Learjets have long been synonymous with luxury and efficiency; from the wing-tip fuel tanks to the distinctive windshield with the raked-back look and stubby wings. However, it was the performance numbers that were truly stellar: the ability to climb to 40,000 feet, every bit as fast as a Boeing 707, and able to climb faster than Air Force F-86 fighter jets—a testament to the design inspiration that came from a prototype Swiss fighter jet. The Learjet was the original business jet back in 1965, and retains that title today as the go-to option for those needing functional transportation by air.
While the Learjet is first and foremost a corporate aircraft, that doesn’t mean that its history has been boring. On the contrary—the Learjet 23 was used in the mid-1980s to film the dazzling aerial sequences of the movie Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise. While it wasn’t Tom Cruise piloting the jet, the symmetry and beauty of the flight cannot be denied. The Learjet was perhaps most famous as the jet of Frank Sinatra, used in the wooing of his soon-to-be-wife Mia Farrow, as well as the jet that Elvis Presley and Priscilla Beaulieu eloped on to Las Vegas.
Bill Lear, the founder of the Learjet, was a lifetime innovator; developing the 9-track cassette player as well as several other ideas that didn’t quite catch on. While the initial cabins on the Learjets from the ‘60s were less than five feet high, recent planes are much more comfortable and opulent.
While plagued with accidents in the early days, a focus on safety and pilot training allowed the brand to get back on track—and become the stunning example of personal luxury aircraft that it is today.