This year is a special one for Gulfstream, as it marks the 50th anniversary of the first flight of the company’s first airplane, the twin-turboprop Gulfstream I. On Aug. 14, 1958, the Grumman-built aircraft took to the skies for its maiden flight as the first turbine-powered airplane designed expressly for business travel. Until that time, the choices for executive transport consisted mainly of converted military aircraft, surplus airliners and smaller piston twins and singles.
Its name chosen for the warm-water current that flows past Florida–a favored vacation destination for Grumman executives–the Gulfstream I offered comfortable accommodations for 12 passengers and a speed of 350 mph at 25,000 feet, with a range of 2,200 miles. The low-wing design also saw the first use of large oval windows on a fuselage, which remain a trademark of all large-cabin Gulfstream aircraft produced since then.
The GI flown that day by test pilots Carl Alber and Fred Rowley over Grumman’s Bethpage, N.Y. headquarters was joined by one of the company’s piston-powered F8F Bearcat fighters flying chase. A further 800 hours of testing followed before the airplane received its FAA certification the following year.
During a production run that lasted 10 years, 200 GIs were built. In addition to sales to its intended business customers, the airplane also saw service with five U.S. government agencies–including the FAA–and all branches of the U.S. military.
With a price tag of $845,000 ($6.38 million in 2008 dollars), the success of the GI prompted Grumman to separate its civil and military aircraft divisions and develop the GII, the patriarch of an unbroken line of jet-powered Gulfstream designs that stretches all the way to the company’s latest G650 ultra-long-range flagship.
According to Gulfstream–which has produced more than 1,800 aircraft since that historic first flight half a century ago–approximately one third of the GI fleet is still flying, with examples registered in 15 countries from the U.S. to Indonesia. On NBAA’s static display this year is one of the last built, operated by Connecticut-based Volo Aviation and newly restored with an eye-popping 1960s period interior by Duncan Aviation.