Missouri News

Hannibal seeking retired Learjet for possible airport display honoring Lear

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Dec. 2, 2018 12:01 am

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Hannibal officials hope to honor one of the city's most accomplished native sons by trying to find an out-of-service Learjet to put on permanent display at Hannibal Regional Airport.

The Learjet -- one of the world's most successful corporate jets -- was invented by the late William P. Lear, who was born in Hannibal in 1902 and went on to a stellar career as an automotive and aviation inventor and innovator.

The airstrip at Hannibal Regional Airport was named William P. Lear Field in his honor in 2003. But now, with Hannibal's bicentennial celebration coming up in 2019, local officials are hoping to shine more light on the city's close ties to Lear by finding and displaying one of the jets bearing his name.

Karen Burditt, the city's finance director and a member of the Bicentennial Committee, told the Airport Advisory Committee in early November that a search is underway for a Learjet that's no longer flight worthy. She said the hope is to acquire such an aircraft at a minimal cost, haul it to Hannibal and put it on display at the airport as a bicentennial-year salute to Lear.

"I think it's a wonderful idea," said John Ortwerth a member of the Aviation Advisory Board.

Ortwerth said he's all in favor of "the whole idea of promoting William Lear, who was a radio enthusiast, a pilot, an inventor. He was the father of a lot of stuff aviationwise."

Cindy Lovell, the Hannibal Bicentennial Committee event coordinator, said she was delighted to learn an effort was being made to find a way to pay tribute to Lear in such a grand manner as part of the city's bicentennial celebration.

"I hope we can get a Learjet on permanent display at the Hannibal airport," she said. "Many regional airports around the country display aircraft that relate to their unique histories, and ours certainly relates to Bill Lear."

Lovell said honoring Lear in this way would be a great addition to the long list of events being planned for Hannibal in 2019.

"The bicentennial will honor Hannibal's 200 years of history, and this includes recognizing many of its acclaimed residents beyond Mark Twain, such as William Lear, inventor of the Learjet," she said.

"We have several projects in the works to honor all of Hannibal's more renowned residents. We are even planning a series of collectible cards -- something like baseball cards, which in the case of Jake Beckley (a Hall of Fame baseball player and Hannibal native) is especially appropriate."

The search for a retired Learjet -- possibly from one of the nation's aviation graveyards -- is still in progress.

"There's been a lot of email action going back and forth," Ortwerth said.

According to The Herald-Whig's news archives, Lear was born in Hannibal on June 26, 1902. He later moved to Chicago with his mother, but the two would spend summers and holidays in Barry, Ill., where her mother lived. Lear moved to Barry when he was about 15 and later moved to Quincy, Ill., in 1922. Armed with a longtime interest in radios, he launched Quincy Radio Laboratories.

Lear eventually hired Quincy native Elmer Wavering, another consummate inventor. Together they developed a workable, but clumsy, car radio. After solving some of the electrical noise problems that surfaced whenever the engine was turned on, they took their invention to a radio convention in Chicago, where they met Paul Galvin, owner of Galvin Manufacturing Corp., who liked the prototype. He invited them to set up a shop in his factory in 1930.

This ultimately led to the creation of Motorola. Wavering went on to become the corporation's president and board chairman.

Lear branched out on his own. He formed a new company, eventually known as Lear Inc., to develop aerospace and electronic equipment. By 1962, the company employed more than 5,000 workers in California, Ohio and West Germany.

Lear received international acclaim for a series of inventions, including aircraft radio, navigation and autopilot systems.

Lear's best-known product, the Learjet, was introduced in 1963 while he was living in Wichita, Kan. It was the first business jet and the first production jet financed by a single individual.

More than 800 Learjets had been sold by the time Lear died on May 14, 1978, according to his obituary.

Lear was known for patenting more than 150 inventions during his career, including the 8-track tape player, the automatic direction finder, the autopilot and electromagnetic clutch. He even invented a steam engine for cars, but the device never took off.

One 1985 story about Lear told about his love for flying. The story said Lear married Ethel Peterson of Chicago -- his first of four wives -- in the early 1920s. While flying his plane back to the Quincy area for visits, he would buzz the family's home, thereby signaling relatives to pick him up at the airport in Quincy.

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