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Learjet 60XR Stars in Megafactories Episode

Sepetember 14, 2012

Bombardier’s Learjet 60XR, assembled in Wichita, KS, is one of thousands of general aviation aircraft that have been built in the Air Capital of the World. A recent episode of the National Geographic Channel series Megafactories documented the assembly of businessman David Morgan’s $14 million Learjet 60XR to tell the story of not only how each business jet is assembled there, but also how the 50-year-old company has reinvented itself to optimize production.

“Business aviation has always been at the forefront of innovation, including in manufacturing,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “That reality is made clear in this documentary highlighting the state-of-the art thinking, design and equipment used by Bombardier to produce the company’s Learjets.”

The OEM’s formula combines cutting-edge technology with a storied history of craftsmanship. As Megafactories puts it, “Learjet is surviving these hard times by delivering hand-built dreams to their customers.”

Learjet 60XRFor Learjet, the recession meant doubling down on efficiencies. “It was a tough, tough period not just for us, I’d say aerospace worldwide,” Learjet Vice President and General Manager Ralph Acs told Megafactories. “When something like this happens, it really forces you to look internally.”

So he and his team enacted changes. First, they computerized production. Mechanics now receive a small kit for the day’s work rather than selecting parts piecemeal, and log completed jobs at digital workstations. The facilities also got a visual upgrade: Shop floors were painted white, and rigs were color-coded. “It allows us to control the chaos, if you will, and gives us transparency through the organization,” said Vice President Strategic Projects John Dieker. The results? Boosted morale and improved production data.

The National Geographic film crew captured how tightly the revamped production line runs, as well as the technical expertise and monumental logistics behind each aircraft – Morgan’s 60XR, in this case. Viewers learn that 48,000 components go into a Learjet 60XR, 65 percent of them made in Wichita. Then we watch Learjet employees build the 13-meter-plus wing in the wing shop (with its sign: “Without us, it’s just a bus”), tighten the 43,300 rivets in the fuselage, secure the wing to the fuselage, and bolt on two Pratt & Whitney Canada engines that “each weigh the same as a Harley Davidson but produce more than 100 times as much power.”

Next, we buckle in with test pilot Paul McCluskey as he puts the Morgan business jet through more than 500 operational tests. And, finally, we travel with the jet to the paint shop, from which it emerges 14 days later with a Learjet signature paint job, and to the interiors gallery, where interior designer Robert Stockton says, “If you can dream it, we can build it for you.”

It’s a compelling behind-the-scenes look at how a complex flying machine is put together, but it’s also a riveting story of survival in tough economic times.