I was an A&P for Lear Fan in 1981, working experimental in Stead. The skin was carbon graphite, with the engine nacelles being kevlar. The twin driveshafts induced a lot of vibration in the airframe, in addition to the prop, engine gearbox (Western Gear), and aerodynamics. Hank Beaird was the chief test pilot when I was de-FOD'ing the ramp (pushing a broom) in front of the experimental hangar (where the Rare Bear kept a spare prop). Hank was always upbeat when he came in after a test flight. This time was no exception when I asked him, "How did it go?" Came the usual reply- "Great, just great!" as he entered the trailer office (that had a window open for ventilation) for a test flight debrief. The door slammed shut and immediately Hank was shouting, "That damned airplane is going to kill me!" referring to the vibration. Afterwards, that became a running joke. When we were having a difficult day, we'd say, "Today is great, just great!"
The design of the entry door was a mechanically complex affair created by an engineer who had designed camera mechanisms. The emergency egress system was an elaborate affair- using multiple stages of systems. If the attitude control became an issue, the pilot would detonate a mechanical guillotine that would chop the pusher propeller ("fan") off allowing a ballistic parachute to deploy from between the V tail. If that didn't do it, they resorted to detonating a linear charge of plastic explosives positioned around the cabin entry door on the INSIDE of the cabin. That would cut skin and support structure, hopefully leaving a clean hole. The pilot would then actuate a pneudraulic actuator that would drive the pilot's seat to in front of the gaping hole and would rotate the seat so that it was facing outwards. He would disconnect his 5 point harness. To the left of the pilot was a bulkhead that had a rocket engine on the other side from the pilot. The rocket engine had a long lanyard with an attaching fitting. The pilot would grab the lanyard attachment and hook it to a ring (on top of his helmet) that connected to a chest harness. He would then actuate the rocket and it would reportedly drag him about 100 yards before the chute would deploy. The co-pilot would have to disconnect his 5 point, hang on to an overhead knotted rope that he would use to position himself into the pilot's hopefully now vacated seat. (Did you disconnect your 5 point?) He would have to attach the rocket lanyard to the ring on his helmet and punch it off, hopefully following his compatriot (or maybe dragging what was left with him).
Because of the rush to TC, some things were sometimes overlooked, like conformity inspections of fabricated parts. Mechanics were told to grab parts out of Inspection before Inspection had time to evaluate conformity to engineering and then sign off. When the FAA stumbled across these incidents, they finally decreed that because the FAA had no assurance if the parts on the airplane were to spec, then none of the data generated (including telemetry) was going to be accepted for certification. Thus, Learfan needed to make another test article, following the established FAA guidelines for documentation. I attribute this screw up by Learfan as the kiss of death as costs rocketed.
The Lear Fan had problems with static build up in the fuselage generating stray currents. One of the mechanics had an engine nacelle off and had his arms around the PT6, getting a face full of engine. Somehow a firebottle squib fired and released this huge cloud of halon that enveloped the tech. It startled him so badly that he disentangled himself from the engine and he lept off the stand, running in midair, like a cartoon character.
Lear Fan was entertaining an Arab oil sheik for a week who was interested in buying multiple aircraft. He was wined and dined- no expense was spared. Then on a Friday someone noticed that the sheik was in the local newspaper. He was an escaped mental patient from Washington. As mechanics, sometimes we had to grub for material and once we entered into one of Bill Lear's warehouses. There was something low slung on the floor, under a tarp. Underneath was his steam powered race car! Very cool.
Just some random stories. Cheers
william graham, e-mail, 07.01.2021 15:18
Hi everyone, after Learfan Belfast I worked 35years with Airbus, I'm writing up my history, all these comments bring back great memories. We were so far ahead of the curve in composite technology and ways of working. I had the good fortune to see the aircraft in Reno when I went there with Ozzie Morris QC Manager, replaced by David Skilling. Well remember some of my US colleagues; Tom Rose, Del Strelow, there was a Geff? and Marvin working there also. I worked with Larry Larkin, he was QC from Reno ex FAA?. Billy Moore was Head of Production. Anyone out there with more names, exhausted my research on the Belfast side.
Mahsa, e-mail, 06.11.2020 23:13
Hello! I have a few questions of 2100 please email me if u can thanks
Heather Larkin Wilson, e-mail, 08.09.2020 21:44
Chuck- did you happen to work with my father Larry Larkin? We were Americans at the Newtonabbey - Belfast plant
Larry Blair, e-mail, 12.09.2016 00:54
I was a structures engineer on the Learfan 2100. Moved to Reno/Stead at the beginning of the program from Anaheim, CA. The first flight vehicle was N626BL which is in the History of Flight Museum in Seattle, Washington. There were lots of complications and delays that kept us from flying by the 31st of December. The MLG landing gear System was not complete and flew on the 32nd with the gear welded down. I still have all my pictures of the first flight signed by the test pilots Hank Beard and Dennis Newton, also an artist rendition signed by Moya Lear that all employees received.The main reason the program didn't get off the ground was that we were not able to get the Gearbox manufactured by Western Gear certified for an airplane. This type of gearbox had only been used on helicopters at this time.
Mark W, e-mail, 04.12.2015 18:12
So many enthusiasts! As I mentioned before, I have 3 unique photographs of all 3 flying prototypes on the ramp together, the only day that that situation ever occurred. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can send you the pics.
Tom Rose, e-mail, 25.09.2015 08:23
Rose; Dale Leier There is a set of prints on micro fish?? spelling. The are owned by ex learfan employees ..Contact me by email email@example.com ...No issues just would want to know what and why and would have to contact others that own them.
Dale Leier, e-mail, 05.06.2015 20:06
Have been trying to track down the blueprints. According to the curator from the Museum of Flight in Seattle, the last he heard they were still stored in Reno. However, the manager there said they had since been removed and no idea where they may have gone. If anybody has any idea where on the trail they may be, please help me to preserve this essential body of aviation history.
Mark W., e-mail, 17.05.2015 00:27
The Lear Fan program ended in May of 1985. I was there on the last day when Moya gave her farewell address, standing on the stairs in one of the hangers. The vending contractor was pulling his machines out, the sheriff was standing by to padlock the buildings. Lots of tears.
Anton, e-mail, 04.05.2015 00:49
...Uhhh...correction: That would have been '83 or '84 @the Meadowlands Raceway,NJ area. My 'bestie' corrected me, as we had talked about it during H.S. after that summer and it was before we went to college AND, significantly before th eprogram was axed!['86- '87]
Anton, e-mail, 04.05.2015 00:36
There is not enough publications and collective documentation available upon this exquisite Bill Lear project plane!
So underrated and unsung its a crime! I was in the Meadowlands, NJ sometime around the summer of 1986 or '87 at th elarge, open air flea market they hold there. I could swear I saw it fly overhead at low level, on what looked like a landing approach header...unmistakeable profile! I was a big enthusiast of it then and really hoped it would become the norm of light aircraft. I wouldn't know how to confirm if that was what I actually saw that day...I wish I could hear from a pilot on that matter.
I really would like a set of digital file plans to build up an R/C model; the 1/7th plans that are out there is not the size I'd like.
Chuck, e-mail, 10.03.2015 01:38
I worked on Proto 1 and later transferred to the training group until the Fan was sadly closed.
Your envelope is correct, the rest of the modern world as we know it, is wrong on this one...
You see England had financed the construction of the Lear Fan with 2 provisos, 1. the prototype must fly by the end of year. 2. The plane was to be built in N. Ireland to provide work for those over there who are unemployed and other wise disgruntled with the English Government.
Back to item one... As luck would have it we used up all of our contractual time getting the plane ready to fly. So in the waining hours of daylight with all the taxi tests and requisite checks completed. The plan was to take the plane on one more high speed run, turn the aircraft around and do a "spruce-goose" stile short hop up and down. Thus meeting all the contractual agreements, or spirit of same, for our backers the English Government.
However... On that last run, some thing didn't feel right to our test pilots, and when they went to slow down for the turn around the brakes locked-up. Then the severely overheated left brake failed catastrophically (see also... exploded).
With daylight dwindling, spares were brought out and the damaged brake and wheel were once again serviceable.
As dusk settled over Stead...it was check list time... all was good, ready for throttle up... then the unthinkable happened... during the final check a glove, the pilots flight suit sleeve snagged the engine fire extinguisher handle setting off the bottle in the engine compartment.
As the sun sank behind Peavine Mountain so did our morale...
Rue Britannia... Her majesty's representative was duly impressed with our efforts and phoned in his report he recommended the contract be extended to allow us to fly the next day. On the other side of the Atlantic his boss knowing a good opportunity when he sees it, told the rep. no problem go ahead and fly and he would cover us with paper.
The next day upon arriving at work we were told that December now has 32 days this year...by decree of the Queen! ...and sure enough with in a week a courier from England arrived presenting Lear Fan with a Royal Decree (on parchment no less) fully clichéd and ribboned, stamped and counter signed as appropriate and bearing the Signature Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of England.
So December 32nd is the correct date for that year...
The employees of Lear each got one envelope, inside was a coin struck for the occasion with a likeness of Bill Lear and the Lear Fan on it. Regards,
Dale Leier, e-mail, 08.02.2015 21:15
I have been a fan of Bill Lear all my life and even have a signed (rejection) letter for a rotary engine design I submitted during the steam car era. After the LearFan went titters I connected with Moya and was offered the prototypes, blueprints and parts package for $3M. Of course this was out of reach for a young air traffic controller.
As the basic airframe design remains contemporary all this time, other carbon fibre/pusher aircraft sales have validated the concept. Also very light jets make sales gains while the Learjet 85 composite project is on indefinite hold. With single engine turbines now the norm (e.g. Pilatus PC12, Cessna Caravan, Socata TBM and Piper Meridian) I think it is time to revisit the Learfan.
I have posted the idea on JumpStartFund.com as the RealAvia RealFan2100 with obvious reference to the genius that was William Powel Lear. The difference I propose is to drop the second engine altogether and stick to a proven single engine design.
I'm obviously not alone in my passion for the man and his design. Anyone else interested in helping to revive at least the basic design in tribute?
Tom Rose, e-mail, 14.07.2014 23:26
I fully concur with the opinion that the failure of the program had very little to do with either the FAA or the basic design.
Joe Olson, e-mail, 20.06.2014 00:43
I was there for the Lear charger & steam bus and don't forget the Lear alegria later to become the G series I think to the end of Bill Lear; He was always good to our family and so was Moya and their kids. I grew up with the Lear family and enjoyed every day. I was very lucky.
Ron Campbell, e-mail, 24.02.2014 05:54
I recently picked up a envelope with the dec 32nd post mark. It was attached to a signed lithograph of the Learfan. Just trying to find out how many envelopes were postmarked. And maybe figure out who signed the art. It has two names and the dates 12-79--5-85. please feel free to tell me what you might know.
David, e-mail, 10.11.2013 19:02
I worked at Lear Reno. I started on Proto 1 and was there for four years. I still have much original information.
John J Morton, e-mail, 05.11.2013 15:43
Worked on Learfan in Newtownabbey plant , Northern Ireland for 4 years,good job,great working environment, the very best of mates to be with...would any of the U/S contractors, notably BOB STEWART still be about...a great pity the plug was pulled on it,a very sad day.
Mark Watson, e-mail, 29.05.2013 22:44
I have the only photographs ever taken of all 3 flying prototypes side-by-side on the flight ramp in front of the hanger. It was the only time all three had been together outdoors, and I happened to have my camera with me because the Reno Air Races were to start. It was late 1984 or early 1985. I stayed on the program until Moya gave us her farewell speach, just before the sheriff padlocked the doors.
roman, e-mail, 13.02.2013 05:55
I followed this plane's progress in the aviation magazines on a monthly basis. The projected fuel consumption would have beaten the other exec-jet companies to a pulp. Perhaps this is the forerunner of that plane with the twin pusher props and the winglets ahead of the main wings - you all know that one...
Stuart, e-mail, 01.02.2013 08:01
Error in S/N should be E003 not E006. E003 is hanging in the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas. If I remember E006 was one of the structural test articles.
Stuart, e-mail, 01.02.2013 04:54
Kurt, I worked on Proto 1 and E006. Where are you located and sense you are working on E009 what are you doing?
Mike, e-mail, 19.11.2012 22:22
Did anyone ever consider using counter-rotating propellers with each engine turning seperate shafts?
tom geberth, e-mail, 23.10.2012 20:47
I never saw one of these before,then I got the word to disassemble one to get painted and put on static display at the FAA in Oklahoma city.It had been stored in a lot at the FAA for years. Sn 009 N-98LF
Kurt, e-mail, 19.10.2012 21:58
Im working on SN-009 at this moment.
richard, e-mail, 02.06.2012 06:18
the 2100 was befor its design time , the gear box and gear box cooling due to manfactue engineering skill level failed lear beon question . and remember the flying wing it dident make it eather. the big boys in aircraft manfacturing made sure the goverment would not approve lear design . todays engineering proves beon question lear was correct . yes you would see the 2100 flying today or one equial to it . no question about it .
Scott Boyd, e-mail, 09.04.2012 07:05
Everything else aside the airframe is still a Lear and is still decades ahead of anything that is in production now. Having flown the 24 and 25 they are still as advanced as most commercial aircraft built today.
I had an 8-track in my Volkswagen Bus, in the early 70's, when I was in College, the bus was 6 volt so I had a wooden box for the 8-track and a 12volt battery. Charged the battery every couple of months, but the 8-track was a Lear, I had been given, worked great and lasted a long time.
The jet pump is probably the most important advancement, but there is a lot more that was there in the 23, which was not that much harder to fly and got much improved with the 24.
I could see the LearAvia at 51,000 and .80. Much faster would be pretty easy though, with a new wing.
Chiuck Colby, e-mail, 09.04.2012 00:40
I knew Bill Lear Jr. And also Steve Wozniac and I introduced them in my living room in 1980 Woz ordered a Lear Fan from Bill but since there were so many delays in the Lear Fan project Woz cancelled his order and bought another airplane.
He had only taken a few flying lessons when he decided to take his new airplane up without his instructor He crashed the plane and almost died in the crash
I have videos of the first flights of the learFan that Bill gave to me. I need to digitize them and put them on YouTube
Michael Mears, e-mail, 28.01.2012 00:49
I was employed at Lear Fan as a Buyer.
Scott Boyd, e-mail, 04.05.2011 06:34
The airframe design would be just as revolutionary today and with the latest composite technology could be even lighter and easier to build. The problem that remains unsolved is the gearbox and single propeller, while it works well on helicopters, the rotor can autorotate, with a propeller autorotation of the prop creates huge amounts of drag and takes you to your crash site even faster then if it is feathered. Add to it losing the gearbox with two good engines and I still scratch my head wondering while Bill Lear continued with it as long as he did.
Instead of weight and complication it would be much easier to stick a couple of current generation Williams engines to it and doing away with the prop and gearbox. Lighter and more fuel efficient it would put the Mustang and the other lite jets to shame.
Mark, e-mail, 03.05.2011 23:49
Hi, I think the 2100 would be very competitive today. Jet speeds with turbo efficiency. For efficient manufacturing, the fuselage would need to be filament-wound, as opposed to the mold lay-up process we used back then. A big part of its fuel efficiency came from the pusher-prop configuration, which drives a unique aft fuselage design. That airframe slipped through the air very smoothly. I don't know about the weights, but I would bet my house that the 2100 propulsion system overall was much lighter than the Skymaster. Here's more trivia: On one of the last two days in operation (in 1985), we in engineering were looking through some of Bill's old notebooks. We came across one that showed, in pencil sketches, the evolution of the engine inlets. It started with one inlet on top of the fuselage. As the weight and target speeds grew, so did the thrust requirement, so so did the inlet, which cycled around several times. Each sketch showed that inlet a little bit larger in diameter. Eventually, it was about half the diameter of the fuselage! The next sketch in the book was of the 2100 with an inlet on each side. take care.
Markus, e-mail, 29.04.2011 22:29
Hi, Apart from the engine, would the airframe (layout) be competitive nowadays (Y-tail configuration, ...). How did actual weight come in compared to orig. planned? Unfortunately there is little information available, at least what I have come across so far. What would have been the weight (& performance?) penalty by using an engine layout like the Cessna Skymaster (push-pull configuration)?
mark, e-mail, 09.03.2011 17:26
Here's some trivia; In the photo above is the 2nd flying prototype. The tail number, N626BL, reflects June 26 Bill Lear. June 26 is his birthday. The 3rd flying prototype, N327ML, is, you guessed it, March 27 Moya Lear. March 27 is her birthday. We referred to the planes as Engineering models, and they were commonly called E1, E2, and E3. The wax-in-the-gearbox idea in 1979 was tossed out because it just didn't work. They found that by the time the wax melted and spread, the gb was already overtemped. In 1984 we were still trying to meet FAA requirements for no oil, and finally got the spin-jet thing to do the job. The reason for the Dec 32nd first flight date is that on Dec 31, on taxi out for first flight the plane seized a brake. It took all night to fix it. The write-up says LF went bankrupt in 1984. It was actually May (I think) of 1985. I was out of work for 5 months, starting at Mcdonnell Douglas in Oct, 1985. Article also says "two PT-6 turboprops on a common shaft". Each engine actually had its own low-speed output shaft (about 75 rpm) driving into the helicopter gearbox.
Mark, e-mail, 09.03.2011 17:01
The FAA did not deal the death blow to the lear Fan. That was delivered by Bob Birch, who wrote the checks with Saudi money, then they just became bored with the project and pulled the plug. I was the electrical systems design engineer on the plane up until the day they shut the doors.
The difference between the single gearbox, single fan on this plane and the same design on a helicopter is that a helicopter has auto-rotation. The dry gearbox issue had been solved by the use of a small oil tank feeding a "spin jet" in the gearbox, spraying oil on the main gears every X number of seconds (i don't recall how many). The FAA requirement was that we had to fly for 45 minutes with no oil in the gb. At Western Gear in L.A. we ran the fan on their test fixture, with the spin-jet system, for over 3 hours. I was designing the control and monitoring system for the oil spray, and had already completed the Preliminary Design Review, when they came down and said to roll up all blue prints, write a note about where we were at with the work, and exit the building. The last thing we did was gather in the hanger for Moya's farewell speach. Very sad day. Again: The Lear Fan program was shut down because the Saudi prince (who flew on our Space Shuttle a few months later) didn't want to play any more.
airboss, e-mail, 28.09.2010 19:07
One of the Learfans (N21LF) is located at the Museum of Flight, Dallas Love Field. I believe another is located at the museum close to Boeing in Seattle, WA
John Burford, e-mail, 18.09.2010 00:49
Does anyone know where one of the three prototypes are today?
tfm, e-mail, 21.08.2010 21:31
It was a good idea but if you look at the three competitive entries in that market, Piagio 180, Beech Starship 2000, and LearFan 2100; what do the two failures have in common? LINDEN BLUE. Don't blame the FAA for decisions made by management.
Dave, e-mail, 10.08.2010 02:53
It wouldn't suprise me to learn that the government had something to do with the demise of this fantastic aircraft, and used the FAA to deal the death blow.
The single gearbox issue with two engines turning a single prop is hard to understand since thousands of helicopters use the same design!
Some forward thinking aviation individuals should take up where Lear left off and push this design.
David, e-mail, 09.06.2010 08:07
Even with the gearbox being named the single point failure it still met the type design as far as the safeties were concerned. The safeties being if the gearbox ran out of oil as the temp increased would melt a wax block internal to provide lubrication for continued operation to land safely. The engine runs on Christmas of 1979 with no oil in the gearbox were proven to meet a safe operation for many hours. Had the FAA not created so many reasons for this aircraft not to be certified, such as LEAR being required to make everything three times more compliant than the FAR's rules, we would have seen hundreds of these awesome vehicles on today's market. The gearbox in my opinion was the authorities final scapegoat to not certify the aircraft because they did not understand the technological advance of this aircraft! I would like to take the time to thank the entire LEAR FAN Team for inspiring me in my aviation career, oh so many childhood memories! I can tell you in 1999 when Moya sang at my wedding reception she still believed and was still excited about the accomplishments of the LEAR FAN. Come on LEAR FAN 2 - "Don't tell me it can't be done, We did it!" - Quote from Moya Olsen Lear.
Doug Rodrigues, e-mail, 13.03.2010 11:19
I actually got to see this thing fly at the Stead Airport north of Reno, Nv. during the flight testing. If it hadn't been for the manufacturer of the transmission who failed to produce it as exactly per design, the plane would probably be flying now.
phil, e-mail, 16.02.2010 15:55
John you're behind the times. Check out the twin contra rotating 4 bladed props on the Fairey Gannet anti-submarine aircraft, built in the 1950's by the British !
Jim Fackler, e-mail, 25.01.2010 02:08
Not only the single propeller - but the single gearbox - was problematic. As for a contrarotating prop with only one prop running... Dynamically that would give the prop engineers a headache of monumental proportions. Even the TU-95 either runs both or nothing. Under power on the ground the LF2100 rumbled like a freight train...
dB, e-mail, 01.10.2009 08:20
Note corrected email address, a late-in-the-evening error.
dB, e-mail, 01.10.2009 08:17
I worked the summer of 1980 at Lear Fan before a flying prototype was built. I ironically found the pace somewhat slow, having come from construction where a moment is never wasted. Nonetheless, it was extremely exciting working with something that was so far ahead of its day. I marvel at the design and spec's for this aircraft today, even in comparison to today's extremely advanced ships that incorporate much of the same technology. John's idea of circumventing the single gearbox with a contra-rotating prop design is brilliant. Too bad it wasn't considered in the original development.
John, e-mail, 27.10.2008 21:27
I followed this planes development when I was a kid and I became a huge fan. Sadly the Feds felt it would not be safe due to 2 engines turning a single blade. This resulted in it not getting its certification. I opened a thread in Yahoo Answers to see if it would be possible to build the Lear Fan, but using 2 blades instead of one. How? By using contra rotating blades, but each powered by its own engine. My hope is the feds would see this as safer, but knowing them they would nix it just because it is different. I guess the Piaggio Avanti comes pretty close, but it using pushers in a side by side configuration and is not quite as efficient, but it comes pretty close. While you are at it, look up the B-36 pusher.
Zade, e-mail, 29.06.2008 23:01
are they for sale how much,who sells them
Richard, e-mail, 28.02.2008 10:41
hey where can i get detailed dimensions for this plane?
Joseph, e-mail, 01.11.2007 00:49
Love the idea rear mounted power plant to reduce cabin noise