One of the inventors of the 8-track audio tape, the holder of 150 aviation-related patents and a high school drop-out, William P. Lear Sr. abandoned his retirement in Switzerland to establish the Swiss American Aircraft Company (SAAC). In 1959, SAAC began work on Lear’s latest invention—a private luxurious jet aircraft with the flexibility to fly passengers and freight in and out of small airports around the world.
Inspired by a single-seat Swiss strike fighter aircraft, the FFA P-16 (flown as a prototype in April 1955, but never put into production), Lear recruited a group of Swiss aircraft designers and engineers to transform the fighter’s wing and basic airframe design into the cornerstone of a revolutionary aircraft—originally designated as the SAAC-23, but soon renamed as the Learjet 23 Continental.
Problems with suppliers and production tooling in Switzerland compelled Lear to shift assembly of the new aircraft to Wichita, Kansas, under the new name of Lear Jet Industries. The prototype Learjet 23 made its first flight on October 7, 1963. The Learjet 23 became the first small jet aircraft to enter mass production. The original Model 23 was a seven-passenger jet (later increased to nine) including two pilots, fully pressurized with windshield and large cabin windows fabricated from stretched and laminated acrylic plastic. It could fly at a top speed of 564 miles per hour with a range of 1,875 miles.
The new aircraft was a success, with more than 100 sold by the end of 1965. Unfortunately, the original Learjet 23 also developed an unwanted reputation as a very demanding and unforgiving aircraft for the average pilot to fly. This resulted in a decision to quickly design a successor, which resulted in the Model 24. It debuted in March 1966 and offered improved low-speed handling characteristics, coupled with increased range, size, and speed. The Learjet 24 was a flush-riveted design. It was equipped with wingtip fuel tanks that added 364 extra gallons of fuel capacity and featured the added attraction of a “T-tail” configuration.
Lear Jet quickly moved forward with a campaign to demonstrate the improved aircraft’s performance. In the span of just four days, from May 23 to 26, 1966, the Learjet 24 became the first business jet to circumnavigate the globe, traveling 22,993 miles in 50 hours and 20 minutes of flying time, establishing or breaking 18 aviation world records during the flight. In all, 259 Learjet 24s were produced, 99 of which were the “D” model. This aircraft, serial number 281, logged a total of 7,330 airframe hours and 8,707 landings.
This aircraft was donated to the museum by Valhi, Inc., Dallas, TX.
As part of the Adopt-A-Plane program, this aircraft is adopted by the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation.