Awesome. That's the word that kept running through my mind when I first stepped into the new Gulfstream 550 cockpit. The aviation industry has been talking about "glass" cockpits for more than 20 years, but Gulfstream has finally done it. Four 14-inch flat-panel displays mounted in the horizontal landscape position cover the entire instrument panel, presenting more viewing area than any business jet.
Gulfstream calls its new cockpit PlaneView, and it is an exclusive version of Honeywell's Primus Epic avionics system. PlaneView is integrated into every system on the airplane, and pilots operate it with traditional keyboards and knobs, or, another Gulfstream exclusive, two cursor control devices mounted to fall naturally to each pilot's outboard hand.
And when a G550 pilot looks out the windshield, he can see every bit of information he needs to fly the airplane on the standard head-up display (HUD), including an infrared picture enhanced vision system (EVS) that can see through darkness, fog and other obscuration. With its standard autothrottles, PlaneView avionics system, HUD with EVS, triple inertial navigation systems, multiple redundant systems and increased range, the G550 is the most capable and safest airplane Gulfstream has ever built.
Gulfstream announced development of the new airplane in the fall of 2000. At that time Gulfstream was still using the Roman numeral designators for its models, and the new airplane was to be called the GV-SP, for a special performance version of the highly successful GV, the first business jet with New York to Tokyo range.
Development of the PlaneView avionics system was the primary change to the airplane, but Gulfstream also promised more range and a roomier cabin. While the GV lived up to its promises, it could not make the flight from New York to Tokyo if the headwinds were significantly stronger than average, or if air temperatures aloft were high. Another 250 nm of range would be enough to make the trip every time, and that's what the G550 delivers.
The GV is such a successfully designed airplane that there are no obvious changes that would reduce drag and thus increase range. But Gulfstream didn't need big improvements to add up to significantly increased range over the 12 or more hour stage lengths the airplane is capable of.
Some of the drag-reducing steps Gulfstream took have been done before, such as improving the seals between the rudder and fin, and the elevators and horizontal stabilizer. A smaller drain mast, antennas that conform to the fuselage and a new fairing around the fuselage skeg are also small but easy to understand improvements. But Gulfstream engineers really went for the last bit of drag reduction when they reconfigured the cabin pressurization outflow valve so that its escaping air was recovered as a tiny bit of thrust. The blade type VOR/LOC antenna was realigned to conform with the local airflow for another tiny improvement. And the wing trailing edge contour was changed to a non-intuitive sort of blunt shape to further reduce drag.