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The Big Four: the aircraft that shaped private jet travel

Business jets have created a world of opportunity for businesses and high wealth individuals around the world, allowing them the ability to fly themselves or send predominant staff to places that commercial flights can’t reach. They allowed these executives to attend imperative meetings and be home for dinner. The social status of owners increased as well, showcasing to others that they were long on financial resources and short on time. 

The following are four aircraft that changed the world in regards to time efficiency, business productivity, and social status.  What is most interesting is that all four originated from military contracts with the intent of being quicker and more efficient than predecessors.

 

Lockheed JetStar – L329
Deliveries: 202 (1961-1980)

 

Lockheed created the L-329 as a private venture to meet a United States Air Force (USAF) requirement, which ultimately shaped it into the world’s first business jet design.

The JetStar was one of the largest aircraft in its class, seating ten plus two crew. It was the first corporate aircraft allow a person to walk upright in the cabin.  It can be distinguished from other small jets by its four engines, which are mounted at the tail and the “slipper” style fuel tanks fixed to the wings to accommodate the increased fuel consumption from two extra engines. 

Although it was not the primary Air Force One aircraft, VC-140B’s did carry Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan while they were in office and used the Air Force One call sign while aboard.

Elvis Presley owned two JetStars at different times, the second being known as Hound Dog II. Reportedly he paid $899,702.60 for the aircraft on September 2, 1975.

 

North American Sabreliner 40
Deliveries: 137 (1959 – 1974)

 

The Sabreliner was developed in the mid-1950s by Los Angeles-based North American Aviation as an in-house project. North American offered a military version to the USAF in response to the Utility Trainer Experimental (UTX) program.  Because no other companies competed for the UTX, North American Aviation won the contract by default. 

This was the world’s first executive aircraft to run on a twin-jet system. It was named Sabreliner due to its similarity of supercritical and swept wings and tail to the North American F-86 Sabre jet fighter. It also included innovational slats.

Over 800 Sabreliners were produced, 200 of which were T-39s, military variants used by the USAF, United States Navy, and United States Marine Corps. Deriving itself from the F-86 Sabre, the Sabreliner is the only business jet authorized for aerobatics. The cockpit windows had topside “eyebrows” that provided a distinctive recognition feature for the aircraft.

Sabreliner was sold to Rockwell International and renamed as the Rockwell Sabreliner. In 1981, Sabreliner production came to a close.  In 1982, Rockwell sold the Sabreliner division to a private equity firm which later formed Sabreliner Corporation.

 

Learjet 23
Deliveries: 101 (1964-1966)

 

Among the first, and best known, private jets was the Lear Jet 23 (later renamed Learjet). This jet’s small size and economically fast operation made it a staple in the fleet of captains of industry, celebrities, and other wealthy members of society across the world.

The Lockheed JetStar and North American Sabreliner had been on the market before the Learjet 23 was produced, but its ability to climb higher and faster than its competitors made it the first civilian, jet-powered light aircraft.

The aircraft was beyond its time in terms of performance: 518 MPH cruising speed, 562 MPH (488 knots) maximum speed, 6,900 feet-per-minute rate of climb, 1,830-mile range, and 45,000-foot ceiling. According to the Smithsonian Institution, the Model 23 could out-climb an F-100 Super Sabre to 10,000 ft.

The man behind the Learjet was William “Bill” Powell Lear, Sr., who was inspired by the Swiss P-16 fighter jet prototype. Lear established the Swiss American Aviation Corporation (SAAC) to produce the passenger version: the SAAC-23 ExecuJet. After moving the company to Wichita, Kansas, he renamed it the Lear Jet Corporation. 

Essentially, Bill Lear wanted a small aircraft that could perform like a jet airliner and carry its five passengers and two pilots at 500 MPH for distances of 1,500 miles or more. While the aircraft performed like a fighter, it also had the accident record of one. The Model 23 was demanding to fly, even for experienced pilots. It was unrelenting of pilot errors, leading to 23 Learjet crashes in only three years with four of those resulting in fatalities.  The fleet was only made of 104 aircraft, meaning you had a 22% chance of crashing each time you flew in one.

Lear recognized the problem and introduced the Model 24 in 1966, with improved two-speed handling qualities. The accident rates improved as new models continued to be put on the market, but these rates were still much higher than other corporate jets of the time.

 

Dassault Falcon 20
Deliveries: 512 (1965-1991) including 20C, 20D, 20E and 20F

 

In December of 1961, French aircraft designer and head of Dassault Aviation, Marcel Dassault, provided the approval to work towards the production of an eight to ten seat executive jet/military liaison aircraft that could fly 500 mph+, which was initially named the Dassault-Breguet Mystère 20.

This low-wing monoplane drew upon the aerodynamics of the transonic Dassault Mystère IV fighter-bomber and was equipped with a pair of rear-mounted Pratt & Whitney JT12A-8 turbojet engines. Later upgrades to the airframe include Garrett TFE-731 engines.

Directly selling the aircraft wasn’t a viable option, so they settled on Pan American World Airways as the US distributor. The aircraft were distributed in America under the name Fan Jet Falcon, later becoming popularly known as the Falcon 20.  In total, Pan American placed orders for a combined total of 160 Falcon 20s. Other major orders were soon placed by several operators, both civil and military; amongst these included the French Navy, the United States Coast Guard, and Federal Express.

During the late 1960s and early 70s, aviation businessman Frederick W. Smith was seeking an ideal aircraft with which to launch his new business, Federal Express, commonly known today as FedEx. The Falcon 20 had a strong fuselage, making it the ideal aircraft for cargo operations.  The first packages to be carried by FedEx were in a Falcon 20 on April 17, 1973. Within a decade, the company was using 33 of the twinjets in its air express network.

Dassault went on to sell more than 500 Falcon series aircraft until 1991. The French company continues to be a major player in the market today with its lineup of twin- and three-engined designs.

 

These private jets began as ideas on a crumpled piece of paper in the corner of a desk. No one could have known just how impactful they would become. Across the world, they represent wealth and power to socialites and business owners alike. It is because of these aircraft that the private jet industry is stronger today than ever before.

97-year-old WWII Naval Intelligence Officer takes first flight in a B-25J Mitchell

B-25 Mitchell - Show MeWorld War II era B-25J Mitchell lands on the runways of Bowman Field (KLOU) to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion. World War II veterans are being treated to honor flights during WWII Operation Gratitude.

The B-25J Mitchell, affectionately nicknamed “Show Me”, is best known for its role during the raid on Tokyo on April 18, 1942. This raid, led by Col. Jimmy Doolittle, is often cited for boosting America’s morale after the attack on Pearl Harbor just months before.

“Show Me” flew from the Missouri Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, which is located in St. Charles County Smartt Airport (KSET), to Louisville’s own Bowman Field Airport (KLOU) specifically for the celebration. 

WWII era B-25J Mitchell, Bowman Field, June 2019

 

Twenty veterans from all branches of the military were carried five at a time in “Show Me” across the rolling hills of the Bluegrass State.

 One of those passengers, Norma Lewis, admits she spent most of the flight with her hands clenched. Not in fear, however, but exhilaration.

“The engine is like a thousand violins in my ears,” she said before pausing. “The feeling of being in the air is just… wow.” Norma smiled, recounting the flight in “Show Me”.

At 97 years-young, as she will be sure to remind you, Norma has lived an altruistic life.

In 1943, at the age of 21, she joined the Navy. She was stationed in Charleston, South Carolina as part of a mission of tracking German submarines.

After three and a half years as a Naval Intelligence Officer, Norma retired from the Navy.

She came to Louisville in the 1960s as a sign language interpreter, something she picked up around the age of 10 after having been raised by her deaf aunt and uncle in Connecticut.

In 1977, “Mass of the Air”, a televised weekly mass on local news station WHAS, began to air. Norma volunteered for the program as an interpreter and has since been with the station for 40 years. 

WWII Operation of Gratitude is presented by Honor Flight Bluegrass Chapter during the week of June 3-7 to recognize the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.

Jeff Thoke, chairman of the board of Honor Flight Bluegrass, said: “I am thankful to be able to put on such a truly special event for these veterans.”

From left: Norma Lewis, Jeff Thoke, and Ernie Micka pose
in front of the B-25J Mitchell, Bowman Field, June 2019

 

Honor Flight Bluegrass was selected as a recipient of a $75,000 grant from the Kentucky Veterans Program Trust Fund, administered by the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs to fully sponsor the honor flight.

For more information, visit www.honorflightbluegrass.org

B-25J Mitchell lands at Bowman Field to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, June 2019

 

For the Love of the Mosquito Dream

A New Zealand aviator is looking for a new home for the “Wooden Wonder” -- his lovingly restored Mosquito T.43

Glyn Powell has a special talent. He has the ability to raise the dead.Glyn Powell

Not people, mind you. Aircraft.  Specifically the de Havilland Mosquito.

Introduced by the British and flown regularly by the Royal Air Force during World War II, the Mosquito had a wooden frame supporting two Merlin engines. A multi-use aircraft, the Mosquito served as a both a fighter and a bomber until it was eventually eclipsed in both design and popularity by the Supermarine Spitfire.

Though produced en masse during the war, most of the Mosquitos were eventually burned as time wore on and their wooden frames became rotten and unusable. Components were lost. Drawings were scattered. Long thought to be an unfortunate casualty of history, by the turn of the century, it was not believed that any Mosquito would ever fly again.

Until Glyn Powell took up the challenge.

An implausible ambition

Theo Botha, general manager of Mosquito Aircraft Restoration, has two words to describe Glyn Powell:  Humble and pragmatic.

“He’s exactly the kind of guy you really wouldn’t expect to want to rebuild one of the most technically complex non-jet aircraft in history in what is – what was – his garden,” Botha said.

And yet that’s exactly what happened. The New Zealand-based pilot fell in with a group of aviation enthusiasts with a shared vision: They wanted to rebuild a flyable Mosquito.

“Everyone talks about Spitfires because they’re flying,” Botha said. “You can see them. ‘What’s that?’ ‘Oh, it’s a Spitfire! It’s cool! It makes a loud noise!’ ‘Great! They won the war!’ ‘Oh, brilliant!’ But actually, the Mosquito played a very important role as well – extremely important – but because the airframes are made of wood, none of them are around. So they’re less in people’s minds. Glyn wanted to fix that.”

By 1989, most of the group had given up, but Powell had caught the vision and he wasn’t letting go. He purchased the remains of NZ2308 – a Mosquito T.43 – and began the work of restoring it. That work included securing 8,000 drawings on microfilm from the Smithsonian Institute, as well as traveling the world to examine, in detail, preserved Mosquitos. He also became a fervent collector of Mosquito parts.

“He’s not a CEO-type character – a bull-type character – where the only way to get him to do something is to set him a challenge,” Botha said. “He’s more someone who decides what he wants to do and is just gonna get on and do it. I supposed there’s no ego attached. It’s not a question of, ‘You say I can’t do it, so I will.’ It’s more a question of, ‘I’m gonna do it because it’s what I want to do.’”

“So what kind of guy is he?” Botha asks. “The kind of guy who just humbly shows you what he’s done, and the only thing you can think of to say is, ‘How can I help?’ He’s that kind of guy.”

Mosquito workshop

Restoring a flyable Mosquito is a task that would take Powell decades.

“I really don’t think they had any idea how hard it was to do,” Botha said of Powell and his team. “Because there’s almost a fractal level of detail with this. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to make an Airfix model or something like that – those little five-minute jobs that end up taking you the best part of a week. The Mosquito is that to the Nth degree.” Glyn Powell

Powell and his team were faced with the obstacle of building a flyable Mosquito from drawings that weren’t 100 percent complete, assembled from parts – many of which were missing – in a manner that was both functional and historically accurate.

“At the time this was made, they were pumping these out like a Model T Ford,” Botha said. “But what we’re talking about is making one Model T Ford from scratch in your garage, from drawings. It’s mindboggling.”

By far, one of the most difficult aspects of the aircraft’s construction is its wooden frame. Made of a combination of plywood and balsa wood, the frame would require the construction of two moulds, composed of douglas fir and cedar wood. Botha says that wasn’t an easy task at a time when – aside from the construction of high-end furniture and musical instruments – the craft of woodworking is dying. Much thanks, he said, goes to the professionals at Avspecs Ltd., a New Zealand-based vintage aircraft restoration company, for their workmanship in forming the fuselage in a manner that reflected the original design.

That said, in some rare instances, Botha says modern materials were substituted where using the originals simply wasn’t practical for the overall longevity of the aircraft.

“There are substantive differences,” he admitted. “Some materials which were used are no longer commercially available, so some materials had to be substituted in.”

“But also, more importantly, the modern adhesives are much more resistant to moisture,” he added.

The original design called for a 1940 technology organic casein or urea formaldehyde glue. In place of this, Powell and his team used a modern epoxy.

“Moisture and humidity is a Mosquito’s worst enemy,” Botha said. “If you want it to last forever, you want to control its storage environment – the humidity. And the adhesive’s ability to be resistant to moisture is very important. So epoxies are used for the adhesive.”

Botha says Powell and his team had a much more difficult time building a handful of flying Mosquitos than the Brits of the 1930s did.

“At the time this plane was built, it was a really serious industrial job,” he said. “Thousands and thousands and thousands of people at hundreds of companies working together. So when Glyn started from scratch with just the drawings of the Mosquito, and not having the mammoth industrial supply chain – to have one organization making spars, one making ailerons, etc. – to do that with a small team is unfathomably audacious.”

Part of Powell’s success, Botha said, stems from the creativity and tenacity of the people working under him.

“They live and breathe small engineering activities,” he said. “They’re humble people, and they’re not earning a fortune from this.”

“One of the key men who works there, his hobby is making fully-functional, handheld-sized petrol engines,” he said. “So he’ll make you a V-12 you can hold in your hand. He makes those at home.”

Botha said he first visited Powell’s workshop years ago on the advice of a friend – and he immediately fell in love with the Mosquito.

“It’s hard not to,” he said. “If you pick up any part – any component or subcomponent – it’s just mind-blowing, the level of detail, within the detail, within the detail. And then the craft, which stems from figuring out how to interpret the drawings through to actually fabricating parts using the appropriate techniques and really making a job of every last piece…

“These days you could, using computer-aided design, CNC-machine all these parts and do all of it a lot easier, but they’re not doing it that way,” he added. “This is craft and advanced engineering and woodwork by hand, but up to the standards of CNC machining. It’s mind-blowing.”

The Wooden Wonder

The first fully-restored, fully-functional Mosquito, KA113, thrilled audiences when it made its post-restoration maiden flight in Sept. 2012. It went on to receive the award for Grand Champion WW2 Warbird at the 2015 EAA Oshkosh Airshow.

To date, three Mosquitos have been reconstructed and are now flyable. A fourth – Powell’s original plane, NZ2308 – is in the process of being restored, as financing permits. Botha said Powell hopes to find the financing to finish the project, and a buyer to give the aircraft a good home.

“The reason Glyn started this was not because he wanted to sell one, or because he wanted to build one. He wanted to fly one,” Botha said. “And he wanted to keep the memory of this thing alive. And when he was finished flying it, his ambition was to have it sent straight back to the UK, where it could be an important part of the flying military history over there.”

Currently, Powell is working with The Mostquito Pathfinder Trust, an organization raising funds to finish the restoration project and have the aircraft sent to the UK.

Botha said that, of the available Mosquitos, this is the prize.

“This is the one that started it all,” he said. “It is constructed from the pick of the available components by the guy who was sourcing them, as his personal aircraft.”

As time passes, Botha says the value of NZ2308 only increases, given the fact that it will become increasingly difficult to find the necessary skills and components to build another Mosquito.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “The cost of restoring a Mosquito is extraordinarily high, but if you had to make new metal parts from scratch, the cost would double. So the possibility of having authentic restored mosquitos is going away. Estimates vary, but two-to-three more will be the maximum. This is going to be the most special one.”

But the biggest advantage of this particular Mosquito, according to Botha, is the dual-control system, which means the plane can be flown from either the right or left seat.

“If I can afford it, I’d buy this, and I’d have one of a very, very, very small handful of pilots take me up in it and have some very safe fun in it.”

 “I think it’s a no-brainer,” he added wistfully.

Interested parties can review the purchase details at this link https://www.globalair.com/aircraft-for-sale/Mosquito-The-Wooden-Wonder

Mosquito aircraft with crew during WWII

Thoughts on Crew Resource Management (CRM)

Crew Resource Management (CRM) is defined by the Federal Aviation Administration as, "the effective use of all available resources: human resources, hardware, and information." The history of CRM comes from NASA research that took place in the late 1970s. NASA focused its research solely on the human error element involved in aircraft accidents with multiple crews. During this time of research, much of the focus of CRM was on the pilot/copilot relationship. It was discovered that select airline captains thought very little of their first officers. In turn, first officers felt that they could not challenge their captain when they didn’t agree with his or her actions. They felt that it was disrespectful to challenge them as captains were the boss in the cockpit. The purpose of the research at that time was to "gain an environment of equal respect, teamwork and cooperation to safely accomplish the mission of the flight." The most recent CRM model has evolved into "teaching pilots risk management strategies, focusing on workload management, recognizing hazardous attitudes or patterns, maintaining situational awareness, and communicating effectively to operate efficiently and safely in all aspects of flight." CRM is an important aspect to any flight training department and is critical for an airline pilot’s career.

CRM covers many different concepts including decision-making and risk management. The decision-making side of CRM covers pilots that are faced with an in-flight decision. Pilots are trained to use the knowledge and technology they have available to them when they are faced to make a decision during flight. CRM includes not only pilots but other crew members, flight attendants, ATC, weather reports, and maintenance workers. Pilots can utilize these people and tools to help them make their in-flight decision. Risk management involves preventing risks and how to manage them appropriately if they do arise. Risks include not only environmental such as weather or operational policies but pilot’s personal risks. Pilots can have personal risks such as fatigue, illness or stress that they are aware of but not always tell their crew members about. Factors such as aircraft weight and runway conditions can also influence risks. Two flight cases below highlight the importance of CRM and why proper training is crucial before the flight crew steps in the cockpit.

Korean Air Cargo Flight 8509 is a perfect case study into what tragedies can happen when there is a breakdown of CRM. The Boeing 747 was flown by a crew of 4 out of London Stansted Airport on December 22, 1999. Maintenance personnel warned the Flight Engineer that the captain’s Attitude Director Indicator (ADI, or artificial horizon) was unreliable during a roll before they boarded the aircraft. It was dark outside at the time of takeoff, so the captain was flying entirely by instruments. The captain began a sharp left turn after takeoff, which was not reflected on his inoperable ADI. The CRM breakdown in this instance was that the co-pilot’s ADI was functioning normally but he remained silent as to not challenge the captain. The Flight Engineer began yelling "Bank!" repeatedly, and an alarm rang out warning of the error, but the pilot continued his sharp turn until the left wing dragged the ground and the plane smacked the ground at high speed and 90 degrees of left bank. All 4 crew onboard perished in the cash.

Southwest Airlines Flight 1248 is another example of where CRM training is crucial. On December 8, 2005 a Boeing 737-7H4 ran off the departure end of runway 31 center just after landing at Chicago Midway Airport. The aircraft rolled through the blast pad fencing and the airport’s perimeter fence where it finally came to a stop after striking a vehicle, which killed a child that was in the vehicle. The cause of the accident was the pilots’ failure to use available reverse thrust in a timely manner to safely slow or stop the airplane after landing. This failure occurred because the pilots’ first experience and lack of familiarity with the airplane’s autobrake system distracted them from thrust reverser during the challenging landing. This case shows that not only were the pilots at fault for the accident but Southwest Airlines as a company. The company failed to train the pilots and assure that they were clear on the operating procedures for the aircraft they were flying.

Between 60-80% of aviation accidents are caused by human error, and a large portion of that are specifically caused by poor Crew Resource Management. Millions of dollars have been invested into CRM training at airlines, flight schools, and other businesses that operate aircraft. Continual CRM training that focuses on teaching pilots and aircraft crew error avoidance, early detection of errors, and minimizing consequences resulting from CRM errors generally has a positive outcome and desired behavioral change. However, it can be difficult to evaluate the impact of CRM training as it is hard to quantify the concept of accidents avoided. Thus, it was determined that more research into the long-term effects of CRM training needs to be conducted in the coming years.

Companies are wanting to dig deeper into how they can better equip and train their employees to use CRM tactics. The FAA has an Advisor Circular (AC) published specifically for crew resource management training. In addition to the certain essential that are universal to CRM, the Advisory Circular also lists effective CRM characteristics which include: CRM is a comprehensive system of applying human factors concepts to improve crew performance, CRM embraces all operational personnel, CRM can be blended in all forms of aircrew training, CRM concentrates on crewmembers’ attitudes and behaviors and their impact on safety, CRM uses the crew as a unit of training, CRM is training that requires the active participation of all crewmembers. It provides an opportunity for individuals and crews to examine their own behavior, and to make decisions on how to improve cockpit teamwork. The number one goal in aviation is safety. Where CRM characteristics are compromised or left out, there’s room for error to slip in which can lead to incidents or accidents that could cause fatalities. Companies in the aviation industry need to ensure that they are taking all of the right steps in training their crews before they are put on the aircraft with souls on board.

America’s Largest Fly-in Communities

Last weekend my husband and I flew to an EAA chapter meeting that was held at a beautiful private grass strip called Timberhouse. We quickly discovered that this was no ordinary grass strip. Each side of the runway was flanked by houses in various stages of construction, with a couple fully built houses scattered amongst them. This beautiful place was clearly becoming more inhabited every day. The owner of the field shared that they have had lots of sale on this flying community for 15 years, but in the last couple years has interest in buying lots increased exponentially.

The idea of being able to walk outside your house and get into your airplane, no driving to the airport required, seems like a total dream. Although this may seem like something out of a Bond movie, residential airports are all over the U.S. and some of the plots of land are just as affordable as buying off-airport land for your home.

According to the website Living With Your Plane, the three states with the most residential airports are Florida (71), Texas (67), and Washington (58). Even smaller states like Illinois and Ohio have 18 and 13 residential airports, respectively. When you take into account the amount of small public-use airports each state has, it’s no wonder the U.S. has the best General Aviation environment in the world.

Today I would like to inspect some of the biggest residential airports in the U.S. to help paint a picture of what living at an airport looks like. Most of these are exclusive, gated community type locations, but that’s not to say there’s not a more affordable option in the state as well.

Spruce Creek

Spruce Creek Airpark in Port Orange, Florida (seven miles south of Daytona Beach) is the perfect example of a thriving airport living community. The 4000 ft runway is surrounded by over 1,300 houses and 700 hangars. A large majority of the residents of this gated community have the luxury of private hangars in or beside their homes that are attached to over 14 miles of paved taxiways.

Jumbolair

Another Floridian airport of note is the Jumbolair Airport in Ocala, Florida. This one is different from Spruce Creek in that it has far less houses, but the runway is nearly twice as long at 7,550 ft. This airport is typically what people imagine when they think of flying communities, because actor John Travolta was one of the first people to purchase land and build a house. Travolta was drawn to this particular airport because the length of the runway allowed him to takeoff in his personal Boeing 707.

Poplar Grove

Located near the northern border of Illinois, Poplar Grove has made quite a name for themselves as being an extremely well maintained and fun airport. They are open to the public for flight training, but also have a prestigious residential community attached to the runway. 100 of the total 140 houses in their residential community are connected via taxiway to the runways. With one large asphalt runway and two grass strips, this airport is a heaven for pilots that enjoy antique and vintage aircraft flying.

RJW Airpark

Last but not least, RJW Airpark in Baytown, Texas claims to be the largest airpark in the state. Featuring a 5111 ft asphalt runway and a 3532 grass runway, this classic airpark has something for every pilot. The houses on this particular Airpark are in a realm of their own, because of course everything is bigger in Texas!

I hope this article has opened your eyes to some of the incredible flying communities that are out there! If you search online you might be surprised by how many are in your state. More flying communities are being created every year, so this type of lifestyle is also becoming more obtainable. If your dream is to someday taxi your plane away from your home towards a runway, never give up because that dream could very well become a reality.

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