PAST & PRESENT
Gulfstream's iconic large-cabin jets combine speed, range and comfort
Theme of perfection in private air travel is evident in past achievements and future plans.
By Grant McLaren
Gulfstream offerings include (L–R) G150, G250, G450, G550 and G650. With top speed of Mach .925 and 7000-nm range at Mach .85, G650 redefines intercontinental capability and comfort.
No other brand in the business aviation world is more iconic, recognizable or enduring than the large-cabin Gulfstream business jet. Here we are 54 years after first flight of the Gulfstream I and the brand still sets the standard for long-range, comfortable and self-sufficient global transport.
Many of the great design elements of the original Gulfstream—big elliptical windows, best in class airstairs, spacious cabin and sturdy, reliable, systems—continue on in current large-cabin product lineup. While the 7000-nm-range Gulfstream G650 represents a whole new level of global access, and a clean sheet design, the aircraft concept and design inspiration remain surprisingly familiar.
Over the years Pro Pilot has profiled operators of all Gulfstream series aircraft, in both corporate and special mission applications. The stories of these operators trace the history and development of globally-capable business aviation. In the early days some of the largest flight departments—National Distillers, American Can, Procter & Gamble, Texaco and Mobil—flocked to the $845,000 (initial price) Gulfstream I as a leap forward in travel productivity over existing $200,000 (average price) corporate Douglas DC3s.
When the Gulfstream II first flew in Oct 1966—offering transcontinental and transatlantic range with largest cabin in class—there was concern among some that there'd be no market for a $2-million corporate jet.
Soon, however, GIIs were flying the world in service of Fortune 100 flight departments, heads of state and special mission applications and the aircraft stood alone in its class for years. Not only could operators fly transatlantic nonstop for the first time but they had the cabin to do so comfortably. Many Gulfstream cabins sported unique airborne environments.
Fabergé outfitted its GII with a one-of-a-kind molded cave-like environment that included a built-in piano and walk-up bar complete with bartender and pressurized bar system. One Far East-based sultan outfitted early Gulfstreams with rare Waterfall Bubinga wood veneers, polished malachite stone surfaces and latest-generation cabin electronics.
But there was much more to the brand than range and cabin capability—these aircraft were rugged, reliable and dependable with the latest avionics, APU systems and product support—and could take executives safely to the 4 corners of the world on their own schedules.
Today, more than 60 some years after the business jet era began, we still do not have supersonic options. The market has adapted to subsonic cruise speeds but—especially at the top end—demands spacious comfortable cabins, intercontinental range with high levels of product performance and reliability. Today's Gulfstream lineup—with the G650 about to start deliveries in the 2nd quarter of this year—makes the subsonic life both productive and bearable!
Leroy Grumman's dream
Grumman G159 Gulfstream (later Gulfstream I) first flew in 1958 and offered the largest-cabin, longest-range, turbine-powered aircraft ever designed for the business aviation market.
Grumman Aircraft Engineering—the company that evolved into Grumman Aerospace in the late 1950s—was launched in 1930 with a focus on military production. Civilian models included the G21 Goose (1937), G44 Widgeon (1940) and G73 Mallard (1946) amphibians. By the mid-1950s Leroy Grumman decided to build an aircraft specifically for executive transport.
In those days Grumman operated a DC3 (a widely used corporate transport at the time) and was familiar with limitations of this aircraft. While the DC3 was sturdy, with good reputation for reliability, top speed was 160 kts, range was limited and the unpressurized cabin was not always comfortable. DC3 cabin size—as Pro Pilot Writer Clay Lacy often points out—was, however, extremely popular and an excellent template for a more capable next-generation corporate transport.
Grumman looked initially at offering a DC3 replacement by converting an existing airframe into a business transport. After canvassing prospective customers the decision was to start with a clean sheet of paper and new fuselage design. The Gulfstream was Leroy Grumman's dream of getting into the business aviation market.
He wanted to offer the market a miniature airliner with DC3-like cabin, coast-to-coast range and versatility to get in and out of shorter runways. Leroy's aircraft was named for the Gulf Stream current—swift, powerful, predictable and dependable—and that's what the Grumman Gulfstream was all about.
Over an 11-year production life 200 were sold and this set the standard for future models with comfortable 12-seat plus cabins and ability—with rugged APU, built in airstairs and rugged systems—to operate mostly independent of ground support. Success with the Gulfstream prompted Grumman to develop a jet-powered corporate aircraft—the GII.
For years the iconic Gulfstream II stood alone in the market as the largest-cabin and longest-range business aircraft option.
Initial design work began in 1960s on a jet powered Gulfstream but the original idea—putting 4 General Electric CF700s on a modified GI while retaining 20° wing sweep – was not an elegant solution. Operators wanted speed, range and power reserves and the Rolls-Royce Spey Mk 511 ultimately fit GII product design criteria well.
The GII was designed to use same runways as the GI. A modest 25° wing sweep made the aircraft faster while retaining all the comfort of the original design. Go ahead on the GII was given May 1965, first flight occurred Oct 1966 and 258 aircraft were produced.
Iconic design features
Gulfstream has introduced enduring design elements that have served the market well for decades. From the GI onward objective has always been to provide operators with rugged, well tested, engines and generous power reserves. The Rolls Royce Dart on the GI had a stellar service record of over 1 million operating hours on aircraft including the Vickers Viscount.
While 7 different engine types were considered, during the conceptual phase of the GII, the 11,400-lb-thrust Spey Mk 511, which had racked up thousands of hours on airliners and combat aircraft, won out. With substantial overhaul life of 7000 hrs the Spey is one of the most reliable turbofans ever built and has the power to take the GII to FL430 and Mach 0.85 max speed. Today's G650 takes advantage of 17,000-lb-thrust Rolls-Royce BR725s for 7000 nm range and top speed of Mach 0.925.