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Lear, The Gold Standard

The name 'Lear' in business jet aviation rightly brings associations of innovation, elegance and sheer chutzpah. For, the fact is, Bill Lear started it all.

Lear was far from the first to design a jet. That honor (though there are historical disputes) may belong to Frank Whittle just before the days of WWII. But he was unquestionably the first to design and successfully market a small business jet.

And, not just any business jet, but one that would become the gold standard. Long before Bill Gates was a teenager (the Google guys weren't even born yet), William Lear started Swiss American Aviation Company. The company evolved in the mid-1960s to bear his name and his imprint.

Young entrepreneurs would dream of owning one. They still do. Many are still in the air. After many mergers and much evolution the company was acquired by Bombardier, who have continued the tradition of making stellar aircraft.

From the Learjet 25, carrying 8 passengers, to the Bombardier 850 that holds 75, the company has produced jets that are stylish, comfortable, reliable and continuously in demand.

The Learjet 25 has a loaded weight of 7,755 lbs, which would put it in the new category of VLJ (Very Light Jet) soon to be dominated by the Eclipse 500 and the Cessna Mustang.

The Bombardier 600 is much heavier, nearly 20,000 lbs empty. Yet, even though both are based on 30 year old designs and most are 20 years old, there are still many in use and serving their clients well.

So, innovative and well-made are the Learjets of yesteryear (and their progeny today), that business travelers still request them by name. When one says "I'm traveling to Dallas on a Learjet", everyone knows what he means.

The latest evolution of the aircraft, the Challenger 850 series, has continued the tradition of fast, solid performers that allow a business executive to travel in style and comfort. With cruising speeds near Mach 0.80 (8/10ths the speed of sound, or about 570 mph - 917 kph), and a range of 2,000 miles (3218 km) or more, they can get up to 75 passengers anywhere they need to go in a hurry.

Even the smaller Learjet 60, which first achieved FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) certification in 1993, is still heavily used for business travel. With a capacity of up to 10 passengers, it is the perfect mid-sized business jet for medium-range travel.

Weighing less than 15,000 pounds, with a pair of Pratt & Whitney 305A engines, it can cruise at almost 500 mph (804 kph). With a range of almost 3,000 mi (4,828 km) and a ceiling of 51,000 feet (15,5 km), there's almost nowhere in the U.S. or Europe this jet can't go in one hop.

In the 40 years since Bill Lear started it all, Eclipse Aviation is the first startup to have a chance to succeed where so many have failed. If they pull it off, they'll owe much to the pioneer whose company continues to produce planes that satisfy the business jet market. Learjet, the gold standard of private jets.