Bombardier is halting Learjet production at the end of this year. It’s an understatement to say that the Learjet personified glamor, esteem, and class. It was the plane of choice for old Hollywood’s elite and it defined an era of sophisticated travel that has yet to be matched by any other aircraft on the market today.
The Learjet is in a class of its own. While we can’t say we’ll miss working on them—because Learjets simply don’t require much maintenance—we can confidently say that we’ll miss what the Learjet has stood for: Stability, style, and speed. There isn’t an aircraft out there that can rival what the Learjet has offered throughout its 58 years, but we’re excited to watch the industry try.
A Brief History of the Learjet
The Learjet 23 was the first of the Learjet brand to be produced back in 1963. It found instant fame as the most iconic civilian jet on the market. In fact, Frank Sinatra was one of the first Learjet owners. In just two years time, the crooner racked up 1,500 flight hours transporting himself, his Rat Pack, and his countless famous friends (including Elvis) to movie sets, Las Vegas, and Palm Springs.
Some argue that it was Ol’ Blue Eyes that made Learjet a household name and synonymous with any private jet. But we know that it was its strong, stable platform and unmatched performance that solidified it for years to come.
Here are just a few reasons why we’ll miss the Learjet.
Even in its early days, the Learjet was a quality-built aircraft. The early Learjet 23 leveraged the structural quality of the Swiss AFA P-16 strike fighter. It also featured a fuselage that narrowed at each side where the wing and engine nacelles extended outward—a design technique known as area rule that provided smooth airflow around the engines.
Aircraft powered by jet engines had just begun to break into the transport service when William P. Lear, Sr., initiated the production of the first Learjet. His design brilliantly combined form and function that turned the Learjet into the outstanding performer that it was, and still is today.
The Learjet provides a great presence on the runway and still serves as one of the faster, sleeker models out there today. In fact, after the Learjet 23, successive Learjet models set many speed records. In fact, even recently in 2015, the Learjet 75 set a new speed record for its class on a round trip flight from New York to Los Angeles. The flight left White Plains, New York, at 8 a.m. and returned at 8:26 p.m., beating the previous record by 17 minutes.
Though while the Learjet is by no means the fastest aircraft out there today, its earlier models were groundbreaking. One such advanced feature for the time and type aircraft, was the use of hydraulically actuated spoilers. These panels on the upper surface of each wing allowed for more delicate and precise speed and roll control than other similar aircraft.
The success of the first model—Learjet 23—led to the quick expansion of derivative models with increased range, size, and speed. Between May 23 and 26, 1966, the first Model 24 set or broke 18 international aviation records. Just 10 years later, the Model 36 set a round-the-world speed record.
#3: High Performance
The Learjet represents an exceptional dollar value for the size of the airplane that it is. With solid, well-built engines, Learjets are able to achieve 3500 flight hours to overhaul with virtually no issues.
Since its inception, the Learjet has been able to cruise above most weather, over long distances, and at high speeds. Today, the Learjet 75 boasts a maximum operating ceiling of 51,000ft, making it one of the highest altitude passenger planes available. This level of performance allows Learjet pilots to avoid delays to congestion at low altitudes by flying at over-the-weather altitudes.
The End of an Era
Bombardier will continue to support the more than 2,000 Learjet aircraft flying today and will be launching a program to offer enhancements, new avionics, high-speed connectivity, and improved aircraft maintenance costs.
Though Sinatra penned the lyrics to “Come Fly With Me” a few years before he became one of the early adopters of the Learjet, we like to think the words preemptively paved the way for the historic aircraft.
It’s the end of an era. One that’s marked by a nostalgic reverence among the aviation community.