In the late 1950’s, William P. Lear, Sr. envisioned a small private jet airplane for business travelers that would equal the performance of commercial jetliners. He was impressed with the Swiss fighter known as the P-1 6 and set up a team of engineers in Switzerland to design what later became the Learjet – a generic name today associated with fast, reliable business jet transportation.
He moved from Switzerland to Wichita in 1962 and the following year occupied a new building at the Wichita Municipal Airport where he and his dedicated team of engineers built the first prototype. It flew nine months to the day he occupied the Wichita plant on October 7, 1963, and became the first small jet to reach the market in volume production.
The Learjet quickly established an international reputation and became a “best seller” overnight. It set a number of high performance world records and was widely accepted as the ultimate in business jet travel. Learjet ultimately brought thousands of jobs and added international prestige to Kansas.
But Kansas aviation felt the impact of William Powell Lear Sr., long before he became a state resident in 1962. Lear started in aviation in 1919, servicing U.S. mail planes. During World War II, every U. S. fighter, bomber and transport carried some piece of Lear equipment. Since the 1930’s Lear designed airborne communications and navigation systems have enhanced the operating performance of civil and military aircraft worldwide, including those produced in Wichita.
Lear was born in Hannibal, Missouri, June 26, 1902. Lear died May 14, 1978, in Reno, Nevada but he lived to see the Learjet become a world leader in business and utility aviation. On July 22, 1978, Lear, holder of the Frank M. Hawks Memorial Award and the Robert J. Collier Trophy, was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame for his entrepreneurship in advancing aeronautical technology.