The Learjet 23, the brainchild of brilliant engineer and inventor Bill Lear, was the first purpose-built business jet and was responsible for establishing the modern business aviation sector as we know it today. 101 Learjet 23s were manufactured throughout the course of its two-year manufacturing run (1964–1966), and it served as the prototype for 30 years, for further Learjet models, including the now-famous Learjet 24, Learjet 31, and Learjet 35.
The globe raced to create a locally made fighter plane after World War Two. Because both the British and the Germans had built their own fighter jets during the conflict, they were able to use them in battle—often with lethal results. Other nations, like Switzerland, were also working on constructing their own fighter jets, despite the US and Soviet Union leading this worldwide scramble because they didn’t want to depend on British-made fighters or lose their domestic aircraft manufacturing sectors.
The P-16 is a single-seat, high-speed jet interceptor that was first developed by the Swiss aircraft manufacturer Flug- und Fahrzeugwerke Altenrhein (FFA) in 1947. FFA sent the design to the Swiss Air Force for approval once it was finished in 1952. Intrigued, the high brass of the Swiss Air Force placed an order for two prototypes, and the first one took to the skies on April 35, 1955. Despite both prototypes making a total of 332 flights, the second prototype becoming the only Swiss-built aircraft to break the sound barrier, and the Swiss Air Force ordering 100 P-16s, the project was abandoned due to the crashes of the two prototypes.
The Swiss Air Force acquired British-made Hawker Hunters in its place. Their purchase of Hawker Hunters and the cancellation of their contract, however, did not deter FFA. Instead, in an effort to find a foreign buyer, they decided to keep the initiative running as a private business. FFA asked an American engineer named Bill Lear to evaluate their aircraft and offer suggestions in an effort to make the P-16 more appealing to global purchasers.
Bill Lear founded the Swiss American Aircraft Corporation (SAAC) in 1962 to create a jet-powered corporate/VIP transport aircraft, using the failed FFA P-16 ground attack fighter as the basis. The first aircraft, the Lear Jet 23, first flew on October 7, 1963, and went public in 1964, causing a frenzy on Wall Street.
Despite Bill’s assistance in improving the design, no customer for the P-16 materialized, and FFA formally ended the project in 1961. FFA saw failure whereas Bill saw an opportunity. Lear began work on building a corporate transport that included features of the P-16’s design after establishing the Swiss American Aviation Corporation (SAAC), hiring several of the engineers responsible for the P-16, and hiring the overthrown King Michael I of Romania as a test pilot.
Any size of aircraft development has never been inexpensive, but over the past 30 years, expenses have risen tremendously as a result of laws like the FAA’s new safety criteria and employee salary increases. As a result, the time it takes to construct an aircraft and the amount of money it costs have both increased. This has forced aircraft makers to repeatedly re-engineer their designs. The cost of these expensive new technologies, including Computer Assisted Design (CAD), has increased the annual salary expense for aircraft manufacturers regardless of their advancement. Learjet built off the framework of previous jets to reduce development costs and training costs, but this ultimately doomed the company.