The Learjet is dead. Long live the Learjet.
Asked if I loved or hated flying the Learjet, I’d answer, both. I loved flying the critters, but I hated flying them for a living. The sheer, kick-in-the-pants performance of the twenty and thirty series was exhilarating, but the machines played hell on my neck, nerves, and tolerance for places like Grand Island, Fargo, and Wichita, where I found myself refueling, over and over, as if trapped in a kerosine and catering temporal loop.
I had several thousand hours in King Airs before I touched my first Learjet, and I’d grown accustomed to comfort, EFIS, and single-pilot flying. I remember looking contemptuously upon the LR-24’s tiny cockpit, archaic instrumentation, and two-pilot type certification. I’d enjoyed more creature comforts in Piper Arrows; I’d seen better panels in old Cessna 414s—and I’d flown those airplanes alone. Ergo, the notion of transitioning from a 1997 model King Air to a 1968 model Learjet 24B filled me with resentment. My dreams were of Gulfstreams and Falcons. I wanted to move forward, not backward. Why was I being ousted from my robust, capable King Air and forced into a sky-going go-cart? Whom had I pissed off?
An hour later, I was climbing out of Seattle’s Boeing Field (KBFI) with a company instructor pilot/check-airman in the right seat and my prideful sense of entitlement crushed against the backrest of the aft divan.
“Power! Power!” the check-airman repeated.
“Set!” I insisted, verifying the engine instruments as I spoke.
“I know it’s set,” the check-airman said. “Decrease it!”
The notion of decreasing power so soon after rotation was foreign to me, but a glance at the flight instruments confirmed the veracity of the check-airman’s instruction. To my astonishment, we were nearing 300 KIAS and perilously close to rocketing through our initial clearance altitude of 2,000 feet.
“Holy $!#!!” I marveled. “This thing is—”
“Yes, it is,” the check-airman cut me off, smiling the cryptic smile peculiar to check-airman.
We landed an hour later with my having learned a great deal about both the LR-24 and humility.
Over the next year, I dispatched SIC in both the LR-24B and the 35A. At the end of that year my company sent me to Simuflite, where I earned myself a Learjet type-rating and a year of indentured servitude.
On Monday, 28 March 2022, the last Learjet rolled out of a hangar at Bombardier’s Wichita facility and departed for delivery to a customer in Grand Rapids, MI. It was a prosaic end to a sixty-year production run that graced the world’s skies with over 3,000 Learjets of 14 different models. So goodbye and fare thee well to the mach-tucking 23, the swift 24, the ubiquitous 35, the long-legged 36, the clean-sheet 45, the chimeric 55, the stretched and strengthened 60, the short-lived 70, the swan-song 75, and all the weird, wondrous models between.
Though stately Gulfstreams, enigmatic Falcons, and grand Globals elicit love in the pilot heart, the man on the street will forever correlate the Learjet with glamour, romance, and achievement.