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Business Aviation Industry Focus: Gulfstream G159

by Jeremy Cox 1. April 2008 00:00
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Welcome back to the developing historical narrative of the Business Aviation Industry. This month's business aviation focus is centred on the first true 'Businessliner' the G159 produced by Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation (GAEC) on New York's Long Island at Bethpage, in the late 1950's. This aircraft is most fondly known as the Gulfstream One / 'GI', pronounced: "Gee-1." GAEC started designing and building aircraft in 1929, after Leroy Randle Grumman founded the company. GAEC specialized in producing amphibious aircraft for the US Navy. Once the post WWII peacetime 'tool-down' well and truly took a big bite into GAEC's income, the company attempted to re-focus their energies towards the rapidly developing business aviation sector. The Beech 18 had a firm grip on the mid-size business market, and the venerable ex-military Douglas DC-3 was not being developed any further by the manufacturer to satisfy the portion of the business demand that called for a large executive transport aircraft, therefore Mr. Grumman decided to research the feasibility of designing, and marketing the modern replacement equivalent of the DC-3 corporate liner. Hence the G-159 was born. The basic Grumman G159 design was derived from the US Navy S2F Tracker, manufactured by Grumman for the US Government.

The 'Gulfstream' name was first coined by Henry 'Hank' Schiebel, a company sales executive who was in charge of the initial G-159 concept program, from the customer service point of view. He put many hours into research and round-table discussions with the managers of several of the countries largest flight departments, with the goal of designing and building the best possible long-range, large business aircraft that would sell successfully enough to put GAEC back into the black. The range of the G-159 was compared to distance required to cross the Atlantic, hence the name 'Gulfstream.'

The FAA issued the Type Certificate approval for the G159, Gulfstream I Transport Category Aircraft in May of 1959. This purpose-built, 19 passenger business aircraft rolled off the line with a maximum take off weight of 33,600 lbs, which was later increased to 36,000 lbs with the incorporation of several structural modifications. Powered by two 1,950 shaft horsepower, water/methanol injection (for boost during take-off), Rolls-Royce Dart Mark 529-8E engines turning massive 11.5 foot diameter Dowty Rotol 4-bladed propellers (the same props installed on the four-engined, RR Dart powered Vickers Viscount),the G159 would cruise at 350 MPH. It had a range of 2,200 miles, plus 260 miles and 45 minutes reserve. It would pressurize the cabin to give a 5,500 foot cabin altitude at 25,000 foot actual altitude. Its maximum certified cruising altitude was 30,000 feet, if an AiResearch GTC 85-37-2 Auxiliary Power Unit was installed and operating, to boost cabin pressurization. This was the first twin-engine business aircraft to be certified in the USA for a cruising altitude of 30,000 feet. It met with immediate success when it was ordered by virtually all of the then, largest US corporations. WHY?

The G159 was the first model that started the venerable and what some consider being, the ultimate choice in business aircraft: the Gulfstream business jet series. The same fuselage tube (dimensional design) is shared by all of the Gulfstream series, with the exception of the newest family member that is expected to roll off the line in Savannah, Georgia sometime in 2010: the G650. The G159 boasted a 6.1 foot interior 'stand-up' cabin height, with a width of 7.3 feet, added to a cabin length of 35.6 feet, the interior volume was cavernous at 1,100 cubic feet. The standard seating configuration provided executive seating for 12. The right hide credenza refreshment cabinet even boasted an AM radio for in-flight entertainment. Additionally there were a galley and baggage compartments up front between the main passenger cabin and the airstair entryway. In the back of the aircraft there was a fully enclosed lavatory and washroom, behind which was the signature in-flight accessible baggage compartment, which still features in all of the subsequent Gulfstream series aircraft that were to come after. The captain and the co-pilot fared as well as the passengers, when seated in their well appointed and comfortable flight deck. There was even a Jumpseat that allowed a cabin flight attendant to ride along to provide cabin service, and yet remain out of the way, when his/her services were not required by the passengers.

GAEC was one of the pioneer OEMs in the concept of producing and delivering a 'green aircraft' to it's customer in an un-furnished, un-painted condition, with only sufficient avionics to ferry the aircraft home from Bethpage, NY to one of the four authorized completion centres that were strategically located around North America. These centres were: Atlantic Aviation in Wilmington, Delaware; Pacific Airmotive Corporation of Los Angeles, California; Southwest Airmotive of Dallas, Texas; and Timmins Aviation of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The launch customer's aircraft, Sinclair Oil's serial number G-159-004 was completed by Pacific Airmotive Corp within three months, and entered into corporate service with the Sinclair Oil Flight Department at the Westchester County Airport, near New York, on September 28th, 1959. A total of 196 units were produced between 1958 through 1969. There are 63 that are still in operation around the world as of this writing. Not sufficient numbers to rival the targeted DC-3, but enough to enable virtually all of the largest corporations of the world, at that time, to enjoy airline safety and speeds, in one of the largest business cabins available in the early to mid 1960's. The rest is history; especially when one looks forward to today's modern-day off-spring G550, which is a direct descendant of the G-159 "Gee-one!"

Okay, I will see you next month as we continue this look-back at the history of various aircraft that have become synonymous with business aviation. We have the Lockheed Jetstar, the North American Rockwell Sabreliner, the Learjet 23, and the Dassault Falcon 20 still to discuss in detail. We may even go forward beyond the 1960's and take a look at later 'watershed' aircraft that have come into existence only because of the business aviation field. If you have a suggestion for me as to a specific business aircraft that one of these future Business Aviation focus articles should be dedicated to, please let me know your thoughts. Also remember that any input that you care to make will be of great interest to all of the readers here at Globalair.com. So don't be bashful. Go ahead and write your comments and suggestions here. Please don't forget that whatever you write here, can be seen publicly by everyone that visits this page, so please be funny, be inspired, but most importantly of all, please be nice.

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Jeremy Cox


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