Gulfstream plans SVS for business aviation

 - September 12, 2006, 10:22 AM

Gulfstream secured bragging rights as the first airplane manufacturer to offer synthetic vision, formally launching an SVS certification program at last month’s Farnborough Air Show.

Code-named synthetic vision-primary flight display (SV-PFD), the technology will come to the Gulfstream G350 through G550 as optional software upgrades to the airplanes’ PlaneView cockpits.

Under joint development by Gulfstream and Honeywell, the concept takes terrain, obstacle and runway data from Honeywell’s enhanced ground proximity warning systems and presents it on the cockpit displays. The result is an artificial view of the world ahead of the airplane that developers say will enhance safety.

By launching the program now– instead of at the NBAA Convention in October–Gulfstream has avoided the possibility of sharing the stage with another OEM making a similar announcement. Other business jet makers have confirmed that they are exploring SVS, but how close they are to launching formal programs is unknown.

The price of the SV-PFD upgrade won’t be announced until further along in the development program, said Pres Henne, Gulfstream vice president for engineering. Certification is targeted for the middle of next year. Henne said the upgrade involves software only and therefore won’t require any additional hardware. The SV-PFD upgrade will be on the options list for new Gulfstreams and offered to operators of in-service airplanes, he said.

Gulfstream was the first to certify an infrared enhanced-vision system aboard a civil airplane and the first to offer broadband airborne Internet connectivity. Other announcements from the OEM last month make it clear that Gulfstream wants to bolster its reputation as an innovator.

Randy Robertson, vice president of electronic systems and engineering for Honeywell, conceded that a considerable amount of development work lies ahead as the SV-PFD program moves from conceptual stage to actual flight testing. Honeywell and Gulfstream have long explored ideas for synthetic vision separately. In fact, Gulfstream was involved in a major flight-test program with NASA and Rockwell Collins at one point. Its biggest jets, however, fly with the Primus Epic PlaneView flight deck supplied by Honeywell.

“We’ve been working with Gulfstream’s pilots to compare our ideas for synthetic vision with theirs,” Robertson said. “There are some fairly fundamental differences between what we have in mind and what they have. The challenge now is in merging those ideas into a single concept.”

Henne said the idea is to start with a fairly simple set of synthetic-vision flight cues (shaded mountains, water, obstacles and runways, for example) and gradually add new features through software revisions. The full complement of SV-PFD features could include navigation cues, traffic and perhaps someday a blending of synthetic and enhanced views. The goal, he said, is to use the technology to make flying safer.
“It’s the next logical step in display technology,” he said, “resulting in faster and more accurate tactical flight decisions by pilots and ultimately increased safety.”

FBW and Sonic Boom Suppression
Also at Farnborough Gulfstream president Bryan Moss noted the company’s work on fly-by-wire (FBW) and sonic-boom suppression. Both of these technologies are important for the development of a supersonic business jet (SSBJ), although Moss emphasized that the company was not anywhere near ready to announce the launch of an SSBJ.

Engineers are conducting fly-by-wire research at a new facility Gulfstream recently christened at its Savannah headquarters. More than 700 engineers have been moved into the building, where they are preparing for the first FBW flight tests aboard a G550. With partners Parker Aerospace, Smiths and Thales, engineers have demonstrated FBW spoiler actuation in the lab. It is unlikely the technology would be adopted as a block-point change in current Gulfstreams, Henne said, but rather as part of the design for an entirely new airplane.

Gulfstream has also accelerated research related to eliminating or muting the supersonic noise signature in a potential SSBJ by fitting a so-called “quiet spike” to the nose of a NASA F-15B. First flight of the airplane at the Dryden Research Center in California’s Mojave Desert is targeted for the end of the month. Constructed of advanced composite materials, the telescoping spike weighs 470 pounds and measures 14 feet long in subsonic flight and extends to 24 feet in supersonic flight.

Moss said suppression of the sonic boom is necessary before Gulfstream will move forward with a formal program for an SSBJ. “Not until supersonic flying over land is permitted, through research like this, can an SSBJ be brought to market,” he said.