The USA – and the world’s – biggest business aviation convention – NBAA – starts in Orlando on 21 October. The event is all about business aircraft as tools – machines to transport money makers directly where they want to go in comfort, convenience and security, while saving them hours of time. However, there is an element of the industry that is more about indulgence and making a statement. Here we celebrate nine of the most flamboyant carriages of the clouds, some of which, sadly perhaps, never (or have not yet) got off the ground.
1. Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal’s A380
The scion of the Saudi royal family stole the headlines when he became the first to order an Airbus Corporate Jet version of the airframer’s flagship A380 at the Dubai air show in 2007, apparently with the aim of upgrading from the Boeing 747 pictured, where he had plenty of elbow room and was presumably the focus of attention. A release from Airbus boasted that there were now ACJ variants of every one of its models, from the A319 up. The A380 purchase might have seemed like the ultimate in money-no-object frivolity, but the Prince, who runs Kingdom Holdings and owns London’s Savoy Hotel, apparently pulled off a canny deal, ordering test aircraft MSN2, effectively a secondhand aircraft. He commissioned New York-based design house Edese Doret to design an interior and there was a wave of speculation about which completions house would install it. However, seven years on, the A380 has not been delivered, and Prince Alwaleed, has reportedly sold the superjumbo to the Saudi government.
2. Air Force One
The two US Air Force Boeing 747s, designated VC-25As, that have transported Barack Obama and his predecessors since the 1990s, using the call sign “Air Force One” when the president is on board, are beginning to age. However, the aircraft, in its distinctive blue and white livery – emblazoned with “United States of America” and the presidential seal – is the ultimate statement of the authority of the office. The 747s, which replaced a series of 707s, are due for replacement themselves. They provide a secure work space for the president and his staff to continue the job of the administration while airborne.
3. Khruschev’s Tu-114
The Russians have had their own equivalents of Air Force One, including the Tupolev Tu-114 that carried Nikita Khruschev on the first visit by a Soviet leader to the USA in 1959. The turboprop was the largest and longest-range airliner at the time. One story goes that when it arrived at Andrews Air Force base, such was its size that ground staff had no air stairs that would reach the main door, and Khruschev and his staff had to descend by the aircraft’s escape ladder.
4. Elvis’s Convair 880
The King and his entourage used a number of private jets from the 1960s, but the most famous is an ex-Delta Air Lines Convair 880, named after his daughter Lisa Marie and preserved at Elvis’s home at Graceland. The singer bought the aircraft for $250,000 in 1975 and had it extensively refurbished to include a penthouse bedroom and en suite bathroom with gold basin and taps, a video system linked to four TVs and a stereo with 52 speakers.
5. Donald Trump’s 757
You would expect the business jet belonging to one of the USA’s most outlandish and successful billionaires to reflect his personality, and Trump’s Boeing 757 – featured on television – certainly does. Unlike many bizliner owners, who prefer to travel in as much anonymity as is possible in a private aircraft worth more than $100 million dollars, Trump’s name is proudly emblazoned on the outside. Inside, there is gold everywhere – including on the seatbelt buckles – and the pillows in Trump’s private bedroom are emblazoned with the family crest.
6. The Sultan of Brunei’s 747
Most of the Gulf’s ruling families operate airliner business aircraft, with the Boeing 747 being the flying palace of choice as it affords plenty of room for racehorses and Rolls-Royces in the hold, while accommodating royal residences and servants’ quarters above. The richest of them all is the Sultan of Brunei, whose royal flight operates three big jets: a Boeing 747-400, a 767-200 and an Airbus A340-200. A 747-8BBJ is due to enter service in 2015.
7. Iron Maiden 757
This Boeing 757 may not have the plush interior of many of the other business jets here – it is essentially a chartered passenger airliner – but it makes our list for its livery alone. Nicknamed Ed Force One, or Flight 666, it was used to take the heavy metal band on two world tours and was piloted by frontman Bruce Dickinson, a former commercial pilot and now an aviation entrepreneur.
8. Royal Concorde
Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the UK royal family used Concorde several times as a royal flight, including during her Silver Jubilee in 1977, when the supersonic jet she was travelling on following her opening of the Barbadian parliament – British Airways G-BOAE – set a Barbados-to-London speed record of 3h 42min and 5sec. The rapid journey allowed Her Majesty to open the British parliament the following day. Flight International’s report of the journey has a picture of the Queen inspecting the cockpit during the flight, which was commanded by Capt Brian Walpole.
9. Russian tycoon’s Dreamliner BBJ
Every interiors or business aviation show has its share of conceptual interiors, most of which never make it beyond the virtual drawing board. At Aircraft Interiors in Hamburg in 2007, Boeing Business Jets and BMW Designworks unveiled this 787-based “home from home” for a fictional Russian tycoon. The cabin has semi-translucent walls and residential-style furniture that “let space visually continue around it and vistas that let the eye travel beyond the immediate environment”. So our young oligarch’s handmade Gucci patent leather shoes do not have to touch the tarmac, the designers have taken advantage of the 787’s generous hold to create a “vertical architectural experience”, allowing the owner to drive his car into the hold before ascending into his personal living quarters.