Gulfstream Developing In-Flight Refueling For Military Users

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Gulfstream Aerospace, a General Dynamics [GD] company, is developing an in-flight refueling capability for its G550 business jet that it hopes will help it win military orders, including the U.S. Air Force’s planned new ground-surveillance aircraft.

Gulfstream has conducted design work on potential aerial refueling (AR) concepts, including the boom-and-receptacle method, which is used with many Air Force aircraft, and the probe-and-drogue method, used with many Navy aircraft, said Troy Miller, the company’s regional vice president of military sales and marketing. At a press briefing last week at its headquarters here, Gulfstream displayed an image depicting a fuel receptacle on the G550’s nose.

An artist's rendering of the Northrop Grumman/Gulfstream offering for the U.S. Air Force's JSTARS replacement program.

An artist's rendering of the Northrop Grumman/Gulfstream offering for the U.S. Air Force's JSTARS replacement program. (Northrop Grumman image)

Gulfstream also has simulated a refueling operation by flying one of its jets as the receiver aircraft behind a Boeing [BA] 707, the airframe for the KC-135, the Air Force’s workhorse tanker. During those tests, a Gulfstream V stood in for the G550, which has a similar fuselage.

“The flight testing included flying in positions that are typical for AR operations, including deviations to the left and right as well as up and down to determine any adverse effects of wake turbulence off the engines, airframe and wings of the refueling aircraft,” Miller said. “Those efforts concluded there are no adverse flying quality issues in this regime, and there was sufficient margin throughout the lateral and vertical envelope to conduct refueling with no negative effects.”

Miller also said Gulfstream has conducted wind-tunnel tests of Gulfstream aircraft models “modified to include the additional external shapes necessary to accomplish both methods of AR.”

The refueling capability is part of a bid to replace the Air Force’s E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft, a 707 modified to perform ground surveillance. While Gulfstream believes its long-range jet would rarely need to refuel in flight, the JSTARS replacement or “recapitalization” program requires a refueling capability.

“Our engineers are excited about this,” Miller told reporters. “They don’t view this as a showstopper in any way. They’re very excited about the proposals that they’ve offered up as part of the design for the JSTARS offering.”

Gulfstream is on the Northrop Grumman [NOC]-led JSTARS replacement team, one of three competitors. The others are Boeing, which is offering a 737 airliner, and a Lockheed Martin [LMT]-led team, which is proposing a Bombardier Global 6000 business jet. The Air Force plans to award a contract by the end of the second quarter of fiscal year 2018.

In a statement, Boeing said its offering includes a “proven and certified aerial refueling capability” that “is in operation with several air forces throughout the world.” Lockheed Martin said in a statement that it is “including a low-risk air refueling capability in our solution in keeping with the needs of the Air Force.”

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