The private jet industry has no shortage of great names gracing the stage for decades now. The spirit of American freedom is perfectly summed up by a name like Cessna. Bombardier symbolizes the fact that our neighbors up North, the Canadians are no slouches either. Dassault is the perfect example of military prowess being wielded into creating a powerful luxury statement. The world of private jet aircraft resembles a hill, however. At the top of every hill is the real number one, ‘numero uno’. There might be many that disagree with this statement but there are even more that will agree with this. Gulfstream is the ultimate realization of the qualities that the private jet industry has always continued to espouse. It is the king of the proverbial hill and is considered by many to be the greatest company in the entire history of the private jet industry. This means that the next question that arises naturally is how did Gulfstream reach the status that they have reached today? This question lies in the books of history. We’ll be dusting off these books and looking at the history of Gulfstream, one that extends for more than half a century.
Like most other private aircraft companies, Gulfstream has its roots in the military aircraft industry. This is due to the fact that the second world war was furiously fought in the sky. Being able to take control of the skies became the foremost objective of most military commanders of that era. This meant that a lot of money and time was invested in the research for making the aircraft as fast as possible and as safe as possible. There was no space for mistakes and the cutting edge was the place where everyone wanted to be. The second world war, for all the death and destruction it brought, also brought with it a spirit of innovation that is now imbued into the spirit of the West. Once the dust had settled and the Nazi threat that loomed not only over Europe but over the entire world had been destroyed, there was more technological innovation that most people knew what to do with.
They say that destruction is a form of creation. This would also hold to be true for the second world war. The Gulfstream story starts in Bethpage, New York. In the 1950s, Grumman Aircraft Engineering Co, a company that had made a name for itself during the second world war, came up with a twin-turboprop aircraft. This aircraft, while being derived from its military roots, was still envisioned as a ‘business jet’ and thus had luxury at the center of its thesis. It would be christened the Grumman Gulfstream I, also known as the G-I, and start the long family tree of the Gulfstream jet aircraft. It was surprisingly roomy for an aircraft of its time and could easily seat a dozen people. More importantly, it could break the 350-mph barrier, something that was quite impressive at that time. Add on top to it a range that exceeded 2,200 miles and you had a fully-fledged business aircraft, not at all that far from modern offerings.
The resulting success of this aircraft ratified the thesis that there was a space in the market for the ‘business aircraft’, a term that was invented along with the G-I. The main idea was that the resulting entrepreneurial boom and the interconnectivity of the world meant that a businessman needed to be on the go at all times, ready to fly across the United States at a moment’s notice. The economic boom that the US was enjoying at that time meant that there was a sizable amount of such people, who also had the money for such an endeavor. After all, aircraft are not cheap, and they were expensive even back then.
The Gulfstream II would shortly follow in the footsteps of its older brother. This is one of the rare cases where the pioneer would be outdone by the successor. The typical shape swept-wing shape of modern business jets that we see each day was first popularized by this aircraft. In fact, the Gulfstream II still holds up well compared to newer aircraft in terms of design. Grumman had already developed more than 150 GIs in the first 7 years of its production. During that time, the ‘jet revolution’ had descended upon the earth. Turboprops were an image of a bygone era. Lockheed, Hawker, and Dassault had all developed jet aircraft that were able to take advantage of what some might even call the inherent superiority of the jet engine. The people were demanding a jet engine and Grumman decided to give it to them. In October 1966, the Gulfstream first took to the air. Many of the things that we associate with business jets were first introduced in the Gulfstream II. The interior was bespoken, and the avionics were designed according to the requirements of the customers themselves. Gulfstream understood that they were firmly in the luxury industry, one industry where the customizability of the product itself needs to be top-notch because the customers require a high level of personalization for their product. This aircraft was able to seat 14 passengers and was also used by a wide variety of militaries around the world, mainly for VIP transport. The aircraft required a crew of 2 people and had a range of nearly 4000 nautical miles. It was also able to reach a top speed of 0.85 Mach, a truly impressive number for that time.
The production of the Gulfstream II also coincided with an important shift at Grumman. They had begun to understand the vast potential of the civil aircraft industry. It had certain advantages over the military industry. The military aircraft industry was widely dependent on whether the army required aircraft or not. The demand would rise up in times of conflict and decrease in times of peace. On the other hand, the civilian aircraft industry’s demand was only rising with no end in sight. Due to this, Grumman decided to separate the two parts of the company. What started out once as just an aircraft, was now a separate entity. There would have been a lot of people who must have raised an eyebrow over this decision. The separation would mean that more investment would be going into the civilian sector than ever before and could backfire. 60 years later we can say that it was a pretty good decision. The civilian sector of the corporation was moved to Savannah, Georgia. The important benefit of Savannah was the fact that the weather was favorable for flight testing year-round. In 1973, the civil operations were merged with the American Aviation Corporation. 4 years later, the last GII would roll off the metaphorical assembly line. It would be a nicely aligned 256 number of total aircraft for the GII at that time. While the GI had created a path that all future Gulfstream aircraft would walk on for decades to come, the GII had covered it in red carpets and photographers.
In 1978, this merged entity was Allen Paulson. For many, the golden time of Gulfstream was yet to come. Allen Paulson had a rags-to-riches story that is rarely seen outside of movies. Starting out as a humble newspaper boy, Allen built an empire that would see him at the helm of Gulfstream. He renamed it Gulfstream American, something that inspired a spirit of patriotism in the Gulfstream name. The first 2 models had been so good that the pressure on the Gulfstream III to top it was simply crushing. However, the pilot at the wheel, Allen Paulson took it in his stride. The GIII was designed to be a paradigm shift even more photogenic and revolutionary than the first two. It would cement that status by being the first aircraft to fly over both poles.
The GII however was not done just yet. In 1981, the GIIB came along. It had a modified fuselage with the wings of the GIII, with completely new winglets as well. In many ways, it stood on the middle ground between the GII and the GIII. It offered performance that was comparable to the GIII but still had the soul of the GII. There were 40 deliveries of this aircraft, meaning that it was mildly successful as well. Paulson would also end up undertaking a campaign of expansion that would see the workforce exceed 2500 people by 1982. Allen Paulson envisioned this company to be bigger than national status. He wanted the company to go international. A name changes to Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation signified that change in direction as well. The company would end up going public as well in a year. Chrysler Corp would end up acquiring Gulfstream at that time for $637 million. Gulfstream had become one of the biggest companies in the entire world. In fact, it cracked the Fortune 500 list in 1985 as well. In 1987, 200 Gulfstream III had completed delivery. It was a ripe time for the next big thing to come along. The Gulfstream IV would play that role to perfection. In keeping with Gulfstream’s tradition of always operating at the cutting edge, the IV would be the first aircraft to have an all-glass cockpit, something that was quite a spectacle. It would also end up being one of the most popular private jet aircraft ever produced. There were nearly 1000 of these jets delivered to the public with its production run from 1985 to 2018 being one of the most prolonged and successful ones in the entire industry’s history. The secret to this success was incremental changes. Gulfstream made sure that they had a good platform, a great base to start with and build upon. They kept on releasing better versions of the G IV. People kept buying it and Gulfstream kept raking it in. The G450 alone had a 12-year production run, with 365 aircraft sold during that time.
In the 90s, Gulfstream was able to expand into the private jet charter business as well, signing a contract with NetJets in 1994. The Gulfstream had become the ultimate symbol of opulence. The oval windows were as iconic as the oval office.
The only way to go from here was up. The Gulfstream V would come along and break another wall in the private jet industry. It became the first truly ultra-long-rang jet. This title was mainly bestowed upon it due to its class beating 6500 nautical miles of range. This jet was made essentially as an answer to the Bombardier Global Express. The Global Express ushered in the concept of a jet that was so powerful, so large, and had such a long-range that it could fly to the most distant corners of the earth. What’s quite an interesting piece of trivia is the fact that in 1999, Mark Cuban paid $40 million for a Gulfstream V, making the record of the largest e-commerce transaction in history. Yes, that does mean he literally just bought it off the internet.
Like the Gulfstreams before it, the Gulfstream V was also a favorite of militaries around the world. Everyone from Algeria to Saudi Arabia decided to get their hands on this aircraft, making it a standard for VIP transport across the world.
Gulfstream is more than just a private jet manufacturer. Gulfstream is the torchbearer of the spirit of success and innovation. It symbolizes so many things. The acquisition of Gulfstream by Allen Paulson showed the world that an American boy who came from nothing could become the head of the most executive name in the private jet industry. The way every new Gulfstream introduced features that would become the industry standard. The way so many of the ‘firsts’ of the private jet industry are wreaths firmly on the head of Gulfstream. Gulfstream is the physical manifestation of the fact that being uncompromising on standard, and quality will always yield results for people in the long run.