August 2012

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Night Flight - Part II - To The Sky

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FlightBlogger Feature Part II of IV. All images are copyright of FlightBlogger unless otherwise specified. Read Part I - Ground School.


The sun was getting low on the horizon on this notably cold February evening. The wind, which had been quite gusty during the day, was beginning to calm down as dusk arrived. Our aircraft, a Gulfstream G450 registered as N922H was still flying when we arrived at the at the Landmark Aviation terminal at Washington Dulles International Airport. A joint Honeywell and Gulfstream team had spent the afternoon demonstrating the Synthetic Vision-Primary Flight Display for members of the media. Ours was the final demonstration of the day following a crew from the CBS Evening News.

We boarded the 2005 model G450 just before eight o’clock PM. The aircraft, which is owned and operated by Honeywell Aerospace has a fully furnished burled wood interior with room for at least ten, plus seating for another three on the flight deck. As we prepared for our departure, three of us from Flight, along with two staff members from Honeywell and a flight attendant took our seats. On the flight deck, Honeywell Chief Pilot Ron Weight (left seat) and Gulfstream Senior Test Pilot Tom Horne (right seat) were at the controls joined in the jump seat by Flight Senior Editor John Croft.

The Landmark Aviation ramp is the northern most parking spot for aircraft at Dulles Airport, so we were in for a long taxi to our departure runway which was 19L. Our Rolls-Royce Tay Mk 611 spooled up quietly as we rolled off the blocks at 8:07 PM. The red striped Gulfstream began taxiing south on taxiway zulu which runs parallel to runway 1-19.

To give a sense of the scale of Dulles Airport, after about a mile and a half into our taxi, we took a left onto taxiway alpha and cut across the airport by the commercial terminals. Waiting at the gate were numerous international flights preparing for their long journeys, including a Lufthansa A340-300, Air France 777-200ER and a brand new Qatar Airways 777-300ER.

In addition to some excellent heavy aircraft spotting, this was our first real chance to see the infrared enhanced vision system (EVS) in action. The infrared view out of the nose camera captured the 632 foot Dulles control tower illuminated in white light. A moment later an MD-80 crossed in front of us with its engines brightly glowing.

After passing the terminal, we took another left onto taxiway kilo and headed north toward runway 19L. By the time we had been cleared and in position on runway 19L, we had been taxiing for nearly fifteen minutes.

Our journey on this particular evening had us flying down to Roanoke/Woodrum Regional Airport a mere 154 nm away in southwest Virginia. To demonstrate the new technology, we would fly across the Blue Ridge mountains, fly two go-arounds at the airport, then return to Dulles.

Before we left our parking spot at Landmark, the flight crew promised a maximum performance takeoff out of Dulles. We were all in for quite a ride. The thrust-to-weight ratio of the G450 is really staggering at .375. For every 1 lb of G450, there is .375 lbs of thrust. In layman’s terms, this tells us the ratio between how much of the aircraft is being pushed versus how hard the engines are pushing. The closer the number is to 1, the more powerful the acceleration. For the sake of comparison, the title for highest thrust-to-weight ratio on a subsonic commercial jetliner is held by the Boeing 757-200, which comes in at a ratio .341. To take this one step farther the Concorde’s ratio is only .373.

At 8:22 PM, Weight and Horne advanced the throttles fully forward, the twin Rolls-Royce engines quickly responded. N922H accelerated down the runway with astonishing power, pushing us back in our seats. Our climb out of Dulles was more of a blastoff than a takeoff. We tracked south on the runway heading until we were 9 miles from the airport and banked right turning direct to the Casanova (CSN) VOR.

The view from the enhanced vision system with the heads up display data overlaid on top of it showed a climb just shy of 4000 feet per minute, passing 8000 feet less than three minutes after leaving the runway. Shortly thereafter we leveled off at our cruising altitude of 16000 feet and an indicated airspeed 300 knots. We crossed Casanova at 8:29 PM, which is just outside the Washington, D.C. Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) which was established after September 11, 2001.

One feature built into the synthetic vision system is the display’s ability to distinguish between the direction of flight and the orientation of the nose. On the center of the synthetic vision system on the primary flight display is a magenta and white circle with three small lines protruding out to the left, right and the top. The symbol illustrates the direction the nose of the aircraft is pointing while maintaining the synthetic vision display oriented to the direction of flight of the aircraft. The terrain rendering always tracks to the direction of the flight of the aircraft, not the orientation of the nose.

This added visual guide gives the pilot additional awareness when evaluating the orientation of the aircraft. It is particularly useful on low visibility crosswind landings in areas of difficult terrain.

This indicator was extremely useful as the winds aloft were showing a powerful headwind of 56 knots, with a crosswind of 42 knots. This caused our nose to be pointed almost ten degrees away from actual track towards our next waypoint as we crabbed through the sky.

With synthetic vision lighting our path, we were on our way.

To be continued.

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