I flew on a $61.5 million private jet, and now first class just won’t do

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

There are private jets, and then there are Gulfstreams.

In an opaque world filled with eight-figure price tags and anonymous clients, Gulfstream has managed to transcend the business-aviation industry and become a pop-culture icon.

Companies such as Bombardier, Embraer, and Cessna all build world-class business jets, but none have become engrained in pop culture quite like Gulfstream and its G-series jets. After all, no other business-jet company has been the subject of a pop song that hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to sample the Gulfstream experience when the airplane maker invited me and several other journalists to visit the company’s headquarters in Savannah, Georgia. Our chariot for this trip was none other than a new Gulfstream G550, worth a cool $61.5 million. Business Insider provided financial compensation to Gulfstream for the trip.


The trip started at the Jet Aviation private-jet terminal on the grounds of Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. Like Gulfstream, Jet Aviation is part of the General Dynamics family of companies.

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Inside the Jet Aviation terminal, those who are fortunate enough to fly are treated to all of the services rendered at a traditional airport …

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… but in a much nicer and more private setting.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Want to watch some TV while waiting for your flight? Here you go.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Just in case you forget you’re at an airport.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

We stepped outside to hop on a shuttle that led us to …

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… our awaiting Gulfstream G550.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The $61.5 million G550 entered service in 2003 and was the company’s flagship model …

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… until the introduction of the larger and more expensive $66.8 million G650 in 2012.

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Flickr/ Russell Hill

The G550 has a range of nearly 7,800 miles and reaches a maximum altitude of 51,000 feet.

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It’s powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce BR710 turbofan engines — each producing up to 15,385 pounds of thrust.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The G550’s rivals include the Embraer Lineage 1000 from Brazil …

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… and Canada’s Bombardier Global 6000.

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Bombardier

Once onboard, we prepared for takeoff.

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We taxied past other Gulfstream jets on the way to the runway.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Takeoff time!

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The G550’s Rolls-Royce turbofans spooled up quickly, and we were soon off the ground. The Gulfstream bolted down the runway like a hot rod down a drag strip. This is acceleration unlike anything I’ve experience in a car or on a plane.

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Here’s Newark Liberty International Airport.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The jet quickly reached a cruising altitude of more than 30,000 feet.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

At cruising altitude, the Gulfstream was Rolls-Royce quiet. The only noise in the cabin came from the passengers.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The G550’s spacious cabin can seat up to 19 passengers or offer sleeping accommodations for up to eight. But our plane was set up to sit about 13 passengers in three different sections.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

This includes a lounge section up front, a conference table in the middle section of the plane, and a divan in the aft portion.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Across from the conference table is a large credenza with a wall-mounted flat-screen.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The plane’s galley and forward lavatory are between the main cabin and the cockpit.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The main cabin is separated from the crew area of the aircraft by a bulkhead and wood-veneer sliding door. The veneer found for our jet came from one wood log. The company even keeps spare pieces of the log around in case repairs are required in the future.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The G550’s seats are incredibly comfortable. They’re soft and supportive without giving you the feeling that you’re sinking into them like a La-Z-Boy. Every piece of leather used to upholster the jet’s interior is inspected in great detail, and even tiny blemishes are removed.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

At every seat is a personal audio/video display.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Some settings can be controlled through an iPhone app.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

This includes control of the window shades …

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… the climate …

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… what’s playing on each screen and speaker …

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… as well as flight information.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

We were served a nice breakfast on our trip down to the Peach State. The galleys on board these jets are tailored to fit the needs of the customer, so everything from espresso makers to rice cookers can be optioned.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

I took some time just to look out the window. What a view!

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

In the cockpit, the sizable G550 requires two pilots to operate. Small business jets such as the HondaJet can fly with just one pilot.

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The G550 features Gulfstream’s PlaneView avionics system, which was developed in conjunction with Honeywell. The cockpit features four large LCD instrument readouts.

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Our flight to Savannah took less than two hours.

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Our destination was Gulfstream’s headquarters at Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

After landing, our jet pulled up right to the front door of Gulfstream’s customer center.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

They even rolled out the red carpet!

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

In Savannah, we met with the company’s executives and got a peek at the dizzying array of interior materials offered, courtesy of the Gulfstream’s head of interior design, Tray Crow.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

I also took a tour of Gulfstream’s G450/G550 production facility, where the company is working away at its $13 billion backlog of orders.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Finally, we got a chance to check out a mock-up of Gulfstream’s next generation, the G600.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

All the while, our G550 was getting refueled and prepped for our trip back to New Jersey.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

At the end of a long day, we hopped back on the jet for the trip home.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Parked next to the G550 was Gulfstream’s maintenance jet, used to quickly dispatch parts and mechanics to far-flung destinations.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

We were served a light dinner.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

I spent the flight back checking out some of the plane’s in-flight entertainment features. The flight maps include fun facts about the places we were flying over.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

After a relatively short flight back, we landed at dusk in New Jersey.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Before this trip, I knew that flying in a private jet was pleasant and convenient, but I didn’t expect it to be quite this amazing. The large private jet can essentially be anything you want it to be — a flying office, hotel room, or night club. It makes flying first class seem a bit … boring. But with a $61.5 million price tag, the Gulfstream experience is exactly what you pay for.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider