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Aviation Breakthroughs Oddities/Milestones: Personal Jets

Though many doubt the viability of such a concept, the idea of a small, single-pilot, practical jet-powered airplane has been around for a good long while.

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The idea of a small personal jet is an alluring one, and there have been some limited success stories, as you’ll read here. But the problem facing very small, very light jets is that turbine engines are most efficient at altitudes starting at 30,000 feet and up. Below that, their fuel burns are far greater, which is why you hear pilots of small and not-so-small jets pleading to be allowed to climb.

Still, the attraction of personal jets has kept them coming in wave after wave since the 1950s, culminating in three relatively successful designs beginning in the early part of this century. But even that wasn’t easy, and some of the stories are harrowing in just about every imaginable way.

Bede BD-5J

Bede BD-5J
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Bede BD-5J

Arguably, the epitome of the personal jet is the BD-5J. It has room (barely) for one, a single, tiny jet engine and, oh yeah, you build it yourself. The homebuilt Bede BD-5J, which first flew in 1971, was offered in kit form by the Bede Aircraft Corporation, founded and headed by the late Jim Bede, who went through a number of shady episodes marketing and selling his designs. But the Bede Jet, a derivative of the pusher piston-powered BD-5, was undeniably cool, so much so that it is featured in the opening sequence of the James Bond film Octopussy flying through the open doors of a hangar to evade the bad guys in hot pursuit. Bede sold hundreds of kits for the BD-5J, powered by a 225-pound-thrust turbojet. The plane’s safety record is notoriously bad, and there’re just a few of them still flying. And with a range of around 250 nm and a cruise speed of 240 knots, it wasn’t a very practical plane, though many of them have appeared on the airshow circuit over the years.

Photo by Flickr User mark6mauno

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