Electronic Flight Bag—Gulfstream Style

New proprietary mobile app reduces hours of preflight takeoff and landing calculations to a few seconds
Image By Matthew Stephan

The Performance app is the latest addition to Gulfstream PlaneBook, an electronic flight manual.

Piloting an aircraft requires a cool demeanor, a deft touch and serious math skills.

Gulfstream can’t help with the first two. But when it comes to arithmetic aloft, Gulfstream recently released a mobile application that simplifies one aspect of a pilot’s duties: the modeling of takeoff and landing scenarios.

Gulfstream Performance, the newest addition to the PlaneBook suite of apps, is being hailed as an invaluable tool. The program allows pilots to quickly, easily and accurately check takeoff and landing scenarios at thousands of airports in a variety of weather conditions without combing through intricate flight manual charts or making several complex calculations.

All pilots need to enter is the airport name or identifier, the preferred runway based on the weather reported and the desired weight of the aircraft. The app will automatically populate real-time weather data via an internet connection, updated airport and runway information and Gulfstream standards for aircraft settings, such as flaps, spoilers, anti-ice and thrust reverser statuses.

Pilots can adjust those settings and more with the touch of a finger on a tablet screen and recalculate the results.

Until regulations change, the app cannot replace the manual calculations required by aviation authorities during the preflight process or in programming the aircraft’s flight management system. Pilots must still do those computations using the flight manual charts. However, beta testers have successfully used the app to verify those computations for accuracy. The app allows for easy analysis of changing conditions while in flight, including landing assessments prior to approach.

“Pilots will tell you all those complicated charts in the airplane flight manual make for time-consuming calculations,” says Dave Green, a senior flight operations engineer and the innovator behind the app’s creation. “Figuring it all out and ensuring accuracy is burdensome on the pilot and often requires help.”

'Let's Simplify This'

Green recognized the need for a better takeoff and landing tool while working on the G650 flight manual prior to that aircraft’s entry into service. He found the performance charts provided by Jeppeson in the manual cumbersome.

The idea of taking that information and combining it with weather and aircraft weight data to figure out how much runway is required to take off or land—or the maximum amount of fuel that could be carried to meet a given departure—was impractical. Especially when making those calculations can take hours, depending on aircraft configuration and weather data.

“The charts not being the most efficient, I thought, ‘Let’s simplify this,’” Green says. “Let’s leverage technology to make those calculations and then use graphical interfaces to make it really easy to understand.”

Green spent two years conceptualizing the app before he caught the attention of Randy Gaston, then Gulfstream’s vice president of Flight Operations. Green and Gaston were part of the team that planned the G650’s record around-the-world flight in 2013. Green’s eye for detail when it came to aircraft performance convinced Gaston to recruit him away from engineering to support development of tools like the Gulfstream Performance app.

Soon after joining the Flight Operations Department, Green met with representatives in Product Support and Business Technology and began developing the app.

Warm Response

The end product is so user-friendly Green received multiple handshakes and slaps on the back and at least one hug upon demonstrating the app for pilots at the Gulfstream 2016 Operators & Suppliers Conference.

The app displays a rich graphical depiction of the runway and colors the part of the surface required to take off or land based on the data entered into the software. Takeoff speeds and distances are graphically shown on the runway surface. A visual depiction of the windsock and component vectors are also presented for situational awareness, as are obstacles, climb gradients and much more.

The app also features graphics showing the glide path for landing, with go-around speeds and gradients clearly marked. For take offs, a climb path graphic, complete with a to-scale representation of obstacles that might affect the aircraft, is displayed.

The developers also built smart technology into the app. When a user inputs a data combination that falls outside certified limits, the program not only displays an alert but suggests alternatives, such as reducing weight by offloading passengers, cargo or fuel or changing the aircraft configuration. The app does not allow unapproved combinations of weather, runway and configuration data.

“It’s pretty exciting for us in IT to develop something that will help pilots by saving them time and reducing their stress levels,” says Drew Dixon, whose Mobile Solutions team developed the app.

Gulfstream plans continual improvements to the Performance app, with plans to link it to PlaneBalance—which will automatically populate the weight data fields—in the next iteration. More flight planning tools are likely to follow as PlaneBook evolves from a suite of technical information to a suite of capabilities.

“The ease of use and time savings demonstrated in the Performance app match our strategic vision for the transformation of the PlaneBook product,” says Bill Colleran, director of technical information, Gulfstream Product Support. “The time savings alone significantly improve the return on investment for the PlaneBook product.”

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