“"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”
Applying the language of golf, the Gulfstream IV is a solid par performer. It's a no-drama player that hits straight down the middle, avoids the hazards and posts consistent scores.
Typically priced at around $8 million, a good used GIV represents an enormous value in terms of speed, range, cabin size and passenger capacity. You can fly it with all 14 seats full 3,800 nautical miles at speeds up to 476 knots-faster than anything else in its class.
However, picking the wrong GIV can open the gates of misery. "Buying a 20-year-old, complex airplane, you have to ask where it has been based, how it has been operated and who has maintained it," cautioned jet broker Josh Mesinger. "Underneath the skin, you could have a real junker."
Mesinger said that in May, 45 used GIVs were on the market, but most of them weren't worth consideration because of high hours, damage, poor maintenance history and high prices. Still, if you desire a standup cabin and more than transcontinental range, you need to seriously consider putting the GIV on your shopping list.
The GIV's main attribute is its versatility, said retired corporate pilot Darcy Eggeman, who has logged 3,500 hours in the airplane. "You can get into the smaller airports and yet travel anywhere in the world with it," noted Eggeman, who praised the GIV's aggressive climb performance, durability and comparatively low maintenance needs. "It's such a workhorse."
First delivered in 1987, the GIV followed the wildly popular GIII. The GIII debuted in 1976, was first delivered in 1979 and cemented Gulfstream's reputation as the leading business jet provider of the 1980s. It set speed and distance records in its category, could be configured to seat 15 passengers and was the first business jet to feature winglets as standard equipment. But the GIII's twin Rolls-Royce Spey engines used classic 1950s technology: they were powerful, dirty, noisy fuel suckers that were robust but hideously expensive to maintain. While the GIII was fine for jumping to Europe from the East Coast, Gulfstream's customers told the company they wanted even more range and better operating economics.
Gulfstream began designing a four-engine, follow-on aircraft to the GIII in the early 1980s. But reconfiguring the airplane to accommodate four engines added complexity and weight and reduced performance margins. Late in the program's design, Gulfstream opted to keep the GIV a twinjet, using a new Rolls-Royce engine being developed for the airlines called the Tay. The Tay's larger fan gave the engine better operating economics, cleaner emissions and a lower noise signature, while still providing 13,850 pounds of thrust. However, the aircraft also needed a new wing that weighed less, could hold 1,000 more gallons of fuel than the GIII and had less aerodynamic drag.
The GIV was the first business jet to feature an all-glass digital cockpit and a digital flight-management computer. When certified in 1987, the aircraft had a top speed of 500 knots, a range of 4,220 nautical miles and a ceiling of 45,000 feet. Between 1987 and 1993, 213 were produced.
Over the years, GIV maintenance has been simplified considerably, as Gulfstream has moved away from the traditional hours/months paradigm still used by most of today's private aircraft and toward a "task-oriented" program like the ones used to maintain airliners. Nevertheless, properly maintaining a GIV is not a low-cost proposition. Maintenance cost per hour of operation exceeds $1,300 and the bill for engine overhauls can top $1.5 million each. And while the Tays ingest less fuel than the GIII's Speys, the GIV remains the thirstiest jet in class. A fully loaded GIV weighs 73,000 pounds, and 29,000 of that is fuel.
Overall, the airplane weighs 30,000 pounds more than a Dassault Falcon 900 or Bombardier Challenger 601.
GIV customers were able to have completely custom interiors installed, but most featured seating for 12 to 16 with forward or rear galleys, a forward crew lavatory and a main executive lavatory in the rear of the aircraft. A stateroom, complete with one or two berthing divans, can be created in the rear of the aircraft forward of the main lavatory. The cavernous 169-cubic-foot baggage compartment is externally accessible. Eggeman said she "rarely had issues with the size of the baggage compartment. It almost always could accommodate passenger and crew needs." It also can be accessed in flight through the rear of the lavatory. The galley can be equipped with a microwave, high-speed/-temperature convection oven, two coffeemakers and refrigerated storage. There is ample space for two meal services.
The right completion center can refurbish the interior of a GIV to the point that it is virtually indistinguishable from a new G450, though the job generally costs at least $1 million and the bill can go a lot higher. If you are going to pull out the ceiling and the sidewalls anyway, look at adding acoustic sound-dampening ($50,000 to $100,000). Other popular refurbishment options for the GIV, according to Gulfstream, include the Broad Band Multi-Link Internet and communications system; Aircraft Service Change (ASC) 190, which modifies the wing and landing gear to accommodate higher gross weight and increased range and payload; and ASC 465A, for installation of an improved Honeywell auxiliary power unit, which provides better airflow in the cabin and more starting power for the engines.
Follow-on aircraft, including the incrementally better GIV-SP and the G400, were produced through 2003. The current G450 may look similar, but it offers more range, new avionics and digital engine controls, a larger cockpit and redesigned cabin entryway, improved cabin altitude and environmental controls, lower fuel burn and better high/hot performance. Of course, you'll pay a lot more for these incremental improvements: New G450s start at $49 million and even an average used GIV-SP can command $15 million.
You should be able to find a well-maintained GIV for about half that latter price. This is a model that delivers solid, predictable performance for an acquisition cost that is decidedly in-bounds.