NASA Explores Gulfstream Symmetry Flight Deck

Astronauts helping design the next era of space transport got a glimpse of the future during a demonstration of the new Gulfstream G500 and G600 flight deck.

Air Force Col. Robert Behnken and retired Air Force Col. Eric Boe recently visited the Gulfstream Research and Development Center at the company’s corporate headquarters in Savannah, Georgia for a briefing and simulator time on the Symmetry Flight Deck. With its touch-screen controls, active control sidesticks and Data Concentration Network, the flight deck brings a level of touch-screen integration never before achieved in aviation.

Behnken and Boe are two of the four astronauts training to fly aboard the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and the SpaceX Crew Dragon. They are working with commercial providers to develop spacecraft that will provide transportation to the International Space Station.

Gulfstream experimental test pilots Scott Martin and Kevin Claffy, who helped design the flight deck, guided the astronauts through the touch screens. The G500 and G600 will be the first aircraft to replace conventional controls, switches and displays with touch screens to control aircraft systems, flight management, navigation and other functions for aircraft startup, taxi, takeoff, routing and arrival. Among the advancements the Symmetry system provides is an automated checklist procedure capable of initiating multiple system startups that previously could only be done sequentially by manual entry. The cascading effort shortens the aircraft’s startup procedures while also providing color-coded alerts to the pilot to show the status of every step of the preflight process.

“It’s neat,” Boe says. “Having been a pilot all my life, it’s interesting to see how the touch-screen controllers are incorporated into the flight deck.”

As military test pilots and astronauts, neither Boe nor Behnken had seen flight-deck technology as advanced as the Gulfstream systems they evaluated. Gulfstream has been developing the new flight deck for nearly 10 years. Behnken understands the rigors of introducing new technology, and appreciates the work in which Martin and Claffy have been involved.

“I’m sure it’s been a long road,” Behnken said, “but that’s the price you pay for being first.”