Since the Lockheed Jetstar took to the skies in 1957, innovations in business air travel have aimed ever higher. We look at 15 jets that have revolutionized the form, both technically and aesthetically, over the last six decades.
FIRST FLIGHT: September 4, 1957
IMPACT: The Lockheed JetStar was literally the first in its class. It was the first business jet to enter dedicated service.
VERDICT: The jet that started it all had a maximum cruising speed of 567 mph—not bad for her relatively hefty 44,500-pound frame.
FIRST FLIGHT: October 7, 1963
IMPACT: Invented the light-jet segment for corporate travel.
VERDICT: Introduced in 1964, the first Learjet model became an instant icon, creating a new market for small-but-fast business jets. The jet was derived from the single-engine Swiss FFAP-16 fighter jet. The brand soon attracted a host of executive and celebrity owners, including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Sammy Davis Jr. Production of the 23 ended in 1966, after 101 aircraft had been delivered.
Grumman Gulfstream II
FIRST FLIGHT: October 2, 1966
IMPACT: First large business jet with an exquisite cabin and extended range.
VERDICT: This twin turbofan business jet was capable of flying transcontinental flights with its 3,580-nautical-mile range with a maximum cruise speed of 420 knots. The big-cabin was priced at $21 million in 1980. It was initially built at a new facility in Savannah, Georgia, which is now Gulfstream’s main headquarters. It was produced from 1966 to 1980, with the Gulfstream IIBs from 1981 to 1987. Over 240 of the 256 Gulfstream IIs that were built are still in service.
Dassault Falcon 50
FIRST FLIGHT: November 7, 1976
IMPACT: Dramatically extended range in the super-midsize category.
VERDICT: The Falcon 50 was the first aircraft from the French airframer with transatlantic range. With its new supercritical wing structure, it could fly 3,400 nautical miles, which also gave it the ability to cross from the east coast to the west coast of the U.S. It took its first flight in 1977. The efficient wing structure was eventually applied to the Falcon 900 and Falcon 2000 models. It was eventually replaced by the Falcon 50 EX, which flew higher and faster, setting the stage for longer-flying Falcons.
Cessna Citation X
FIRST FLIGHT: December 21, 1993
IMPACT: Clean-sheet design that shattered Cessna’s image as a maker of slow jets.
VERDICT: The Citation X, produced from 1995 to 2012, marked the launch of the new 750 series. The clean-sheet design, with a standard configuration of eight passengers and two crew seats, became one of the US aircraft manufacturer’s best sellers. Designed to shed the image of Citation being a slow jet, the first Citation X was delivered to devoted Cessna owner Arnold Palmer in July 1996. More than 300 of these models were manufactured, with an updated version called the Citation X +, with new engines and avionics, launched in 2019.
FIRST FLIGHT: November 28, 1995
IMPACT: None other than Steve Jobs received this jet as part of his comp package from Apple in 2000.
VERDICT: Popular among celebrities and international businessmen, the long-range GV can fly from Los Angeles to Shanghai.
Bombardier Global Express
FIRST FLIGHT: October 13, 1996
IMPACT: A revolution in ultra-long range, large-cabin private jets.
VERDICT: This large-cabin jet with 6,700-nm-range was first announced in October 1991 and took its first flight in 1996. The Global Express was a breakthrough for its time, including the largest cabin in its class and utilizing the minimum number of components for a 99.5 percent dispatch reliability goal. It was the first aircraft to connect any two points in the world, with just one fuel stop, and seat 16 passengers. The aircraft has seen multiple variants, including the Global 5000, Global Express XRS, Global 6000 and Global 5500/6500.
FIRST FLIGHT: December 3, 2003
IMPACT: Honda’s very light jet, the HondaJet HA-420, achieves up to 20 percent better fuel efficiency than others in the segment due to the jet’s design, aerodynamics and turbofan engine.
VERDICT: The jet, which seats up to eight passengers, is also the rare small aircraft to include a lavatory. (Honda’s forthcoming HondaJet 2600 will be bigger, faster and longer-range, with seating for 11 passengers.)
Embraer Phenom 300
FIRST FLIGHT: April 29, 2008
IMPACT: Breakthrough design in a light-jet airframe.
VERDICT: The best of what a small executive jet can be, with a single-pilot flight deck, 2,000-nautical-mile range, advanced cabin entertainment and room for nine passengers.
Bombardier Challenger 350
FIRST FLIGHT: March 2, 2013
IMPACT: The Bombardier Challenger 350 is the longstanding best seller in the super-midsize segment, boasting the lowest operating costs and highest reliability in its class.
VERDICT: The Challenger 350 can ferry up to 10 passengers between New York to London, Paris to Dubai or Hong Kong to Mumbai. The jet, which features industry-leading technology such as a MultiScan weather radar and enhanced pilot vision systems. This seminal aircraft is being replaced in 2023 by the manufacturer’s new, longer-range Challenger 3500, with an upgraded cabin.
FIRST FLIGHT: February 18, 2014
IMPACT: Reinvigorated the midsize-jet category with a clean-sheet fuselage.
VERDICT: The enhancements included a lower cabin air pressure, flat floor and Garmin’s G5000 avionics that made the Latitude a favorite among pilots.
Cirrus Vision Jet
FIRST FLIGHT: May 5, 2016
IMPACT: The Cirrus Vision SF50, the world’s first civilian single-engine general aviation personal jet aircraft, is the world’s best-selling general aviation jet.
VERDICT: As the first single-engine jet in service, the SF50 can fly higher and faster than any turboprop. The Vision Jet, which seats six passengers, is light enough to take off from short runways and can fly nonstop for more than 1,200 miles.
Bombardier Global 7500
FIRST FLIGHT: November 4, 2016
IMPACT: The development program alone for this plane cost more than $1 billion.
VERDICT: The Global 7500 is unbeatable for flying coast to coast. She holds the record with a flight from Van Nuys to Teterboro that clocked in under four hours.
FIRST FLIGHT: November 19, 2018
IMPACT: Bespoke interiors and a 6,000-nautical-mile range make it the pinnacle of air travel for up to 25.
VERDICT: The cabin on this massive wide-body, 15 percent larger than its closest competitor, can be laid out in highly creative configurations.
FIRST FLIGHT: December 14, 2021
IMPACT: The ACJ 220 can travel 5,650 miles, enough to fly from New York to Cairo or Buenos Aires, and has more floor space than any other business jet.
VERDICT: This extra-large business jet boasts six large VIP areas for up to 19 passengers. Designed as a penthouse in the sky, the ACJ 220 features a fully-equipped kitchen, a master bedroom with en-suite bathroom and steam shower, and a conference room with a 55-inch flat-screen monitor. The first completed model was delivered in May 2023 to its owners in Dubai.