Gates Learjet 35
William Powell Lear Snr was one the great engineers and inventors of the 20th century. Although he left school after the 8th Grade without qualifications, Lear began experimenting with radios and went on create the first car radio, the Motorola, before he switched his attention to aviation and developed the Lear F-5 autopilot for which he received the 1949 Collier Trophy from President Truman. He later went on to also develop the eight track stereo system, the first cassette tape player for cars.
In 1960 Lear moved to Switzerland and conceived the idea of a small high performance executive private jet with a performance similar to current jet fighters. He returned to Wichita in 1962 and by 1964 the initial Learjet went into production. This sleek, high-performance business jet became an overnight best-seller, setting various records for a business jet and eventually over 700 of these aircraft would be produced.
Powered by two CJ610 turbojets and capable of cruising at 460kts at around 40,000ft, the original Learjet 23 usually operated with two pilots together with up to six passengers and soon attracted interest from the military. The Learjet 23 was quickly developed into lager versions, the Learjet 24 and 25, whilst the Learjet 28 and 29 Longhorns offered an increased wingspan and drag reducing winglets. In 1973 the larger Garrett AIResearch TFE371 turbofan powered Learjet 35, and the longer range Learjet 36, were introduced, offering greatly improved performance and fuel efficiency. The US Air Force was looking for an aircraft to replace their obsolescent T-39A Sabreliners and purchased 85 Learjet 35As. Known in the USAF as the C-21, the aircraft are currently operated by the Air National Guards 375th Airlift Wing at Scott Air Force Base and used for cargo and passenger airlift. Various foreign air forces, including Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Finland, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Yugoslavia have also purchased Learjets for various military duties. Learjet marketed a version designed for photo-reconnaissance duties and designated the RC-35A.
Argentina purchased four Learjet 35A’s between 1978 and 1982, allocating the aircraft the registration T21 – T24 – the aircraft were flown by 11 Brigada Aerea based at Parana Entre Rios were they were used for photographic reconnaissance duties. Following the invasion of the Falklands Islands by Argentina in 1982 the four Learjets continued to be operated in the photo reconnaissance role and also used their accurate on-board navigation equipment to act as a pathfinder for Daggers and Skyhawk fighter bombers.
On 7 Jun 82 it was decided to launch the four Learjets to make a high-speed, high-altitude photographic run in line abreast over the Falklands Sound / San Carlos area. At 1230Z, in broad daylight and good weather, the aircraft that were flying at 40,000ft were detected by HMS Exeter stationed in Falklands Sound which soon launched two Sea Dark missiles at the leader of the formation - T-24. One missile failed to guide correctly and dropped away, however, the other Sea Dart climbed inexorably towards the Learjet, eventually exploding and blowing off the aircrafts tail, whilst leaving the pressure hull intact.
The doomed Learjet slowly spiralled down, with the crew, consisting of Vicecomodoro Rodolfo de la Colina, Mayor Juan Falconier, Capitan Marcelo Lutufo, Suboficial Ayudante Francisco Luna and Suboficial Guido Marizza trapped inside and still transmitting frantically over the radio to the three other aircraft. The Learjet eventually crashed on the edge of the airstrip on Pebble Island, killing all five crew. The surviving aircraft are currently operated by 11 Brigada Aerea and are still based at Parana Entre Rios. On 9 Mar 06 Learjet T-21 was lost in a crash over Bolivia, killing all six crew on board.
The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) operates two Learjet 35s flown by 402 Sqn based at Takhli. These two aircraft are probably the most sensitive operated by the RTAF and are used for high-level reconnaissance operations in support of anti terrorist operations in southern Thailand.