Good Ideas Never Go Out of Style

history, aviation
Written By Patty Jensen

When a new aircraft design—the Gulfstream I—emerged from a clean sheet of paper in 1958, the sheer number of aviation innovations it embodied had to be calculated on a slide rule. With the G650—another clean-sheet design—the evolutionary process of continuous improvement and technology integration changed the methodology, but not the DNA, of aircraft design that has been a Gulfstream hallmark for 55 years.

To understand how Gulfstream came to be the premier manufacturer of the world’s most advanced business jets, one must explore the history of how it all started. The tale begins with a company located on Long Island, New York, that had a storied past and a passionate—and prophetic—vision for the future of business aviation.

During World War II Grumman Aircraft Engineering Company, the forefather of what was to become Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation, built some of the most famous combat aircraft in the history of aviation. Because the company’s aircraft often had to perform in remote and harsh conditions, Grumman’s design philosophy stressed tough airframe designs, high reliability and serviceability, and unsurpassed product support and safety.

Following the war’s end, Grumman was looking beyond its array of military aircraft such as the Avenger, Wildcat and Hellcat, to serving the aviation requirements of a peacetime environment, specifically civilian aircraft.

Business needs were changing in the United States during the 1940s and ’50s. As industries grew, companies began to expand across the country, creating the need to travel greater distances more efficiently. The era of the corporate aircraft had arrived and the die was cast—the Gulfstream I would become the world’s first purpose-built business aircraft.

The era of the corporate aircraft had arrived and the die was cast—the Gulfstream I would become the world’s first purpose-built business aircraft.


Eventually the changing business environment demanded aircraft that could travel not only across the continental U.S. but also around the globe.

“The Gulfstream I was clearly purpose-built for business travel, and its development resulted in an aircraft that could travel farther and faster, enabling businesses to succeed in reaching and expanding into new markets,” says Joe Lombardo, executive vice president of the Aerospace Group for General Dynamics, parent company of Gulfstream. “That is still our company’s goal, although one significant difference is the distances have become so much greater. Our aircraft must now extend beyond the ability to travel from New York to Detroit, to being able to travel from New York to Dubai and beyond.”


The resemblance between the 1950s-era Gulfstream I, with its twin turboprop engines, steam gauges and straight wing, and the sleek new G650 , with its highly swept wings and winglets, advanced digital avionics and powerful turbojet engines, are remote at best. Gulfstream aficionados can, however, always distinguish a large-cabin Gulfstream by its unique elliptical windows. But more than the slight physical resemblance, the philosophy that shaped engineering and marketing decisions for the first and each subsequent design are commonalities that every Gulfstream model shares.

What binds the Gulfstream fleet together in heritage are fundamental tenets that were forged with the development of the Gulfstream I and continue today—safety, reliability, performance, innovation and cabin comfort. They can never be compromised, can never be forgotten, and they are what make Gulfstream aircraft the world standard, according to Larry Flynn, president of Gulfstream.


“Safety comes first,” states Flynn. “Aviation is a very unforgiving business, so it must be at the forefront of everything we do. From the safety of our employees, to the design and manufacturing of our aircraft, to the customers we serve, safety always has to be considered first.”

It is the relentless pursuit of safety that led Gulfstream to be the first company to certify safety features including Enhanced Vision and Synthetic Vision—both of which dramatically increase situational awareness for flight crews in the most challenging conditions. The G650 also incorporates 3-D weather radar, a dramatic new safety feature that represents a quantum leap forward in advancing state-of-the-art radar. Safety is a culture that permeates the fabric of Gulfstream, starting with the president and continuing to the aviation safety officer and every individual contributor who plays a key role in the design, testing, manufacture and support of the fleet.


Reliability is the next attribute. “Reliability is huge,” according to Scott Neal, senior vice president of Sales and Marketing at Gulfstream. “People buy Gulfstream aircraft because of their unsurpassed legacy for reliability and support. We go to great lengths to ensure that our customers’ aircraft are ready to serve—which is why we’ve been voted No. 1 in product support for an unprecedented 10 consecutive years.”

Gulfstream has the highest documented customer loyalty of any aviation brand—thanks in part to unmatched product support and aircraft reliability rates unsurpassed in the industry. The company has understood from its inception that unless you exceed customer expectations and deliver on your promises every day, there likely is no second chance.

Accomplishing that commitment to quality and customer satisfaction consistently since 1958 has not been an easy task. But with customer needs in mind, Gulfstream has over the years built a customer support system that spans the globe, including the largest (and growing) company-owned service network—$1.4 billion in parts inventory strategically located around the world, along with FAST (Field and Airborne Support Teams), an industry-changing service innovation on call for dispatch anywhere on earth 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.


Performance is a critical attribute whose roots can be traced to the beginning. “Our customers purchase a Gulfstream aircraft because they recognize that our fleet has always been on the leading edge of technology and performance,” says Dan Nale, Gulfstream’s senior vice president of Programs, Engineering and Test. “That’s why we continuously push to achieve the best in range, speed and efficiency.”

To achieve the legendary Gulfstream reputation for speed, range and efficiency, one need look no farther than the wing. The original Gulfstream I design requirements were established to eliminate protrusions for flap hinges and flap tracks by keeping them hidden within the airfoil definition of the wing. That allowed the wing to be very smooth, creating low drag at cruise, resulting in enhanced range and increased speed.

“If you can eliminate the elements that cause aerodynamic skin friction, you can go faster and farther. Traditionally, all the way up to and including the G650, the wings have been extraordinarily clean with no large fairings from the bottom of the wing that would increase drag and slow the aircraft,” Nale states.


Innovation, another fundamental tenet, is the reason the name Gulfstream has become synonymous with “The world’s most advanced business aircraft.”

“It should come as no surprise that the five large buildings that comprise the Gulfstream engineering campus in Savannah are located on a street named Innovation Drive,” says Nale. Enhanced Vision and Synthetic Vision, fly-by-wire flight controls, brake-by-wire, head-up display, and countless other civilian aviation firsts have become the norm for Gulfstream’s robust engineering group.

Gulfstream goes to extreme lengths to engineer the finest flying machines in the world. Certainly speed and range garner most of the ink in the aviation press simply by virtue of the countless world records chalked up in both categories. But perhaps the unsung heroes are the engineers working tirelessly on innovative technologies such as those that enable Gulfstream to increase fuel efficiency. Or reduce ambient cabin noise to produce the quietest cabin ever built. Or increasing cabin pressurization to lower cabin altitudes as low as 3,300 feet/1,005 meters, which makes your body feel like you’re standing on terra firm while flying at more than seven miles (41,000 feet/12,497 meters) above the planet.

The company’s research and design prowess has even caught the attention of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), which has partnered with Gulfstream’s laboratories to conduct tests including the future of supersonic flight.


Cabin comfort rounds out the list of key attributes. “We understand the importance of cabin comfort,” says Neal. “But making a cabin comfortable doesn’t just mean having great seats. It means understanding physiology and the role that cabin pressure plays in arriving at the end of a 12-hour flight feeling rested and not jet-lagged.

“It means recognizing the importance of natural light on the human psyche, which is why we offer the largest windows of any business jet to help keep the cabin light and airy. And yes, comfort means making certain that all of the creature comfort systems have a similar redundancy as those of the essential flight systems.”

Some features—such as the large elliptical windows—are an original Gulfstream I design element that matured over the years, growing on the G650 to an expansive 28 inches by 20.5 inches, providing a panoramic view of the world below.

As Gulfstream has evolved over the past 55 years, it’s easy to see that the attributes that were important then—the company’s tenets—remain the same driving forces that propel it forward today.


The underlying theme of the company’s tenets is listening to the voice of the customer.

Gulfstream has long embraced the practice and importance of soliciting customer input in the development of its aircraft. Seeking to learn more about the needs of the customer began with the development of the Gulfstream I when, during the conception process, a questionnaire was developed and sent to prospective customers. The customers were asked questions such as which airports they visited—were they always big hub airports or smaller, more remote airfields? What runway lengths did they require? Other questions included customers’ opinions on cost, cabin comfort, wing configuration and engine choice. The answers were critical in helping to create the Gulfstream I as the first purpose-built business aircraft.

Gulfstream’s commitment to seeking operator input has steadily increased over the years, culminating in the invaluable customer research that was used in determining the design of the G650—a design that resulted in a new class of business aircraft because, as it turned out, customers’ demands for speed and range surpassed what was available in the marketplace.

“We solicited input from a number of different sources regarding the design of the G650,” says Flynn. “We listened to our customers through our Customer Advisory Board and through other interactions and special briefings with our Leadership Team. The response from the customers was clear—they wanted an aircraft that was bigger and would go farther and go faster. And that’s exactly what we delivered—plus a great deal more.”

As Gulfstream has evolved over the past 55 years, it’s easy to see that the attributes that were important then—the company’s tenets—remain the same driving forces that propel it forward today.

Since 1958, Gulfstream has been dedicated to recognizing and responding to a changing business climate, seeking and implementing customer input, creating cutting-edge aeronautic engineering design, and to a steadfast commitment to safety, reliability, performance, innovation and cabin comfort.

These tenets of excellence have made Gulfstream aircraft legendary—and are as integral to their design DNA today as they were in 1958. After all, good ideas never go out of style.

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