Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.
The period after the end of World War II saw a rapid growth in the use of corporate-owned aircraft for executive transportation. That need was fed mainly by conversions of small transports and high-speed wartime medium bombers, but in the early 1950s serious thought was given to the design and production of the “ideal” executive aircraft. To this end, the Corporation Aircraft Owners Association (later the National Business Aviation Association) published the results of a survey taken of its members in 1952.
In service with the association’s members at that time were 1,700 multi-engine aircraft, including 265 DC-3s, 210 Lodestars, and two DC-4s. In their quest for equipment, corporations relied heavily on a variety of military-surplus aircraft, including B-23s, B-25s, A-26s, B-17s, and B-24s.
The survey showed that the members wanted new aircraft that could carry six to 12 passengers, be pressurized, have tricycle landing gear, cruise at 255 mph, and have a range of 1,200 miles. Whatever their desires, there would not be any real new offerings to the corporate aviation world until the early 1960s with the introduction of the first business jets.
ENTER THE JETSTAR
The first business jet on the U.S. market did not come from the big three general aviation manufactures, but from the industrial giant Lockheed. The Lockheed Model CL-329 JetStar was an executive aircraft with airliner performance. It featured a walk-through cabin with seating for 10, a complete lavatory, and thrust reversers. The biggest advantages were its speed and range: 550 mph and over 1,700 miles. These capabilities created a paradigm change for corporate aviation.
The compact, speedy JetStar was quickly accepted and became a time-saving transportation tool for executives of more than 100 U.S. corporations, and five heads of state, including President Lyndon Johnson. The military versions, known as the C-140, served in the U.S. Air Force.
JetStar was designed as a Lockheed private venture in the late 1950s by the famed Lockheed Skunk Works under the direction of Kelly Johnson. When the project began, Johnson announced the first flight would be in 241 days, and so it was that on Sept. 4, 1957, JetStar made its first flight from Burbank, Calif. Interestingly, the first airplane became Kelly Johnson’s personal airplane. Johnson flew from Burbank to meetings at the Pentagon, or to supervise the activities of his many secret projects.
With a cruise speed over 500 mph and a range of more than 1,700 miles, the prototype far outperformed expectations for a new corporate aircraft as envisioned in the 1952 corporate aircraft owners survey. In spite of a sluggish economy in 1958, Lockheed committed to the JetStar’s production at its Marietta, Georgia, plant.
It entered service in early 1961. The first two JetStars were twin-engined airplanes powered by Bristol Siddeley Orpheus turbojet engines. The second prototype was refitted with four Pratt & Whitney JT12 engines that were installed on all the first production JetStars. Garrett TFE731 turbofans were installed on later airplanes. A total of 204 JetStars were built, including 16 military versions.
Aviation magazines were quick to cover this new category of aircraft. Four days after the first flight, the JetStar received coverage from the British publication, Flight, which included a cut-a-way drawing. In the U.S., Aviation Week reported the first flight on Sept. 23 with a six-page article following on Sept. 30. The October issue of Flying not only featured a color photo of the prototype on its cover, but also a flight test report by Ray Goudey, the Lockheed test pilot on the project. Goudey compared the JetStar to the F-86 Sabre chase plane and said that it “will climb higher, go faster, go slower, and stay in the air twice as long” as the Sabre.
Lockheed quickly put the JetStar to work demonstrating its prowess. In March 1958 the plane flew across the nation from Edwards Air Force Base in California to Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia in 3 hours, 29 minutes, setting an unofficial speed record for transport-type aircraft. Later in the year a JetStar flew from Los Angeles to Philadelphia in 4 hours, 40 minutes.
Jacqueline Cochran, the first woman to break the sound barrier, flew a JetStar to new world records in 1962. Cochran flew a JetStar 5,120 miles from New Orleans to Bonn, West Germany, at an average speed of 489 mph.
From the 1952 corporate aircraft owners survey up until the time of the JetStar, corporations had very few suitable aircraft to choose from for long distance operations. Indeed, most where whirling about in converted bombers, such as the North American B-25 Mitchell or the Douglas A-26 Invader. The JetStar offered something new, something modern, and something specifically tailored for the role: A fast, high-flying jet.
The first commercial order for the JetStar was in 1959 from Continental Can Co. of Chicago. At the time Continental was operating seven multi-engine executive aircraft, including a Consolidated Liberator bomber that later went to the Confederate Air Force (now known as the Commemorative Air Force). More than 130 JetStars would join the fleets of U.S. corporations, including Ford, Gulf Oil, Coca-Cola, and First National Bank.
Lockheed pioneered a new category of aircraft — the business jet. Within a decade there would be business jet offerings by nine companies from six different countries. A 1979 survey of corporate jets by Flight magazine showed that there were more than 3,000 jets in service, with 167 of them still JetStars.
Dennis can be reached at email@example.com.