• January



Farewell to Our Learjet Fleet

Farewell to Our Learjet Fleet
FAA Focus 11-15-22
Hosted this week by Flight Program Operations

Editor’s note: For pilots, aircraft often are more than a piece of equipment. They are a part of the crew. As Flight Program Operations celebrates the modernization of the FAA’s fleet, we also take a moment to reflect on the retirement of some of these faithful crewmembers.
By Mickey Tate

We’ve all had to say goodbye to dear friends and colleagues as they retire after many years of dedicated service to the FAA. As managers, we often face the additional challenge of retiring a faithful employee and dedicated teammate we have relied upon for many years. Their departure leaves a void in our hearts, as well as our capabilities.

For the Flight Program Operations Flight Inspection mission, the retirement of our venerable Learjet 60 teammates had that impact.

The Lear 60 was developed in the early 1990s as a mid-sized corporate jet, seating up to 10 passengers with a two-pilot crew. Equipped with powerful Pratt & Whitney PW305A engines rated for 4,600 pounds of thrust each, the Lear 60 was an incredible flying machine. The first Lear 60 flew in 1992.

As part of an earlier fleet modernization program, the FAA purchased six new Lear 60s for delivery beginning in 1996. Assigned to the legacy organization Flight Inspection Services, all were equipped with an updated automatic flight inspection system and what was then state-of-the-art avionics. Over time, the Lear 60 operated from FAA locations in Sacramento, California; Battle Creek, Michigan; Atlantic City, New Jersey; and Oklahoma City.

Eventually the fleet was consolidated to two offices, Sacramento and Oklahoma City. The last Lear departed Sacramento on Aug. 23, and the final mission for the entire fleet was the inspection of an instrument landing system at Memphis International Airport on Sept. 14.

To our customers, the Lear’s performance capabilities made it an ideal flight inspection platform. It was often the only fleet to be modified with the specialized equipment to support development of emerging technologies such as automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast, satellite-based augmentation system/ground-based augmentation system approaches, and the airborne collision-avoidance system X.

To the crews who had the privilege of flying the Lear, it was always exciting to feel both motors kick in and hold on while it climbed so effortlessly. Takeoff setting on the throttles was three clicks, and just like Dorothy’s magic shoes, three clicks and the Lear took us home.

Although not the most modern avionics suite by today’s standards, the universal navigation system could guide the crew to any destination on the planet and then inspect any facility or instrument procedure, even those that did not currently exist in published databases. The reliable Lear safely delivered crews to ensure the national airspace system maintained the highest degree of accuracy and dependability to support safe flight operations for up to 50,000 flights a day. The Lear was not just limited to domestic operations; it also supported operations in the Pacific theater.

Although the Lear has been a dependable aircraft — and, for me personally, a faithful companion — the unfortunate reality is that time has caught up with it, as it does with us all. Parts obsolescence and lots of flight inspection hours impacted fleet reliability. In a world where every dollar counts, it is time to sunset our amazing Lear fleet.

For those of us who have had the privilege of flying the Lear, we will forever cherish the fond memories of this sleek and powerful, but gentle and forgiving, faithful partner.

The author is the operations duty manager and former airspace system inspection pilot for Flight Program Operations.

Story credit: Thank you Ken Peppard for submitting and suggesting this story to be used in our newsletter.

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