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Artifact Friday: The Lear Jet 23

In the late 1950s, the inventor and entrepreneur, William Lear Sr., began to develop a company he would call Lear Jet Corporation. Up to this point, he was known for developing the first autopilot system, but he wanted to start creating aircraft designs. He opened his new company in Switzerland because he wanted to base his aircraft off of the Swiss AFA P-16 strike fighter. However, Lear wasn’t satisfied with the speed of his company in Switzerland, so he moved it to Wichita, Kansas due to the large number of aviation businesses already there.

The first designs began coming off the assembly line in 1962. After a lot of testing, the first flight occurred in October of 1963. It was a successful flight, however, the second flight ended in a crash. This was later established as pilot error and full production continued. The Lear Jet 23 was officially FAA certified July 31, 1964.

Our very own Lear Jet 23 was the ninth to roll off the assembly line.

The Lear 23 was designed as a sleek, fast, comfortable business aircraft. It had a top speed of 488 knots (562 miles per hour). Its range was 1,830 miles, and it had a 45,000-foot ceiling. It could hold five passengers and two pilots.

The Lear Jet set a speed record of a roundtrip from New York to Los Angeles in roughly ten hours. Later it set another speed record of climbing 40,000 feet in about seven minutes. Despite its initial success in the business and personal world, the Lear Jet 23 was cycled out of production in 1966 being replaced by the Lear Jet 24 and 25. From 1964 to 1966, 130 Lear Jets were produced.   

Our Lear Jet 23 was known for being an aerobatic aircraft used by Bobby Younkin. Younkin saw this aircraft’s speed, agility, and ceiling as advantages to his airshow and utilized it accordingly. He had to get special FAA approval to fly it in his airshows. Due to its acceleration and climb, the Lear Jet 23 (at that time) was one of the highest performing aerobatic planes.

Additionally, as many have heard during our guided tours, our Lear Jet 23 was also used by the infamous Barry Seal. While to our knowledge it wasn't used to smuggle illegal items, it was a jet he flew for personal use.

The Lear Jet 23 has quite the interesting history, but it is on exhibit now in our historic White Hangar.


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