For many people, the name Learjet is a generic term to cover any and all business jets, largely due to the public relations skill of Bill Lear, and James R. Greenwood, who successfully headed the company's public relations department for many years.
The name comes from Missouri native William Powell Lear - a prolific inventor whose achievements included the first successful car radio (founding Motorola!), the first eight-track stereo tape system, navigational radio systems and direction finders for civil and military aircraft. We recommend reading the biography: Stormy Genius the story of Bill Lear
Bill Lear formed the Radio Wire and Coil Company in 1922, created Motorola Corporation and founded Lear Inc., which later merged with the Siegler Corp in the 1950s. - Lear Inc. became known for its conversions of Lockheed Loadstars to executive Learstar configuration.
In 1959, Bill Lear embarked on his most famous development - the Learjet. He had sold out his interest in Lear Siegler for $ 12.5 million and "retired" to Switzerland where he conceived the design of a small jet business aircraft and set up the Swiss American Aircraft Corporation. Much of the SAAC-23 at the urging of Bill Lear Jr, his son, the Learjet design was based on the single-seat FFA P-16 (P-1604) fighter-bomber which had been flown in prototype form by the Flug und Fahrzeugwerke A.G. in April 1955. (Five P-16s were built before the project was discontinued.)
Lear moved back to the United States in 1962 to set up development and production of his Learjet and settled on Wichita, Kansas as the base for operations. In October 1963, the prototype Learjet Model 23 made its first flight Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport. This aircraft crashed during testing in the following June but, nevertheless, the type certificate under FAR. Part 23 was granted on July 31st 1964. Learjet Corporation quickly put the Model 23 into production and, with a price lower than the competing aircraft, it was an immediate success.
However, it did gain a reputation for being very demanding for the average pilot and much of the later Learjet development concentrated on improvement to the low-speed handling characteristics of the type following an initial rash of accidents.
The Model 23 was replace by the Model 24 in 1966. This was a considerably modified development to meet FAR. Part 25 certification requirements. It was soon joined on the production line by the stretched Model 25 with a maximum on ten seats - still powered by General Electric CJ610 engines.
Both were offered in alternative long-range versions with reduced passenger capacity. Bill Lear also designed the Lear Liner seating 28 passengers and using the same jet engines adopted by Grumman for the Gulfstream II, but this project was discontinued as financial pressures increased.
In 1966, the name of the company was changed to Learjet Industries and on April 10th 1967, the Gates Rubber Company brought a controlling interest. The Learjet was undoubtedly successful, but enormous operating losses had built up.
The 1966 acquisition of Brantly Helicopters and the subsequent development cost of the Gates Twinjet Helicopter (an aircraft of Sikorsky S-76 size) only served to fuel the financial crisis.
On April 2nd 1969, Bill Lear resigned as Chairman of the Board. He went on to develop the LearAvia steam powered car, the Learstar 600 (later to become the Canadair Challenger) and the revolutionary Learfan - before his death on May 14th 1978.
Gates renamed the company Gates Learjet Corporation and, in 1969, sold Brantly to Aeronautical Research and Development Corporation.
Increasing pressure from the environmentalist lobby and competition from the Cessna Citation now prompted the company to refit the Learjet with turbofan engines. This resulted in the Models 35 and 36 - both based on the Model 25 with a small fuselage stretch, wing extensions and a pair of Garrett TFE731 engines.
Following the previous formula, the Model 35 was a short-range aircraft and the Model 36 was its long-range sister. In practice, the Model 35 outsold the Model 36 by two-to-one because the five-hour endurance of the long-range model was more than most customers required.
The next major development for the Learjet was the introduction of the "longhorn" wing - first tested on a Model 25, N266GL (c/n 25-064) and a model 24, N682LJ (c/n 24B-218). The NASA-designed supercritical wing was fitted with winglets and the tips - and as a consequence all fuel had to internally housed due to the deletion of the wingtip tanks.
First production aircraft to be fitted with the winglets were the Models 28 and 29 - respectively short and long range variants. Very few were built - largely because they were still powered by the CJ610 turbojet engine, a power plant soon to be phased out.
The Longhorn wing was mainly intended for the new, larger, Model 54/55/56 series of Learjets. With the same wing attach points as the Model 20 and 30 series, these aircraft were designed to meet customer requirements for a larger Learjet cabin. They were scaled up versions of the previous types with a stand-up cabin capable of carrying up to ten passengers in addition to two crew.
Most orders were for the mid-range Model 55 - and the Model 54 and 56 designations were later abandoned. The final version was the Model 55C introduced in 1988 with "delta fins" mounted on the lower rear fuselage to improve low-speed handling but this model has now been replaced in production by the Model 60.
Also introduced at the same time was the Model 31 which is a Model 35 with delta fins and the Longhorn wing, aimed at users stepping up into jet aircraft for the first time. Learjets latest aircraft is the completely new Model 45, which was announced in September 1992, falling between the Model 31 and the Model 60, and features a new wing and a larger fuselage than the Model 31.
The Model 45 made its first flight on October 7th 1995 exactly 32 years after the first Learjet took to the skies.
Learjets have been delivered to a number of governmental operators and have been used for target towing, high altitude mapping and photography.
Foreign air forces that have bought Learjets, include Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Mexico, Peru and Yugoslavia. The U.S. Air Force acquired 80 Learjet 35As, designated the C-21A, for personnel transport, communications, medical evacuation and high priority cargo duties, replacing obsolescent T-39A Sabreliners. In 1994, GLASCO lost the C-21 contract to Serv-Air thus ending Bombardier's envolvement with the C-21 maintenance program.
International records achieved by Learjets include the first round-the-world flight by a business jet (which included this writer as part of the four man crew), a standard production Model 24 traveled 22,993 miles in 50 hours 20 minutes flying time, with a total elapsed time of 65 hours, 4 minutes. The crew included Hank Beaird, John Lear (Bill's son), John Zimmerman and Rick King.
Zimmerman's role was to take care of all required paperwork activity and all photos at each of the 18 stops. The Model 24 Learjet was the first unit in the series (N427LJ) and made the flight May 23-26, 1966.
A number of special conversions have been carried out on Learjets, particularly the Dee Howard XR modification which includes a new swept wing center section, wing leading edge, and engine pylons so as to improve high speed performance, increase useful load and give longer range.
In 1976, Gates Learjet relocated a significant part of its production in Tucson while continuing with some completion, service and marketing functions in Wichita. With the slow-down in the business jet market, Learjet sales fell and Gates came under pressure over the financial position.
In August 1987 Gates announced that it would sell its 64.8% interest in Gates Learjet to Integrated Acquisitions Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Integrated Resources Inc., of New York. This led to the moving of most production from Tucson back to Wichita.
In mid-1989 a financial crisis in its property business forced Integrated Resources to seek buyers for Learjet once again. On June 29th 1990, it was acquired by the Canadian company, Bombardier Inc. and the name was changed to Learjet Inc., a division of Bombardier.
A detailed list of models built by Learjet is as follows:
23 Original Learjet to FAR.23 with 12,500 lb. TOGW, powered initially by two CJ610-1 turbojets the, from c/n 23-028, by CJ610-4. 8-place max. seating. Prot. N801L (c/n 23-001) FF.7 Oct.1963. w/o 4 Jun.1964.
24 Model 23 certified to FAR.24. Redesigned windshield and tip tanks, new engine fire control system and 13,000 lb. TOGW. CJ610-4 engines. 11 aircraft converted from Model 23 to Model 24 or 24A.
24A Model 24 with optional 12,499 lb. TOGW at lower fuel load.
24B Model 24 with 13,500 lb. TOGW and revised systems and interior. Powered by CJ610-6 engines. Model 24B-A has 12,500 lb. TOGW.
24C Economy Model 24B with no fuselage tank and reduced range and performance. Three rectangular windows each side, no tail "bullet" fairing, 12,499 lb. TOGW.
24D Model 24C with 13,500 lb. TOGW and increased range.
24E 24C with minor changes for air taxi work.
24F 24D with additional fuselage fuel tank.
25 Stretched Model 24 with CJ610-6 engines and 52-inch fuselage plug to give 10-place interior. Prot. N463LJ (c/n 25-001) FF.12 Aug, 1966.
25B Model 25 without tail "bullet" fairing and four rectangular cabin windows each side. 910 U.S. gal. fuel capacity.
25C Long-range Model 25B with shorter passenger cabin and additional fuselage fuel tank to give max 1,103 U.S. gal. fuel capacity.
25D Model 25B with CJ610-8A engines, and new wing to improve short field and low speed performance. FAR.36 noise standard approved. 15,000 lb. TOGW.
25E Not built. "E" suffix not used due to "Economy" implication.
25F Model 25D with eight-place seating and increased fuel/range.
25G Model 25D with 16,300 lb. TOGW, higher range and wing modifications. Dee Howard XR Mod
26 Proposed Model 23 with TFE731 engines. Not built.
28 Model 25D with supercritical wing, no tip tanks and Whitcomb winglets. 10-place seating. Operating ceiling raised to 51,000 ft. Prot. N9RS (c/n 28-001). FF. 21 Aug, 1978.
29 Long-range version of Model 28.
30 Model 35 with Model 55 wings incorporating winglets (but without tip tanks) and rear fuselage delta fins. Powered by two TFE731-2 turbofans. Five Port and six starboard cabin windows. Max range 1,202 naut. miles. Prot. N311DF (c/n 31-001) FF. 11 May, 1987.
31A Model 31 with new EFIS cockpit and avionics, FBW ground steering, increased (Mach 0.81) speed. Replaced Model 31 in mid 1991.
31ER Model 31 with additional fuel to give 1,526 NM range.
35 Model 25 with 13-inch fuselage stretch, increased wingspan and two Garrett TFE731-2 turbofans. 17,000 lb. TOGW. eight-seat cabin with various window arrangements (max. six starboard, five port windows).
35A Model 35 with redesigned wing resulting in better short field and low speed handling.
C-21 USAF purchased 80 aircraft in 1984, Lear Model 35a with USAF special equipment, dual autopilot, IFF Mode 4, Tacan used for trainer, space-a and VIP transport 1984 to (still in use - 2008)
36 Long-range Model 35 with six-seat cabin, increased fuel, 18,000 lb. TOGW.
36A Model 36 with same wing modifications as Model 35A
40 Lear Not built. (revised - production started 2005) SN 45-xxxx
45 New mid-sized Learjet with redesigned wing, 8-10 passenger seating, eight windows each side, 19,500 lb. TOGW and two 3,500 lb.s.t TFE731-20 turbofans.
54 Enlarged Learjet with 10-passenger cabin using 28/29 wing married to new fuselage and powered by two TFE731-3-100B engines. Short-range version of '50 series with 866 U.S. gal fuel. Never built.
55 Main production '50 series. Similar to Model 54 with 1,001 U.S. gal fuel capacity. Powered by two TFE731-3A turbofans. Prot. N551GL (c/n 55-001) FF. 19 Apr, 1979.
55B Model 55 with electronic flight instrumentation, new autopilot, increased gross weight, systems changes and thrust reversers.
55LR Model 55 with seven-passenger cabin and 1,141 U.S. gal. fuel capacity.
55XLR Model 55 with six-passenger cabin and 1,231 U.S. gal. fuel capacity.
55C Model 55B with delta fins similar to those on the Model 31 and redesigned engine pylons. Also Model 55C/ER with 2,079 naut. mile range and 55C/LR with 2,052 NM range. Discontinued, 1991 and replace by Model 60.
60 10-passenger development of Model 55 with 43-inch fuselage stretch, two 4,600 lb.s.t Pratt & Whitney Canada PW305 turbofans, electronic FBW ground steering etc. Prot. N60XL (c/n 55-001) FF. 13 June, 1991. Replaced Model 55 in 1992.
60XR - Revised Lear 60 with added fuel range.
Model Number Built Construction Numbers Notes
23 105 23-001 23-099 Also c/n 015A, 028A, 045A, 050A, 065A, 082A. Some conv. to Model 24
24 & 24A 81 24-100 24-180 Model 24 and 24A, mixed
24B 49 24B-181 24B-229
24D 99 24D-230 24D-328
24E & 24F 29 24E-329 24F-357 Model 24E and 24F, mixed
25 64 25-001 25-064 c/n 25-065 to 25-069 not built
25B & 25C 136 25C-070 25B-205 Model 25B and 25C, mixed
25D 168 25D-206 25D-373
28 5 28-001 28-005
29 2 29-001 29-002
31 34 31-001 31-034
31A 220+ 31-035 31-099 Current production
35 66 35-001 35-066
35A 609 35A-067 35A-676
36 17 36-001 36-017
36A 43 36A-018 36A-060
4065+ 45-200145-2065+ Current production
40XR ?Current production
45 300+ 45-001 45-300+ Current production
45XR ? Current production
55 126 55-001 55-126 Includes two Model 55ER
55B 8 55B-127 55B-134
55C 13 55C-135 55C-147
60 220+ 60-001 60-220+ Current production
60XR? Current production
LR85 (NXT) ?85-001?The next Learjet announced DEC 07