For those of us who grew up in the 1970's and 1980's, there was only one undisputed heavyweight champion in the private jet industry and that was William 'Bill' Lear and his Learjet. Yes, there were other aircraft manufacturers building business jets at the time, but none of their names garnered the type of instant luxury connotation like the name Learjet. Even today, people often refer to any business jet as a “Learjet.”
Bill Lear's Learjet Corporation was one of the first aircraft manufacturers to build a dedicated private jet. The first Learjet Model 23 first flew on October 7th, 1963 and the first production aircraft flew a little over a year later in 1964. At the time of its introduction, the Learjet was an extremely high performance aircraft and it was very unforgiving to those that didn't respect the way it was supposed to be flown. As the years passed, the aircraft handling characteristics were improved. In its final iteration in the 2000's, the Learjet's handling is nothing like the early models.
Maturity and the heyday of Learjet
Bill Lear sold his shares in the company to Gates Rubber Company in 1967 and the company was renamed Gates Learjet. During the 1970's and 1980's, Gates grew the Learjet line by offering several models including the Learjet 25, 35 and 55. The Learjet 35 quickly became one of the best selling Learjet's of its time. The Learjet 35 was extremely popular with owners and operators because of its long range and fuel efficiency. The Learjet 55 was the first Learjet with a stand up cabin, but never sold as well as the 35 because of its similar performance yet higher acquisition cost compared to the model 35.
Sale of Gates Learjet
In 1987, Gates Learjet was sold to Integrated Acquisition Corp who changed the name of the company to Learjet Corporation. Integrated Acquisition didn't do anything meaningful with Learjet and subsequently sold it to Bombardier Aerospace in 1990.
Learjets in the 1990's and 2000's
Bombardier set out to develop a line of updated Learjets as all of the Learjets that existed up to that time were still based off of Bill Lear's original 1960's design. Bombardier successfully updated the Learjet line incorporating modern technology and introduced the Learjet Models 40, 45 and 60. All of the 'new' Learjets were successful, but never garnered the type of widespread adoption like the original Learjets of the 1970's and 1980's.
The end of Learjet line
When Bill Lear introduced the Learjet to the world in the 1960's, there were virtually no other dedicated private jets available on the market. By the late 1990's, there were many business/private jet manufacturers building highly efficient business jets. Cessna, Beechcraft, Dassault and Embraer all offered light and mid sized business jets that performed as well as if not better than the Learjets. That fact combined with the decision by Bombardier to focus its efforts on the (Bill Lear designed) Challenger and Global Express series doomed the Learjet line of private jets. On February 11th 2021 Bombardier announced that after 60 years of production they were ending all production of Learjets.. With over 3,000 Learjets manufactured and delivered it remains one of the most successful business jets ever produced.
Footnote: As an illustration of how times have changed, Bill Lear once remarked that “nobody would ever pay $1 million dollars for a private jet”. The 2023 price for a new Gulfstream 700 is $76 Million dollars and Gulfstream's order book is full.....