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William P. Lear

Engineer, Inventor,

Aircraft Manufacturer

Born Hannibal, Missouri

June 26, 1902 - May 14, 1978

William Powell Lear was a creative genius and entrepreneur who ignored those who said it could not be done. During his career, he compiled a most enviable record of accomplishments in Electrical, Automotive and Aeronautical Engineering. In 1922, at the age of 20, without benefit of formal education beyond the eighth grade, William Lear founded the Quincy Radio Laboratory, the first of several companies that he would establish. Among his early inventions was the first practical automobile radio. Unable to produce it himself, he sold his invention in 1924, later making the Motorola Corporation famous.

From 1930 through 1950, William Lear was granted more than 100 patents for aircraft radios, communications and navigation equipment, which had worldwide application in commercial and military aviation. Most notable, among these inventions, was the first practical radio compass for aircraft. By the end of the decade more than half the private aircraft in the United States were using Lear equipment. In 1940, his company introduced the Learmatic Navigator, an ultra-high frequency device enabling pilots to automatically hold a course by tuning in radio broadcasts of any kind, an invention that brought him the prestigious Frank M. Hawks Memorial Award.

In the post World War II years, Lear developed a series of miniature autopilots for fighter aircraft, then added an approach coupler to the device creating fully automatic landings in low visibility conditions, a historic first. For inventing this system, Lear was awarded the Collier Trophy in 1950 by President Truman for the most outstanding aeronautical achievement of the year. The French Government honored him in 1962 for developing the autopilot for the Caravelle jetliner which made the first completely automatic blind landings while carrying passengers.

Invested 1981 in the International Aerospace Hall of Fame

From "These We Honor," The International Hall of Fame; The San Diego Aerospace Museum, San Diego, CA. 1984


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Updated: March 12, 2004