“No longer will the travelling executive have to fly in surplus military aircraft. Business aviation is on the brink of the turbine era...” (Flight Magazine, October 1958)
It appears Flight journalists were much better at predicting the future than most fortune-tellers. However, in 1958 such a statement was not surprising. Aviation skyrocketed after the war. The Allies used German jet aircraft projects that substantially aided their progress. In 1946 several jets of different design were tested and it became clear that soon the ageing “pistons” will have to make way for the younger, bolder and faster aircraft.
Business aviation had been developing for quite a while in the U.S. by that time, driven by high economic activity of the population coupled with the vastness of the country. In post-war years the market boomed. There was but one problem: the military had access to newer and better technology, innovation after innovation, while executives had to stick to converted airliners and small piston planes. This had to change – a new type of business aircraft was bound to come, offering a new level of speed, comfort and technology.
The morning of 4 September 1957 was marked by the maiden flight of Lockheed JetStar, and with it the birth of a new class of aircraft: the Business Jet. September 2007 saw us toasting to 50 years of business aviation as we know it.
We can of course take a few steps back and consider another date: in the early 50s the French Morane-Saulnier started work on a new 2-seat trainer, the MS-755 Fleuret, that eventually led to the creation of the 4-seat MS-760 Paris. The latter, first taking to the sky on 29 July 1954, is recognised by some as the pioneer business jet. However it was mainly used as a military trainer. Beech Aircraft ventured to market the MS-760 as a good investment for an executive. A 1955 press-release boasted that such a fast and neat four-seater was to be found nowhere else... which of course it was. However good by itself, this fact failed to reduce the price of the plane. About $ 250 thousand against, say, Beech Bonanza’s 20? Let’s just acknowledge that out of the roughly 2 000 people who tried out the plane while it was touring the U.S. only two actually bought it. The lion’s share of its 156 deliveries went to the military.
Lockheed JetStar, on the other hand, was successful – 204 deliveries of the several modifications within 17 years of manufacture, and most of them as a corporate transport. One of the planes with tail number N777EP was owned by Elvis Presley and named “Hound Dog II”. It stands today at Graceland beside “Hound Dog I” – a Convair 880. Six aircraft under the military designation VC-140 were operated as VIP transports by the 89th Military Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base. At certain points they served as Air Force One and carried presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan.
It took the famous Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson (among his masterpieces the reader will find the P-38 Lightning, C-5A Galaxy and the SR-71 Blackbird) only 241 days to design the Lockheed JetStar from scratch and build the first prototype. It was equipped with two Bristol-Siddeley Orpheus turbojets, but the production version was fitted with four tail-mounted Pratt & Whitney JT12 turbojets (the Soviet Il-62 and British Vickers VC-10 use similar engine mounting). One peculiar feature gaining the JetStar a “flying boat” nickname among some planespotters are the slipper tanks mounted mid-wing which indeed resemble floats if you look at the correct angle. One more interesting feature: trim is provided by tilting the whole vertical stabilizer. This is attested by a clearly visible strip of unpainted metal.
JetStar was for a long time the largest aircraft in its class and even by modern-day classification may be put down as “large-cabin”. It accommodates ten passengers and two crew members. A cruising speed of 445kt, a range of 2476nm and an MTOW of 38,940lb puts it in line with modern bizjets and may have made JetStar a strong competitor had it not been for the economic factor: in terms of operating costs the veteran isn’t up to scratch. Nevertheless over 30 of the newer JetStar II modification are still in operation in the U.S. They were manufactured from 1976 to 1978, fitted with Garrett TFE-731 turbofans and fuel tanks of bigger capacity. The performance of the JetStar II over its ancestor improved significantly.
If we consider two aircraft deliveries a failure and 204 a success, the next star of our show is definitely a bestseller. In 1956 North American Aviation, its reputation backed by the famous F-86 Sabre and F-100 Super Sabre fighters, started work on a jet trainer. The design had been anticipated before, but the U.S.A.F. order and the money flow made work that much easier. The corporation used its experience to create not only (and not essentially) a military trainer, but the world’s first twin-jet executive aircraft. North American Sabreliner not only inherited elements of design but also the legacy of the Sabre series.
The first prototype took off on 16 September 1958, just a year behind Lockheed JetStar. It was fitted with two General Electric YF85 that were later dropped in favour of Pratt & Whitney JT-12 (as mentioned earlier, this was the engine of choice for the JetStar). Sabreliner had half the MTO of Lockheed’s design and two engines provided sufficient thrust to enable a max cruising speed of 440kt and a range up to 1750nm with four pax.
A good price tag, spacious cabin for its class, jet engines and the fame of its ancestors ensured the Sabreliner great success. Its 50th birthday is just around the corner and still around 300 Sabreliners navigate the skies – that’s more than there ever were JetStars, even though the comparison between the two may be a bit far-fetched. The future of the Sabreliner shows much promise: Sabreliner Corporation, headquartered in St. Louis, MO, provides parts and modifications for the aircraft. The owners even of the oldest models have a chance to renew and refurbish their planes according to modern standards of airworthiness and noise and, where interior is concerned, aesthetics. A price tag as low as $ 600-700 thousand, accessible parts, good support and service and specifications that put the Sabreliner alongside modern bizjets makes it an excellent “bargain ride”, to quote Mark Huber.
Much has been said about the longevity of pioneer bizjets. However there is one that leaves competitors far behind: originally designed as the De Havilland D.H. 125 Jet Dragon, it was then marketed as the Hawker Siddeley HS.125, later the British Aerospace HS. 125, then Raytheon Hawker and nowadays the Hawker series of HawkerBeechcraft Corporation.
In 1961 the renowned British manufacturer De Havilland commenced work on the Jet Dragon – a relatively small aircraft destined to become the world’s most popular midsize jet. De Havilland’s military heritage came in handy when designing the plane seating 6-8 pax and 2 crew members. Its high utility and reliability sparked interest in potential customers.
The first series (only eight made) had two tail-mounted Bristol-Siddeley Viper 20 turbojets. The first prototype designated G-ARYA first flew on 13 August 1962 and just a month later was showcased at Farnborough Airshow. Since then its descendants have been popular worldwide and remain so to this day.
The first production aircraft had an operating ceiling of around 40,000 ft, a cruise speed up to 390kt and a max range of 2400 nm. In 1976 turbofan power was introduced to the series in the form of Garrett TFE-731 engines (very popular to this day and marketed now as Honeywell TFE-731 modifications). The turbofan-powered aircraft was designated the HS-125-700. Today the series is represented by HawkerBeechcraft airplanes. Hawker 850XP, a direct descendant of the DH.125, has greatly improved specifications and economics. From the moment of inception and to this day over 1000 models and modifications have been delivered.
Over 50 years have passed, yet the veterans still find their customer. Some MS-760’s that had been idle with close-to-zero engines and airframes all these years suddenly appeared in sales adverts. The most probable cause is the rising popularity of the VLJ concept. MS-760 sellers install new avionics and equipment and market the plane as a substitute VLJ for a fraction of the price. Indeed specification-wise it doesn’t lose out to the newcomers and the price of the latter is at least 4-5 times higher. Even a new Beechcraft Bonanza costs more.
JetStars, Sabreliners and old Hawkers are also in demand. They are cheaper, still serviced and maintained and can be equipped with new avionics and equipment, their engines are overhauled and brought to compliance with noise regulations, and the interiors are refurbished to give them a modern look. The used plane market is quite heavy on bizjets made in the 75-80’s and some offers are quite attractive.
Pioneer bizjets were a real breakthrough for executive aviation. The implemented innovations and developments helped establish the worldwide bizjet fleet. Their reliability helped establish public, investor and insurance company trust. Together with turboprops such as the Fairchild F-27 and Grumman Gulfstream, pioneer business jets set new standards for executive aviation and forever changed its course.
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