The History of Business Aircraft
When you realize that there are only 500 airfields in the U.S. offering
scheduled passenger service, it is no wonder that personal and corporate flights
have become an industry in itself. Whether it is the Learjet of a shipping
magnate, media mogul with a partly owned Cessna Citation X or the tough talking
politician in his Piper Navaho, business aircraft facilitates convenience and
efficient travel to engage in and meet important business or personal
Business aircrafts come in all models, from the single-engine Cessnas and
Pipers to twin light planes and the Learjets. Post-war development has equipped
planes with the necessary radio communication and navigational capabilities to
make round-the-clock, all season business flying a reality.
Business flying first came into being in the late 1920. Open-*****pit biplanes
and Stinson, Fairchild and other enclosed cabin designs were employed, but it
was the unique Beech planes that became early pacesetters on efficient private
flying. The Beech Model 17 “Staggerwing” from 1932 was a picture of luxury and
comfort with leather and mohair fitted cabins that could seat 5 passengers. Its
cousin, the Model 18 Twin Beech from 1937, was created for the purpose of
economy business flying and could seat up to 9 passengers. Its popularity was
established with a production line spanning 32 years and over 7,000 units
The Grunman-built Gulfstream business aircraft line debuted in 1958 and was
widely acknowledged as the “Rolls Royce” of business flying, no doubt due in
part to leveraging on its twin Rolls Royce Dart turboprop engines. The
$1-million price tag of the Gulfstream I did not deter buyers and steadily
established itself in the business aviation market, while a increased
performance delivery came with the creation of the Gulfstream II in 1964.
And who could forget the Learjet – William P. Lear Sr.’s innovation from 1963
that is now synonymous with all things business flying, an icon of luxurious
business travel. The Learjet 23 was the first mass-produced and individually
built and financed small jet aircraft, and was delivered by the Chemical and
Industrial Corporation of Cincinnati, Ohio, on October 13, 1964. March 1966 saw
the introduction of the higher performance Learjet 24 which would be the first
business aircraft to fly round the world, within 4 days. Record breaking sales
were established with the production of the Learjet 35/36 – a modified Learjet
25 with stretched turbofans. The Learjet 36 saw a 1976 global goodwill trip
piloted by world famous golfer Arnold Palmer.
The Piper PA-31 Navaho entered the business aviation market in 1964, staking its
claim on the twin-engine quarters. It came in three versions that catered for
various needs in seating capacity and arrangements, outfitted with user-friendly
cabin features including the ability to carry luggage in the engine nacelles.
The same year saw the unveiling of Beech’s Model 90 King Air, another
twin-engine aircraft that could ferry eight passengers in comfort. As evidenced
by its eventual 90 percent share of the market within its class, the King Air
quickly became a mainstay for corporate flight departments.
Beech continued to innovate and produced the Beech Model 2000 Starship in 1983.
The brainchild of Voyager creator Burt Rutan was a statement of innovative
aircraft design with comparable speeds to small business jets, but the Starship
flopped commercially. Too expensive at $5 million, only 53 Starships were
Meanwhile, the Gulfstream III, Learjet 55 and Learjet 60, introduced over the
years from 1979 to 1990, established winglets which greatly reduced drag and
thus saving fuel. This resulted in increasing intercontinental flying ranges of
4,174 miles with the former and continues to see improvements today.
In between in 1985, the Gulfstream IV was released to the industry and
immediately shook its foundations and grabbed it by the neck. Ferrying up to 19
passengers in luxurious interior fittings such as luscious sofas and oak
furnishings, it was built with celebrities and business moguls in mind. The
Gulfstream IV and IV-SP were the result of customized user requirements. Built
at a cost of $24-million, it made possible cost-effective long distance flights
of close to 7,223 miles, with lengthier fuselage and less moving parts on its
wings. To add to its legend, Gulfstream chairman Allen Paulson sensationally
broke and established countless flight records whilst flying across the world,
such as clocking in 8.5 hours faster than the Boeing 747SP jumbo jet for a trip
around the world in January 1988 that lasted under 37 hours.
Beech continued to establishing itself as a source of cost-effective and
reliable business aircrafts above the turboprop aircraft market via its Model
400/400A Beechjet, with the acquisition of the Mitsubishi Diamond production
rights. Their competitor Cessna also made its mark with the Citation X, as it
became recognized as a speedy production aircraft, clocking speeds of Mach 0.92.
Prices of business aircrafts continue to escalate while striving to satisfy
ever-changing market demands for comfort and speed. Compared to a Beech
Staggerwing which cost only $15,000 in 1932, $30-million is the asking price of
many a business jets today. However, there is no visible lack of demand despite
prohibitive costs, as in any business – where there is demand, the sales will