Quick Facts

Learjet Model 23

Bill Lear’s Business Jet Success 

Civilian 1960s

Gift of Duncan Aviation 

Location: Mounted outside, most southern position before atrium 

Manufactured in 1966 by William P. Lear, Sr., (1902-1978) the Lear Jet Model 23 (in time, the name and company became one word, Learjet) helped introduce the jet to general aviation. While not the first business jet (the Hawker Siddeley HS.125, Lockheed JetStar, and North American Sabreliner come to mind), the Model 23s rose to fame based on their speed, economy, and compact size. Thus, they helped pioneer an exciting new personal and business aviation field. At last, personal and corporate pilots across the globe could cruise at high speed at long range over the majority of weather conditions.  

Bill Lear based the Model 23s on the proven structural integrity of the AFA P-16 Swiss strike-fighter. His low-wing, retractable landing gear-equipped aircraft served as the second Learjet design. He sought to build a fully pressurized six to eight-seat corporate jet (nine with pilot) that would cost less than $500,000 and weigh less than 12,500 pounds. Two GE CJ610-1 or -4 turbo jets powered this fixed-wing aircraft, each producing 2,850 pounds of thrust. The first Model 23 protype flew on October 7, 1963 and logged 194 hours in 167 flights before a June 1964 test flight ended its run.  

The Air Zoo’s Learjet 

Our Model 23, with serial number 23-083, became airworthy on the first week of January 1966. Our Learjet flew for the last time in December 2004, four years after Duncan Aviation gifted the corporate jet to our collection. Welcoming guests in an outdoor display near the Air Zoo’s main entrance, our Model 23 serves as an excellent example of the pioneering spirit that pushed the business jet field open in the 1960s.  

The Inventive Mr. Lear 
The self-taught inventor, often referred to as eccentric (he named his daughter Shanda Lear), invested a good deal of money into getting his Model 23s off the ground. With an eighth-grade education and a motivation to make money, the Hannibal, Missouri native went to work early in life and enjoyed experimenting with radio and communication technologies. His early inventions led to products for RCA and Galvin Manufacturing Corporation (later, Motorola), the eight-track cassette cartridge, as well as a visual direction finder, automated landing system, and inclement weather autopilot system for the aviation field.  

Bill secured his aviation legacy with the realization of his business jet dreams in the 1960s. He first established the Swiss American Aviation Corporation in Switzerland. But by 1962, he relocated to an already booming aerospace production region in Wichita, Kansas. Bill named his business the Lear Jet Corporation. His thirst to invent persisted even after the Learjet’s major success. So, in 1967, Bill sold 65% of Learjet to allow him to follow his industrious pursuits. The Model 23’s designer died in Reno, NV in 1978. The Kansas Business Hall of Fame inducted Bill into the Hall of Fame in 2004.  
Model 23 vs. the F-100 
Because of its 1:2.2-pound engine thrust-to-weight ratio, the Model 23 can outclimb the North American F-100 Super Sabre up to 10,000 feet! That’s pretty amazing for an aircraft considered to be a light plane.