Friday, March 27, 2015

Flying the Lear 45

SDC15323The Lear 45 is a light business jet that first flew in 1995. A follow-up to the popular Lear 35 series, the Lear 45 was the first airplane produced after Bombardier purchased Learjet in 1990. At corporate airports around the country and all over the world, the Lear 45 is a common sight.

The Lear 45 is a capable performer. Normally configured, it can seat eight passengers plus two pilots. A belted lav seat can bring the total passenger count to nine. Red line speed is 330 knots or .81 mach. Service ceiling is 51,000 feet.

Sitting on the ramp, the Lear 45 looks fast. Standout features are the large, tinted windscreen, swept wings and turned up winglets. The airplane sits low to the ground, which makes loading passengers and bags easy.

Early 45s configured with –AR engines are somewhat limited when it comes to hot and high operations from short fields. One summer flight from Albuquerque (KABQ) with temperatures approaching 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius) required a field length of almost 7,000 feet, compared to a typical required runway length of around 4,000 feet. Newer Lear 45 XRs with –BR engines perform much better under hot and high conditions. The difference is very noticeable on almost any flight that goes into the flight levels with –BR airplanes encountering a shorter time-to-climb and having the ability to maintain higher airspeeds in the climb. An upgrade to –BR engines is available for older aircraft.

One of the most daunting things about the Lear 45 for new pilots is the door. The main cabin door is a clamshell door in two pieces. The lower half descends to become a stair, while the top the half lifts up. Opening or securing the door requires manipulating two separate handles and a latch. While the process seems confusing at first, it quickly becomes second nature. SDC15294

From a pilot’s perspective, the Lear 45 is a joy to fly. Controls are somewhat heavy without a hydraulic boost, but the airplane is solid. On takeoff, acceleration is normally quick both on the ground and in the early stages of the climb. There is no tiller for control on the ground. Taxi steering is accomplished by rudder pedals as in a light Cessna or Piper.

Avionics are primarily Honeywell Primus Epic with a four screen setup. There are two primary flight displays (PFDs), an EICAS (engine instrument and crew alerting system) screen, and a multifunction display (MFD). The PFDs place the information of the traditional “six pack” instruments, as well as some navigation information, on one screen for each pilot. The EICAS gives a digital representation of engine and system instruments. The MFD normally shows a map screen, but can be used to show PFD or EICAS information in the event of a screen failure. Additionally, both the MFD and the EICAS can show individual pages with information on specific systems such as fuel, pressurization or hydraulics.

Typical for a 20 year old airplane, the avionics suite looks somewhat primitive when compared to the Garmin display in a Cirrus. The newer Lear 75, which has replaced the Lear 45 in production, has replaced the Primus system with Garmin G5000 displays and FMS.

An experienced pilot will quickly notice a peculiar thing about the Lear 45 panel. Even though the EICAS includes the ability to receive CAS messages about system abnormalities, the panel also includes an older-style panel of warning lights. This panel, located in the center of the cockpit above the MFD, duplicates red warning CAS messages. While not readily apparent to the new pilot, the function of this crew warning panel (CWP) is to provide the crew with warning notifications in the event of a total electrical failure in which the display screens are turned off to save battery power.

The real chink in the armor of the avionics system is the Universal UNS-1Ew FMS. The UNS-1 is vastly different from other FMS’s in logic, which can make the transition difficult. The introduction of more and more RNAV arrivals and departures shows the weakness of the Universal. The RNAV arrivals that I frequently fly into Houston contain numerous crossing restrictions where the airplane has to be within a window of about 3,000 feet. Most FMS’s compute a flight path that will put the airplane through the middle of the window and smooth out the descent. In contrast, the Universal defaults to the lowest allowable altitude at each fix. This often translates into steep descents over a short distance. Descending earlier often means using more fuel and a rougher ride for passengers.war is answer isis

Two other quirks of the Lear 45 are repeated in the new Lear 75. First, the APU is limited to ground operation only in both aircraft, which means that it is unusable inflight in a generator or engine failure or for pressurization or climate control. Some early Lear 45s were actually delivered without APUs at all. Second, the spoilers cannot be used with flaps extended. This requires extra planning for some descents and “slam dunk” approaches.

Landing the Lear 45 is a breeze. The airplane handles well, even in a crosswind. The short wingspan and tail-mounted engines mean that pilots can use the same wing-low crosswind technique that is common in light piston airplanes. Trailing link landing gear makes for soft touchdowns. The Lear 45’s reference speed (Vref) for approaches is in the 120 knot range, but its excellent brakes and thrust reversers make stopping easy.

Total fuel capacity is 6,062 pounds (904 gallons). There are two wing tanks and a fuselage tank, the “trunk,” which is located aft of the cabin. Fuel planning can estimated at 1,800 pounds for the first hour, 1,200 pounds for each hour at normal cruise and 1,000 pounds for the last hour with the descent. This would place normal endurance at about four hours with reserves. Maximum range, depending on winds, is approximately 1,500 nautical miles with reserves.

Except for the shortest flights, the Lear 45 is normally operated at 40-41,000 feet. This altitude put the airplane above most airline traffic and allows frequent direct routings. It also gives efficient fuel flows, typically around 600-650 pounds per side per hour. Operating in the low 40s also allows the airplane to maintain a fast cruise, often bumping against the redline of 0.81 mach.

The Lear 40 is a shorter variant of the Lear 45. The Lear 40 is two feet shorter and carries about 700 pounds less fuel, which leads to a somewhat shorter range. The Lear 40, and the follow on Lear 70, are intended as short-range business jets for a small number of passengers.

With the collapse in business jet prices since the onset of the Great Recession, there are many good deals on used Lear 45s. The airplane’s performance and comfort will make sure that the 45 is a staple of corporate flight departments for years to come.


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