To the casual observer, the wing of a new Gulfstream G500 may look like any other Gulfstream wing—long, highly swept and effortlessly clean.
But because of Gulfstream technological advancements—including two patents and innovative tooling refinements for robotic equipment—the Gulfstream G500 and G600 wings are subtly different structures, sculpted wonders that allow these new aircraft with shorter wingspans to reach the same 0.925 maximum Mach speed that the larger Gulfstream G650 and G650ER have set as the world standard in ultralong-range travel.
The new wings further extend the history of design innovation that has become synonymous with the Gulfstream name. One of the earliest advancements, now standard on aircraft of all name, is the winglet, the upward sweep of the wingtip that reduces drag, increases range and helped make nonstop international travel not only possible for business jets, but routine.
Angel Barboza, director of Aerodynamics and Preliminary Design Engineering, Gulfstream, is leading the newest generation of aerodynamicists to a design that aims to create lighter, stronger, faster wings that adhere to the Gulfstream standard. That role extends beyond the G500 and the G600; Barboza and his team already are working to answer, “What’s next?”
Part of that new equation, however, includes upholding the Gulfstream standard, Barboza says.
“We put a lot of emphasis not only on the performance of the wing but also the aesthetics,” he explains. “The wing has to be smooth and continuous, with no bumps or external fairings. The engineering challenge is greater because the wing not only has to meet technical performance metrics, it also has to maintain clean, aerodynamic lines so that it looks like a Gulfstream wing.”
An aircraft wing has to meet many demands in all phases of flight. The wing can’t just perform well at high-speed cruise at high altitudes; predictable responsiveness and acceptable control are also required in low-speed flight and approach.
“We go through a lot of effort to make sure that the aerodynamic characteristics are very robust throughout the flight envelope at every corner from the minimum controllable airspeed to the highest altitude,” Barboza explains. “It means that the wing works efficiently everywhere; the wing itself fixes aerodynamic changes that happen in flight; it doesn’t need vortilons, fences or vortex generators to correct the flow of air over the wing.”
Once the optimal aerodynamic design is defined, structural and systems engineers have the unenviable assignment of determining how the flight control mechanisms, such as rollers for flap tracks and actuators for ailerons, will fit inside the wing without external fairings that negatively affect drag and aesthetics. As aircraft wings have become increasingly thinner to increase speed and range, that makes the challenge all the more difficult.
“We put a lot of emphasis not only on the performance of the wing but also the aesthetics. The wing has to be smooth and continuous, with no bumps or external fairings.”
That’s where the subtle shaping plays a role. Variations of only thousandths of an inch along the surface of the wing help direct air over and along the span, increasing lift and helping the G500 attain a projected range of 5,000 nautical miles/9,260 kilometers and a maximum Mach of 0.925.
An equally high standard of excellence is demanded when the wing moves from design to build. The Gulfstream process begins with a 50-foot length of aluminum that forms the upper skin, which means there are no exposed joins or rivets topside to interrupt the aesthetic, or more importantly, to introduce drag over the airfoil.
Through a patented forming process, the upper skin of the wing is shaped by baking it at several hundred degrees in an autoclave. Gulfstream over the years has continued to refine this shaping process, and with production of the G500 and G600 wings, so accurately shapes the wing that contours within one twenty-thousandth of an inch are met with no additional forming techniques required. That is a significant advancement that improves precision and reduces production time.
New materials, such as aluminum lithium and titanium, are lighter but stronger, so new robotic techniques for drilling fastener holes have been developed. Titanium in particular requires a higher pressure but slower speed drilling that can be particularly difficult and taxing for a human to repeat as precisely as the Kuka robot, says Steve Ritchie, director of Operations Technology and Planning, Gulfstream.
Even as production for the G500 gears up, Barboza and Ritchie are years into research and development on what might be next, including probing the question of supersonic flight.
Explains Barboza: “You can’t be satisfied or complacent because if you are, you never progress.”
Theoretical max range is based on cruise at Mach 0.85 with eight passengers, three crew and NBAA IFR fuel reserves. Actual performance will be affected by ATC routing, operating speed, weather, outfitting options and other factors. All performance for the G500 is based on preliminary data and subject to change.
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