Outer Limits

Whether blistering heat or polar cold, Gulfstream test aircraft endure extreme temperatures to ensure reliability in service
Image By Gulfstream Flight Test

Under the glare of high-intensity lights, the Gulfstream G500 appeared more Broadway star than test subject.

As part of its development toward joining Gulfstream’s fleet of high-speed, large-cabin, top-performing aircraft, the all-new G500 broiled for three days under a solar array at 133 degrees Fahrenheit only to be subjected two days later to temperatures that plunged to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

To experience those temperatures in a controlled environment, Gulfstream engineers took T2, the second of four G500 test aircraft now flying, to the McKinley Climatic Laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base near Fort Walton Beach, Florida, the largest such test laboratory in the world. The testing is required to ensure the airplane can be powered up and started after being parked overnight in sub-zero temperatures or left in the sun all day in the most extreme conditions on Earth.

“The beauty of Eglin is that we can evaluate the aircraft under hot weather testing, then move immediately to cold weather without moving the aircraft an inch,” says Anthony Franzel, aircraft integrated test manager, Flight Test Engineering, Gulfstream. “What this does is set a known baseline in a controlled environment, which will be further supported by real-world climate tests with the Federal Aviation Administration in Yuma, Arizona, or Barrow, Alaska.”

The beauty of Eglin is that we can evaluate the aircraft under hot weather testing, then move immediately to cold weather without moving the aircraft an inch.

The climatic laboratory creates extreme weather conditions while allowing engines to spool up to full takeoff power inside the main test chamber, permitting a complete evaluation of the thermal behavior of the aircraft.

Though such testing may sound extreme, similar temperatures—and even high fluctuations in relatively short periods of time—are business as usual for Gulfstream aircraft, especially the ultralong-range G650ER, G650 and G550, which travel around the world not in days, but mere hours.

London, Moscow and New York City last year recorded winter temperatures in the single digits. And whether the city of Yuma or Kuwait City, summer temperatures in the high 120-degree Fahrenheit range are routine.

High altitude is a factor, too. Gulfstream aircraft are capable of flying above 45,000 feet/13,716 meters to access smoother, less trafficked flight routes. At that atmosphere, temperatures are far below freezing.

The rigors of environmental testing ensure that, even after hours of exposure to extreme heat or cold, all avionics and electronic equipment starts and performs normally and environmental control systems keep all equipment within certified temperature limits, ideally without requiring any special extreme weather procedures, explains Peter Hendy, principal engineer, Flight Test Engineering, Gulfstream.

“The goal is to not have any special start-up procedures whether you’re in Saudi Arabia in August or at the northern tip of Alaska in January,” Hendy says. “We’ve tested the G550, G650 and now the G500 at McKinley, and the data is invaluable.”

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