The company that evolved into Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. started in the late 1950s when Grumman Aircraft Engineering Co., a company known for military aircraft production, developed a marketable business aircraft at its manufacturing facilities in Bethpage, N.Y.
At the start of the GII program in the 1960’s, Grumman officials separated the company’s civil and military aircraft production to improve efficiency. In 1966, they relocated the civilian component to Savannah, Ga. There they found the needed supply of skilled labour, an established airfield adjacent to the plant site and sufficient acreage for expansion. Transportation facilities suitable for heavy equipment and machinery and weather favorable to year-round flight-testing and flight-training operations further enhanced Savannah’s appeal. The new building in Chatham County opened in June 1967 and was officially dedicated on Sept. 29, 1967. It housed production and flight testing for the GII. The 100-person work force that built the GII was 90 percent local and grew to more than 1,700 within a few years.
In 1972, Grumman merged with light-aircraft manufacturer American Aviation Corp.
The 256th and final GII delivery took place in 1977. One year later, the Gulfstream line and the Savannah plant were sold to American Jet Industries, which was headed by little-known aviation entrepreneur Allen Paulson.
Paulson became the president and CEO of the company, renaming it Gulfstream America.
Under Paulson’s leadership, the Savannah work force grew to 2,500 employees by the spring of 1982. Also in this year, the company’s name changed to Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. to reflect its worldwide scope, and a new plane, the Gulfstream IV, was conceived. The following year, Gulfstream offered a total of 8.8 million shares of its stock to the public. In 1985, Chrysler Corp. acquired Gulfstream as a part of the automaker’s plan to diversify and move into high-tech industries. This was also the year that Gulfstream first appeared on the Fortune 500 list, at No. 417. Two years later, the 200th and last Gulfstream III produced was delivered, and the first delivery of a Gulfstream IV took place. The GIV was the first jet in business aviation to have an all-glass cockpit. In 1989, when Chrysler decided to sell Gulfstream, Paulson teamed up with Forstmann Little & Co. – a private equity firm specializing in leveraged buyouts – and bought Gulfstream back.
The opening of a $16 million Savannah service center with 136,000 square feet of hangar space was in 1996.
At the end of the 1990s, General Dynamics, a giant in the defense industry, purchased Gulfstream. The company focused on enhancing product performance and lowering costs. It opened a $5.5 million aircraft refurbishment and completions support facility in Savannah in 2000. In 2001, it acquired Galaxy Aerospace and with it, the mid-size Astra SPX and super mid-size Galaxy, which were later rebranded the G100 and G200, respectively. Also in 2001, Gulfstream purchased four U.S. maintenance facilities in Dallas; Las Vegas; Minneapolis; and West Palm Beach, Fla. Those service centers, along with a Gulfstream facility in Westfield, Mass., formed General Dynamics Aviation Services, which maintains and repairs Gulfstream and other business-jet aircraft.
In 2002, Gulfstream renamed its products, using Arabic numerals instead of Roman numerals to differentiate its aircraft. At the time, the company’s lineup included the ultra long-range G550 and G500, the long-range G400, the mid-range G300 and G200, and the high-speed G100. 2002 was also the year that Gulfstream introduced its Airborne Product Support aircraft, a specially equipped G100. It is used to deliver parts and provide any-time service to Gulfstream customers in North America and the Caribbean who are operating aircraft under warranty. In 2003, Gulfstream acquired a service center at the London-Luton Airport, the first Gulfstream-owned service center to be operated outside the United States.
In 2006, Gulfstream announced plans to expand its manufacturing and service facilities in Savannah. The seven-year, $400 million Long-Range Facilities Master Plan included the creation of a new 624,588-square-foot service center, an independent fuel farm, a 42,600-square-foot, state-of-the-art paint hangar and the addition of a new Sales and Design Center. As a result of the expansion, employment at the facility was expected to grow by some 1,100 jobs. To meet the immediate need for engineering office space, Gulfstream opened a Research and Development Center (RDC). The RDC accommodates approximately 750 technical and engineering employees.
The year 2007 also saw its share of major breakthroughs. In April, Gulfstream broke ground for a new business-jet manufacturing building at its headquarters in Savannah. The following month, the company signed a nine-year lease with North Point Real Estate for a second Research and Development Center. The RDC II consists of an office building, which can accommodate some 550 employees, and a Laboratory Building, which is designed for 150 employees and test equipment used in Gulfstream’s research and development efforts. Gulfstream completed the new Sales and Design Center addition in June and officially opened the first phase of the new Savannah Service Center in August.