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The History of Business Jets

The waning years of WWII saw the introduction of the first jet fighter planes. Though the popular image is that Germany was the first to develop them, British pioneer Frank Whittle had drawing board designs of a jet plane as early as the mid-1930s.

After the end of the war, commercial airlines quickly realized the value of these faster planes. Everyone wants to get where they want to go sooner. Less time in the air means less jet lag, less stress from engine and wind noise, and more time on the ground to take care of business. For upscale business travelers, those goals were first approached in the mid-1960s.

Alongside the development of large, commercial airlines' use of jets - the famous Boeing 727 and its later cousins - there grew up a cottage industry of smaller jets designed primarily for ultra-rich customers.

Learjet, Lockheed JetStar and the Gulfstream II were the ultimate expressions of those design goals at the time. Selling for around $1 million (a hefty price tag forty years ago), these hand-built air limousines were heavily used by oil-rich sheiks and the J. Paul Getty's of the day.

For the younger crowd, J. Paul Getty was one of the richest men in the world from the 1940s until his death in 1976. The Bill Gates of his day - only his money came from oil not computers - he was the first individual to crack the $1 billion mark.

Gulfstream's GII had room for twelve and the interiors were as classy as the rooms of the most elegant hotels, with powerful motors for long range travel. That tradition continued to the mid-1980s and beyond. In 1985, the GIV weighed in at 74,600 lbs (33,900 kg) and had a range of 4,200 nautical miles.

Though the trend in interiors grew more corporate and less hotel-like through the 1990s, with jets evolving into flying offices, the lowered luxury didn't decrease the functional advantages. Flat-panel video monitors, satellite phones and many more useful amenities all found a place early-on in business jets. Many came to have divided conference rooms, sleeping accommodations and other features conducive to doing business around the clock and around the world.

If you're going to plan business strategies at 30,000 feet you have to have the tools.

As the millennium turned, the business jet market branched out. Larger planes were built to accommodate those with a need for global travel, and smaller jets were designed with lower production and operating costs.

The Boeing executive models of the B757, powered by Rolls Royce engines, has the same potential range as its commercial airline counterpart. Only it typically carries a lot less passenger weight. This plane, and others like the Cessna Citation X or Global Express, can travel almost anywhere in the world non-stop.

On the smaller end, the new VLJ (Very Light Jet) models, such as the HondaJet or Express Aviation's E500 still have great range - around 3,000 nautical miles - but at under 10,000 pounds and carrying only six have much lower production and operating costs.

The future looks even better for bizjets. It won't be too many years before small groups of average businessmen can form fractional ownership arrangements to have a jet at their disposal for short business trips or even a nice vacation.