When aspiring aviation photographer and full-fledged aviation geek, Chris Swallow tossed his step ladder into the back of his SUV and headed for Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport on Saturday he had more in mind than just seeing what interesting airplanes he might photograph.
Swallow, who has lived in Phoenix’s East Valley area for the past two years, knows he is likely to encounter something noteworthy. In the past, he’s photographed Air Force T-45s, T-38 Talons, the T-6 (that’s his photo of the Texans below) along with the AV-8B Harrier and the V-22 Osprey.
Gateway Airport occupies some of the land that until 1993 was Williams Air Force Base. Now, Gateway is fast becoming a busy commercial airport. Allegiant, WestJet, Flair and Swoop provide scheduled service. On the weekends, there is a heavy military presence when the Air National Guard uses the airport as a base for practicing maneuvers over the Arizona desert.
What brought Swallow here on a sunny Spring Saturday, however was an interesting flight pattern he was monitoring from home. According to the data on FlightRadar24, a Boeing 737 was conducting repeat touch-and-gos. That struck Swallow as curious, so he headed over to the airport to check it out.
He saw the plane’s odd activity as soon as he arrived, but this was no Boeing 737, it was Bombardier’s newest and largest business aircraft, the 19-passenger Global 7500 registration C-GLBG.
Sometimes, the fancy new business jet was flying around 3000 feet as it approached the airport. As Swallow watched the airplane seemed to “drop like a rock right at the threshold of the runway.” No sooner had it touched down then the engines revved and it soared upwards again.
A Bombardier equipment trailer at the edge of the apron was broadcasting the radio communication between the cockpit and flight test engineers on the ground who were busy monitoring the performance of the jet and its GE Passport engines. Swallow stayed close to the trailer for the play-by-play.
When the last test was complete, one of the crew invited Swallow to tour the testing trailer, where an array of screens seemed to be recording everything. After that, he was welcome to visit to the jet. This was not going to be a look at high altitude luxury though. Sure, the 54-foot long by 8-foot wide passenger cabin can be configured for separate seating, dining and sleeping areas and it will offer a full galley and crew rest area. But, C-GLBG is still a testbed and it looks like one with sensors, wires and, Swallow noted, “escape hatches everywhere.”
Earlier this month, the Global 7500 with registration C-GLBR broke the distance record for a business jet, crossing 8,152 nautical miles on a flight from Singapore to Tucson. In the process, Bombardier claims it also set a speed record that is awaiting official validation. Executives and anyone else who might spring for the $75 million dollar airplane can now fly New York to Hong Kong or San Francisco to Singapore on a private jet that in size and range rivals some of the newest airliners.
Even without eyeballing the deluxe touches that make private jets so alluring, Swallow reveled in the opportunity to see first hand the final test flights for a brand new airplane.
It was an aviation geek’s dream day, he told me. “I sat in the captain’s seat and saw the heads-up display. It was mind-blowing. I was like a kid in a candy store.”
Some photos and videos in this post courtesy of Chris Swallow. Follow him on Instagram @chris.swallow.photography
Author of The New York Times bestseller, The Crash Detectives, I am also a journalist, public speaker and broadcaster specializing in aviation and travel.