William (Bill) Powell Lear was born on 26 June 1902. Despite that the surname “Lear” does remind us of something we may not directly associate with a thing or two, let us examine his humble beginnings.
Lear was born in Hannibal, Missouri as the only child but finished his school until the eight grade when his family moved to Chicago. At the outbreak of World War I, he joined the United States Navy serving as a radio operator. He has no formal education past the eight grade but as it has later shown, the only courses provided by the Navy associated by his assignment has taught him more than anything else, electronics.
His career took off in the 1920s when a partnership with Elmer Wavering brought the invention of the first car radio. Calling it “Motorola”( combining motor and Victrola then a brand for internal horn phonographs) he later sold the rights of the design to Paul Galvin whose company would become known as Motorola.Using the profits from the sale of his radio design he founded Lear Developments, a company specializing in aerospace instruments and electronics. Lear later ventured on further products with the creation of radio direction finders, autopilots and a lot more innovations with wide use in General Aviation. In 1949, Lear changed the name of Lear Developments to Lear Incorporated and opened a manufacturing facility in Sta Monica, California. By 1960,he moved to Switzerland and founded the Swiss American Aviation Company. By 1962, after failing to persuade his board to venture into the aircraft manufacturing business, Lear sold Lear Incorporated to Siegler Corporation which was then known afterwards as Lear Siegler.He then moved to Wichita, Kansas and there started the manufacture of the Learjet. By October 1963, Learjet started test flights on the Learjet 23, a twin-engined 6-8 seat, high speed business jet. The first production aircraft was delivered in 13 October 1964, the first mass produced business jet.
The Learjet on First Flight, October 1963
Lear invented the Stereo 8 cartridge in 1964 which was to be used in the Learjet.This was an eight track variation of the 4-Track Stereo-Pak tape cartridge. The 8 track was a commercial success that had good audio quality and later adapted to home use.Lear’s last project was the Lear Fan, an aircraft made of composite materials with a twin engine driving a single propeller in the pusher configuration. The Lear Fan took many years of development but was never completed. On 14 May 1978, William Powell Lear died of leukemia in Reno, Nevada.
The Learjet 85, latest of a series which started from a man’s vision
In 1990, Learjet was acquired by Bombardier Aerospace. All through his lifetime, Lear was credited with more than 150 patents and founded a number of business firms. His life was the ideal of a brilliant mind who has surpassed the stereotype mentality of a schoolboy confined to the lessons he learned from school but instead, a mind who has come to innovate things and introduce a trend. Where jet engines are confined to a jet airliner and fighter aircraft use, establishing a niche market in the business world, in the 6-8 seating segment, he started the age of the business jets starting with the Learjet 23 in 1964 and a host of other aircraft designs by other manufacturers followed.