Thanks to the publicity generated during the development of the Model 23, there was a healthy backlog of orders by the time the aircraft was certified. Now it was a matter of getting the production line moving.
It was a monumental task and unlike certification, when the entire company was mobilized towards a single goal, everyone expected airplanes to start rolling off the assembly line. But it did not happen.
It was musical chairs for the head of production. Over a dozen tried, none could get their arms around the project, none could get the line moving. Bill tried engineers, experienced manufacturing managers, owner/operators of small aerospace companies in Wichita. It was a monumental task.
Finally, Bill Landers was put in the hot seat. He had come from Fairchild Aircraft and The Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics. He was not like the rest. A bull of a man, he was loud, vulgar, obnoxious and hard drinking. It is hard to think of even one good thing you could say about Bill Landers.
His management style was fear and intimidation. He brought with him two henchmen who were on the floor and reported back to him, Bill Pittman and LeRoy Youngblood. Bill Landers got the line moving, airplanes were being delivered, for the first time in the company history, there was a positive cash flow.
October 25, 1965, a company executive needed to go to Detroit to visit the stereo division. The airplane normally used for this transportation was not available, it had several pages of mechanical problems waiting for correction. Somebody took the book to Landers. He took a red pen and made a big "X" over each page and declared the airplane fit for flight.
On the return flight from Detroit, N804LJ crashed near Jackson, Michigan killing both pilots. One was a new hire, Larry Bangiola. Though his desk was less than 15 ft from mine, he was so new we were not acquainted.
The other was Glen David, he was well known throughout the company. An Air Guard pilot flying F-100s, he was clean cut, had a degree in engineering, a church going family man. His loss was felt deeply throughout the company and remains today in the minds of many who knew him.
The cause of the accident will never be known with 100% certainty. Many engineering changes were incorporated into the airplane but never-the-less, Bill Landers actions of negating maintenance problems written by the pilots who last flew the aircraft was totally unacceptable.
There was a funeral service for Glen David in a tiny little church in the tiny little town of Rose Hill where he lived. Bill Landers sat on the front row. Chairs were arranged on three sides of the casket (or maybe it was just a table with Glen's photo on it, as there were probably few, if any remains). I could look across the casket, square in the eyes of Bill Landers. He never looked at me or anyone else during the service, he only looked down at the floor.
Soon thereafter, Landers took a vacation. With him out of the building, people felt somewhat safe in going to Mr. Lear with their issues against Bill Landers. Before reporting back, Landers was told he no longer had a job at Lear Jet. Pittman and Youngblood soon lost their jobs as well.
In my mind, I always thought the Landers era was like putting up with a stone in ones shoe. When it is removed, the pain goes away and then you wonder, why did it take so long to remove that stone?