Behind the Scenes at Gulfstream Aerospace, America’s Private Jet Maker

Just outside Savannah, Georgia, Gulfstream builds its $68 million private jets, from cabinet to cockpit.

Sung Han

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The smallest Gulfstream jet, the eight-passenger G150, costs $15 million. The big-daddy G650ER, which holds 19 passengers and can fly from Macau to Las Vegas nonstop, costs $68.8 million. Fifteen million bucks is a lot of money; $70 million is a hell of a lot. To put that uppermost price in perspective, for $68.8 million you can buy a different-colored Ferrari LaFerrari to drive for every week of the year. You can buy so many of A. Lange & Söhne‘s new $24,000 gold watch that you could give one to a retiree every day for the next eight years. For just $5 million more, you could fund India’s first mission to Mars.

So, why would you spend so much on a plane? Gulfstream will remind you that their private jets are a tool for businesses: they cite time savings for those who use the jet to travel of 50 hours a year.

This thought process on its own is ridiculous. If an executive used the plane for five years, they’d still have paid nearly $5,000 a minute for that saved time. That’s a hell of a salary, even for a time machine with wings.

And still, there are about 2,500 Gulfstream jets in use worldwide. The president has one — it technically turns into Air Force 1 when he’s on it. When a relatively unknown artist titled a song after a Gulfstream, that song went to number one on the Billboard charts. So you think: maybe reason doesn’t have much to do with it.

Then you visit Gulfstream’s Savannah facility and realize reason has everything to do with it. The production that goes into making the perfect traveling tool — not for saving time, but for flying around the world on your terms — is immense. There are 5,500 people employed here in Savannah to make a plane of mythical proportions. Their work is Herculean in a very real way. We got behind the scenes, including going inside a 300,000-square-foot production facility called “Building X,” to see how the dollar signs add up to a private flight around the world with HDTVs, champagne flutes, stone-tile flooring, and, if you want it, your very own bidet.


The price of each jet includes an entirely customized interior and paint scheme. Customers work with designers using a custom app to decide on galley placement (fore or aft?); furniture configurations (where and how many credenzas, divans and tables?); and details from seat softness to whether galley floors will be vinyl, carpet, wood or stone.


Furniture and paneling start as sheets of aircraft-grade aluminum and fiberglass, cut into puzzle-like pieces by CNC machines.


“It has to look like a 100-pound cabinet,” said Bryan Wright, senior production manager. The one Gulfstream workers are assembling will weigh closer to 20 pounds.

At a separate facility, workers build and upholster each aircraft’s custom seats by hand.

“Precision build carts” ferry the incomplete planes along the line on wheels as insulation and electrical elements are added; cranes installed in the ceiling lift the fuselages once they are too large for their carts.

While we were there, at least eight G650s were coming together on the assembly line. “It’s hard to pick one hardest part,” said Dan O’Malley, director of operations for new product development. “It’s all complicated.”


To get there, the plane travels nearly a mile along the facility’s assembly line. Amid a metallic cacophony, panels are riveted into fuselage barrel sections, which combine into the nose, tail, wings and forward, mid and aft fuselage.

Carts and cranes become unnecessary once two Rolls-Royce jet engines, each capable of generating 16,900 pounds of thrust, are mated to the wings and fuselage. The plane rolls out the door under its own power.

Individual pieces of fuselage enter one end of Gulfstream’s 314,000-square-foot “Facility X”; the G650 jet that emerges on the other end is ready for a test flight.

Inside a new G600 jet. Designers have anticipated problems from wine glass storage to sleeping areas (this setup can sleep six). “There are not a lot of pieces to the puzzle,” said interior designer Courtney Grimm. “Every detail makes a huge impact on the airplane."


Gulfstream cockpits are state of the art. The new G600 has enhanced 3D display technology and active control sidesticks, which Gulfstream claims pilots prefer over traditional yokes. Extensive use of touchscreens eliminates 70 percent of the cockpit’s switches.




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A version of this story appears in Issue Two of the Gear Patrol Magazine, 286 pages of stories, reports, interviews and original photography from five distinct locations around the world. Subscribe Now: $35

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