All photos me too, copyrighted
Anybody who has ever spent some time flying light aircraft – especially those part of smaller flying clubs – will no doubt have experienced what I’ve come to call the “cascading planning failure”. It’s the weekend, the weather is (nearly) perfect, the bird is operational and ready… and willing pilots can be found in their dozens. After several rounds of negotiation – and a hefty phone bill – you finally end up with a working plan, one that will both make everyone involved happy and keep the aircraft’s down time to a minimum. Excellent. All that remains now is one person to derail the entire works right at the outset… 😀
Such was the case on 13 April, when a planning meltdown kicked off my series of flights with an hour’s delay. What was a mild irritant at first had though quickly turned to excitement, proving conclusively (once again) that there really is a silver lining to every dark cloud! Rejoining the pattern at Zagreb Intl. – now well over two hours behind schedule – I happened to catch a transmission by an N-reg aircraft on approach, complete with a movie-set American accent :). And while we do get quite a few N-numbers here in Croatia, most of them are aircraft actually based somewhere in Europe and operated by European companies and individuals – so catching an “authentic” US machine was immediate cause for excitement. Rolling lazily into the downwind leg, I scanned the skies for signs of the newcomer, expecting it to be a small business prop or the like… and then I saw it, dead abeam and 1000 ft lower – a pristine white Learjet gliding in towards the touchdown point.
Being a lifelong fan of the Learjet (thank you Microsoft Flight Simulator 98 😀 ), I was naturally through the roof, especially given my recent photographic dry spell. And while I couldn’t make out the exact model from the air, I’d assumed it was one of the established, “common” models like the 45 or 60. So you can imagine my surprise when, while holding on TWY B for the traffic to clear, a brand new Learjet 75 happened to roll by in front of my nose… 🙂
Nip ‘n’ tuck
The newest operational member of the Learjet family (notwithstanding the recently problematic 85), the model 75 is not a new design per se, but rather a revamp and thorough upgrade of the best-selling model 45 (the aircraft included in the aforementioned Flight Simulator that had sparked my love affair with the brand 🙂 ). First flying in 1995, the 45 was conceived as the replacement for the superlative model 31 – for many the greatest of the classic Learjets – and had introduced a new, wider fuselage, reworked wing for higher cruise speeds and a new, state-of-the-art glass cockpit (the Honeywell Primus 1000 suite to be exact).
Despite being a clean sheet design, the 45 was nevertheless still a “proper Learjet” in every way – not the most commodious of aircraft, but one that could out-accelerate, out-climb and out-fly pretty much everything else in its category. And while its ceiling of 51,000 ft – known in the 60s and 70s as “Learjet country” – was neither that impressive nor unobtainable anymore, the way it got there had nevertheless still guaranteed it a healthy and loyal customer base.
However, by the early 2010s, the 45 was becoming increasingly hauled in by time, prompting Bombardier to put on its thinking cap and develop a modernized version. To that end, they took the basic 45 airframe and refitted it with new winglets (a design borrowed from the Global Express), more powerful Honeywell TFE731-40BR engines producing 17.1 kN of thrust each (versus the 15.57 of the 45’s TFE731-20s) and a completely redesigned cockpit featuring the newest in Garmin digital avionics. In this form, the new aircraft would become the model 75*, first flying in late 2012, with FAA certification following on in November 2013 :).
* the same treatment would also be applied to the Learjet 40, the 45’s shorter brother. Fitted with the same suite of upgrades, it would become the model 70, with its certification still pending.
With the aircraft now ready for sale, all that was needed was to whip up a fully spec’d demonstrator and head out into the world. Such was the role of the titular aircraft, N446LJ, which had popped into Zagreb to take on fuel before continuing onwards to Denmark. Having rolled onto the GA apron just a few minutes later, I was at the plane in moments, camera naturally set and ready… 🙂
I would also like to extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to the crew of N446LJ for allowing me to snoop around and snap at will!