““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
The latest generation of “little Lears” represents a big departure from what Bill Lear envisioned when he started his iconic company 50 years ago. The original Learjet 23 forced passengers to trade comfort for speed in a cramped cabin with few amenities and limited range. My, how times have changed. Modern Learjets maintain the signature raked windshield and nose shape of their progenitors, but virtually everything else about these airplanes is different.
The new Learjet series offers seating for up to seven passengers in the 70, nine in the 75, and includes Wi-Fi, a state-of-the-art entertainment system, galleys, closet space and even a lavatory. All this while delivering a range of just over 2,000 nautical miles (with four passengers) and without sacrificing top speed, still a brisk 465 knots. The new Lears sell for $11.1 million and $13.55 million, respectively, and should enter service later this year.
While the 70 and 75 feature new avionics, tweaked engines, revised winglets and restyled interiors, they are not new airplanes per se. Rather they build on the airframe of the Learjet 45, first delivered in 1998, and the shorter-fuselage Learjet 40 that customers began receiving in 2004. The 40 has two fewer passenger seats and 100 gallons less fuel capacity than the 45; however, it shares the 45’s engines, avionics, wing, cockpit and fuselage cross-section. Those aircraft were themselves refreshed in 2004 and 2006, respectively, with enhanced engine performance and modestly updated cabins and were renamed the 45XR and 40XR.
Both aircraft sold relatively well until 2010 when they hit just 16 deliveries combined. Last year, combined deliveries improved modestly to 24. That number not only reflects the global recession, but also the fact that the airplanes are mature products in a depressed market segment.
New engine and avionics technology helps the 70 and 75 retain the value proposition of their predecessors: midsize comfort and performance with light-jet operating costs.
The new Honeywell TFE731-40BRs in the back, at 3,850 pounds of thrust each, have 10 percent more takeoff power than the engines that powered the 40 and 45. That gives the 70 and 75, aided by new canted winglets, faster climb times, better short-field performance and improved high/hot capabilities. The engines also promise to be 4 percent more fuel efficient than the Dash 20BRs they replace and likely will be more durable: they feature improved turbine sections and make innovative use of ceramic coatings on critical components such as ducts and turbine shrouds.
Pilots will benefit from the new Bombardier Vision cockpit, which is based on the Garmin G5000 touchscreen avionics system and includes synthetic vision technology and new GWX 70 weather radar. It also allows pilots to control cabin lighting and to dial directly into the Aircell ATG 5000 Wi-Fi system or the Iridium satphone via the touchscreens while wearing their headsets.
In the cabin, the 70 and 75 borrow innovations from the still-under-development, all-composite, midsize-plus Learjet 85. They include sidewall cutouts for increased onboard personal storage, a smoother-looking headliner and revamped passenger service units. Seats have been refoamed and resculpted in two-tone leather for added comfort and a more modern appearance; however, they use the same frames as the seats on the 40 and 45.
The 70 and 75 galleys are new, too. The Learjet 75 has a 30 percent larger galley than the 45—enough room to serve eight passengers—thanks to elimination of the right-hand forward closet. The lavatory has been redesigned, yielding a more modern look and better functionality with more storage space. Compared with their progenitors, the 70 and 75 come with a wider selection of cabin materials and finishes. While the cabin volumes of these Lears are largely unchanged from those of their predecessors, the way the space is used and presented makes a huge difference in these airplanes.
The updated and lightweight Lufthansa Nice HD (high definition) cabin-management and entertainment system enhances the passenger experience. Lufthansa Technik originally developed Nice for its airliner VVIP interior completions and quickly migrated it into smaller aircraft, including the super-midsize Bombardier Challenger 300. As in the Challenger, the Nice systems aboard the 70 and 75 use transducers mounted behind panels in place of speakers to produce uniform sound throughout the cabin regardless of the ambient noise generated by aircraft movement.
Nice HD will be more compact and functional aboard the Learjet 70 and 75 with fewer control boxes and thin seven-inch HD monitors that pop up at each passenger position. The Wi-Fi network and cabin functions can be controlled by a downloadable app and graphical user interface for a passenger’s smartphone or other electronic device. An optional Blu-ray-player-sized media center can be upgraded to provide audio/video on demand and act as a server for moving maps, DVDs and other video. Up to two applications can be played back simultaneously in HD. The system is highly configurable and features an open-architecture design that makes for easy updating. It satisfies all approved encryption and digital-rights-management requirements for streaming HD.
All of these performance and comfort improvements augment the airplanes’ historical value and already have generated strong market interest. Learjets used to just get you there fast; now they also let you travel in comfort with plenty of connectivity.
*includes a seat on belted toilet, **four passengers