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Erin Lear is proving that the apple rarely falls far from the tree. Although born into aviation royalty, she’s never missed an opportunity to earn her own reputation — as a pilot, entrepreneur, and humanitarian. And Lear’s latest endeavor will soon bring an all-electric flight school for women to fruition.
Growing up, the youngest granddaughter of (William) Bill Lear (founder of the Lear Jet Corporation and inventor of the 8-track tape and the Motorola), (Erin) Lear had access to the best and brightest in aviation – which she credits for igniting her passion for flight. The fearless entrepreneur, whose list of mentors included her aviatrix grandmother, always knew that her role was to execute opportunities to inspire more women to enter the field.
“[Flying is] so gratifying, there’s nothing more exhilarating, challenging, and magical all at the same time,” she said – recalling her own flight training experience.
Spending time “in the family hangar” outside of Reno, Nevada, as a little girl, Lear remembers the sound of jets taking off, sending chills up her spine. “There was something about that feeling . . . that felt incredible,” she recalled. “I can appreciate it and the intelligence behind it, and that’s really where my love for aviation started.”
The California-based Birde Academy (pronounced “Birdie”) founded by Lear is the future of flight instruction – an all-electric airplane academy focusing on training a female-dominant student body. “We obviously won’t turn men away,” Lear said. But the intentions of the school are to give precedence to training to as many women as possible.
Often asked why she didn’t use the Lear name for the academy — a name already synonymous with aviation success — she describes her desire to build something from the ground up, believing the integrity of the school will develop its own reputation.
The name, Birde, came to her one day, and she “fell in love.” It combines the humanitarian’s love of animals and flight; the “e” represents electric aviation. While the school aims to break gender barriers, it’s equally essential that the academy is “kind to the environment, too.”
Lear plans to purchase four two-seat, all-electric eFlyer 2 aircraft designed by Bye Aerospace for professional flight training when available. The electric motor powered by a high-density lithium battery enables the academy to offer training without high fuel costs. The success of the school will eventually lead to future purchases of Bye eFlyer four-seaters and eVTOL aircraft.
Being a Lear has afforded her unique access to aviation heavyweights, allowing her to create meaningful partnerships to support her goal to help women in aviation.
“I am very good friends with George Bye, the inventor of the Bye eFlyer,” she said. The pair met at The Living Legends of Aviation, where conversations regarding a future project began. Lear said as she “started to see the trend in eVTOL [vertical take-off and landing vehicles] and electric airplanes” at industry events, the idea for a flight school employing electric aircraft was born.
“As of right now, the first-year production for the eFlyer is [anticipated to include a total of] 50 [aircraft].” She acknowledged that “nothing is written in stone,” but the expectation is to know more about delivery dates “at the end of 2022/2023.”
Lear, who achieved her private pilot license in 2020, said her role as the founder of Birde will primarily be “public relations and marketing . . . [while] helping raise money and getting the word out.” She told Skies she plans to create ads for social media showcasing women to draw enrollment. Lear also plans to orchestrate a scholarship program specifically aimed at supporting women who may not otherwise be in the position to manage the cost of flight training.
“The eFlyer is going to reduce operation costs, so it’s going to help some people who thought that they couldn’t obtain their license,” she said.
Lear admits enrollment numbers will depend on the size of the facility she’s able to secure, but the hope is to have 100 students to start, gradually building up to 500 graduates a year. The first location she’s scouting is at Van Nuys Airport, California, with hopes to grow into a multiple campus establishment.
At his death, (Bill) Lear had over 100 patents to his name. So, it should come as no surprise that the Learjet heiress also has multiple ventures on the go.
As she awaits production of the eFlyer, she continues to work on industry and humanitarian efforts, including working to end the dog meat trade. Lear visited a rescue agency in China where she helped rescue and rehabilitate dogs bound for slaughter.
Lear, who recently joined Jet Token as its executive sales director, has also launched “Jet Blondie,” a multi-platform content hub. She plans to share her unique access to companies like Archer and Bye Aerospace – offering behind-the-scenes tours of “the coolest airplanes and jet charter services in the world” with a focus on “modern, innovative aircraft.” The goal of the project is to “get people inspired about aviation and learn about the new era of VTOL and electric aviation on the horizon.”
Currently, Birde Academy is looking specifically for female flight instructors and established aviators who want to be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. An official opening is scheduled for 2024, when the Bye eFlyers are ready, and Lear says she’s already had potential students reach out.