Lockheed JetStar – The First Business Jet
In the 1950s, the Air Force discussed the need for a small utility jet. Lockheed built the prototype JetStar in anticipation of the formal request for proposal, but the request was never issued. Lockheed decided to continue development and promote the JetStar as a business aircraft.
A product of Kelly Johnson’s Skunk Works division, the JetStar (Lockheed designation L-1329 and L-329) went from concept to a flying prototype in 241 days. The JetStar’s first flight was in September 1957 and production aircraft entered service in 1961—just one year ahead of the smaller North American Sabreliner (first flight Sept 1958). The registration number of the first aircraft was N329J—the “J” was for Kelly Johnson.
The JetStar is larger than most subsequent business aircraft, making it a true symbol of luxury, success, and power. A total of 204 JetStars of all variants were produced. Production ended in 1978. Today, later production numbers are available for less than $1 million, keeping in mind that they are likely to be much costlier to operate.
The first two prototype JetStars were each powered by two British Bristol Orpheus engines—these were the only four Orpheus engines ever manufactured. Lockheed had hoped to license the manufacture of these engines in the United States, but a suitable deal could not be arranged.
Consequently, the second prototype was refitted with four Pratt & Whitney JT12 engines mounted, in pairs at the back of the aircraft—a unique and immediately recognizable arrangement. The JT12 engines became the standard for the first 160 production aircraft.
The second prototype and all subsequent production aircraft had the “slipper” fuel tanks on the wings for added fuel capacity. The original prototypes used a tricycle landing gear with one wheel per leg, but after an accident in 1962, the prototypes and all subsequent aircraft were equipped with dual nose wheel. All production aircraft had dual wheels on all gear. The first production model rolled off the production line in mid-1960 and went into service in 1961.
In the 1970s, to comply with federal noise and emissions requirements, Lockheed initiated a modification program that retrofitted more fuel efficient and cleaner-burning Garrett TFE 731 turbofan engines for the original Pratt & Whitney engines. The slipper fuel tanks were redesigned to be flush with the top of the wing. The cockpit was updated or “modernized” with the latest avionics, and the shape of the nose was streamlined. The modified aircraft were called 731 JetStars. 40 new production aircraft, called JetStar IIs, were built to the new standard. The last aircraft rolled off the assembly line in 1978.
Both the updated 731 JetStars and the JetStar IIs had significantly increased range, better takeoff performance, and were much quieter.
The JetStar was a true cabin-class aircraft. The aisle between the seats was below the seat platform, allowing most passengers to walk upright in the cabin. At maximum capacity, the aircraft could carry 10 passengers and a crew of two. Typical production models had a lavatory at the back of the cabin, reducing seating capacity to 8 passengers. Some seating arrangements included a position for a flight attendant.
JetStar In Service
Most aircraft were sold as business or corporate jets, and many were sold to international customers, including international governments. Sixteen aircraft were sold to the US government as C- or VC-140s. Lockheed had anticipated selling many more JetStars to the military, but post-war funding cutbacks limited the total number purchased/delivered.
The military purchased five C-140s to be used to check the operation and accuracy of ground navigation systems including airport instrument landing systems (ILS). Several of these aircraft saw duty in Viet Nam in the 1980s, where they also served as communications relay platforms to maintain communications between the Pentagon and bases in Southeast Asia.
Five aircraft were configured for routine passenger and cargo use and were stationed at major command headquarters.
Six more were configured as VC-140Bs for use as executive transports. Although not the primary Air Force One aircraft, VC-140B’s did carry Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan while they were in office.
They used the “Air Force One” callsign when the presidents were aboard. In fact, VC-140s have likely carried more Presidents than any other aircraft in history.
Lyndon Johnson, in particular, preferred JetStars during his terms as Vice President and President because it could operate out of the airstrip adjacent to his “Western White House” ranch in Stonewall, Texas. It eventually earned the nickname “Air Force One Half.” The more familiar “Air Force One,” then a VC-137 variant of the Boeing 707, could not operate out of the ranch’s 6,300-ft asphalt runway. A restored VC-140 is now parked at Johnson’s ranch.
The aircraft could carry 14,000 pounds of fuel, 10,000 pounds in the wings and another 4,000 pounds in the “slipper” tanks. The aircraft had leading edge flaps (not slats) along the front of the wings outboard of the tanks and double-slotted trailing edge flaps inboard of the ailerons.
A unique aspect of the aircraft’s design was the pitch trim mechanism. The entire tail pivoted to adjust pitch trim. This explains the strip of bare metal extending from below the leading edge of the horizontal stabilizer to a point at the bottom of the vertical stabilizer.
Notable owners of the JetStar include Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. Elvis’s second JetStar, Hound Dog II, can be seen at his home at Graceland, in Tennessee.
Additionally, a JetStar was featured in the 1964 James Bond movie, Goldfinger. It was Bond’s arch-enemy, Auric Goldfinger’s private aircraft. Astute movie fans will note that some shots showed the aircraft—actually the real aircraft—with “Auric Enterprises” on the nose, while production staff neglected to put the lettering on models used in other shots.
The original prototype, N329J, continued to fly for 25 years and was often used by Kelly Johnson on trips to various sites where Lockheed had work in progress, reportedly including Area 51 and other Skunkworks sites. The prototype JetStar is now on display at the Museum of Flight’s Restoration Center at Paine Field in Everett, Washington.
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