An Experience Beyond Expectations
These visitors aren’t easily impressed. Both of them are chief pilots. Both longtime Gulfstream aircraft operators. Neither of them first-timers at Gulfstream headquarters in Savannah, Georgia.
They understand—even expect—the lengths to which Gulfstream goes to produce high-performing, technologically advanced aircraft.
Or at least they thought they did.
Yet their recent visit for a Gulfstream G500/G600 Flying Experience tour left them eager for the entry into service of the latest jets. They used words like “impressive,” “amazing” and “really, really nice” throughout the daylong outing. The tour, staged monthly for customer and prospect flight department leaders, offers a fascinating peek at the advanced technology driving the aircraft development program.
Kept secret for seven years, the project is now rapidly progressing toward entry into service for two industry-changing jets. And as those who have experienced the tour can attest, the strategy behind the G500’s and G600’s development is as innovative as the aircraft themselves.
“Every person comes away saying this is the way every new product should be developed,” says Gulfstream sales engineer manager Al Baylis, who often leads the Experience tours. “The next big thing isn’t always bigger than what came before it. In this case it isn’t about bigger or faster—it’s a game-changer.”
We prove and validate the capabilities in the lab. Then we just demonstrate them in flight.
The last big thing for Gulfstream in the realm of clean sheet aircraft development was the Gulfstream G650, a bestseller the day it was announced. Customers ordered the aircraft sight unseen because it was the first of its kind: designed to fly travelers 7,000 nautical miles nonstop at unprecedented speeds in a spacious cabin created specifically for 12-plus hour flights in maximum comfort. By the time of the first customer delivery, in December 2012, more than 200 G650s were on order.
While other business jets can match the G500 and G600 in range, none can achieve the coveted combination of their range at high speed. The time savings will be significant, particularly on trips where the aircraft will be used at the farthest reaches of their range. A typical operator flying a Gulfstream at Mach 0.90 will shave more than 50 hours per year over other platforms flying at Mach 0.80
But performance is just one of the areas where the G500 and G600 will rule their classes. The G500/G600 Flying Experience tour demonstrates why Gulfstream’s latest marvels are sure to “put the industry on its heels,” Baylis says, by showcasing Gulfstream’s commitment to innovation.
Seeing is Believing
The pace of the program’s development should come as no surprise. Gulfstream introduced the G500 with a powered rollout—a rarity in the aviation industry—during the October 2014 launch event.
That aircraft’s first flight on May 18, 2015, was well publicized, as were the first flights of the three test articles since. Enthusiasts and order holders alike can monitor the progress of the certification effort at gulfstreamnow.com, a website dedicated solely to updates on the G500 and G600 program.
Still, seeing is believing, and the sight of several production G500s and test article G600s under construction underscores the progress made. Walking the length of the manufacturing floor, with jets almost ready for interior outfitting on one end and individual panels and parts being riveted and fitted on the other, visitors realize that while these aircraft are still in development, Gulfstream will be ready for the shift to full production upon certification of the aircraft.
“These aren’t paper airplanes,” Baylis says. “Touring the labs is a cool thing, and flying the aircraft in the simulator really thrills them. But to stand next to one of these aircraft on the floor, all of a sudden, it’s real.”
The manufacturing facility itself impresses, too. Building 6003 and its neighbor, Building 6000, were constructed specifically for the G500 and G600 program and are Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) certified for sustainable building practices. Both facilities are equipped with state-of-the-art robotics and three-dimensional modeling design equipment to produce parts.
The real epicenter of the ingenuity behind the G500 and G600, however, is located on the Gulfstream engineering campus at RDC III, a mile away from the manufacturing center of excellence.
The RDC III, or Research and Development Center III, has been the hub of G500 and G600 development since well before the program publicly launched in October 2014. Most of the more than 43,000 hours of testing have been conducted within RDC III’s cavernous confines.
“We prove and validate the capabilities in the lab,” says Troy Follak, chief flight test engineer, Gulfstream. “Then we just demonstrate them in flight.”
The facility’s advanced test environments include:
Cabin Integration Test Facility
The handsome leather seats look out of place among the sterile environment of a laboratory. Within a few days, though, the chairs will blend perfectly with an elegant aircraft cabin that includes glossy wood conference tables, high-definition video monitors and all the other accouterments of comfortable travel.
Gulfstream built its first Cabin Integration Test Facility for the G500. This interior lab allows Gulfstream to vet the cabin systems in an actual environment. The experimentation goes beyond simple trials—staffers participate in simulated flights, performing the same tasks passengers do while airborne for hours at a time.
The Iron Bird does everything an aircraft does except leave the ground.
Flight Deck Integration Test Facility
Engineers and test pilots created and perfected the linchpins of the revolutionary Symmetry Flight Deck—the active control sidesticks, touch-screen controllers and Phase-of-Flight intelligence—in this cockpit lab.
The ITF is a full-scale flight deck, and the lab’s systems function exactly as they are meant to perform in the aircraft. This is where the idea of linked sidesticks became reality, where some of Gulfstream’s brightest minds devised how to convert a touch-screen tablet into a trusted, durable and user-friendly workload reduction tool, and where software specialists figured out how to leverage the touch-screen controllers to significantly streamline the operation of an aircraft in every phase of flight.
The ITF has long been a part of Gulfstream’s aircraft development program. The first one opened in 1995 during the GV program.
They look like airplanes built from giant erector sets, but these full-scale aircraft replicas are not toys. The metal skeletons are fitted with the exact flight controls, hydraulics, electrical systems and landing gear as flying aircraft—even down to the actual length of wiring—so the Iron Birds simulate all the actions of an aircraft in flight, over and over again.
The gear extend and retract, the flight controls operate, even the exterior lights blink on and off on command. The Iron Bird, which includes a full flight deck within the control room at the nose of the structure, does everything an aircraft does except leave the ground.
Don the glasses, and where the real world ends and a virtual one begins inside the Cave Automatic Virtual Environment is hard to discern. So hard, in fact, one recent visitor engaged in a CAVE demonstration placed his very real smartphone on a virtual conference table. The device fell to the floor.
The CAVE allows Gulfstream’s interiors specialists to conceptualize and design an aircraft cabin virtually. Utilizing a computer joystick inside the three-sided box, with computer-generated images projected on the side walls and the floor, the engineers and designers experiment with seating configurations; carpet, fabric and veneer selections and colors; and galley, lavatory and baggage compartment styling.
System Integration Bench
Bundles of thin cables ring the SIB, the test platform for the new Data Concentration Network. The DCN, another Gulfstream first in the business aviation industry, is basically a central nervous system for the aircraft.
Instead of each individual system being connected directly with its corresponding system—point to point and wire to wire—each system in the G500 and G600 will be connected to one network that will collect information from various systems and make that data available to other systems.
The DCN promises to reduce power consumption, simplify wiring, cabling and parts, reduce aircraft weight, provide greater redundancy and safety, and ease maintainability.
CASE and Flight Simulator
Gulfstream test pilot Scott Evans has hundreds of hours of seat time in the G500 and G600, and he didn’t have to set foot on a ramp or in a hangar for most of them.
The Conceptual Advanced Simulation Environment is a flight simulator, albeit a static one, inside RDC III. The CASE complements the full-motion flight simulator installed at FlightSafety International on the Gulfstream campus.
Having the CASE in the same building where many of the engineers and test pilots work offers flexibility, and “having two platforms is better than one,” Evans says, particularly when testing and developing a new flight deck.
Tour visitors go flying in either the CASE or the FlightSafety simulator. Many of the pilots among them have initial reservations about the new Symmetry Flight Deck, having flown for years with pedestal-mounted control wheels and buttons and switches that control the avionics.
But once Evans or one of the other test pilots walks the guests through the preflight procedures using the touch-screen controllers and they ease the active control sidestick back as the takeoff roll arrives at rotation speed, the Symmetry Flight Deck feels natural and intuitive.
G500/G600 Flying Experience tour participants have compared Gulfstream’s research and development facilities to something out of the “Star Wars” movies, says Steve Cass, vice president, Technical Marketing and Communications, Gulfstream.
The breadth of laboratory testing demonstrates Gulfstream’s commitment to delivering mature aircraft upon entry into service. The technology deployed during aircraft development illustrates why Gulfstream is renowned for exceeding expectations.
The tours leave participants awestruck, making them unofficial ambassadors for the new aircraft.
“Trust is the foundation of every relationship between manufacturer and customer, and Gulfstream takes pride in our reputation for delivering on our promises,” says Mark Burns, president, Gulfstream. “The work done behind the scenes in our state-of-the-art labs and test facilities throughout the development process, even before we build the first test aircraft, is crucial to our creating and delivering the world’s finest aviation experience.”
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