This is a very unusual accident,” said Bruce Landsberg, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Foundation in Frederick, Md.

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Experts said that even if one of the aircraft’s two Rolls-Royce Tay 611-8 engines failed, the remaining one packs enough power to allow the jet to take off.

“It’s safer to fly than to try to stop because I may run out of runway if I go any farther,” Landsberg said.

Gulfstream IV accidents overall — not just those during takeoff, but in other situations as well — total 18. Of those, four were fatal — including the Hanscom Field crash — and three others resulted in serious injuries, according to Landsberg. He described that number of incidents as “very few.”

The entire fleet of Gulfstream IV aircrafts has spent more than 4 million hours in the air, said Steve Cass, a spokesman for Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., which manufactured the aircraft.

The only other fatal crash involving a takeoff took place on Oct. 30, 1996, at the Palwaukee Municipal Airport in Wheeling, Ill., according to a NTSB report. The plane lifted off momentarily before it belly-crashed, sliding across a field and gully and coming to rest on the edge of an apartment complex parking lot. The airplane was consumed by fire and four people were killed.

In that case, investigators found that the pilot failed to maintain control of the accelerating plane as it was buffeted by gusty crosswinds and veered off the runway, according to news accounts. The pilot was also faulted for failing to abort the takeoff while there was still time, a NTSB report said.

Investigators blamed the co-pilot for failing to monitor the situation and take action to avoid the accident, according to the report.

The two other fatal accidents involving the Gulfstream IV took place abroad. On Feb. 12, 2012, a flight carrying 12 people crashed during landing at Bukavu-Kamenbe Airport in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the NTSB.

The aircraft overran the runway, went down an embankment, and came to a stop in a ravine. The pilot, co-pilot, and two passengers were killed, the NTSB said.

Five months later, on July 13, 2012, a Gulfstream IV crashed while trying to land at Le Castellet Airport in southern France, killing three American crew members, according to the NTSB and news reports.

Some high-profile passengers have also had close calls on the aircraft.

Last year, a Gulfstream IV carrying former president George W. Bush made an emergency landing after the smell of smoke was reported in the cockpit, according to news reports. No one was injured.

In 2005, a Gulfstream IV plane carrying Andrew Card, then the White House chief of staff, made an emergency landing in Nashville after smoke began pouring into the cockpit, according to a news report. No one was injured.

Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. produced more than 500 Gulfstream IV aircraft for customers between 1987 and 2003, Cass said in an e-mail. The company now produces the G450 aircraft, which is a variant of the Gulfstream IV, according to the company.

The aircraft has a range of about 4,800 miles and has the capability to fly eight people nonstop from Philadelphia to all of Europe, the northern half of South America, or to all of North America, Cass said.

John Deakin, a retired pilot and president of Advanced Pilot Seminars, said in an e-mail that the Gulfstream IV is one of the few airplanes that can travel such a distance with a full load.

The cabin is certified to hold 19 passengers with a crew of three people, though most operators outfit the aircraft to seat 12 to 16 passengers, said Cass.

More coverage:

Flight recorders are found in Hanscom crash

Photos: Plane crash at Hanscom Field

Audio: 911 calls after the crash

Philadelphia Inquirer co-owner killed in crash

Ex-Pennsylvania Gov. Rendell invited on jet that crashed

Inquirer sale to proceed as planned, partner says

Todd Wallack of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com.
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