Learjet: From Frank Sinatra to James Bond

Learjet was the child of inventor William Powell Lear. At the time he founded his business, he had a number of successes. In the 1920s, he invented the first commercially successful car radio. He later threw himself into aviation and designed an autopilot system and a radio direction finder, which earned him lucrative military contracts during World War II. But that was not all.

At an age when many were slowly thinking about retiring, he had the biggest deed ahead of him. In 1960, he founded an American-Swiss company that bought a bankrupt Swiss supersonic fighter project. Based on it, he began to develop a small, fast, luxury aircraft, which was to offer the rich something that was still lacking on the market. In 1963, the company moved to Wichita, Kansas, in the neighborhood of Cessna and Beechcraft. “Can you imagine a place where I could steal more engineers?” Lear said at the time.

But the project soon began to run out of money. Paradoxically, the company was saved from extinction by a catastrophe. A prototype Learjet crashed in a test flight in 1964 through the fault of a pilot who was an employee of the FAA Aviation Authority. Lear received $ 500,000 from the insurance company, which was enough to launch up to the eight-seater Learjet 23 in the same year.

The plane seemed like a revelation. It was as fast as the Boeing 707, then the top among airliners. He was able to climb faster than the F-86 Saber fighter. During a flight around the world in 1966, he set 18 speed records. Even with his maneuverability, he was not far from the fighter.

It also had negative consequences. The speech of the machine managed to surprise the pilots and unpleasantly surprise the less experienced. During the first three years of production, 23 out of 104 learjats crashed. Four accidents ended fatally, and paradoxically, the victims of one of them were the mother of the great promoter of Learjet, Frank Sinatra.

Fortunately, the company was able to learn. The Learjet 24 was much friendlier at low speeds than its predecessor, and changes also occurred in pilot training. There was nothing in the way of success, Learjet became synonymous with luxury in the clouds. Pink Floyd sang about him in their hit Money, and James Bond flew with him in Permission to Kill.

Learjet changed owners several times, the last in 1990 became the Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier. He decided to restore the luster to the brand, whose fame was already fading away at the time. He introduced two new models and for a while the learjets sold well again, even though they were no longer on the market alone as at the time of their creation.

Today, when analysts look back on the causes of the end of the famous brand, they usually point out the excessive ambitions of the parent Bombardier. In 2007, he announced the development of the revolutionary Learjet 85 machine, the first fully composite jet. At the same time, the Canadians embarked on the development of the C Series regional transport aircraft and the ultra-long-range Global 7000 business.

That was obviously too much. In the end, Bombardier was able to complete only the latter project on his own. Today, the C Series is known worldwide as the Airbus A220, and Bombardier no longer owns a minority stake in the program. The development of the Learjet 85 was completed by the Canadians in 2015, saying they had no money to continue.

In the meantime, market requirements have also changed. There was not as much interest in the best of the best in the category of smaller jets, to which the Learjet always belonged, as before. At the same time, the most luxurious machines have grown significantly, after all, the Learjet 85 has already set out in this direction.

“Demand was driven by less equipped aircraft with a lower price tag,” said Bombardier spokesman Mark Masluch. For example, customers pay nine million dollars for the Embraer Phenom, but thirteen million for the comparable Learjet 75. “Customers want a nice Mercedes in this category, but there is no such interest in the Ferrari,” Reuters quoted Rolland analyst Vincent as saying.

The latest attempt to save the brand was a simpler version of the Learjet 75 called the Liberty introduced last year at a cost of less than ten million dollars. For the whole of 2020, however, the company delivered only eleven aircraft. Back in 2001, customers took over 112 machines. Bombardier decided that the factory in Wichita would produce the orders received and then close forever. 250 people will lose their jobs.

Paradoxically, the Learjet is leaving at a time when the demand for private flying is growing rapidly. Private jet operators report an influx of many clients who either need to travel despite pandemic restrictions and interruptions to scheduled air services or, conversely, want to travel in private due to the risk of infection. Demand, including that on the Czech market, is growing by tens of percent. In the meantime, passengers will also fly learjets. Hundreds of them remain in operation and Bombardier will continue to provide them with service facilities.

Bombardier cuts costs

Bombardier lost $ 568 million in 2020, down 13 percent to $ 6.5 billion. The company announced that it would cut 1,600 jobs, about a tenth of all positions, concentrate production in Montreal and sell a number of properties.

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