German aerospace research body DLR commissioned a high altitude and long range (HALO) research aircraft on 20 August.
The Gulfstream G550-based aircraft was originally delivered to the Braunschweig-headquartered institute as a standard production airframe in 2007. But over the past five years, the Rolls-Royce BR710-powered business jet, which has a range of 6,750nm (12,500km), has been modified to explore the composition of the upper atmosphere.
After initial structural changes made by Gulfstream, Swiss-based Ruag Aerospace installed more than 20 additional openings in the fuselage and wings for air inlets, sensors and monitoring systems at its Oberpfaffenhofen facility near Munich.
An equipment pod was installed under the belly along with various other attachment points on the airframe for exterior containers to hold scientific instruments. The aircraft was also fitted with a separate electricity circuit to supply the research equipment.
With a payload of around 3t, the aircraft can carry around three times more than the Dassault Falcon 20E, which DLR had used for research flights. The G550 also offers a higher maximum altitude of 15,000m (49,200ft) compared with the Falcon 20E's 12,700m, allowing sorties to the boundary between the troposphere and stratosphere.
More than 10 missions are planned as part of research programmes with various universities and scientific institutes until 2015.