Modified G550 to serve as platform for science studies

 - September 28, 2006, 4:38 AM

The German aerospace research office, the DLR, is preparing for the 2009 introduction of a modified Gulfstream G550. The long-range business jet will be fitted with a host of special instruments for atmospheric research. It is the platform of an $84 million (E67 million) acquisition program dubbed Halo, for high-altitude, long-range research aircraft. The G550 will replace the Dassault Falcon 20 that the agency had been operating for 30 years.

The new aircraft will serve a number of atmospheric sciences. “These include weather forecast, study of climate change and basic research such as that on the high-altitude boundary layer between the troposphere and the stratosphere,” Halo program manager Helmut Ziereis told AIN. In addition, the instruments on the G550 will be able to study intercontinental pollution transport phenomena, and some instruments will measure air-transport emissions.

The research platform requires significant airframe modifications. “More than 20 openings will be made, most of them with a diameter of four to eight inches,” Ziereis said. The biggest hole–with a 20-inch diameter–is a viewport in the belly. It will be the window for special optics supporting a laser operated from inside the cabin. Hard points will be added, too, to carry equipment such as a radar, Ziereis said.

The DLR will begin operation of its G550 with two pilots, and another pair of pilots will then transition from the Falcon 20. Pilots will have to be flexible because on the DLR flying schedule is dictated by weather conditions. “Moreover,” said Ziereis, “we will use the Gulfstream’s range to go to remote areas such as the polar regions.”

He noted that the G550 will carry at least twice as much equipment as the agency’s former Falcon 20. Payload is increased threefold. “This allows us to carry a radar below the fuselage and instruments below the wings,” he said.

Research Aircraft History
The aircraft will be included in the European fleet for airborne research (Eufar) exchange program. Under this agreement, a research institute can use another laboratory’s aircraft. About 30 fixed-wing aircraft are available from several European countries, as well as Australia and Israel.

According to Ziereis, Gulfstream’s experience in research aircraft played a key role in the DLR’s selecting the G550. For example, in 2001 a Gulfstream V was chosen to be the high-performance instrumented airborne platform for environmental research in the U.S., where the National Center for Atmospheric Research now operates the twinjet.

“Our evaluation started in 2000,” Ziereis recalled. The contract was awarded in February 2005. The green aircraft came off the production line last November, but completion of a special-mission machine is a lengthy process.

Gulfstream first performed some wing modification work at its factory in Savannah, Ga. Last April, the G550 landed in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, where Ruag Aerospace–a Gulfstream subcontractor– began work on several other modifications. The DLR’s atmospheric research laboratory is also located in Oberpfaffenhofen, so research scientists can follow the job closely. Gulfstream is responsible for the engineering for the modifications.

In December the aircraft will be ferried back to Savannah, where Gulfstream will complete the interior. After a series of flight tests, the FAA and the German LBA will certify the aircraft. Delivery to the DLR is pegged for November 2008. Integration of the instruments will then take place in Oberpfaffenhofen, before scientific demo flights start in July 2009.

The Halo program involves 150 scientists from the research office and its partner universities.