Henne: Business Aircraft Designed to Save Time


Today’s business aircraft is a time-producing machine, maintains Aerospace Engineering at Illinois alumnus Preston Henne.

As Senior Vice President for Programs, Engineering & Test at Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., Henne, BS 69, stressed that point recently in a talk on campus to an audience of about 90 Aerospace Engineering undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staff. Henne gave the talk, “Business Aircraft…A New World,” while on the Urbana campus in mid-September for his induction into the College of Engineering Hall of Fame.

With Henne are Philippe Geubelle, AE Department Head, left, and Mike Bragg, College of Engineering Interim Dean, right.
With Henne are Philippe Geubelle, AE Department Head, left, and Mike Bragg, College of Engineering Interim Dean, right.

Henne showed the audience Gulfstream’s perspective of the evolution of business aircraft, and the challenges the industry faces in the future. While the purpose of commercial aircraft is to produce revenue for airlines, the purpose of business aircraft is to save time for the companies and individuals who can afford a price tag that can reach up to $50 million per craft.

To further reduce travel time, Gulfstream is working to develop supersonic technology that decreases sonic boom impact. Currently, “We’re forbidden from flying (supersonic civil aircraft) overland because of the noise,” Henne said. “Until we can prove that we can fly an airplane that is quiet, there’s a prohibition against it.” Several AE faculty members are conducting research into the issue in cooperation with Gulfstream.

Henne told of innovations available now that greatly improve safety and comfort features for customers of Gulfstream planes.  Among them are Enhanced Vision Systems (EVS) that include infrared cameras to help pilots see during low visibility and night conditions, and Synthetic Vision Primary Flight Displays (SV-PFD) that access database renderings to synthetically create clear scenes of fixed landmarks and terrain as the aircraft approaches them. The aircraft are equipped with Broadband Multilink so that riders’ Internet access is as seamless on the plane as it is in their offices.

While the contributions of business aircraft to worldwide carbon emissions are small in comparison to other transportation modes, Henne said Gulfstream continually strives to reduce fuel consumption and its environmental footprint. “It’s the right thing to do from a natural design process,” he said. Henne noted that Gulfstream was the first company to fly a business aircraft using biofuel across the Atlantic.

Producing about 50 of its flagship model a year, Gulfstream has about 600  of this model GV/G550 in service currently, with several award-winning designs. Henne told the students and other audience members that opportunities for research and development within the company are abundant in areas including

  • Advanced configurations
  • Computational methods
  • Composites
  • Acoustics
  • Sustainability
  • Supersonics
  • A/C health & trend monitoring
  • Flight controls
  • Advanced cockpits
  • Cockpit vision systems
  • Cabin systems
  • Cabin design

Henne has worked for Gulfstream since 1994, and led the development of the Gulfstream V and Gulfstream 550 aircraft, winners of the Collier Trophies for aeronautical achievement in 1997 and 2003, respectively. He began his career with McDonnell Douglas, and was responsible for the wing design on the C-17, considered the most versatile aircraft in airlift history and winner of the 1994 Collier Trophy.

His induction into the Engineering at Illinois Hall of Fame recognizes Henne as a global leader in new aircraft development programs introducing advanced technology in aerodynamics, acoustics, avionics and systems. The College of Engineering honored him in 2005 with the Alumni Award for Distinguished Service.

Illinois alumnus Preston Henne
Illinois alumnus Preston Henne

Henne’s awards also include the AIAA Aerodynamics Award (2011) for his technical contributions in applied and computational aerodynamics; the Aviation Leader of the Year Award at the Living Legends of Aviation Awards (2010); the AIAA Engineer of the Year Award (1996); and the AIAA Hap Arnold Award (2001) for excellence in aeronautical program management.

In 2012 he was inducted as a Living Legend of Aviation by the Kiddie Hawk Academy, received an Aviation Week Laureate Award in General/Business Aviation for his contributions to the G650 program, and was presented the AIAA’s highest achievement honor, the Reed Award, for his exemplary leadership in the development, design, testing and certification of major airplane programs and significant contributions to supersonic boom mitigation.

Henne was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2003.