IAI Astra IV
Astra Jet Corp., the U.S.-based business aircraft marketing arm of Israel Aircraft Industries, announced development of the -1126 Astra IV at the September 1992 NBAA Convention in Dallas. Developed from the IAI Astra SP light-medium jet, the Astra IV would retain its basic wing airfoil, airframe systems and cruciform tail design.
The Astra IV would have a large, circular tube-shaped fuselage, with a shallow dropped aisle, affording passengers 6.1 ft. of headroom, 7.0 ft. of cabin width and 24.3 ft. of cabin length. While overall length of the main passenger seating area was somewhat shorter than that of the GII, the Astra IV offered almost as much seated head and shoulder room as the GII.
IAI was ambitious in its goals for the program. The Astra IV would be able to fly four passengers 3,650 nm while cruising at 430 to 435 KTAS and land with NBAA reserves. It would be able to fly eight passengers, coast-to-coast in the United States while cruising at 476 KTAS. Just as importantly, the Astra IV at $13 million would be priced competitively with midsize aircraft and it would rival their direct operating costs.
The key to achieving the price point was to partner with outside firms to share the development costs. Design tradeoffs, however, became necessary to meet the cost goals. The relatively small wet wing, adapted from the Astra SP, required fitting the aircraft with a large aft fuselage tank that reduced available cabin length and precluded inflight access to the aft baggage compartment.
Instead of upgrading to a hot wing anti-ice system, the Astra SP’s deice boots were retained to protect the leading edges. The engines retained relatively heavy starter-generators so that DC electrical power, rather than high-pressure air, could be used for starting. The electrical system retained the Astra’s parallel bus design rather than embracing a more modern split bus architecture.
The Astra IV also used thePro Line 4, similar to the Astra SPX. A fifth CRT was added to the instrument panel, adding EICAS and rudimentary systems synoptics capabilities.
Controlling weight as aggressively as a French fashion model was critical to achieving range, speed and payload goals, along with holding down direct operating costs. The Astra IV initially was projected to have an 18,150-lb BOW and 32,500-lb MTOW, roughly half the weights of the GII. IAI selected Pratt & Whitney Canada to supply highly efficient, but modestly sized PW306A engines. If the Astra IV gained weight, the engines would not have the margins needed to produce enough thrust to offset the added girth.
Perennially cash-strapped IAI courted equally lean Yakovlev Aircraft as a potential joint-venture partner to build the airframe. Eventually, both IAI and Yakovlev conceded that they lacked the resources to bring the Astra IV to market. But six years later, Fort Worth-based Galaxy Aerospace, backed by a large cash infusion from the Pritzker family and under the leadership of industry veteran Brian Barents, finally propelled the Astra IV, reborn as the Galaxy, into the market.
Gulfstream was so impressed with the Galaxy’s potential as a GII replacement, that the company acquired the program and renamed the aircraft G200 in 2002. However, by then the aircraft’s BOW had ballooned to nearly 20,000 lb, necessitating an increase in MTOW to 35,450 lb. Having 6,040-lb-thrust engines and 369 ft. of wing area that were adequate for a 32,500-lb aircraft, the G200’s nearly 10% higher takeoff weight resulted in mediocre takeoff and climb performance. That left unfulfilled some of the promises of the original aircraft. A typically equipped G200 can carry only two passengers with full fuel. But it can still fly eight passengers 3,100 nm at Mach 0.75. Currently, new G200 aircraft are priced at $23 million. But with its successor less than two years away from certification, prices are soft due to tepid demand.