The background of Private Jets
An extract from the Art of Flying, by Joshua Condon
The ultimate in air travel remains the private plane. This option is available only to the wealthiest and most rarefied travelers, who remain insulated from the long lines. crowded lounges, and tightening security that had already become a bane to travelers as far back as half-century ago. One of the most opulent examples of the pre-jet era was a converted World War II bomber given to famed lady-killer, occasional diplomat, and full-time playboy Porfirio Rubirosa. The lavishly appoint plane was a figt from Runi’s fourth wide, heiress Barbara Hutton – in fact it was the second such plane she gave him (he had crashed the first). Biographer Shawn Levy wrote of the aircraft , in 2005: ” with is massive propellors and wingspan, the Word War II-vintage bomber was a stunner… retrofitted with brass, mahogany, gilt, leather sofas, coffee tables (one with a built-in radio) , green broadloom carpets, reclining arm chairs with beige upholstery, and a bedroom area complete with closet and leather-paneled bathroom. It stupefied people, and, at an estimated $250,000, it better have.”
Elvis Presley famously had a pair of private jets, the Lockheed Jetstar ‘Hound Dog II’ and the 1975 Convair 880 ‘Lisa Marie’, named for his daughter. Each was a study in the particular mélange of opulnce and outrageous excess that came to deine the King’s style. While the same Fort Worth, Texas-based group responsible for outfitting Air Force One planes of the era was hired to decorate the ‘Lisa Marie’, Elvis was decidedly involved in the process, spending around $350,000, or more than $1.5 million in today’s money, refurbishing the jet to his exacting specifications. (In fact, Presley bought Hound Dog II partially in order to be able to be able to fly in and check on the progress of the Lisa Marie.) The King chose a red, white and blue livery, with the acronym TCB – for his motto “Taking Care of Business” – painted on the tail. The interior featured a private sleeping berth, a dining area for six with a prominent bar, and bold yellow, gree, and teal seats with complmentary curtains and fabrics.
Popular musicians, with their relentless touring schedules and penchant for outrageous partying, were in some ways the standard bearers of the early jet-set life. Beatlemania, for example, is usually illustrated with some image of the Liverpool group deplaning their “Beatles”-liveried jetm to throngs of screaming, hysterical fans, at airports all around the world. And in the later epoch of the stadium rock-god, it wasn’t enough to be seen getting off a plane in a far-flung city, the livery, in the form of your bands’ logo, needed to tell the photographers that the jet you flew in on was yours and yours alone. In fact, a number of top-grossing groups in the mid-1970s all used the same plane (with customer livery work. naturally), a modified Boeing 720 jumbo jet known as ‘The Starship’. Led Zeppelin famously used the plane for its 1973 and 1975 North American tours. The massive plane was specialy kitted lut, with the seat count reduced to just forty to make room for swiveling captain’s chairs , a bar (featuring a built-in electric organ), a thirty-foot-long couch, a bedroom, a shower, and a seperate private lounge with floor pillows, a low couch, a large television, and a video cassette player.
Both Deep Purple and Alice Cooper used ‘The Starship’ for tours in 1974; Deep Purple keyboardist Jon Lord said of the famous jumbo jet: “It’s a 707 [sic] put together by a firm in L.A. that Sinatra, Dylan and The Band just used, and Elton John uses. It has a lounge, a bedroom, a shower. a fire place, and a study. It’s supposed to look as little like a plane as possible.”
Other famou musicians who temporarily called ‘The Starship’ home included the Allman Brothers, Peter Frampton during his epic 1976 ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ tour, and the Rolling Stones. Various iconic images of Keith Richards strolling down the gangway with cigarette and cocktail in hand, along with the flock of beautiful young models, actresses, and musicians accompanying the band, from Bianca Jagger to Jerry Hall and Anita Pallenberg. helped cement the British group as hard-living rock royalty.
But it’s not just the musicians who have all the fun. Today, more than ever, private planes have become not hyst a de rigueur status symbol for the ultra-achiever in every walk of life but a business necessity for busy executives and in-demand VIPs. Actors such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Harrison Ford, Jackie Chan, and Jim Carrey have everything from a tiny Cessna 680 to a sizable Boeing 707 in their personal stables (and some, like Ford and Travolta, are avid pilots in their own right). Business leades, such as Microsoft’s Billages, Google’s Larry Page, Gianni Bulgari of the eponymous luxury goods firm, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, and fashion icon Ralph Lauren, all have a private jet (and sometimes more than one) on hand at a moment’s notice. Celine Dion, Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods, and Steven Spielberg can all say the same.
Of course given the modern preference for discreet elegance and understated luxury, it’s unlikely any of these boldface names will be spotted cavorting down the runway amind a gaggle of groupies and hangers-on like the rock stars of old. But now, as during the advent of the aviation industry and the high-flying jet age, the elite traveler is afforded no better combination of speed, convenience, and luxury than the private plane.
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