““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
15 business jets that shaped the industry
Business jets have improved enormously in the past 50 years, from gas-guzzling go-getters to today’s highly efficient, long-legged luxury liners and tiny personal jets.
During the first half-century of the business jet industry, manufacturers tried out a variety of types and configurations. Many failed, but many others have endured in derivative and upgraded versions. What will be interesting to observe in the coming decades is whether business jet manufacturers continue to innovate, not just in cabin and cockpit appointments where technology changes rapidly, but in basic configuration and in engine and aerodynamic development.
In chronological order, based on when production began, here are 15 aircraft models that played a key role in shaping today’s business aviation environment:
1. Lockheed Jetstar (1961 - 1978)
Such a heritage, born from Kelly Johnson’s famed Lockheed Skunkworks, but such a heavy, large and fuel-swallowing four-engine beast. If any business jet was the originator of the pejorative “royal barge,” surely it was the Jetstar. Even upgrades to more efficient engines couldn’t keep this incredible machine, one of the progenitors of the business jet age (and, many claim, the first business jet) going indefinitely, although a handful still fly. An excellent example of a Jetstar II is Elvis Presley’s 1960 model, on display at Graceland.
2. Sabreliner (1963 - 1983)
Few out-of-production jets are as well-supported as the Sabreliner series, which enjoys the attention of Sabreliner Corporation, whose programs are designed to keep the airframe healthy for years to come. Sabreliner’s own corporate aircraft is serial number 001, the first Sabre jet to roll off the assembly line, which has been updated with all the current modifications. Pilots love Sabre jets, which North American Aviation originally built for an Air Force contract, and the efficient Garrett (now Honeywell) TFE731-powered Sabre 65 kept the production line going until 1983.
3. De Havilland Hawker 125 (1964 to present)
The British Aerospace/Hawker Siddeley HS.125 family–now built by Hawker Beechcraft, although Airbus makes the major components–has been in production longer than any other business jet airframe. Will the Hawker 900XP survive Hawker Beechcraft’s financial troubles and keep the storied Hawker line in production? Time will tell.
4. Israel Aircraft Industries Jet (1965 -1987)
Commander/Westwind I and II ungainly looking and lacking in sporty attributes, the Westwind nevertheless is an efficient 10-passenger jet, something that wasn’t readily available in a smaller jet when it joined the market in 1965.
5. Dassault Falcon 20 (1965 - 1988)
The eight-passenger Falcon 20 firmly established Dassault Aviation in the ranks of business jet manufacturers. With a production run of 513 (including 38 F200s and one prototype), the model served a huge variety of missions and hundreds of these reasonably priced excellent performers continue to fly.
6. Lear 24 (1966 - 1979)
The Lear 23 launched Bill Lear’s manufacturing company into the business jet age, but the Lear 24 and subsequent models really paved the way to success. The Lear 23 was certified under simpler FAA Part 23 regulations applying to lighter airplanes–sort of like today’s very light jets–but the Lear 24 became the first business jet to meet more stringent Part 25 regulations (and the first to be certified to 51,000 feet), and that firmed up the company’s status as a real contender.
7. Gulfstream GII (1967 - 1977)
Who knew way back that large-cabin business jets would be the best performers during the dreadful recent recession? Grumman’s move to turn the turboprop GI into a jet was stupendously prescient and it launched a long line of big-iron airplanes, but it was Allen Paulson’s purchase of the jet program in 1978 and formation of Gulfstream Aerospace that truly unlocked the value of the Gulfstream line.
8. Cessna Citation 500/I (1969 - 1985)
Designing and building a new jet was a bold move for a company that was far more focused on its piston airplane bread and butter and solid but unexciting twin turboprops. The original Citation–not fast, not sexy, but solid, reliable and almost as easy to fly as any Cessna–paid off handsomely, spawning a famous family of jets filling almost every available market niche, and some niches that no one previously even knew existed.
9. Gulfstream GV (1997 - 2002)
The GV is the airplane that spurred the ultra-long-range, large-cabin market and became the glitterati’s preferred mode of transport. The cabin wasn’t really wider than the GII’s, but Gulfstream is fixing that with the upcoming G650 (it’s not a G6!). Of course, the original V lives on as the 500/550 model.
10. Cessna Citation X (1996 to present)
This speedy jet isn’t much bigger than some other Citation models, but for travelers who like to get there now, the Rolls-Royce-powered X does the job at a smooth Mach .92 (600 mph). Who said Cessna can’t build a fast jet? And the follow-on Citation Ten, with more powerful engines and winglets, will fly even faster.
11. Bombardier Global family (1999 to present)
Bombardier couldn’t sit still and allow Gulfstream to capture the ultra-long-range, large-cabin jet market by itself with the GV, and thus the Global Express was born. It offered a huge, wide cabin; a complex airliner-style supercritical wing that delivered impressive short-runway performance; and range sufficient to provide a clear alternative to the GV. Now the Global family has grown to four versions, two in production (5000, 6000) and two in development (7000, 8000), with range in nautical miles roughly corresponding to the model number
12. Beechcraft Premier I (2001 - 2005)
The first successful business jet with an all-composite fuselage (and some composites forming the tailfeathers). Beech Aircraft (later Raytheon Aircraft, now Hawker Beechcraft) spent tens of millions of dollars on the failed all-composite Starship twin-turboprop, but that experience paid off when it came to the clean-sheet-design Premier twinjet, which was flyable by a single pilot and considered by many to be a high-performing small jet. Sadly, the Hawker 200 upgrade of the Premier is on hold as Hawker Beechcraft fights for survival.
13. Eclipse 500 (2006 - 2008)
Eclipse Aerospace–the new owner of bankrupt Eclipse Aviation, which built 261 Eclipse 500 very light jets–has relaunched production and will deliver the first Eclipse 550 next year. Of course, plans by Eclipse and other manufacturers to “darken the skies” with very light jets never developed, but producing a new jet under today’s regulatory, financial and market constraints is a remarkable accomplishment. Plus, pilots love how the Eclipse flies, and for a tiny jet, it has a quiet and surprisingly roomy cabin.
14. Dassault Falcon 7X (2007 to present)
With its heritage of designing and building sophisticated military fighters, Dassault applied its engineering smarts to the fly-by-wire 7X, the world’s first non-airliner-derived dedicated business jet to feature such envelope-pushing technology. Now other manufacturers are following the lead of Dassault, which was first to demonstrate that a business aviation market exists for the benefits offered by fly-by-wire flight controls.
15. Embraer Phenom 300 (2009 to present)
The significance of Embraer’s rise into the business jet market, first with the airliner-derived Legacy 600, then with the clean-sheet Phenom 100 and 300, is not just that Embraer found niches unfilled by other manufacturers. What Embraer did was force other jet-makers into realizing that it was attacking their markets, and now they are fighting back with interesting new models. Meanwhile, Embraer is moving into the super-midsize category with the in-development Legacy 450 and 500, both featuring fly-by-wire flight controls and the latest cockpit and cabin amenities.