The Learjet 23 was the first business jet design of William P. Lear Sr. and although it had a short production run its design made the Learjet an icon of business transportation that continues to this day and laid the ground work for all future Learjets. Bill Lear was a self-taught engineer who originally worked with electronics and radios. He designed the first radios for cars, the eight track cartridge, and along with Paul Galvin helped transform the Galvin Manufacturing Company into Motorola. With an interest in aviation he began developing instruments for airplanes. His goal however was to develop a small, moderately priced jet for the business market. Lear came across the prototype of a fighter jet being developed in Switzerland. The Swiss army did not proceed with production of the P-16 and scrapped the prototypes, but he found his inspiration in the structural design.
Bill Lear used $12 million of his own money, hired a few dedicated engineers (including the designer of the P-16), and set up shop in Wichita in 1962 to begin work on the Learjet 23. The first plane made its debut one year later and about a year after that, in July 1964, was fully FAA certified and went into production.
Some of the unique features that set the Learjet apart from other business jets of the early 1960s are wingtip fuel tanks, the sleek bullet shaped design of the fuselage with a wrap-around windshield, and a T-Tail. These design elements carried through to all future Learjet designs. Today, Learjet is a division of Bombardier Aerospace and manufactures jets at the same complex in Wichita. The Learjet 23 pictured above is the 2nd one built and is on display at the National Air & Space Museum.
The Learjet 23 was a small, nimble high performance jet and won rave reviews from the aviation community. As the smallest Learjet, it had a capacity of only six passengers but it was the first private jet that could fly at 550mph and climb to 41,000 feet, outperforming anything else on the market at the time. But it came at a price. The performance of this jet left very little margin for pilot error and there were many accidents. In fact, with only 104 jets built about half of them were involved in crashes by 2005; 1 out of every 8 Learjet 23s built has killed someone! Production ended in 1966 with the introduction of the improved Learjet 24. The FAA implemented new noise regulations in 2016 for these older aircraft to be airworthy and will require replacement or modification of the engines to be in compliance. It is unlikely that any Learjet 23s will remain flying due to the cost involved.
The Learjet 23 pictured below (click for a larger view) was the 9th one built in 1964 and was owned by air show performer Bobby Younkin. He regularly flew it as part of his air show performance until his death in 2005; it was later donated to the Arkansas Air & Military Museum.
|Learjet 23 Specifications|
|First Flight||October 7 1963|
|Number Built||104, 1964-1966|
|Max Gross Weight||12,499lbs|
|Powerplant||4 General Electric CJ610 Turbojet (2,850lbs thrust each)|
|Maximum Cruising Speed||488kts|