WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — The Learjet company started in Wichita. That was back in the days when it was spelled “Lear Jet.”
Now, the first Lear Jet ever sold is back home in the Air Capital. It’s sitting in a Bombardier delivery hangar until a new home for its restoration is found.
KSN’s Jason Lamb visited with Rick Rowe, the Director of Public Relations for the Classic Lear Jet Foundation, which was created in August 2022 to acquire and restore 23-003.
“So, this airplane, 23-003, is the first purpose-built business jet delivered to a customer on October 13th, 1964. It started its life at that time. Next year, we’ll celebrate the 60th anniversary of that delivery. It was delivered right across the ramp from where I’m standing,” said Rowe.
Model 23-001 crashed at Mid-Continent Airport During testing. Model 23-002 was also used for testing. It is on display in the Smithsonian.
The foundation set out to locate 23-003. It was located at a business airport in Florida.
“The airplane was sitting in Bartow, Florida. They made the purchase agreement, and the owner allowed us to bring the airplane back here before it was fully paid for just to get it out of the weather and in a covered building. In July of 2023, Clay Lacy of the Clay Lacey Foundation and Mr. Lynn Krogh of International Jet in Denver, Colorado, came to town, and we gave them a presentation. And by the end of July, those two gentlemen had become our primary acquisition sponsors. So, we fully own the airplane now,” said Rowe.
Rowe detailed how the jet was transported back to Wichita.
“The airplane was actually disassembled and trucked back to Wichita from Florida. We had a couple of companies, Global Jet Care in Brooksville, Florida, and Patton Trucking of Wichita, did an in-kind donation to disassemble and D-make the airplane, load it up on the truck, and bring it back to Wichita. It arrived back in Wichita last February of 2023,” he said.
Rowe says the jet hasn’t flown in 28 years. He also says the foundation needs to find a permanent host for the restoration process.
“We’re looking for a permanent hosting facility, and there are a number of opportunities that we’re talking about. So, that discussion is going on. As soon as we get a long-term hosting agreement, we can then start disassembling the airplane to start doing the inspections and the non-destructive testing for the on-purpose restoration of the airplane,” he said.
Rowe says the idea to restore 23-003 came from the amazing, decades-long restoration of the B-29 Doc Superfortress.
“It was, you know, inspired by the fact the Lear Jet was the first purpose-built business jet on the planet. And then it was built right here in Wichita, and certainly, the Doc airplane and that whole restoration is absolutely an inspiration. And Doc and the Doc’s Friends have given us a lot of advice on how to go about restoring this airplane,” he said.
Rowe admits the restoration of this classic Lear Jet is a passion project.
“It is a passion project. It’s a passion project of every one of the board members who are either currently employed at Learjet and Bombardier and were back in the day and those who have retired like myself. The passion for Learjet is, it’s hard to explain, but it’s a passion of every one of us. And it’s something that Wichita can own because it started here. It was developed here. It was delivered here, and it’s a part of aviation history. So, the whole aviation industry can be proud of this airplane and own the fact that it’s the first purpose-built business jet,” he said.