“"Many years ago, our company founder, Al Conklin, sold a new twin-engine business aircraft to a very successful entrepreneur. He had established a bit of a rapport with the individual and, after the sale, asked him straight out, 'How can you justify the cost of this airplane?' His reply? 'What is the cost of a divorce?'"–David Wyndham, president, Conklin & de Decker”
15 people who shaped business aviation
While plenty of companies used private lift in the first half of the last century, business aviation really took off after World War II, thanks to the availability of inexpensive former military aircraft and out-of-work pilots and the development of purpose-built jets like the Sabreliner and Lockheed Jetstar. And while many business aviation advancements resulted from team efforts, a handful of individuals stand out as having made significant contributions. Here are our picks for 15 of the most important shapers of the field.
William P. Lear (1902-1978)
Well before Gulfstream became the iconic business jet brand, the speedy little jet birthed by Bill Lear was the only way to fly privately. The first Lear Jet, the model 23, was a pioneer in more ways than one as it technically was a very light jet, long before Vern Raburn threatened to darken the sky with thousands of Eclipse 500s.
Though Lear–who made his first fortune with radios and autopilots–ended up selling his aircraft company, his visionary designs continue under Bombardier's ownership of the Learjet brand. Few today know that the Canadair (later Bombardier) Challenger 600 originated from Lear's fertile mind as the LearStar 600.
In his later years, Lear dedicated himself to trying to solve the challenge of steam-powered busses and pushed the aerospace envelope with a composite twin-engine, single-propeller pusher turboprop, the Learfan 2100, which never made it to certification or production. The latest iteration of the Learjet, the model 85, is all-composite, so clearly Lear must have been onto something.
Cliff Garrett (1908-1963)
An early supplier of components to major aircraft manufacturers, Cliff Garrett found fertile ground in the application of engineering to solve thorny problems in heating and cooling of pressurized air. In fact, Dee Howard (see next page) used Garrett components in his pressurized Howard 500 conversions. Garrett's prowess grew until his components were installed on almost every civil and military aircraft and eventually even spacecraft.
His most enduring contribution was development of the turbine auxiliary power unit, a tiny jet engine that drives a generator; APUs are now installed in most midsize and large business jets and all jet airliners. This led to the development of a popular line of turboprop engines, the TPE331, and turbofan engines, the TFE731, which power many of today's business aircraft.
Garrett died the year that the TPE331 was launched. And he never got to see the development of the Garrett (now Honeywell) TFE731, which still powers a huge number of business jets. The TFE731 pioneered the geared turbofan, a green feature that even today is touted as the latest in environmentally friendly engine technology.
Dwane L. Wallace (1911-1989)
Dwane Wallace's tenure as general manager, president and finally chairman of Cessna Aircraft spanned more than 40 years. Wallace, a nephew of Clyde Cessna, first honed his design talents on the strutless and efficient Cessna Airmaster, in which he won several air races, helping the company survive during the Depression.
Wallace presided over creation of almost every significant Cessna model, from the single-engine trainers that eventually outsold every other aircraft to the early personal business aircraft, one of which–a Cessna 310B–was featured as Schuyler King's personal transport in the TV series Sky King. Wallace's long influence extended to his last and most significant project, the Fanjet 500, which launched Cessna into the jet age just before he retired in 1975.
Albert Lee Ueltschi (1917-)
While flying as personal pilot for Pan Am founder Juan Trippe, Al Ueltschi wondered whether the training standards used for airline and military pilots could be applied to business aviation pilots. This led to the 1951 founding of Flight Safety (later FlightSafety International). Insurance companies strongly endorsed professional training for business aviation pilots, thus providing an incentive for the pilots to train regularly, just like their airline counterparts, and this resulted in tremendous improvements in safety.
Berkshire Hathaway founder and chairman Warren Buffett, a keen judge of quality companies, added FlightSafety International to his conglomerate in 1996. Since the early 1980s, Ueltschi has in addition to his FlightSafety duties been heavily involved in Orbis, a program that uses specially equipped large jets to teach sight-saving medical procedures in less-developed countries.
Durrell Unger "Dee" Howard (1920-2009)
An extraordinarily talented mechanic and intuitive engineer, Dee Howard early on recognized the potential of large twin-engine airplanes as corporate transports. During the 1950s and '60s, he turned old Lockheed twins into sleekly aerodynamic and elegantly appointed Venturas and Howards, the state of the art in fast-flying pressurized airplanes at the time. Howard created innovations that sped business aviation development, including the thrust reverser (on which he worked with Etienne Fage). Unfortunately, when visionary and unconventional designer Bill Lear asked him to help build the exciting new Lear Jet, Howard declined because the Howard 500 was nearing FAA certification, and he wanted to finish the job.
James B. Taylor III (1921-2003)
James Taylor was an early business aviation traveler when he worked for Upressit Metal Cap, flying his company's Beech Bonanza on sales calls. Later, as vice president of Pan Am's new business jet division, he played a key role in changing the Dassault Mystère 20's name to Falcon. Taylor next joined Cessna during development of the Fanjet 500 and–as vice president and general manager of the company's commercial jet marketing division–he renamed the aircraft Citation, after horse racing's 1946 Triple Crown winner.
Taylor convinced chairman Dwane Wallace that Citations should be sold factory direct, not through traditional dealerships. Taylor also pioneered the packaging of the sale of a jet to include pilot and mechanic training and a year of computerized maintenance tracking services.
In 1976, he left Cessna and joined Canadair to help launch what began as the LearStar 600 and later was renamed the Challenger, which remains in production today.
Sam B. Williams (1921-2009)
Not one to be caught up in hype, Dr. Sam Williams backed his engineering cred by creating his own brand of marketing mojo, with captivating moves like introducing space-age tiny concept jets to the staid crowd at National Business Aviation Association conventions.
Naturally, these jets were to be powered by his suitcase-sized jet engines, developed from missile work that his company did for the military. And his prototype jet actually flew and accomplished his goal, which was stimulating commercial development of small jets powered by his engines. The V-Jet II was a staple at air shows for a few years and ended up in the hands of Vern Raburn, a starry-eyed former Microsoft employee and pilot who would become famous for his own small jet, the Eclipse 500, which first flew with Williams engines.
Allen E. Paulson (1922-2000)
Aviation history is made by bold movers, and engineer Allen Paulson was a risk-taker who saw a much bigger future for the Grumman jet than was envisioned by the sprawling conglomerate that owned the program. Paulsen put together a buyout of the Grumman jet program and changed the company's name to Gulfstream Aerospace. The Gulfstream series ultimately became the world's most iconic and recognizable business jet line (sorry, Bill Lear).
John H. Winant (1923-2009)
"It would be difficult to overstate the importance of John Winant in the development of business aviation in the U.S. and around the world," said Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association.
Winant was elected to the association's board of directors in 1957, when he was vice president of Sprague Electric. He became the NBAA's first full-time staff president in 1971 and grew the association to nearly 3,000 members from 824. Anyone who has attended the NBAA's annual meeting and convention has benefited from Winant's leadership in helping make the event one of the biggest in aviation.
In 1981, Winant helped bring together business aviation associations from around the world to form the International Business Aviation Council, which is now a key player in promoting the safety management system concept.
Edward J. Swearingen (1925-)
Ed Swearingen was Dee Howard's first employee at Howard Aero and shared Howard's
talent for cobbling together parts of several airplanes to make a much better-performing aircraft. Swearingen left Howard for a few years to work for Bill Lear, then returned to help Howard with his conversions, including the Super Ventura and the Howard 500. After launching his own company, Swearingen Aviation, in 1958, Swearingen helped aircraft and engine manufacturers solve challenging problems.
Swearingen's growing design prowess led to creation of a series of fast, efficient turboprops, including the Merlin and Metro series, many of which still fly. He was also instrumental in Garrett's development of the TFE731 turbofan engine and a TFE731 engine upgrade for Lockheed's Jetstar.
Swearingen's latest effort epitomizes his talent for squeezing performance out of an efficient package. This is the SJ30, a small but fast and far-flying jet that took many more years than planned to bring to market and has seen only a handful produced. The previous owner of the SJ30-2 program allowed the business to go bankrupt, but a new owner, SyberJet, has recently taken over manufacturing.
Serge Dassault (1925-)
Adopting a more puissant name, the Dassault (formerly Bloch) family was a key developer of French military aviation and in the 1960s launched a purpose-built business jet, the Mystère 20, which eventually became the Falcon 20. The jet was launched with an order for 40 (plus options for 120 more) from Pan Am president Juan Trippe, at the recommendation of Charles Lindbergh, who was on hand for the jet's first flight on May 4, 1963, in Mérignac, France. Another early success was an order for 33 Falcon 20s to haul freight for visionary Federal Express founder Fred Smith.
It wasn't long before Falcons–20s, 10s, 200s, 100s, 50s, 900s, 2000s–graced the world's skies. The latest, the fly-by-wire 7X, adapted flight-control technology from Dassault's supersonic Mirage and Rafale fighters. And there likely isn't a major aircraft manufacturer today that doesn't use Dassault Systèmes's Catia 3-D design software.
Serge Dassault, an engineer, ran the flight test department for Dassault and is now chairman and CEO of Dassault Group. Winner of the NBAA Meritorious Service to Aviation award in 2009, he "is without question one of the most innovative leaders in business aviation," said NBAA president Ed Bolen.
Russell Meyer Jr. (1932-)
Russell Meyer joined Cessna Aircraft shortly after certification of the company's first jet, the relatively small and not exactly speedy Fanjet 500, which withstood years of derisive putdowns. Yet under Meyer's leadership as chairman and CEO, Cessna delivered 5,000 Citation jets and developed the fastest civil airplane in the world, the Citation X. (More than 6,100 Citations have now been delivered.)
Meyer launched the Citation Special Olympics Airlift in 1986. He is credited with leading the team that helped persuade Congress to pass the General Aviation Revitalization Act in 1994, which limited product liability for newly manufactured aircraft and parts to 18 years. Following the Act's passage, Cessna, as promised, resumed production of piston-powered airplanes. Meyer also helped engineer the sale of Cessna to General Dynamics, which later sold the company to its present owner Textron, while General Dynamics went on to buy Gulfstream Aerospace.
Laurent Beaudoin (1938-)
The dreams of many an aircraft manufacturer may have finally been realized thanks to Laurent Beaudoin, now chairman of Bombardier, builder of airliners, business jets, trains and snowmobiles. When Beaudoin pulled together Canadair, Learjet, de Havilland and Shorts in the 1980s, few could have predicted the future success of the Bombardier Aerospace division. The Learjet line continues, with the latest and first-ever all-composite large business jet, the Learjet 85, on track for certification in 2013.
Bill Lear's LearStar 600 found a home at Bombardier and remains popular, morphing from the original 600 to the current 605 and also elongating into an enormously popular line of regional jets. The de Havilland turboprops still fly, now as the Q400, and Shorts is a key manufacturing ally, although it no longer makes whole aircraft. Beaudoin's bold moves have kept Bombardier relevant amid ever-stiffening competition, and the company has doubled down on business aviation with its new ultra-long-range Global 7000 and 8000 program.
Mauricio Botelho (1942-)
Under Mauricio Botelho, Brazilian aerospace manufacturer Embraer grew into a highly competitive company that has steadily and rapidly gained market share from all of the traditional business jet manufacturers. Botelho took on leadership of Embraer in 1995, just after the company was privatized and while it was suffering huge losses. By 1998, it was solidly profitable.
In 2005, Botelho made a far-reaching pronouncement: "We plan to become a major player in executive aviation within the next 10 years," he declared. This was at a time when the company had built a solid base in the regional jet market, and since then, Embraer has not only transformed some of the those airliners into business jets but has launched two families of executive jets, the Phenom 100 and 300, both well into production, and the upcoming Legacy 450 and 500 midsize jets.
Botelho has since turned the Embraer reins over to new leaders, but his legacy led the company to huge gains, at the expense of competitors who might not have seen what was once a small Brazilian outfit flying fast over the horizon.
Richard Santulli (1944-)
NetJets employees shed many tears on Aug. 4, 2009, when Richard Santulli stepped down as chairman of the company he'd founded to offer shares of business aircraft to buyers who couldn't afford an entire jet. By lowering the barriers to business jet ownership and also creating the fiendishly complex operational infrastructure that would make share-flying possible, Santulli changed business aviation forever.
Berkshire Hathaway purchased NetJets for $725 million in 1998, and the fractional-share provider was responsible for huge bumps in business jet manufacturer backlogs–until massive losses caused equally large cancellations and Santulli's eventual departure. Santulli has returned to his roots in the leasing business with his new company, Milestone Aviation Group, which specializes in helicopter and business jet leasing.