Dear Readers,

Aviation Week & Space Technology, our sister magazine, is working on its 100th anniversary issue and has asked Business & Commercial Aviation to identify the most significant business aircraft ever. My immediate reaction was “The Gulfstream,” later known as the G-I, since it was the first turbine-powered aircraft designed specifically for executive travel. However, that’s just my view. I then posed the question to the BCA staff, contributors and a few friends. Their responses, some strongly felt and quite at odds with mine, follow. Then we thought that most everyone in the business aviation community is likely to have an opinion on the subject, and we ought to let them weigh in.

So, please let us know which business aircraft you regard as the most significant, and why. Thank you. 

This will be fun.

— William Garvey
Editor-in-Chief, BCA

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My vote is for the Lear 24, a favorite of no less a figure than Frank Sinatra.

— Kent S. Jackson
Jackson & Wade, LLC
Contributor, BCA

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Objectively, G-I is appropriate.

Gut feeling, I’m going with Kent with the Lear 24 and the Chairman of the Board.

— Fred George

Senior Editor, BCA

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I second Kent's vote!

As an art director, I would say Citation X. I have color corrected, retouched and placed more photos of that plane than any other.

— Raymond Ringston
Ringston Media

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Looking at this from my nonpilot/nontechnical perspective of business aviation I would say the Learjet. Back when I started at BCA in 1984, that was the only business airplane I knew of. Before that, we would hear about rock stars, actors and "captains of industry" flying in them. The Lear was also mentioned in songs, including "You're So Vain" by Carly Simon and "Happy" by the Rolling Stones. [Don't forget "Money" by Pink Floyd.—Ed.] (Plus, it is the only business jet I've flown in.)

— Scot Greenan
Copy Editor, BCA

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My first reaction was the Learjet. Even if you owned a Gulfstream, it was a Learjet. That’s all that folks knew. Even today it’s either a Learjet or a Gulfstream regardless of what make it is. I recently showed someone a photo of a Phenom 100; they told me it was a Learjet for sure.

However, the HS125 was the first purpose-built business jet (1962), and we are still talking about its derivatives today. Stand-up, comfortable, and lots of rivets. Love that airplane.

— Jessica Salerno
Executive Editor, BCA

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The GV was a game changer. When Gulfstream first announced they had an airplane that could take off from Denver fully loaded, be able to land in NYC, take on passengers and no fuel, and still be able to make Paris, we thought it was impossible. But the airplane did it. It has the most beautiful wing flying today. I’ve spent hours at FL510, gone 14 hours-plus on one tank of gas, flown en route at M0.85 and have landed at just 105 knots. (The only other jet I’ve done that in was the T-37.)

That’s me in the photo, by the way.

— James Albright
Contributor, BCA

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Folks — The iconic Learjet seems to be leading …

— Bill

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Hi Jess,

I wondered if anyone else was even thinking of the Hawker. How I miss that stand-up cockpit and cabin ... as compared with my last 10 years squeezing my 6-plus-foot frame into the Citation. No wonder I needed an appointment with a chiropractor each time I finished a week on the road for Netjets in the Citation!

Not to mention that it withstood a surface-to-air missile attack in Africa, AND it endured the mid-air collision over Reno. 

I also agree with your first statement.  The Lear was such a time-setting classic. 

Pat Veillette
Contributor, BCA

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The Lockheed JetStar first flew in September 1957, almost a year before the G1 (August 1958), and it had jets, not propellers. As such it paved the way for business jets, rather than business turboprops.

I would argue that the most significant business jet, the eternal icon that will forever fire the imagination, is the Lear Jet (or Learjet, however you want to spell it). What can be sexier and more emotive than a Learjet 23?

As such, the Lear Jet has probably done more to boost business aviation over the years than any other marque. 

— John Morris
Editor-in-Chief, ShowNews

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Beech King Air.

— Mike Gamauf
Contributor, BCA

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Hands down: Learjet. Flew one with Torch Lewis & "Smoke" Bennett HPN-MIA-HPN one afternoon before I came to B/CA. Didn't fly long but oh-boy!!!!!

—Mal Gormley
Contributor, BCA

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If you can accept ideas from an alum, my immediate reaction is the “Lear Jet.” Two words, as it still often appears in print today — that’s the way the world first came to know it.

With more than half the teenagers in the ’60s drooling over the thought of installing a Lear Jet 8-track stereo, the brand was burned into the brains of kids and adults the world over.

While technically it may have been preceded to market by the JetStar and HS/DH125, it was the Lear Jet that ushered in the Jet Age in business aviation. Whether in popular literature or on the screen, it was the Lear Jet that put the “jet” in “Jet Set” for nonaviation folk all over the world.

Agreed, aviation insiders may have hankered for a G-I, but for the rest of the world, traveling by Lear Jet was the ultimate sign that you had made it, for business people, Hollywood folk and rock stars. Hey, how many aircraft have had a rock ’n’ roll hit written about it?

“8 Miles High,” by the Byrds.

Yes, they toured via Lear Jet — there were pictures in the old ICT Learjet factory “Hall of Fame” tunnel between bays.

Eight miles high and when you touch down
You'll find that it's stranger than known
Signs in the street that say where you're going
Are somewhere just being their own

Nowhere is there warmth to be found
Among those afraid of losing their ground
Rain gray town known for its sound
In places small faces unbound

Round the squares huddled in storms
Some laughing some just shapeless forms
Sidewalk scenes and black limousines
Some living some standing alone

— Gil Wolin

Former Publisher, BCA

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One more vote comment — from Don McLean’s “American Pie” circa ’72: “… eight miles high and fallin’ fast …”

— Gil Wolin

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Sorry I’m so late replying to Bill’s fun assignment, but I’m at the NBAA IOC and have been in sessions all day (since 0700 this morning). Okay, pull me up onto the Lear bandwagon, as I have to agree that the Learjet represents the iconic business jet. For years, when the unwashed public described a “business jet,” it was always the Learjet, just as the representative light plane was the Piper Cub, no matter what it was they saw flying over their homes (often described to the media as “that Piper Cub that almost took off my chimney!”).

Among other qualities, the Learjet was a great platform for air-to-air photography. My memorable Lear experience was kneeling at one of the windows in the back of Clay Lacy’s Learjet 24 (it might have been a Model 23, as Clay had done some of the flight testing for Bill Lear and had bought one of the early SNs) with a brace of Nikons around my neck photographing a trio of privately owned F-86 Sabres at one of the Mojave Air Races in the early 1970s. Steady as rock, she was, and of course Ol’ Clay (whom the venerable Torch used to refer to as “Hershel,” much to Clay's chagrin) was at the tiller, hollering over his shoulder for me not to scratch the plexi window, as he’d just had them polished. Oh, and my Ektachrome image of the Sabres graced the cover of an Air Progress magazine issue shortly thereafter. And is there anyone else alive in this address list who remembers Air Prog, the rag that launched my aviation journalism career?

My other choices for “best business aircraft” would be as follows:

Classic Category: Douglas DC-3, Beech 18 (including the ones sporting the Volpar nose wheel mod), and the Douglas A-26-derived On Mark Executive and Marksman, the sexiest piston-powered biz platform ever (IMHO). The Beech 18 was the first business aircraft I ever saw, my Dad’s company having operated a pair of them in the 1950s.

I also once did a photo mission in the jump seat of an On Mark Executive owned by a Pan Am 747 captain who’d entered it in the California 1000 air race at Mojave in 1970, competing against a DC-7C flown by Lacy and Allen Paulson and a squadron of WWII fighters. The Cal 1000 was an endurance pylon race that went on all afternoon — and yes, it covered 1,000 sm. over a course that measured something like eight sm. in the desert. My On Mark ride was a qualifying attempt with near vertically banked turns pulling up to four g’s 50 ft. off the ground, and I think I came out it a couple inches shorter. If my memory holds (and it doesn’t always those days), I think it finished in the top 10, the DC-7C (with a Snoopy dog painted on the tail by Lacy and friends) came in sixth because it didn’t have to pit for gas (the perfect endurance racer!), and the race was won by a highly modified Sea Fury.

Jet/Turbine Era: Yes, the Learjet but also the Gulfstream II, the first really intercontinental bizjet; and of course, the Beech King Air, another iconic biz ride.

Thanks for the opportunity to reminisce.  Man, what my generation has seen ...

— David Esler
International Operations/Features Editor, BCA

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King Air.

First postwar turbine-powered aircraft designed for business aviation. (Learjet started life as a military fighter — sort of. Sabres, JetStar were all military projects if memory serves.)

If you are mentioning bizav people such as Bill Lear, don't forget Dwayne Wallace, Dee Howard, Swearingen and, perhaps most important, Jim Taylor, Al Ueltschi.

Takes a lot more than tin to build an industry.

— Dick Aarons
Safety Editor, BCA

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And I have to agree with Dick that the King Air is "the" turboprop business aircraft. 

— Mal Gormley

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The first business aviation jet in production was the Lockheed JetStar, 1957, followed by the G-I in 1959, Learjet introduced in 1963, Falcon 20 in 1963, and King Air in 1964. Identifying the “best business aviation aircraft” for Aviation Week’s 100th anniversary should incorporate the body of work that resulted from these early turboprop and jet aircraft. Certainly the Learjet was a glamorous aircraft and what the public thought of business aviation then and even today, a mode of transportation for the rich and famous. Dick Aarons points out that the King Air line of aircraft is worth consideration as Beechcraft has produced more than 3100 since 1964. The King Air is a business aviation workhorse.

For me there are two manufacturers that truly represent what business aviation has become: Dassault Falcon Jet and Gulfstream. The Falcon 20 line produced 508 aircraft before moving on the Falcon 50. Dassault has manufactured more than 2000 business jets since 1963. Gulfstream, more than 2300 since the introduction of the G-I.

As a business aviation pilot since 1973 and having the privilege of holding ratings on Falcon 10, 20, 50, 900; Challenger 601 and Global Express; and Gulfstream IV, to me, the best business aviation jet that has represented our industry worldwide as a business aviation tool is the Gulfstream IV/450. I flew the G-II and G-III back in the ’70s and early ’80s and have time in the G-V and 550, but, hands down, the G-IV/450, 862 manufactured since 1985, is the best business jet ever built.

— Jim Cannon
Contributor, BCA

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Agreed on the King Air. 

As with the jets, it too was derivative, built on the success (and airframe) of the Queen Air.

Sure do like the Beech 18 as well. 

And the Howard 500.

Tough calls, Mr. Garvey. 

— Gil

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Hi Gil,

I left off the Beech and Howards because the Beech (I believe) was conceived as a military product and the Howard, of course, was a converted military aircraft (I believe). It’s certainly true the King Air arose from the Queen Air, but I believe the Queen was designed for the civilian market. My vote for the best business twin is the Aztec. The neatest business twin for a guy my size was the TwinBo.

— Dick Aarons

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Is it any wonder that one of the stars of the final episode of the hit TV series “Madmen” was a shiny Learjet 23? One of the main characters (Pete Campbell) was whisked away from New York to his new job in Wichita to work for Bill Lear.

Fifty-three years later, no other aircraft epitomizes what we refer to today as “business aviation” as the Learjet model 23. Built with the wings of a Swiss fighter jet, it opened a new market for business aircraft that combined efficiency and speed with luxury and panache.

One hundred four of these aircraft were eventually built, and many of them remain in service today. They were followed by the Learjet 24, 25, 28 and 29 models with production of the 20 series ceasing in 1982. For years, many Americans simply referred to all business jets as “Learjets” (much to the chagrin of the competition). The advertising slogan “You’re in Lear country” referred to the aircraft’s ability to fly above 41,000 feet and emphasized that the owners of this aviation icon were in a very select club indeed.

— Frank Craven
Director, Business Aviation Group, Aviation Week Network

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My vote has to be the iconic Learjet, or Lear Jet, as well. Every jet was a Learjet, due to a clever marketing plan and a long line of the rich and famous who bought them. Clay Lacy has said that people would point to a Gulfstream and call it a Learjet.

Bill Lear wanted to create a business aircraft that was capable of keeping up with airliners, such as the Douglas DC-3 or Beech Model 18. They were flown by many big businesses but were roomy and slow. Lear told the other manufacturers in Wichita, “If you guys don’t do it, I’m going to do it,” Clay Lacy relates. They laughed but Lear got the last laugh.

Lear sunk his life savings into the first aircraft, which ultimately crashed during a test flight when the pilots failed to put the spoilers down on takeoff. No one was hurt. Lucky for Lear, the pilot at the helm was a FAA pilot — and Lear, who was running low on money, had it insured for $500,000. So Bill Lear called some well-placed sources in Washington and said, “The FAA wrecked my airplane.” Lear received certification two months later.

On top of that, Lear developed the first car radio, early autopilot systems and radio direction finders. And in 1964, he developed the 8-track cassette player, originally named the Lear Jet Stereo 8.

— Molly McMillin
Managing Editor, The Weekly of Business Aviation

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It is hard to argue, if you have to pick just one airplane, that it is not the Learjet.

Put me down in that column.

If I may, let me give some personal perspectives on three others that could be in the group for consideration.

Consideration #1 – Falcon 10. I am a Falcon man. I've flown them all. It's certainly one of the best pedigrees in the business. I mention the 10 because of a little talk the director of the department had with me soon after I was hired in 1974.

"It's job insurance. I can put the boss and two or three men in that little cart and get them to DC on half the fuel. That's what we need at this time." (Fuel Crisis of 1973 was when it was ordered.) These guys had started flying jets when jet fuel was 7 cents a gallon, barge rate NYC. They saw the whole industry possibly folding in 1973.

The 10 was the first corporate jet that had fuel AND noise as considerations of design. The Garrett engines on that airplane performed flawlessly for us for nearly 10 years and at a fraction of the fuel of the Gulfstream II’s and III’s we operated at the time. It was the first environmentally friendly jet.

On another happy note, I advanced quickly at American Can Company in 1974 because, at that time, their senior staff had spent their careers flying DC-3's, Convairs and big Lockheeds for American Can as well as other corporations. They had just sold the Convair 440 and moved to G-II's and Falcon 20s. It was fun to see those older gents fly that little jet, so light on the touch, seemingly so fast because your rear end was only about 20 inches off the ground.

Because of the "fun" they had flying the 10, we younger pilots checked out as captains much sooner than would have been the case. If only the Gulfstream II had been available.

"I think it takes just a bit more of a pilot to fly a G-II," was a refrain we heard often. We didn't care because the G-II got us to the left seat of the cart much faster.

Consideration #2 – Beech Model 35 Bonanza. This was, in my opinion, the first of the modern-looking and modern-performing airplanes.  My father had a mentor named Dick Ferry. Dick had started flying the mail in the early ’30s in and around the Albany, N.Y., area. I can remember as a kid in the mid-’50s sitting with them looking at pictures of all the planes, chronologically, that Dick had flown in his career.  The last one was the Bonanza, and he was flying it for a coal company (Pittston?). The comparisons weren't even close. The Bonanza looked like a jet compared to everything else this man had ever flown. It was the first sleek, modern-ooking airplane that was mass produced. It was held in the same awe as the Lear would be years later. Companies (and doctors) flocked to have one.

At Somerset, N.J., airport, as the line boy in 1960, there was still a model 35 being used as an air taxi. 2956Victor, affectionately referred to a 56 Vicious by its pilots due to the habit of its prop to go to ultra low pitch as the plane lifted off, running the RPM up to the limit as the pilot toggled the prop back.

Consideration #3 – Beech Model 18. In the late ’50s and early ’60s companies that couldn't afford G-I's, 440's and DC-3's often took to the Beech 18. Again at Somerset, I can remember Perfect Circle Piston Rings had a model 18 with big Hartzel 3 blades on it and rockets, for crying out loud, in the nacelles in case of an engine loss on takeoff. When he would come into that little airstrip and offload three to five passengers, and that big monster sat at the end of the hangar with those giant props, radial engines pinging and banging as they cooled, gyros running down, the airplane made an impression. I'm sure it did the same for customers. There were a lot more of these "smaller big" corporate planes around than Gulfstreams, Sabres, DH's and Lockheeds at that time.

Anyway, thanks for the trip down memory lane.  I'm enjoying the other guys’ inputs too.

— Ross Detwiler
Contributor, BCA

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Molly,

As I remember it, Lear developed the Lear Jet 8-track strictly to generate enough money to cover the cost to finish certifying the Model 23, necessity being the mother of invention and all that.

— Gil

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Boy, this is fun! A couple of years ago the Wichita Business Journal weighed in on the most important airplanes in the city's history, asking Russ Meyer, Dave Franson, me and, I'm sure, others, for opinions. Winners came down as: B-29, Cessna 172 and Citation, Beech Bonanza and King Air, and Learjet. Of those, not surprisingly, I honestly would go with the Learjet (Lear Jet) 23, and Gil articulated the reasons much more profoundly than I might. Plus, I had no idea as to the actual words of "8 Miles High." But I do know that Carly Simon's ex-boyfriend flew his "Learjet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun."

— Al Higdon

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I think we also need to specify the "classic" piston-engine business aircraft.

I vote for (also) for the Aztec (followed closely by the Baron), and the Bonanza.

— Mal

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Moi aussi pour le Lear!

— Pat V.

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Update (March 24, 2016):

Since I came in late to this assignment, I will keep it short. I vote for the Learjet as it was synonymous with corporate aircraft for many years. As Bill Lear said "that he could not stand up in his Cadillac." Had time in the 23, 24, 28, 35, 55, and 60 and they were fun to fly.

My nostalgic vote would be for the Beech 18. It is a magnificent aircraft, and I never had the opportunity to fly one.

Thanks for the chance to express my opinion.

— Dave North
Editor-in-Chief (Ret.), Aviation Week & Space Technology

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What do you think and why? Please comment!