When writing about Bill Lear, it is hard to avoid the trap that has claimed all of the authors who have written about Bill Lear, focusing on his entertaining anecdotes rather than substance. One example is Bill's famous retort to the engineers who complained he made all the decisions, "Put up half of the money and you can make half of the decisions."
True? Absolutely and repeated in nearly everything written about Bill including the memoriam at his funeral. Here are some they missed:
- After Jack Graham had taken the first few trips with Bill Lear, he was told "we never go to Chicago, we never put Chicago in the aircraft log book." It turned out there was a gal, known as "The General," who lived in Chicago. The Learstar was no stranger to Chicago.
- Sometimes a third person would be on board when Jack and Bill would return from California. When the aircraft landed in Wichita, it would make a one engine stop at the transient FBO and drop the third person off. Jack and Bill would taxi to the factory, Jack would secure the airplane, jump in his car and drive back to the FBO, pick up the third party and check her into a hotel.
- To say Bill had an aversion to tomatoes would be a gross understatement. Once Bill had a group of engineers on a trip to evaluate a particular item. They stopped at a restaurant; everyone ordered hamburgers including a deluxe for Ken Yoeman. When the waitress brought the orders, she assumed the deluxe went to the gray haired guy at the end of the table who was the obvious leader of this group. As she walked away she heard this awful bellow, "THIS IS NOT MY DAMN HAMBURGER!" and then a splop as Bill's palm came down on the poor burger, flattening it to the thickness of a pancake. And from the other end of the table Ken's meek voice, "Mr. Lear, I think that is my hamburger." He ate the smashed remains.
- A couple of months before the first flight of the Model 23, the Bill hired Bob Humphreys to organize for production, all of the details of the aircraft. Bob had 3 years experience at Boeing and 11 at Beech in the field. At Lear Jet the task was overwhelming and more than Bob could handle. Just before leaving for the West Coast, Bill fired Bob. As Bill and Moya walked to the Learstar, a tearful Humphrey approached Bill one more time and pleaded, "I have a family, how will I feed them?" Moya was carrying a grocery bag with several loaves of French bread. Bill reached in, grabbed one, threw it to Bob and said, "here, now they won't go hungry!"
- When Bill was going some place with the Lear Jet, the first thing he did was to buckle his seat belt. The second thing was flip the starter switch. It happened more than once that Moya was a little late in boarding. And out of pure ornriness, Bill would start to taxi and she would have to run to get on board.
- Bill and Hank Baird had a Lear Jet in Kansas City. The ignitor went out in one of the engines and it would not start. Hank engaged the starter spinning the engine to 6% rpm, the speed required for ignition, then Bill lit a fuel soaked rag and tried to throw it up the tailpipe. Luckily for both, the exhaust kept blowing out the fire. Jack Graham flew in with another airplane to return them to Wichita and almost got fired when he suggested to Bill that he was throwing the rags in the wrong end.
- When the autopilot was eventually developed, a patch kit was made so that the black box could be placed between the pilots seats. Bill was always tweaking the gains and checking the response. He might be en route to Washington, level at 41,000 ft and the airplane would suddenly make a sharp bank left or right as Bill fiddled with the controls. One year for his birthday, a group of engineers had a screwdriver made with bearings between the handle and the shaft. With it, he could not mess up the settings on the autopilot. It was good for a laugh but little else.
In February of 1987, June Shields and Alice Rand Hosted a reunion of the early Lear Jet employees at June's home in Tarzana, California. June was Bill's secretary in California and in Wichita. Alice was the secretary for Bill Sipprell, Lear Jet's Vice-President and General Manager. Both gals were exceptional secretaries and both felt a great personal attachment to the project, the airplane and all who worked on it.
As a party favor, Alice typed up a telegram she swears was whispered to her by WPL from heaven (or where ever his departed soul went). It contains the essence of Bill Lear.
His rough talk...the aversion to tomatoes...the birthday screwdriver...always tinkering with stuff (this time the clouds)...his penchant for firing people...hustling the chicks (now the angels)...Charge!...and Kenny Yoeman pay for the telegram. Bill never carried money.