Why the Learjet Is Such a Badass Plane
The famous Learjet first flew in October 1963; it marked the dawn of a new era of stylish, elegant, and speedy executive aircraft. Its Learjet 23 was so swift–with a top speed of 561 miles per hour and a 3G speed of climb of 6,900 feet per minute that it was the only first-line U.S. Air Force and Navy fighters that could beat it. This made it as well an excellent getaway car.
Frank Sinatra proved it. By 1965, Ol’ Blue Eyes had decades of worldwide success with hit movies and hit records to his credit, and he led his band, the “Rat Pack,” through Vegas and re-energized his career, which included running his own film and record labels. He was a sought-after performer in venues across America and frequently traveled to his house in Palm Springs, California, to the casinos of Las Vegas and beyond.
If you drove By car, the Vegas journey was a five-hour journey, but if you had a fast aircraft, you could get to the destination in just 45 minutes. Sinatra was previously a pilot of an airplane, but nothing quite like one like a Learjet. He purchased the Lear 23 in early 1965, and it came with a fully-stocked bar and a card table in its tinier leather-lined, six-passenger cabin. The name he gave it was Christina II, after his daughter, and it was handy right from the beginning.
The month of June was 1966. Sinatra assisted Rat Pack member Dean Martin in celebrating his birthday with a wild party in the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills, California. There needed to be more enthusiasm among those who attended the party. An executive with a name was scathing about the situation, a verbal exchange ensued, and an altercation ensued. The next day, Clay Lacy, an Air Force and airline pilot who was also an early Learjet dealer–received a call before he left on Sinatra’s aircraft.
He was heading to Edwards Air Force Base, where he would pilot the Lear 23 during a press event to promote North American Aviation’s defunct Mach 3 XB70 Valkyrie bomber, and the cameraman needed an aircraft that could track the bomber, which was Sinatra’s Lear was the most efficient civilian plane they could come up with at Southern California. Instead of heading to the north from Los Angeles to Edwards, the pilot was directed to take the two-minute trip towards Burbank Airport. He landed at 6.30 am to discover two waiting passengers, Sinatra and Martin, still in their suits from the night before.
According to Lacy, Sinatra’s left hand was wrapped in a sling that was made out of pillows. Martin was spotted with bloodstains and a black eye on his shirt. He was reported to have said something regarding leaving his country. However, Sinatra was reported to have sat in his chair and said, “Nah We’ll go to the bathroom for some time. We’ll be fine.”
After 40 minutes, Lacy decanted the stars at Palm Springs Airport and directed Lear’s nose toward Edwards Air Force Base. The day was still ongoing for Clay or Christina II. This was just the beginning of the Learjets worldwide, rising into six centuries of glamor, glamorous glamour, adventure, and even disaster.
The Self-Taught Genius and His Jet
When Sinatra and Martin left Beverly Hills, William Powell Lear Sr. was a successful inventor and businessman. He was also an innovator. In 1950, his talent in advancing the technology of radio and electronics was acknowledged by the Collier Trophy–an award presented by the Washington, D.C.-based National Aeronautic Association gives to inventors “for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year.”
The Collier Trophy honored Lear’s work in the creation of the first automated landing system for aircraft that is called known as the Lear F-5 Automatic Pilot as well as the Automatic Approach Control Coupler System, “which makes possible the safe landing of jet aircraft regardless of extreme weather or visibility conditions,” according to of Of Current Interest A publication published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Lear was also well-known for his research on autopilots, radio direction finders, and the first practical car radio. The latter led to his involvement in founding the famous Motorola company. The avionics company he founded, Lear Aviation, made millions during World War II. Following the war, the company changed its name to Lear Incorporated and remained under the control of its founder until the 1960s.
The Lear F-5 autopilot is installed on the instrument panel of a Twin Beech showing controller and automatic approach control coupler. Lear Dual ADF-12 and Lear VHF receiver and transmitter combined with the low-frequency range and a broadcast receiver are pictured above on the instrument panel.
Affected by a brief stint with the U.S. Navy during WWI in which he was trained to become a radio operator, Lear learned electronic and electrical engineering. He also took courses at high school following his military service, but he never completed. The year 1931 was when he purchased and began flying a biplane, a kind of fixed-wing plane with two wings stacked on top of one other. The experience helped him understand advanced avionics and the capabilities of private aircraft. In 1956, he was the first and only Westerner to fly a personal aircraft to Moscow.