Learjet. It sounds fast and it is. This airplane has had a place in our aviation consciousness for a long time as the ultimate in speed, wealth, luxury and convenience. When first introduced by Bill Lear in 1964 it became synonymous with these things and more. Lear had bought the tooling for a Swiss ground-attack fighter aircraft (FFA-P16) and shipped it to Wichita, Kansas. So began the Lear 23. Soon the Lear 24, in various iterations, followed, and the myth, or several myths, were born.
As a college student, I watched in stunned silence as a Lear 24 taxied up to a small upstate New York terminal where I was working the Avis Rent A Car counter and driving an airport limousine. After that, I could think of nothing but Learjets. A friend gave me a tie tack in the shape of a tiny silver 24. I wore it everywhere. He later gave me an elegant model of the airplane, which sat atop my bureau in the one-room dorm facility I later occupied while in school in New York City in 1967. In the close confines of a big city, that Learjet held promise of escape and adventure. It prompted me to get a private ticket. Back in those days of limitless future, I hoped one day to own and fly one.
It has turned out that owning a Learjet won’t be in the cards for me. Some 44 years later my financial situation isn’t likely to change that much for the better fast enough to realize that dream. But I have, finally, learned to fly one.
This past May I attended FlightSafety International in Atlanta to get typed in the Lear 31. The 31 is the most evolved direct descendant of the early Learjets and the last designed before Bombardier Aerospace took over in 1990. The Lear 31 first flew in 1987 and the 31A was delivered up until 2003. With winglets (Longhorns!), EFIS and 3,500 pounds of thrust per side, this was the ultimate evolution of Bill Lear’s concept.