Angel MedFlight is paying homage to the creator of the Learjet, William “Bill” Lear, in a three part series called “reaching New Heights.” Our air ambulances are all Learjets; a jet we chose because of their excellent performance. Today we look at some of the challenges Bill Lear faced before his ultimate success.
The biggest challenge the engineers and builders had was time. They only had about two weeks to test the aircraft after it was fully built. They had confidence it would be a complete and successful build, but were unsure if it would actually be air-worthy. There were no systems (avionics, electronics, hydraulics, etc). In fact, some of the systems had not even been created yet. The only thing that was a constant was the established aerodynamics from the P-16. As an innovator himself, in the design phase, Lear was involved in nearly all aspects of the development process.
On October 7th, 1963 in Wichita, Kansas, the first Learjet 23 took flight. This was the test flight for the newly constructed jet. Many of the skeptics from local companies including Cessna were present on the nearby roadway for the unscheduled test flight. The word of the test flight spread quickly. Families were called and radio stations were notified of the Learjet 23 test run.
People that initially thought the design and approach would fail were now believers in Bill Lear’s project. Once competitors, the now believers, began to submit applications to begin working for the innovative company Lear Siegler. This was an opportunity to be a part of projects they never dreamed could be a reality. The work hours were around the clock, but people still jumped at the chance.
The first Learjet went up, and did not end in success. But Bill Lear was invested in this single aircraft. The insurance coverage for the plane was paid out at full list price and the money was used to continue the construction of the next Learjet.
The first aircraft contained a number (if not all) Swiss parts, which uses the metric system. The plane was assumed it would never be able to pass inspection or be certified for that aspect alone. From an unfortunate beginning to a silver lining – if the plane would not be up to standards for certification, the insurance payout would have never covered the retail cost. The initial jet was not yet qualified for inspection.
The company could not sell an aircraft, nor maintain business, without the latest version of the Learjet obtaining certification. After the newly built prototype was tested, it was inspected successfully and the Learjet 23 was certified.
In Part 3, we will finish the story of Bill Lear and explain why Angel MedFlight chose these jets over all others. In our company’s history, we still hold a perfect safety record.