- The Gulfstream G650ER is one of the largest purpose-built private jets currently in service.
- Billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos use the aircraft to traverse the globe in speed and luxury.
- Private airlines including Qatar Executive allow the wealthy to charter the aircraft instead of owning it outright.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos might be rival space cowboys but besides being billionaire entrepreneurs, they also have a shared love for an American-made private jet known as the Gulfstream G650ER.
Gulfstream first inducted the private jet into passenger service in 2014 and it’s been the manufacturer’s flagship ever since.
Only one aircraft in Gulfstream’s line-up surpasses it in size, the soon-to-be-passenger-ready G700.
A jet setter’s dream, the G650ER boasts a range of 7,500 nautical miles and speeds of up to Mach .925 enabled by Rolls-Royce BR725 engines. With that range, a traveler can jet between any two cities in the world in one stop or less.
Musk is the perfect example of the jet’s capabilities, flying nearly 160,000 miles (257,495km) on the jet in 2018. Some of the Tesla CEO’s longest flights included hops from Texas to Israel, Northern Ireland to California, and California to Thailand via Alaska.
Source: The Washington Post
While in Doha checking out the G700, Qatar Executive invited a group of journalists onboard a G650ER for a demonstration flight. Here’s what it was like.
Qatar Executive is the private jet division of Middle Eastern mega carrier Qatar Airways, catering to clients that want a step above first class. The G650ER is the company’s flagship private jet after a $US1 ($AU1) billion order for 14 planes.
Source: Qatar Airways
The typical Qatar Executive passenger bypasses the commercial terminal and is chauffeured right up to their awaiting airplane. Jets in the Qatar Executive fleet also include the Bombardier Global 5000 and Global XRS.
A total of 13 passengers can be seated in the 46-foot (14.02m) and 10-inch (25cm) G650ER cabin that’s divided into three living areas.
Two pairs of club seats comprise the first living area for a total of four seats, each with its own window.
The forward section is the ideal seating area for takeoff and landing. It’s also the section in which the principal passenger typically sits.
This type of seating area is standard and can be found on nearly every wide-cabin private jet.
Directly behind is another four-seat section known as the dining and conference area thanks to its massive table.
This is where meals can be enjoyed and shared with the other passengers onboard, just like a home dining room table.
But it also doubles as a conference room table ideal for holding meetings or just getting work done on a larger table. In-flight WiFi is included in Qatar Executive’s charter rate, meaning customers can browse away or hold presentations without having to worry about how much data they’re using.
Power outlets are also available to keep devices charged.
When it’s time to rest, the seats can also recline fully flat to make a bed that can sleep two.
Opposite the table is a credenza with a built-in television monitor. The credenza can also be used as a buffet table during meals times, and its drawers can be used for extra storage.
The rear-most living section is a private compartment with seating for five passengers.
This space is highly customizable based on owner preference and Qatar Executive opted for a split between club seats and a three-place divan.
A pocket door can also close for additional privacy, sealing this section off from the rest of the plane. It can be anything from an executive’s private office to a living room.
One private jet expert told Insider in a prior aircraft tour that an executive might use this space as an office and the forward sections as the waiting room, calling subordinates back one at a time for in-flight meetings.
Both the divan and club seat pair can be converted into beds during downtimes. As many as three passengers can sleep in this stateroom.
This G650ER does not come with a shower but the option is available for owners. A shower would complete the idea of a flying apartment, allowing flyers to arrive from a long-haul flight clean and well-rested.
Each pair of club seats in the forward and rear living areas come with tables that can also be used for meals, work, or playing cards, among other uses.
Instead of popping out from the sidewall, the tables are raised and lowered with the press of a button.
Window shades on the aircraft are also controlled with the press of a button. Flight attendants also have control through a master system panel in the galley.
An extra seat is located in the crew rest area that’s reserved for an additional pilot on longer flights.
With all 12 passengers onboard, it was time to take to the skies above Qatar.
First, a towel was offered to every passenger before departure.
Next came the pre-departure beverage. A full bar including soft drinks, juices, and alcohol is stocked and complimentary on Qatar Executive flights, just as on Qatar Airways.
Our pilots started the engines as the first drinks were being served. It was just a few minutes from the time the door was closed to getting underway.
And one of the perks of flying private is being able to see what goes on in the cockpit.
Soon enough, we were taxing to the runway with downtown Doha in sight. The oval windows are Gulfstream’s largest at 28 inches (71cm) wide, enabling truly expansive views without having to crane one’s next.
Next came the true test of the aircraft’s capabilities: takeoff. Passengers were warned beforehand that the G650ER feels more powerful on takeoff compared to a traditional airliner.
In fact, the force of the speeding plane down the runway was so great that anything not tied down was launched backward. Some fellow passengers ended up spilling or wearing their drinks.
We were quickly airborne and overflying the main terminal at Hamad International Airport. It was a reminder that flying private means never having to wait in line at check-in, or go through a security checkpoint in most cases.
Once airborne, it was revealed that we wouldn’t just be flying aimlessly over Qatar. Rather, the pilots had programmed the route to create a special message in the sky to be revealed after the flight.
But while the plane was flying its special route, it was time to see what dining is like on a G650ER.
The menu for this flight included hot and cold options such as Mongolian beef casserole, rigatoni pesto, and hummus.
The two cabin attendants on our flight quickly jumped up to begin servicing, starting by setting the tables with white cloths, dishes, and flatware. In an instant, the atmosphere changed from a private jet to a five-star restaurant.
The credenza acted as the buffet table for this flight, allowing passengers to take what they pleased throughout the flight.
Meals are crafted in the forward galley, where cabin attendants have access to large countertops, ovens, and microwaves to prepare restaurant-quality meals.
Menus can be customized on each flight according to customer preference but it can be costly. In-flight catering on any private airline can quickly rack up a bill comparable to a five-star restaurant.
It took around two hours to draw our invisible painting in the sky, revealed to be “QE” for Qatar Executive. The only way for anyone on the ground to know what our flight plan spelled out would be through the lens of flight tracking software.
And while the G650ER is an incredibly smooth aircraft in which to ride, I will say that I felt a bit uneasy due to a likely combination of jetlag and the constant turning that the sky drawing entailed.
But it wasn’t time to return to Hamad International just yet. Qatar Executive had one more surprise for us: a trip to 50,000 feet (15,240.00m).
That kind of altitude is rarely used by even the most capable private jet when passengers are onboard. In fact, 51,000 feet (15,544.80m) is the highest altitude possible for a G650ER and we were going to be 1,000 feet (304.80m) shy.
For most onboard, it was the first time any of us had ventured that high up. Travel YouTuber Sam Chui, who was also onboard, said he hadn’t been to 50,000 feet (15,240.00m) since flying on the famed Concorde.
Pilots carefully climbed the plane through the flight levels and leveled off with ease at 50,000 feet (15,240.00m). I walked up to the cockpit to confirm it with my own eyes.
We weren’t quite in Blue Origin territory but it felt like we weren’t too far away.
I expected to feel at least light-headed while in the rarified atmosphere but the cabin pressurization system made it so we felt closer to the surface than we actually were. I was still a bit woozy for all the turns we did but other than that, I felt fine.
After a few minutes at 50,000 feet (15,240.00m), it was time to get our feet back on the ground. We could’ve quite easily glided down to the runway but we made a normal approach to the airport instead, passing by some of Qatar’s newly-built 2022 World Cup stadiums.
The oversized windows once again came in handy as we passed Doha’s skyscrapers.
We also passed the Ras Abu Aboud Stadium, constructed using modified shipping containers.
After a flight like that, I can see why Musk and his companies spent around $US700,000 ($AU963,391) to use the jet for most of his 2018 flights.