Flying the Learjet: A tribute to a great airplane

— Photo from E.A. Chevrette Jr.

A pin you cannot purchase: E.A. Chevrette Jr. says he wears his Learjet pin with great pride.

To the Editor:

I felt a certain amount of sadness when I learned that this great airplane that has been an enormous part of our aviation history will no longer be manufactured. Bombardier has decided to pull the plug on the Learjet.

As a former Learjet pilot, I feel a certain amount of pride knowing I am, in a way, part of that history.

I would like to indulge myself with you, the reader, as I reminisce about some of my experiences.

Taking myself back in time from the late 1970s to mid-1980s I am flying a Learjet model 24F — originally based out of the Columbia County Airport near Castleton, New York, then later out of the Albany international Airport in Albany, New York.

The one thing that really stands out in my mind is the great altitude capability of this airplane. Most transport category airplanes of the day cruised at 35,000 feet, while the Lear is very comfortable at 41,000 feet, and sometimes, depending on the weather and traffic, we would request 43,000 feet or flight level 430. 

At this altitude one can actually begin to see the curvature of the earth which is an awesome sight.

I embrace one particular flight at this altitude as I recall my very first flying lesson in a J-3 Cub.

The Cub is powered by a 65 horsepower, four-cylinder engine; it cruised at 75 miles per hour at 3,000 feet. The total weight of the Cub with 12 gallons of gas and two people, is 1,200 pounds.

On this particular flight, I am 40,000 feet higher than my first lesson. Each jet engine on the Lear is rated at 2,950 pounds of thrust. Airspeed is a steady Mach.77.  We are burning exactly 1,200 pounds of fuel per hour, which equates to the exact weight of the Cub. One item that is without comparison is the outside air temperature which is 60 degrees below zero on the Celsius scale.

A clear July night over New York City at 41,000 feet, to the west, a line of thunderstorms is putting on an awesome display of pyrotechnics. As if it were a large X-ray photo, each storm’s inner-working is exposed to the night sky as it marks its territory.

In an awesome display of beauty and might, the entire length of the cold front is illuminated by a barrage of lightning. Our airborne radar will only pick up storms within 400 miles of our airplane. After a conversation with air-traffic control, we are advised that this cold front is over 400 miles away and some 700 miles long.

Winter brings with it high winds, heavy snowstorms, and of course icing conditions. A nor’easter is plaguing New Jersey, New York City, and Albany.  Departing Albany, we have requested that air-traffic control clear us to the highest altitudes as fast as possible to minimize our flight time inside the storm.

The inertia belts and harnesses hold us in our seats as we encounter the turbulence. A quick visual check of the wings confirms the anti-icing on the airplane is working as the ice melts off the leading edge of the wing and departs as water over the top.

The clouds are so thick they hide the wing tip tanks from view. An overwhelming darkness requires the instrument lights to be set on high in order to see the instrument panel. The clouds and turbulence end abruptly as we pass through the top of the storm at 37,500 feet.

Not all flights are plagued with poor weather. Northbound at night on the East Coast the visibility is so great we can see the lights of cities several hundred miles away.

The Learjet is small compared to other transport category aircraft and requires a certain degree of diligence to fly one. It is based on a fighter type of aircraft that Lear converted to a civilian transport. The training is intensive and must be adhered to in order to obtain your Learjet rating.

It seems that half of my life as a pilot is spent understanding and practicing emergency procedures —  procedures that in all probability will never be used. When a Lear pilot has completed his training and earned his type rating he is presented with a small lapel pin in the shape of a Learjet.

This pin cannot be purchased and is only supplied by Lear. I wear this pin with great pride.

Even after retirement, a pilot will reflect on past airplanes flown and the passion he has for them. For me, the Learjet is one of them.

E.A. Chevrette Jr.


Editor’s note: E.A. Chevrette Jr. is the author of the book, “Wings of Fortune: Personal Tales from the ‘Golden Age of General Aviation.’”

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