Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 51 seconds.
Five days after Christmas in 2023, Jay Thomas from the Classic Lear Jet Foundation (CLJF) hunched over the dingy white fuselage of Lear Jet 23-003 and carefully got to work.
Using a handheld tool, the CLF board member unlocked a dzus fastener near the aircraft’s nose cone and gingerly removed the port-side avionics door.
A camera snapped photos for posterity; Thomas’s fellow volunteers buzzed with excitement. The aircraft’s guts were exposed for all to see.
“We want to restore this airplane,” said Chris Marshall, another member of the CLJF, in an earlier interview with the Wichita (Kansas) Eagle.
“We want to remember all the hard work and dedication of all the employees that would have worked here at Lear Jet.”
This tentative, post-Christmas step marked the low-key start of a long-term project to restore the first customer-delivered Lear Jet to flying condition.
The CLJF acquired 23-003’s fuselage in August 2023 and had it delivered to a Wichita hangar on a flatbed truck.
Initially delivered to the Chemical and Industrial Company of Ohio on Oct. 13, 1964, the aircraft has been grounded for 27 years and stored outside in Florida for the last decade-plus, per the Eagle.
“We want to inspire and educate future generations, to get them interested in aviation, get them interested in aerospace and technical careers, and to celebrate this legacy,” Marshall told the paper.
The Learjet product line, acquired in 1990 by Bombardier and discontinued in 2022, traces its history back to the 1950s, when William Lear began designing a private jet. He formed an aircraft corporation in Switzerland but relocated to Wichita in 1962, in part due to the region’s skilled workforce.
The company’s first model, Lear Jet 23, rolled off its Wichita assembly line in October 1963 with seating for up to eight people. Bombardier breathed new life into the product line in the 1990s and launched the Learjet 60, which eventually became the top-selling aircraft in its class.
The final Learjet production aircraft was delivered to Northern Jet Management of Grand Rapids, Mich., in March 2022. Skies contributor Frederick K. Larkin documented the legendary aircraft’s evolution in this comprehensive feature story.
It’s been said that Lear created the business jet industry; and more than 10,000 of its jets were built in Wichita.
As the disassembly work on 23-003 began shortly after Christmas last year, seven volunteers removed the nose avionics, gyros, oxygen and air bottles.
“Interestingly, both the oxygen and air bottles still had a little pressure in them after all these years,” the CLJF noted in its January newsletter.
“We found a few wasp nests that were luckily abandoned by their inhabitants long before we opened the avionics bay.”
Volunteers removed and catalogued each removed part and placed it into storage. The jet’s next flight is a long way off; it’s expected the refurbishment will take up to five years.
“The restoration has begun … in a small way,” Rick Rowe, a public relations representative of the CLJF, told Skies. “We are in the process of scaling up the work in the next few weeks.”