An iconic image of the "lifestyles of the rich and famous" has always been the Learjet, the private jet of choice for celebrities and the well heeled. On February 11, 2020, Learjet's owner, Canadian airplane maker Bombardier, announced that at the end of 2021, after 60 years, it will be ceasing production of the jet.
The reason for this change: the Learjet isn't big enough or luxurious enough for today's customers.
Bombardier acquired Learjet in 1990, and the line of planes is manufactured in Wichita, Kansas. Between the U.S. and Canada, a total of 1,600 jobs will be lost, with 700 jobs being eliminated in Quebec, 100 in Ontario, 250 in Wichita, and another 100 scattered across the U.S.
On the announcement of the end of Learjet, Bombardier's shares dropped 11% on the Toronto stock exchange.
Among the first private jets
The Learjet was created by American engineer and inventor William Lear, who based his design on Swiss military jets. The original Learjet, which could fly as fast as a Boeing 707, was first flown in 1963, and since then over 3,000 have been built. William Lear also invented the automobile radio and the eight-track stereo tape player for automobiles.
The public first became aware of the Learjet during the 1960s when celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and his "rat pack" began appearing in photographs that showed them either boarding or stepping off the planes.
In 1967, Frank Sinatra famously lent his personal Learjet to Elvis Presley so that Presley could fly from Palm Springs, California to Las Vegas in order to marry his sweetheart, Priscilla. A 2012 photo of tennis star Novak Djokovic shows him posed next to his Learjet 45 XR on a tarmac in Bermuda.
Perhaps most famously, in October 1999, professional golfer Payne Stewart and four other passengers were flying a Learjet from Stewart's home in Florida to a golf tournament in Texas. When air traffic controllers couldn't raise the plane, Air Force jets were scrambled to intercept and examine the aircraft.
The Air Force pilots reported seeing the Learjet's windows iced over, which meant that the plane had failed to pressurize and that its occupants were likely incapacitated or already dead. When it ran out of gas, the plane crashed in South Dakota, far afield from its original course, killing all on board.
In 2015, Bombardier had stopped the creation of a new model, the Learjet 85, citing weak demand, and recently, production of Learjets had slowed down to only once a month. In its announcement, Bombardier said that it will continue to support the existing Learjet fleet.
Learjet had competition
In 1963, Dassault Falcon released its first executive jet, the Mystere 20, and in 1966, that plane made an appearance in Audrey Hepburn's movie, How to Steal a Million. In 1966, Gulfstream released its Gulfstream II, which set the standard for large-cabin private jets.
In September 1969, Cessna released its first Citation small jet, and in 1976, the first private jet having three engines, the Dassault Falcon 50, took its maiden flight. In November 1978, the Canadair Challenger took flight, forming the basis for Bombardier's CRJ family of regional aircraft.
It wasn't until 1993 that Cessna released its Citation X, and the current version of that aircraft is now the fastest private jet in the world, capable of flying at Mach 0.935 or just under the speed of sound.
The 1990s saw the release of the Learjet 45 and the Beechcraft Premier I. In 1996, Cessna released its Citation XLS, which became one of the world's best-selling private jets, with over 600 aircraft currently in service.
In March 2001, Embraer's Legacy 600 first took to the skies, and in August of that year, Barbardier released its Challenger 300. In 2005, Cessna released its Citation Mustang, and that same year at the Paris Air Show, Dassault displayed its first fully fly-by-wire business jet, the Falcon 7X.
In 2008, Gulfstream upped the ante with the launch of its Gulfstream G650, which is one of the longest range private jets. In 2013, a G650 set an around-the-world speed record for a non-supersonic aircraft by circling the globe in 41 hours, 7 minutes.
Embraer released its midsize, fly-by-wire aircraft, the Legacy 500, in 2012, followed by the Legacy 450 in December 2013. In 2016, motor car company Honda released its unique HondaJet.
According to an analysis of the business aviation market made by FlightGlobal, today's private jet fleet is dominated by Textron Aviation, maker of Beechcraft and Cessna aircraft, with 43.9% of the market. Following Textron, with 22.4% of the market, is Bombardier, followed by Gulfstream with 13.0%, Dassault with 9.6%, and Embraer with 5.8% of the market.
The Learjet in popular culture
Lest you think that the rich and famous will be without transportation, not to worry. Bombardier will continue production of its Challenger and Global private jets. Oprah Winfrey is reported to own a Global aircraft, and Jay Z owns a Challenger. Tom Cruise eschews the brand entirely and owns a Gulfstream.
The Learjet was celebrated in Carly Simon's 1971 song, You're So Vain in which she sang, "You flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia, to see the total eclipse of the sun." Famous English band Pink Floyd also referenced Learjet in their song, Money.
In his television show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, which aired from 1984 to 1995, host Robin Leach always ended each episode with the phrase, "Champagne wishes and caviar dreams," and somehow, that phrase doesn't ring quite as true with Learjet out of the picture.