Coming of Age
Gulfstream promised tomorrow’s flight experience today with the public unveiling of the Gulfstream G500 and Gulfstream G600 two years ago. The long-range aircraft pledged to offer an unprecedented blend of speed, range, comfort and technology, shifting the aviation paradigm.
Both revolutionary aircraft are on pace to meet their entry into service projections—2017 for the G500 and 2018 for the G600—and are exceeding performance expectations in flight and laboratory testing. Five G500s are now flying, including the first production model, and the first test article G600 is scheduled to make its inaugural flight in the months ahead.
The man leading the development efforts, Dan Nale, Gulfstream’s senior vice president of Programs, Engineering and Test, recently shared insights on the program, its origins and the advancements and innovations that are already making the G500 and G600 aviation marvels.
Take us back to the beginning. What drove Gulfstream to develop aircraft of this size, speed and range?
The initial idea was to create a program that would refresh our product line in what had been identified as the ‘sweet spot’ for private travel—the range between the reach of the Gulfstream G280 and the Gulfstream G650. The new aircraft had to incorporate the larger cabin, the technology and speed attributes of the G650. The cabin needed to be roomier than that of the Gulfstream G450 and Gulfstream G550, the aircraft needed to fly faster, and we had to once again push the envelope in terms of technology. What we ended up with are two extraordinary aircraft that are similar in range to two of the most popular aircraft in business aviation history but different in almost every other respect.
By all accounts, the testing of these aircraft has proceeded with unprecedented smoothness. What do you credit for that success?
The test facilities. For the first time, we were able to take all the production specifications and put them into the labs and test them before building the first aircraft. By the time the first G500 flew in May 2015, it was a relatively mature aircraft. The flying qualities had been tuned in the Conceptual Advanced Simulation Environment, better known as the CASE lab. The avionics had been refined in the Integration Test Facility, the mechanical systems had been evaluated on the Iron Bird and the new Data Concentration Network, an industry first, has been tested for six years now on the Systems Integration Bench. The G500 and G600 have undergone more than 52,000 hours of laboratory testing. The efficiencies happened in real time, and we’ve seen a return on those investments since the first test aircraft took to the sky.
Industry insiders like to talk about the optimization of the aircraft design, or how Gulfstream has succeeded in making the aircraft more comfortable without sacrificing performance. What were some of the design challenges?
The tremendous capabilities of the new Pratt & Whitney Canada 800 Series engines gave us plenty to work with. The G500 engines promise to be 33 percent more efficient than the G450, and the G600 engines are 15 to 20 percent better than the G550. You take the aerodynamic and engineering breakthroughs we made with the development of the G650, bake in the engines and benefits from incorporating the latest lightweight materials, and you have aircraft that will be unmatched in the industry. All that cabin space in an aircraft that can fly at near the speed of sound and cruise at Mach 0.90 for great distances. One of the members of our Advanced Technology Customer Advisory Team said to me during the development process, ‘I would hate to be one of your competitors.’ That’s how good these aircraft are.
You mentioned the Advanced Technology Customer Advisory Team, or ATCAT. Gulfstream once again gathered feedback from that group and others throughout the development process. What were some of those contributions?
We incorporated close to 200 ideas offered by ATCAT. One that stands out and is a tremendous improvement to the flying experience is a reduction in the amount of time it takes to get the aircraft ready to fly. That feedback led to the creation of the touch-screen avionics controllers and the Phase-of-Flight intelligence software that presents flight crews with structured task lists. Those innovations help the G500 and G600 reduce the preflight procedure time by approximately 50 percent compared to the G450 and G550. One of the great benefits of business aviation is the ability to travel on your schedule. With the G500 and G600, customers will be able to get off the ground and into the air even quicker.
What about the time aloft? These aircraft are designed to fly for anywhere from six to a dozen hours nonstop. What has Gulfstream done to enhance the cabin experience?
The G500 and G600 will offer the latest in creature comforts, such as plush seating, HD entertainment, communications and web connectivity, and a cabin management system. But the biggest differentiator, especially compared to jets from other manufacturers, is the attention paid to the cabin environment. The G500 and G600 have our iconic panoramic oval windows, providing abundant natural light. Only 100 percent fresh air is pumped into the cabin and is refreshed every two minutes. The cabin is pressurized to an industry low altitude, easing the strain on your heart and lungs to oxygenate your blood in thinner air. And our acoustics experts have succeeded in drastically reducing cabin noise levels for quiet, peaceful flights. The end result is, even on long flights, passengers feel rested, relaxed and ready to engage upon arrival rather than jet lagged.
“What we ended up with are two extraordinary aircraft that are similar in range to two of the most popular aircraft in business aviation history but different in almost every other respect.”
Since we’re talking about the cabin, Gulfstream has taken steps to offer greater flexibility in configuring the interior and has developed concepts for staterooms, media areas and other home-like living spaces within the aircraft. How did that strategy affect the development of the G500 and G600?
Flexibility was part of the design from the beginning. The space needed to offer these living areas determined the length and width of the fuselage. We took into consideration where the windows would be located and that helped determine seat locations. We wanted customers to be able to watch a movie in a theater-like setting, sleep on a real bed on overnight flights and take a shower before they land. They will be able to do that and more in the G600. That’s all part of creating and delivering the world’s finest aviation experience.
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