FFA P-16 (J-3005)
Learjet’s Journey from a Father-Son Passion Project to a Global Aviation Icon
In 1959, the visionary William Powell Lear set out to transform the world of business aviation by developing a jet-powered airplane for personal and corporate use. Fueled by the passion of a family deeply entrenched in aviation, the Learjet emerged as a symbol of luxury and performance.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the storied history of the Learjet, from its inception to its final delivery.
The Birth of an Idea: SAAC-23 Jet
The journey of the Learjet began in Switzerland when Bill Lear’s son, Bill Jr., was encouraged to test-fly the FFA P-16, a Swiss prototype fighter jet. Impressed with the aircraft, Bill Lear hired Dr. Hans Studer, the designer of the P-16, to create the Swiss American Airplane Corporation (SAAC) jet, which would later become the SAAC-23.
From Swiss Origins to American Roots: The Learjet Corporation
In 1962, the SAAC relocated to Wichita, Kansas, and rebranded as the Lear Jet Corporation. The company’s first aircraft, the Learjet 23, took its maiden flight on October 7, 1963, and received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification on July 31, 1964. Subsequently, the Learjet 24 became the first business jet to be certified under the FAA’s Airworthiness Standards for Transport Category Airplanes.
Ownership Changes and the Gates Learjet Corporation
In 1967, Bill Lear sold a controlling interest in his company to Charlie Gates, which led to the formation of Gates Learjet Corporation.
Although Lear resigned in 1969, the company continued developing new Learjet models under the same type certificate. The Learjet 60, certified on January 15, 1993, marked the final model to use the same type certificate.
A New Era: Bombardier Aerospace and the Learjet 45
On June 29, 1990, Bombardier Aerospace, a Canadian airplane company, acquired Learjet Corporation. Under Bombardier’s ownership, the company developed the clean-sheet Learjet 45, which received certification on a new type certificate on September 22, 1997.
The company continued to develop new configurations for the Learjet 45 until 2013.
The Learjet 85 Program and Its Cancellation
Despite the excitement surrounding the all-composite Learjet 85, the program faced cancellation on October 27, 2015, after incurring a loss of $4.9 billion. At the time of cancellation, one prototype had already flown, and a second was being prepared for flight testing.
The End of an Era and the Legacy of Learjet
Learjet manufacturing concluded in the fourth quarter of 2021, with a total of 3,056 Learjets delivered to customers. The company’s contributions to the aviation industry were monumental, paving the way for a thriving market for jet-powered business airplanes around the world.
The Learjet’s innovative design, performance, and luxury will forever serve as an inspiration and a reminder of the incredible legacy it leaves behind.
Hamel, Peter G, and Gary D Park. 2022. The Learjet History. Springer.
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