Investing in the Future Today
When Gulfstream engineers and pilots began to create the next-generation large cabin business jet more than eight years ago they established three inviolate rules.
Nothing would be included in the new airplane unless it enhanced safety, improved performance or expanded reliability. And nearly every design decision would contribute to more than one goal. The result is the remarkable Gulfstream G500, anticipated to enter service in the coming months.
An all-new jet design is so rare, so complex and so costly that everyone at Gulfstream knew from the start that this opportunity to create the G500—and its longer cabin and greater range sister ship the Gulfstream G600—must be maximized in every aspect. The new airplanes could not be a one-time wonder. They must be built using technologies so fundamentally sound they are capable of adapting and maximizing future developments no one can now foresee.
It is well known that Gulfstream employs experienced and capable engineers in every aspect of aircraft design. But I think the keys to the G500’s success are including Gulfstream pilots in every decision and consulting with business jet operators from the very start of the program.
The result is an airplane with flying qualities and system design that builds on every pilot’s lifetime of experience while providing new and expanded levels of safety and innovation. Gulfstream’s advisory committee of customers helped guide the design to provide more of what real-world flying experience has proved to be most important regarding comfort, style, functionality and ease of use.
Gulfstream set the performance benchmark with its ultralong-range and speedy G650, which cruises at Mach 0.90 for thousands of miles. So efficient cruise at Mach 0.90—a speed few other jets can match and then only when near the end of short flights—was a must for the G500.
One key element to achieving such speed and efficiency is the shape of the fuselage. Gulfstream engineers developed a way to make a fuselage that is larger inside yet shaped to present less drag to the passing air, and still strong enough to contain pressurization high enough to give passengers the lowest cabin altitude in all of aviation, even when flying at 51,000 feet.
Like the G650, the unique noncircular shape of the fuselage provides more room at the cabin sidewalls, giving passengers more space at the head and shoulder areas.
Shaped and Smoothed
The other fundamental for speed and low drag is the wing. Gulfstream built on the shape and sweep of the G650 wing to design an all-new, completely smooth wing for the G500. The wings for the G500 and G600 are being manufactured in an enormous new purpose-built facility at the company’s Savannah, Georgia, headquarters.
The new wing manufacturing capability gives Gulfstream control of the entire process from initial design to final production. The new wing has flaps that extend over more than 70 percent of the wingspan giving the airplane the low-speed lift to use shorter runways. Gulfstream engineers created structures that house the retracted flap totally within the wing, so there are no exposed flap tracks or fairings like those hanging down from other jet manufacturers’ wings.
The obsessive attention to controlling drag at high speed has paid off with the G500 conclusively demonstrating during thousands of hours of testing that it will exceed its original promise, now offering 5,200 nautical miles at a long-range cruise speed of Mach 0.85, which is faster than the high-speed cruise of most other business jets. And the G500 will now deliver 4,400 nautical miles of range at its high-speed cruise of Mach 0.90.
On the Side
Gulfstream will not employ technology that doesn’t build on and take advantage of pilots’ whole careers of experience. That’s why it rejected using small sidestick flight controls in place of a traditional control column and yoke until a sidestick that behaves the same as traditional flight controls pilots have used from their first flying lesson was possible. The G500 and G600 Symmetry Flight Deck is built around these active sidesticks that deliver the tactile feedback every experienced pilot expects and relies on. The active control sidesticks are a first in any business jet.
Moving the pilot’s flight controls from a large central column and yoke to a small stick on the outboard edge of the cockpit opens up the entire space in front of the pilot. Now there is an unobstructed view of all areas of the huge flat glass displays. And there is ideal space to locate a touch-screen control panel under the right and left hands of each pilot. With the control column gone, the pilot’s “office” is a vastly more open space. Now pilots won’t sit for hours straddling a control column but can use the space and retractable desk in front of them to comfortably and efficiently perform the duties and tasks required on flights of many hours.
The other cockpit design challenge is to present the massive amount of available information to the crew in a form pilots can absorb effectively. That led to a reorganization of data Gulfstream calls Phase-of-Flight. That means pilots step through the checklists and data entry and information presentations needed for each phase such as engine start, taxi, departure, en route and arrival. All critical data remains available, but Phase-of-Flight doesn’t bury pilots in messages and information that has no application to the current situation.
Make no mistake, Gulfstream pilots remain firmly in control of all significant aircraft operations. That means the Symmetry Flight Deck doesn’t initiate functions without pilot selection. What Symmetry does is streamline subsequent actions after the pilot has made a command. For example, for engine start, fuel pumps must energize, pressurized bleed air valves must move and so on. To start the G500 engines, the pilot makes two switch inputs—all critical operations require two pilot commands—and Symmetry proceeds with the necessary sequence of valve movements and pumps and other tasks that pilots used to do manually.
The best way I can explain how the Symmetry Flight Deck functions is that if thinking and analysis of a situation is required, the pilot must take specific actions. If only a rote sequence of operations is necessary after an initial command, Symmetry handles those routine events.
To see if and how Gulfstream met its design goals, I flew G500 P1, the first production airplane, with Scott Evans, director, Gulfstream Demonstrations and Corporate Flight Operations. Scott is one of the pilots who has been on the design team for years.
G500 P1 is a business jet first because it was built and completed to test and perfect the cabin in actual use and not as part of a regulatory certification requirement. Four other G500 test aircraft are performing the thousands of hours of testing necessary for certification. But P1 is amassing flight hours to test and refine all of the issues rules don’t cover, such as how every element of the cabin interior performs. P1 is a huge investment not required by the regulations and not made by any other manufacturer, but is critical to Gulfstream’s determination to have the most tested and “de-bugged” new airplane when the first G500 enters service.
The cockpit is the magnet for any pilot, and the G500 lived up to my highest expectations.
The G500 to my eye—and every pilot I have asked—is a beautiful airplane. The wing, with its 38 degrees of sweep and perfectly smooth skins that are formed under heat and pressure in an autoclave, is a magnificent piece of sculpture. The fuselage skins and fairings are perfectly smooth and fitted, something unheard of in an airplane first off the line. And the fueling and other ground service components have been designed in ways to perform that can only be learned from operators who have flown the globe for years.
The cockpit is the magnet for any pilot, and the G500 lived up to my highest expectations. It is, of course, all new, but not overwhelming. No advanced electronic system is truly 100 percent intuitive, but the Symmetry Flight Deck comes closer than any other because it “thinks” like an experienced pilot.
I was most interested in how the active control sidestick would feel. The movements are small, only a few degrees, compared with the much larger motions of a conventional control column and yoke. An adjustable arm support just aft of the stick and the familiar feedback of control pressure made me confident I would adapt almost instantly.
On my first takeoff in the G500, the forces on the sidestick felt natural and expected. As the airplane accelerated very quickly, more force on the stick was required to hold the desired climb angle just like in conventional airplanes. A trim switch under my thumb neutralized the force exactly as I expected. Or I could press the red button and have the fly-by-wire system bring the airplane into perfect trim.
I think most pilots will find the roll forces light and it will take a few minutes to be perfectly smooth. But I quickly learned to almost “think” my way into turns because the airplane is so smooth and responsive to pilot control inputs. It goes without saying that the flight control computer logic, which is based on the G650 system, makes the airplane very stable at all speeds and configurations.
The big flat glass primary flight display is conformal, meaning the symbology is the same used on head-up displays, and you are looking at your flight path at all times. You see a very detailed synthetic vision view of the world below and also a combined enhanced view of the actual runway environment, for example, on approach.
The G500 climbed quickly to 45,000 feet where it accelerated to Mach 0.90, which is 516 knots true airspeed. And fuel flow was less than 2,500 pounds per hour total. That flat-out amazes me. Such speed for so little fuel in a large-cabin airplane is remarkable.
In the Cabin
The G500 cabin is as impressive as the flight deck. The fit and finish of this airplane is perfect. And the sound and vibration level is as low as any mature jet I have flown in. And this was at Mach 0.90.
The enormous oval cabin windows that are Gulfstream’s trademark are the same size as in the G650, flooding the cabin with light and creating a feeling of space. Gulfstream’s offerings of cabin design and configuration are, well, almost limitless. Gulfstream cabin designers have created a series of aesthetic schemes to help give owners ideas and guidance for outfitting their G500. There is, of course, a traditional cabin of seat design, colors and materials, but there are also thought-provoking “sport” and “minimalist” themes that draw from the latest in automotive and home decor.
The galley, which can be positioned either at the forward or rear areas of the cabin, has been optimized for more storage and options on appliances such as ovens, beverage makers and refrigerators. Gulfstream has also developed a method to install stone or tile floors that delivers the appearance and function many want without a weight penalty. The galley options, like the rest of the cabin, are nearly endless.
Too soon it was time to descend for our return to the runway. G500 pilots will need to plan ahead for their descent because an airplane with so little drag doesn’t want to come down. But as in all other phases of flight, the Symmetry Flight Deck systems provide perfect guidance to meet crossing altitudes and other clearances issued by controllers.
Scott coached me that the G500 flies very close to the landing attitude on approach and only a small aft movement on the sidestick is necessary to flare for the landing. He was right. My first landing was as nearly perfect as I could ever hope for. And what pilot or passenger doesn’t judge an airplane by the quality of the landing? The G500 is a Gulfstream investment for the future that is paying off right now and will for years to come.
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