The first-ever business plane was a Curtiss JN-4 owned by the Heddon Co., a Michigan fishing lure manufacturer that in 1919 painted the Jenny to look like a big fish and flew it around to Midwestern tackle shops and fishing events. Despite that flying fish and numerous Beech Stagger – wings, Lockheed 10s, cabin Wacos, Howards and even the Champion Spark Plug Pitcairn autogyro that flew for businessmen in the 1930s, it wasn’t until August 14, 1958—50 years ago this past summer—that the very first purpose-built, all-original business aircraft took flight: the Grumman Gulfstream I.
True, there had been plenty of corporate aircraft in the years after World War II, but they were either straightforward general aviation twins (Piper Apaches, Cessna 310s), converted warplanes (the Douglas B-26–derived On Marks) or designs based on military models (Dee Howard’s Lockheed Ventura– inspired 500). Even the Model 18 Twin Beech, a ubiquitous corporate bird, had been conceived as a military aircraft.
The Gulfstream I was a turboprop twin designed specifically for fast, efficient, comfortable business travel, and it quickly led to the even faster and more luxurious Gulfstream jets—the GII through today’s ultra-long-range widebody G650—some with wing and cabin designs directly traceable back to that original Rolls-Royce Dart–powered GI.
A salient feature of all Gulfstream aircraft has been huge, panoramic windows for superb passenger visibility and a light, airy cabin, and that can also be linked to the original GI, whose 12 passengers— though the load was often one to four barons of business—peered down at the world far below through Plexiglas ovals each more than 2 feet long. “Ah, this is the life,” they said 50 years ago as they sipped Scotch and puffed on stogies, and they’ve been saying it in Gulfstreams ever since.
Originally published in the January 2009 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.