Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation, based in Savannah, is a wholly owned subsidiary of General Dynamics. Since 1958 the company has produced more than 2,000 aircraft for corporations, governments, and individuals around the world, and by 2012 it employed more than 11,500 people at eleven major locations. Two of these locations, Savannah and Brunswick, are located in Georgia. The other nine are found in Appleton, Wisconsin; Dallas, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada; Lincoln, California; London, England; Long Beach, California; Mexicali, Mexico; Westfield, Massachusetts; and West Palm Beach, Florida.
The company’s story dates back to 1930, when Leroy “Roy” Grumman and Leon Swirbul began operations in a garage on Long Island, New York. For many years Grumman Aircraft Engineering Company’s sole market was the military, and the company became a preeminent manufacturer of naval aircraft during World War II (1941-45). Roy Grumman was a pioneer aviation engineer whose first commercial aircraft was the G-21, called “the Goose.” In 1946 he introduced the G-73 Mallard, a brilliantly designed and luxurious amphibious aircraft that never reached its market potential. In spite of that setback, Grumman was committed to building airplanes for business travel, and after the war he led his company in the development of the first Gulfstream aircraft.
The Gulfstream brand first appeared in 1957, when Grumman engineers completed the design for the turboprop-driven Gulfstream I, which had its maiden flight on August 14, 1958. The plane advertised a maximum speed of 350 miles per hour at 25,000 feet and a range of 2,200 miles. The cabin seated twelve comfortably and more if the need arose. The initial price was $845,000. Roy Grumman himself named the aircraft Gulfstream, likely because many Grumman executives vacationed in Florida, where the Gulf Stream current flows northward along the coast.
In the wake of Gulfstream I’s success, Grumman next began work on Gulfstream II, a jet-powered corporate aircraft. The company also separated its civil and military production operations and in 1967 moved the civilian unit to Savannah. In 1972 Grumman merged with American Aviation Corporation, a manufacturer of light aircraft, which in 1978 sold the Gulfstream line and the Savannah plant to American Jet Industries, headed by Allen Paulson.
In 1982 the company’s name changed to Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation, and three years later it was acquired by the Chrysler Corporation, a manufacturer of automobiles. In 1989 Paulson bought the company back from Chrysler and then sold it ten years later to General Dynamics. In 2006 Gulfstream began to expand its facilities in Savannah with the creation of a new service center, independent fuel farm, state-of-the-art paint hangar, and sales and design center. Over the next couple of years, the company opened two research and development centers and broke ground in Savannah for a new business-jet manufacturing building.
The Gulfstream line of aircraft has evolved and expanded dramatically over more than fifty years of production to include the G100, G150, G200, G350, G450, G500, and G550. (The company replaced the Roman numerals in the names of its fleet with Arabic numerals in 2002.) Costs for these aircraft ranged from $11 million to $46 million. The G550, which made its maiden flight on July 18, 2002, won the 2003 Robert J. Collier Trophy, the highest honor in North American aeronautics. (The company’s Gulfstream V received the same honor in 1997.)
The G550 can accommodate up to eighteen passengers and is capable of cruising at an altitude of 51,000 feet at speeds of up to .885 Mach. In October 2003 the G550 set a time and distance record on a direct flight from Seoul, South Korea, to Orlando, Florida. The flight of 7,301 nautical miles took place in fourteen hours and thirty minutes, with an average air speed of 572 miles per hour.
In 2008 Gulfstream made aviation history when it unveiled the G650, the largest, fastest, and most technologically advanced aircraft in the Gulfstream fleet. That same year the company introduced the G250, later renamed the G280, to its fleet of business jets. Both aircraft made their maiden flights in 2009.
Gulfstream’s market reach is international, aided in large part by its parent company, General Dynamics. On the local level Gulfstream is one of Savannah’s major employers, and in 2010 the company announced that over the next seven years it would once again expand its Savannah facilities, predicting that this expansion would create 1,000 new jobs within the region.
Gulfstream has also contributed in a variety of ways to community affairs, especially education. The company has supported and partnered with the Georgia Institute of Technology’s branch campus in Savannah, Savannah Technical College, and the Savannah College of Art and Design, and many of Gulfstream’s executives have served on local boards. The company has also contributed to the arts and to the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Pooler, located a few miles from the Gulfstream manufacturing plant.