The Liberty Gazette
June 3, 2014Ely Air Lines
By Mike and Linda Ely
Mike: Someplace in the world atop an airport observation area airplane buffs watch as airliners come and go, making smooth transitions from ground bound to airborne vehicles. The passengers in those steel tubes are whisked away and the whining of the large fanjet engines is almost hypnotic. Something new rounds the distant corner and begins its journey down the long concrete path. Quickly reaching flying speed its nose pitches skyward and breaks ground with tremendous fury, something like a fighter jet, and screams high overhead with a thunderous roar leaving its audience in awe, wondering what it would be like fly in that jet.
Back in the early 1960s, Swiss immigrant William Lear introduced the little rocket to the world. The Learjet has become synonymous with the words "corporate jet" so much so that almost everyone for a time referred to any small jet as a "Learjet." Competitors entered the market – Gulfstream, Falcon, Cessna Citation, and others – but even with upgrades and continuous improvements, many having surpassed the basic Learjet in speed and luxury, none hold its mystique, none can claim its reputation.
Having had the pleasure of flying many types of corporate jets in many different flight environments my favorite will always be the sports-car-like-handling Learjet. Sliding into the cockpit through a narrow opening and into the seat, the windshield is only inches from my head. It is often joked that one can tell the pilot from the copilot by the tilt of their head. It’s an airplane one straps on and wears. My 8,000 hours flight experience in Learjets equates to more than one full year spent in the confines of the cramped Lear flight deck, but I love it and have flown passengers and cargo all over North America, the Caribbean and across the Atlantic in Learjets.
The Lear’s thin sharp wings, tip fuel tanks and narrow landing gear can be more than a handful. No other airplane I’ve flown handles like Lear. It is extremely responsive to any control input and can challenge new pilots, taking several hundred hours to acclimate. Many Lear pilots share my opinion that if a person can fly one of these, they can fly any jet. Eventually flying the Lear becomes second nature, "willing" the airplane where you want it to go.
A fast flyer, the Learjet races across the sky at 80 percent of the speed of sound, a little more than 500 mph. Capable of powerful climb rates, 6,000 to 7,000 feet per minute upward on take-off in a Lear is normal. Many times I’ve shot into the sky achieving a 37,000-foot cruise altitude less than 15 minutes after leaving the gate, and that’s not even a record. Neil Armstrong and Arnold Palmer set a world record in a Learjet, model 35a, of over 10,000 feet per minute.
These days Bill Lear’s invention is a product line of Bombardier, a company that builds several lines of aircraft. However it’s the Learjet that is the most recognizable brand name. The passengers in the back of these planes often thrill at the feeling of being squished into their seats and watching the world below shrink quickly as their missile shoots them skyward. First time riders amazed by the propulsion tell friends and family, "I flew in a Learjet!"