A Brief History of Private Jets
Private Jets have been maligned in the press lately and the use of them harshly criticized by some politicians. This is the story of Private Jets (the short version).
The first Private Jet was the Learjet 23, which came on the market in 1964. It was modeled on the military fighter jet, the first of which was invented by the Germans and was operational in 1944: The Messerschmitt. The Learjet 23 flew at the astounding speed of 561 miles-per-hour. Before Bill Lear invented the Private Jet, he had already invented the first car radio; the first 8-track tape player; the first aircraft autopilot; and the first automatic aircraft landing system. Bill Lear had an eighth grade education and served in the United States Navy during World War One.
The first private jets were designed to seat six to eight passengers plus a two-man crew—obviously created for wealthy individuals and substantial companies. These "private jets" later became known synonymously as "Business Jets," "Corporate Jets," or "Executive Jets." Today, there are 11,000 of these aircraft in use and most are in, or registered in, The United States. The speed at which they fly has not improved remarkably as they are restricted by governments from approaching the sound barrier, obviously because it would wreak havoc on the world below if Private Jets were creating sonic booms all over the place.
Private Jets have the advantage not only of speed, but also of altitude. Altitude is a pilot's best friend. And a jet aircraft can cruise at altitudes of up to 49,000 feet above the Earth, where there is very little traffic—the cause of accidents in most forms of human transportation—and where the atmosphere is very thin enabling the jet to cruise using very little fuel. To fly at this altitude the aircraft must be pressurized, due to the lack of oxygen above 10,000 feet (and the extreme cold temperature). This pressurization creates an artificial atmosphere for the people inside. So, essentially, one is hurtling through space at 600 miles per hour in a small metal tube eight miles high.
In 1971 Cessna introduced the Citation 500 jet aircraft to compete with Learjet. Though much slower (cruise speed approximately 400 miles per hour) than the Learjet, due primarily to its straight wing versus the swept-back fighter jet wing of the Learjet, the Citation eventually became the most popular Private Jet of all, as it proved much easier to fly, thereby enabling pilots of lesser skills and experience to command it safely.
Gulfstream entered the private jet market with its Gulfstream II, which is a much larger aircraft designed for the truly elite of the world, capable of the speed of the Learjet but with capacity for up to 19 passengers and range of 4000 miles without refueling—roughly four times the range of the Learjet or the Citation.
Private Jets serve many purposes today including the transportation of business executives and pleasure travelers. They also provide air ambulance services, organ transplant flights, angel flights, mapping missions, surveillance, and freight hauling. The distinct advantages over commercial airliners include the ability to fly upon demand—on a flexible schedule determined by the client versus a strict schedule set by an airline—and the capability to land at ten times more airports—putting the client closer to their ultimate destination and enabling multiple destinations in a single day. In addition, Private Jets provide a higher level of security (no one on the plane not invited by the client), privacy and the convenience not available with the long security lines, baggage checks, restrictions on personal items and pets, and the disrobing required to board a commercial airline.