First-Hand:LearJet, Auto Pilot and Eight Tracks

Submitted by Kenneth Miller

My first job, and I mean job, at twentyfive cents per hour, was to wire floor lamps in a dingy loft operation in Chicago. This was quickly followed by becoming a phonograph needle inspector looking for pits on the iridium tips welded to the long life needles produced by the Permopoint Company. This was not for me.

Good fortune was at my side and I was hired by Zenith Radio at 6001 Dickens Avenue in Chicago in 1940 as a production trouble shooter. This time at forty-five cents per hour. You learned fast .... with the requirement that you troubleshoot defective all-band home radios at the rate of eight per hour! Among the products we produced was the famous "Radio Nurse," a children's nursery monitoring system that caught the public's imagination following the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's son from his nursery at his home.

Then the call of the West was heard loud and clear. So I hopped into my 1939 Chrysler. (Talk about diesels, this horseless carriage burned one quart every hundred miles! No kidding.) Eighteen hundred miles and twenty quarts of oil and fifty-nine hours later, I arrived in Los Angeles. Driving down Pica Boulevard, I paused at 11919 Pica Boulevard as I noticed an interesting antenna atop this old one story stucco building. A ham radio operator for eight years, I had developed an affinity for roof top antennas that appeared to be "senders" as well as "receivers" of RF (radio frequency) energy.

This building turned out to be a former dairy complete with milking stalls still intact in the rear of the structure. With little effort you could almost catch the aroma and hear the sounds of its former occupants, the milk cows. Only now it was the West Coast headquarters of Lear Incorporated. I entered and there was Bill Lear cussing because the Lord had only given him two hands and this was at least one hand shy of what he needed at that moment. He was trying to repair a Lear Recorder.

This was the famous wire recorder produced by Bill Lear's company following the acquisition by our armed forces of wire recorder technology developed during World War II by the Germans. Lear produced portable and large models for the home market. It turned out that the unit Bill Lear was working on (and did not have enough hands to repair) was a unit that the Los Angeles police department had purchased for telephone monitoring purposes.

Not knowing I was just a casual visitor, he turned to me for help, within ten minutes he hired me. Thus I began a wonderful friendship and a multi-year career with Lear Inc. Also, again, later when I rejoined him as Vice President and a member of the founding management team at LearJet in Wichita, Kansas.

At Lear, I was responsible for the development of the first automatic pilot sold to the general aviation market-the famous Model L2. Later, amongst other accomplishments at LearJet, I had the opportunity to introduce and manufacture the world's first mass produced eight track tape players. We produced many thousands of these players, and hundreds of thousands of the eight track tape cartridges for both home and automotive entertainment at a plant we started from scratch in Detroit.

These were really fun years .... and as Bill Lear and I said to each other so many times, "I feel guilty for being paid to have such a great time" ... but never so guilty that we refused our pay checks!!