Rising Above Turbulence: The Transformative Years of Lear Jet Industries Inc.

Innovation, Adaptation, and The Tale of an Unexpected Landing

Learjet History. Photo of a Lear Jet model 23 being towed on Lake Michigan.

Lear Jet 23-061 (N316M) being towed on Lake Michigan (Photo Credit Mike Abla)

Introduction: The Sky’s the Limit

“Aviation is proof that given, the will, we have the capacity to achieve the impossible.” – Eddie Rickenbacker. This quote encapsulates the spirit of Lear Jet Industries Inc. during its transformative years between 1966 to 1969. Facing financial difficulties, it was a period marked by change, adaptability, and, most importantly, innovation that would forever change the trajectory of the corporation.

Transition into New Horizons: The Birth of Lear Jet Industries Inc.

Learjet History. Aerial photo of a Learjet 25D.

Learjet 25D (S/N 25-335) with Hush Kits (Photo Credit Guido Ferneda)

On September 19, 1966, Lear Jet Corporation spread its wings to embark on a new flight path, rebranding itself as Lear Jet Industries Inc. Bill Lear, the founder, was at the helm, steering his creation through an increasingly turbulent financial climate.

A Change in Course: Shifting Control to Steady the Ship

With financial struggles escalating, Bill Lear, in a decisive maneuver, negotiated a deal with Charles “Charlie” Cassius Gates Jr., the then-president of the Gates Rubber Company. Gates agreed to purchase a 65% majority interest in Lear Jet Industries on April 10, 1967, a move that would breathe new life into the floundering company. Bill Lear, though he remained on the board, would step down two years later, signaling the end of an era but the beginning of a new chapter.

Innovation in the Face of Adversity: The Evolution of Lear Jet Models

Before Bill Lear’s departure, Lear Jet Industries Inc. had produced several models, including the 24A, 24B, 24B-A, and the stretched fuselage variant, the Lear Jet 25. The latter, when equipped with winglets, would transform into the Learjet 28, a modification that would eventually become a standard feature on all subsequent Learjet models. These innovations highlighted the corporation’s unwavering commitment to improvement, even in challenging times.

The Unexpected Event that Shaped Future Safety Standards: The Icing Event of Lear Jet 23-061

A historical turn of events occurred on March 19, 1966, six months before the corporation’s transformation into Lear Jet Industries Inc. A Lear Jet 23-061 operated by Mutual Benefit Health and Accident encountered a rare icing event causing both its engines to flame out. The crew were forced to make an amphibious landing in Lake Michigan – a sight an eyewitness lauded as the most beautiful he’d ever seen.

A Successful Ditching: The Lear Jet That Stayed Afloat

Learjet History. Photo of Lear Jet 23 floating at a boat ramp on Lake Michigan.

Lear Jet 23-061 (N316M) floating at a boat ramp in Lake Michigan (Photo Credit Mike Abla)

In a twist of fate, this forced landing served as an unplanned full-scale ditching test. The jet remained afloat for more than 24 hours and was later recovered. This real-life event, rare as it was, played a significant role in Learjet models’ future certifications, setting a new standard for compliance with FAR ditching requirements.

Conclusion: Rising from the Waters to Touch the Sky

Learjet History. Photo of Lear Jet 23 being lifted out of Lake Michigan.

Lear Jet 23-061 (N316M) being lifted out of Lake Michigan (Photo Credit Mike Abla)

These transformative years between 1966-1969, filled with change and adaptation, marked a critical period in Lear Jet Industries Inc.’s history. The innovations, the changes in leadership, and the unique lessons learned from an unexpected event, are reminders that even the most turbulent times can lead to success. Just like the jet that rose from Lake Michigan’s waters, Lear Jet Industries Inc. faced its challenges head-on, using them as stepping stones to achieve new heights.

As we reflect on this period of Lear Jet’s history, we’re reminded of the power of resilience, innovation, and the ability to turn setbacks into breakthroughs. These are not just stories from the past but lessons for any person or organization striving to make their mark in this world.

Hamel, Peter G, and Gary D Park. 2022. The Learjet History. Springer.

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