Bill Lear – Father of the Corporate Jet

Since I was a young adult I’ve always been an admirer of Bill Lear. The inventor of the car radio, the 8-track music cartridge and, among other things, the business jet that bears his name. Lear, who was born 115 years ago today, had a notable sense of humor, naming his second daughter Crystal Shanda (who they always called Shanda).

Bill Lear

Bill Lear – Inventor & Aviation Pioneer

I came to know about Lear in the early 70s when I was in the audience at a taping of the Merv Griffin show in Los Angeles. Lear was a guest on the show along with the McWhirter twin brothers — Ross and Norris — founders of the Guinness Book of Records. A few years later in 1975 Ross was murdered by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). In 1977 Lear would die in Reno of Leukemia. He was 75.

Bill Lear was a creative genius, a self-taught radio engineer with an 8th grade education. After a nearly 50 year career he received well over 120 patents. Shanda said of her father, Dad was always scribbling ideas and designs on restaurant napkins and table cloths, all the while telling jokes and discussing the infinite possibilities of the mind.

Lear was controversial, a demanding taskmaster, described as a hot-headed dictator. John Zimmerman, a former aviation writer said people would like Bill one minute and hate the ground he walked on the next…. Working for Bill was very, very difficult. He surrounded himself with good people, but it was not an easy life.

Sometime after developing the car radio, and helping to create Motorola in about 1930, Lear struck out on his own and founded Lear Developments, specializing in aviation instruments and electronics. Over the next 32 years as president, and later Chairman of the Board, his achievements in the industry were legendary. His inventions included navigational radios, the first autopilot for jet aircraft and the first fully automatic aircraft landing system.

His company, headquartered in Santa Monica, California by 1962 employed 5,000 with plants in California, Michigan, Ohio and Germany. But after a falling out with company officials that same year Lear sold his interest for over $14-million. It was then that he formed what eventually became Lear Jet Industries headquartered in Wichita, Kansas.

The Learjet 23 developed just a year later was the first ever cheap, mass produced business jet and the industry never looked back. By 1975 the company had produced over 500 Learjets. A Learjet would go on to hold the speed record for a cross-continent Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. flight in 1983. It took 4 hours 12 minutes. That record remained until it was broken seven years later. This time it was the SR-71 and it took just 64 minutes.

Today Learjet is a division of the Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier Aerospace. Still made in Wichita with over 3000 employees the Learjet 70 and 75 are the most trusted light jet aircraft among Fortune 50 and 500 companies.

Bill Lear’s humor was legendary. Here are a few of what came to be known as Learisms:

On aerodynamics: “If it looks good, it will fly good.”

On management: “If you put up half of the money, you get to make half of the decisions.”

On reducing weight in the Learjet: “I’d sell my grandmother to save one pound.”

When criticized you couldnt stand up in a Learjet: “You can’t stand up in a Cadillac either”

“Publicity is good, no matter how bad.”

All rich geniuses are supposed to be eccentric. So I am. 

~~ Bill Lear ~~

In July 1978 Lear was posthumously inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame.

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Music Monday – My Father the Singer, Songwriter

Next Saturday June 17th would be my father’s birthday. I don’t remember him. I was two years old when he died, but I think of him often, a lot more so as I’ve grown older. It seems he’s never far from my thoughts. Over the years I heard a lot about him. Of course he was loved by his family and he exemplified love as a devoted son, brother and uncle. People said he was kind-hearted with a great sense of humor.

Richard Delmont Lines (1924-1955)

Described as tall, good-looking, broad-shouldered and physically strong he was also blessed with musical talent. It was said he was a gifted singer, well versed at playing guitar and a songwriter.

My dad, like his nine other siblings who lived into adulthood, had a rough life growing up. Coming from a broken home, they struggled through the years of the depression. At a very young age they often had to fend for themselves… just to eat. And on occasion some found themselves at odds with the law.

In talking about those days and their tough, undisciplined childhood an uncle described one of his brothers as “one rough character, eleven years old and packing a thirty-eight revolver.” That young boy, through his own determination, overcame those beginnings, and even before the war, was well on the road to turning his life around. He would go on to honorably serve his country as a combat soldier. He was one of the most respected, admired and finest men I’ve ever known.
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Died on the Fourth of July

On this day as we gather our families together with picnics and fireworks to celebrate our country’s independence I can’t help but think of my 2nd great-grandfather Edward Byron Patton. He was 34 years old on this date in 1860. Less than a year later Abraham Lincoln would become president. The father of 4 small children ages 1-6, the youngest, my great grandmother Mary Jane.

Edward Byron Patton

Edward Byron Patton

There was no celebration for Edward or his family on that Fourth of July and I would imagine it was tainted every year after. For on that morning his 27-year old wife Esther passed away. A newspaper account read that so greatly admired was she, and through respect to her memory in their small town, “all patriotic demonstrations were suspended and not an unnecessary sound was heard throughout the day.”

Edward never remarried and over all those years ahead, as a single father, he raised his children. Along the way he became a successful builder and contractor. I can imagine he was a beloved father, grandfather and patriarch.

I often think of what it must have been like for my great grandfather on that solemn day, traditionally set aside for happy celebration. I wonder what it would have been like to have watched him on that day conduct his affairs with the loss of his young wife. He was once a breathing living person, as real as you and I. Not just a name with dates and places among a long list of thousands who came before us. How I would like to set across the table from him and get to know him.

That’s a little of what I think about, every 4th of July.

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A Letter to Friends and Citizens

Washington_Farewell_Broadside

A broadside of Washington’s Farewell Address, from the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress

It came to be known as George Washington’s Farewell Address.  But it was never given as a speech. Distributed instead as a letter to the people of the United States it’s considered one of the most important documents in American history.

In his letter to “Friends and Citizens,” Washington devoted most of it to offer advice as a “parting friend” on what he believed were the greatest threats to the survival of a fledging nation. Among his subjects were foreign relations and free trade, credit and government borrowing as well as political factions and the party system. The letter is a masterpiece and, although written 218 years ago, his advice is worthy of our attention as it still governs much of our public affairs today. Just as Ronald Reagan did more recently George Washington looked ahead to the country’s future with great optimism.

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Aces and Eights

WildBillCombo

James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok epitomized the adventureous men of the wild west I envisioned as a boy. He was among my favorite characters I read and heard about, and made even more famous, in the television and film westerns of the 50s and 60s. Characters that included the likes of Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, the fictional Marshall Matt Dillon, Bret Maverick and Paladin from Have Gun – Will Travel. All of them good guys, ‘cept they all wore black hats, Dillon the single exception! Hickok lived a most interesting life of notoriety, some said he was the fastest gun in the west, but, as boys are apt to be, I was most intrigued by the drama and circumstances of his death. Continue reading

James Garner – Actor, Poker Player

BretMaverick

The Young, Dashing Bret Maverick

I’ve been distracted of late, it isn’t the first time but this blog is never far from my mind. I’m always conflicted on what to write about and how long these entries should be, not to mention finding the time to concentrate on whatever subject it is I finally choose.

Realizing I post regularly to my Facebook page on a myriad of subjects I got to thinking today: Why not just expound on some of those same things here within my blog? After all, each entry doesn’t have to be a lengthy epic of paragraph after paragraph of astounding, deep-thinking commentary. It just needs to be a sharing of a single thought or two on my interest of the day, something I hope worthy of sharing with you my regulars. Something “compelling” would be a word a friend often uses. So, here goes!

By-the-way, thanks as always for stopping by!

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Young Love: War Interrupted

Stories of young love are often remembered as the folly of our youth. They are the stuff that is part of growing up. A few sometimes strike our youthful, tender spirits with the sting of heartbreak, just as it can in adulthood. Such is puppy love and the price we pay for being teenagers. But few young romances are enveloped in the drama of war, surrounded by a devastated world. This is the story of Anne and Peter Schiff and of a missing image that took more than 60 years to be discovered. Continue reading