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Jets Take Off: Just how far We’ve Come


The first jet engine was developed conceptually by British inventor and RAF officer Frank Whittle in 1928, just 25 years after the Wright brothers flew the first powered aircraft ever at Kitty Hawk. At the same time, a German named Hans von Ohain was developing his own version of the “turbojet.” Yet, it wouldn’t be until 1939 that the first jet prototype would be flown by the German Luftwaffe, with the test of the Heinkel He 178.

WWII kicked development into high gear on both sides. With a proven prototype already, it’s interesting to note that the Germans could have very well owned the skies over Europe, had they not focused upon developing rocket-powered aircrafts instead. As a result, the Luftwaffe didn’t launch its first operational jet fighter, the Messerschmitt Me 262, until nearly the end of the war, in April of 1944. By this time, the UK had caught up, and launched the Gloster Meteor into service to defend Britain from Germany’s V-1 “buzzbombs.” By 1945, the US had introduced its own jet fighter, the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star, and the UK had followed with a second fighter, the de Havilland Vampire.

After the WWII and the Korean War, which saw the first jet vs. jet dogfight in history, jets began to be made available to the public for the first time. To promote these new aircraft, Bill Lear and other pioneers leaned on celebrities like Frank Sinatra to become endorsements for both the aircraft, and the lifestyle they embodied.

In 1965, Sinatra purchased a Learjet 23, and used it to shuttle himself and his Rat Pack friends between Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Palm Springs. He loaned the jet to Elvis Presley so he could elope with Priscilla, and to Marlon Brando and Sammy Davis Jr. so they could join Martin Luther King, Jr. in a civil rights march in Mississippi. Elvis was so impressed with jet travel, he soon bought two jets for himself, a Corvair 880, and a Lockheed Jetstar.

Thus, the “Jet Set” lifestyle was born.

Today, it is commonplace, perhaps even expected, for top celebrities and business leaders to own luxury jet aircraft. Actors like Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, and Angelina Jolie, as well as entertainers like Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Oprah Winfrey own jets to allow them to easily shuttle between appearances from coast to coast.

And while both celebrities and business leaders have discovered greater success from being able to shrink the world, this is still just the beginning. Supersonic business jets will begin appearing on the market within the next few years, offering unprecedented range, and a world of new opportunities.

And the sky’s the limit. The world’s fastest jet aircraft, the unmanned X-43, can achieve speeds around Mach 9-10, or 7000 mph. That’s fast enough to go from New York City to Beijing, China in less than an hour.

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