The original Lear Jet design was the first purpose-built, personal business jet. Flamboyant inventor, engineer, and visionary William P. “Bill” Lear came up with the idea of a high-performance, personal-sized twinjet in 1962, when he used a Swiss fighter—the P–16—as the inspiration for the first Lear Jets. The P–16’s wing and tip tank designs were adopted with few changes. Together with the sleek nose; T-tail; and racy, low-slung fuselage, the then-new Lear Jet models 23, 24, and 25 immediately captured both imaginations and market share. It was the airplane of choice for rock stars, glitterati, and other arrivistes.
Through the years, Lear’s design grew. The 28, 35, and 55 models followed in the years spanning 1977 to 1985. They gathered speed and time-to-climb records along the way.
But if Lear was a conceptual and marketing genius, his company was under perpetual financial stress, and went through major ownership changes. In 1964 the renamed company—Lear Jet Corp.—went public.
Lear sold his majority share in the company to the Gates Rubber Co. in 1967 and the company was renamed the Gates Learjet Corp. In 1987 Integrated Acquisition bought the company, renamed it Learjet Corp., and rolled out the Learjet 31 and 31A. For a time, the company was based in Tucson, Arizona.
In 1990, Canada’s Bombardier bought Learjet and began making the Learjet 45 and 60 series of larger-cabin derivatives. Manufacturing was returned to Wichita, and a new all-composite Learjet—the Learjet 85—was introduced in 2008. That program was canceled in 2014. Starting in 2013, less ambitious, reworked versions of the Learjet 40—the Learjets 70, 75, and 75 Liberty—were introduced. Reception was less than enthusiastic.
Most recently, Bombardier has its own troubles with delays and cost overruns in its CSeries single-aisle airliner program. It has been forced to divest itself of interests in subsidiary business units—and now, Learjet production. In the industry, this was not a surprise. However, Bombardier says it will continue to support the Learjet line.
But its focus will now be on its Challenger and Global series of midsize and large-cabin, long-range business jets.