[EAS] Bill Lear

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Wed Jun 23 18:17:00 EDT 2004

Subject:   Bill Lear

(from NewsScan Daily, 23 June 2004)

     Today's Honorary Subscriber is the inventor and entrepreneur
William Powell Lear (1902-1978), whose creative genius expressed
itself in a remarkable career that included impressive inventions in
aviation, communications and navigation.
     Lear's name is an eponym in the field of corporate aviation,
where his Learjet enjoys a dominant commercial presence. Less well
known is his invention of the commercially short-lived 8-track tape
player. The highly successful Motorola company owes its start to
Lear's invention of the car radio, the company's first product and
the one from which it took its name as a contraction of "motor" and
     In the short span of twenty years, beginning in 1920, Lear
earned over 100 patents for groundbreaking electronic devices in
three industries, including the first practical automobile radio,
the airplane radio-compass and autopilot, and the now outmoded
eight-track tape player. Many of his communication and navigational
devices have found worldwide applications in commercial and military
     Lear was born in Hannibal, Missouri in 1902. His formal
education was minimal, lasting only through the eighth grade in the
Chicago public schools. At age 16 he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and
saw service during the first World War. After the War, having become
a competent auto mechanic, ham radio operator, and an aviation
mechanic at Chicago's Grant Park Airport, he learned to fly, and
began to pursue his interest in electronic technology. At the age of
20, he founded Quincy Radio Laboratory, where he invented the first
workable automobile radio, the rights to which he sold in 1924 to
Motorola. Lear then turned his attention to airplanes, inventing the
first reliable aeronautical radio compass, which led to the
development of the "Learmatic Navigator," an automatic pilot system,
which kept planes on course by locking into radio broadcast signals.
The Learmatic Navigator earned him the prestigious Frank M. Hawks
Memorial Award.
     During World War II, Lear's companies became a major supplier
of technological equipment to the Allied forces. After the war, Lear
continued to perfect his miniature autopilots for fighter jets,
adding a system for fully automatic landings in low visibility
conditions. For this work he was awarded the FAA's Collier Trophy,
bestowed on him by President Truman in 1950. 
     In 1962, the French government honored Lear for making
automatic blind landings possible in passenger airplanes. It was in
1962 also that Lear formed the Learjet Company to meet the emerging
market demand for corporate jets. The Learjet was developed in
Wichita in 1964, and quickly earned a solid market position. By
1975, over 500 Learjets had been sold, and today the company --
under different management -- remains the world's foremost supplier
of corporate jets.
     In the 1970s Lear busied himself with further small-aircraft
design, including the use of new composite materials in their
construction. He also became involved in a search for an
antipollutant steam engine.
     Lear died in 1978, and in 1981 he was given a final honor of
investiture into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame.

im for the biography "Stormy Genius: The Life of Aviation's Maverick
Bill Lear" -- or look for it in your favorite library. Note: We
donate all revenue from our book recommendations to adult literacy

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