Bigger, Faster, Farther

The evolution of the G650 began with customer input, engineering ingenuity and manufacturing breakthroughs. The result was the creation of the world’s finest business jet
g650, aviation, technology, avionics, design
Written By Patty Jensen

After years of research, planning and discussion, the future of a nearly $70 million aircraft ultimately came down to a matter of inches.

The year was 2003, and Gulfstream was working to create the next-generation business jet—something to surpass the G550—already the leader in large-cabin, ultra-long-range business aircraft. Based on focus groups conducted with customers, including input from the Advanced Technology Customer Advisory Team, the design direction of the new aircraft was clear and concise.

“Bigger, faster, farther,” remembers Pres Henne, Gulfstream’s senior vice president of Programs, Engineering and Test. “That’s what our customers wanted and that’s what we were challenged to deliver.”

A larger aircraft, based on the cross section and length of the fuselage, was the starting point. The faster and farther attributes would need to be engineered to accommodate the larger cabin size. So the question was, just how big?

“All our planes, from the Gulfstream I to the GV, had the same size fuselage diameter—94 inches,” Henne says. “The width of our aircraft had been a point of discussion for many years. The decision on how wide to go was based on the voice of our customers and the performance expectations of the aircraft—being able to go faster and farther than any other business jet required managing the sweet spot between cabin size and cruise speed.

“We finally agreed on 108 inches.”

Customer demand for a faster aircraft that can go farther was in part the result of a changing business climate, one where markets span the globe and speed is often of the essence, making the adage “time is money” a reality. Eventually, the decision was reached to set the maximum operating speed of the G650 at Mach 0.925.

Range also was an important factor. Because the goal was to increase the distance the G550 could travel, the choice was made early to make the G650’s distance 7,000 nautical miles, which is 250 nautical miles farther than the range of the G550, and accomplished at a higher speed.

“Clean Sheet” Design

When the engineers first began the G650 design, they thought they might be able to utilize aspects from Gulfstream’s previous models, but it soon became apparent that a whole new design was required.

“Typically the way a new airplane evolves, especially the GIV and GV, is to start with the same fuselage, same cross section, and the same nose and tail,” says Henne. “It’s less costly when you start with one design and then modify it to fit what you are trying to accomplish. But the G650 was so radically different that we decided to start with a ‘clean sheet’ design. In other words, start from scratch.”

But not every aspect of the aircraft’s design changed.

“We saved the same windshield,” Henne says with a laugh.

Customer demand for a faster aircraft that can go farther was in part the result of a changing business climate, one where markets span the globe and speed is often of the essence.

Developing and Marketing a Concept

Throughout the early years of the G650’s creation, many other Gulfstream teams and organizations were working in tandem with the engineering group—including sales and marketing. Their role started with research in the planning phase. Customer demand, along with competitive challenges, shaped the design of Gulfstream’s new flagship aircraft.

“We solicited input from a number of different sources regarding the design of the G650,” according to Larry R. Flynn, president of Gulfstream. “We listened to our customers through our Customer Advisory Board and to other customers through interactions and special briefings with our leadership team members. So there was a good deal of valuable input. Our marketing group also provided insight based on competitive analysis. That was important because we wanted to create the best business aircraft in the world.”

Gulfstream already had the best in class with the G550, so the teams knew they had to outdo themselves. It was a combination of factors that eventually led the company to develop the G650, the most advanced aircraft in the market, and by extension, to take advantage of an opportunity to create a new market segment.

But the company had no idea how successful its new aircraft would be until the G650 made its world debut. It would turn out to be a change-making moment in the company’s history.

Introduction of the G650

On March 13, 2008, Gulfstream announced to the world the introduction of an all-new business jet—the G650. This new aircraft offered the longest range, fastest speed, largest cabin and the most advanced cockpit in the Gulfstream fleet.

“This is an exciting time in Gulfstream’s history,” said Joe Lombardo, executive vice president, Aerospace Group, General Dynamics, during the ceremony. “For 50 years, our company has been on the forefront of business-jet aviation. I can think of no better way to celebrate our golden anniversary than to introduce the Gulfstream G650. Created with significant input from customers, the G650 offers the most advanced flight deck and the widest array of cabin comforts. Its performance and aesthetics are unprecedented.”

The list of the new flagship’s superior qualities seemed endless. An enhanced cabin environment where extra space allows for a longer living area, more seat recline, expanded legroom and increased stateroom capabilities. The most technologically advanced PlaneView® cockpit, along with state-of-the-art vision systems to improve both pilot situational awareness and flight safety. Increased performance powered by the new Rolls-Royce BR725 engine. A full three-axis, fly-by-wire system that delivers a number of benefits, including flight-envelope protection, increased redundancy and reduced maintenance. Overall system reliability improvements to provide unmatched availability and dispatch reliability.

The response to this incredible new flying machine was immediate, with 200 sales booked. With that many aircraft ordered, the emphasis quickly shifted to manufacturing. The G650 wasn’t like any of the company’s other models—it had a clean sheet design and complementary sales and ordering processes. The manufacturing aspect—including the construction of a new building—would end up being a clean sheet process as well.

Manufacturing a Flagship

“The development of a new product includes decisions on fabrication, assembly and testing processes,” says Dennis Stuligross, Gulfstream’s senior vice president of Operations. “With the G650 we had a unique opportunity to do this from the outset. The G450 and G550 are built off the GIV and GV, and they were designed and built from preceding aircraft. We were continuously looking for ways to improve the existing process.”

The G650 was a new design built on 3-D models instead of drawings. Utilizing those models allowed Gulfstream to do something it had never done before.

“Instead of having drawings, we had electronic models that represent all the features of the parts, assemblies and installations in 3-D space,” explains Stuligross. “So it has thickness, length, width and weight. Electronically, you can see exactly what everything is and where it goes. Everybody is using the same data to create the product.

“The accuracy is incredible. You are able to build tools and product from the same model, and the assembly operations will occur without interference.”

Because the G650 is an addition, not a replacement, to Gulfstream’s product line, a new building would need to be constructed. Up to that point, Stuligross admits, his team was still thinking of the design based on their previous experience—having to fit new processes for new aircraft into existing brick and mortar.

When the Operations group was considering buildings and began bidding on contractors, they were still thinking in terms of what the building would look like, and then how to put the process inside it. But this, like everything else connected to the G650, was destined to be very different.

“In collaboration with the building contractors we established what we wanted,” Stuligross says. “We needed to first define the manufacturing and material handling processes and then develop the building that would enclose them. It was that simple.”

Stuligross remembers that day with delight. “It was a telling moment; it was one of those ‘Aha!’ moments,” he says. “From that point on, we put more detail into how we wanted the process to flow. It was a clean sheet for the tools, the manufacturing and support processes, and the building.”

Begun in March 2007, the 313,000-square-foot (95,402-square-meter) G650 manufacturing building was completed in about 12 months, nearly a month ahead of schedule. Soon, it would be time for the big show.

The G650 was a new design built on 3-D models instead of drawings. Utilizing those models allowed Gulfstream to do something it had never done before.

The Rollout

On a crisp and sunny fall morning on Sept. 29, 2009, Gulfstream’s new flagship business jet, the G650, rolled out under its own power at the company’s world headquarters in Savannah, Ga. Approximately 7,000 people gathered at the new G650 manufacturing building for the aircraft’s debut, including state and local dignitaries, customers, members of the G650 development team and Gulfstream employees.

“We’ve all been looking forward to this day since we officially announced the G650 program last year,” said Lombardo. “Simply put, the Gulfstream G650 is in a class by itself. I want to thank everyone who made this aircraft possible. I share the tremendous amount of pride you have for this significant piece of aviation history.”

Henne recognized the importance of customers in the development of the G650 and elaborated on the new aircraft’s attributes during the ceremony.

“Our customers had an instrumental role in the design of the G650,” Henne said. “The G650 will set new levels of performance in aircraft capability, cabin environment and maintainability. Customer input was used to guide fuselage size selection as well as aircraft performance characteristics.

“The G650 offers unprecedented speed and range, superb takeoff performance, an all-new Gulfstream wing, best-in-class Rolls-Royce BR725 engine, and top-of-the-line aesthetics,” he said. “It provides the most technologically advanced flight deck in business aviation with the PlaneView II cockpit and an advanced aircraft health and trend monitoring system to support aircraft maintenance planning and improved availability.”

Following the rollout ceremony, members of the audience eagerly gathered outside to see Gulfstream’s newest flagship. The excitement generated by the introduction of the G650 was reflected in the response of one of the participants as he gently touched the wing of the new aircraft.

“This is the most beautiful aircraft I have ever seen,” he said. “It truly is an engineering marvel.”

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