By the seat of his pants [documentary film about William P. Lear]


By the seat of his pants [documentary film about William P. Lear]


Documentary film about William P. Lear, produced and directed by Carol Schreder, narrated by Lloyd Bridges, released by the American Film Institute, copyright 1974. The film presents a biographical account of Lear's life and career and his then-current work on a steam-powered engine.

The opening segment depicts Lear supervising work on the steam engine combustor at the Lear Motors factory in Reno, Nevada. The voiceover narration describes Lear's project to develop a pollution-free steam engine and his trial-and-error method to inventing. In one scene, Lear and his employees discuss a possible solution to a problem with the engine. Moya O. Lear is also present during this discussion.

The next segment, beginning at 00:04:47, presents a biography of Lear, covering his personal history and his careers in radio manufacturing, aircraft instrumentation, and business aircraft development. Several photographs of Lear and his various inventions are shown, as well as additional footage of the Lear factory. The segment is also interspersed with brief interview clips of William and Moya Lear. William Lear draws parallels between his life and the novels of Horatio Alger, describes his relationship with his mother, and discusses the practicality of steam-generated power sources. Moya Lear discusses Lear's physical and mental health problems following the sale of the Lear Jet Corporation and his subsequent interest in using steam to develop an environmentally-conscious alternative to the internal combustion engine.

The next segment, beginning at 00:14:47, focuses on the ongoing development of the Lear Motors steam engine. The narrator describes the operational design of the steam-turbine system and the project's successes and challenges. As with the previous segment, brief interview clips with William and Moya Lear are included. William Lear discusses his approach to engineering problems, his belief in the subconscious mind, and the contrast between individual inventors and corporate research-and-development teams. Moya describes her husband's drive to tackle challenges and his personality traits and habits. Scenes include the experimental steam bus driving around the Lear Motors campus, Lear and his employees working on and testing engine components, Lear taking a telephone call in his office, and the Lears discussing the engine while dining at their home. At 00:26:00, Lear is shown taking off in a helicopter.

The film concludes with a shot of a Learjet taking off as the narrator hints at Lear's next project: a revolutionary private jet aircraft (the Lear Fan). This is followed by the end credits, which include a special thanks to the people of Leareno.

The film is in color and includes audio.

Label on container: "By the seat of his pants"




1 film reel (28 min., 56 sec.) : sound, color ; 16 mm


Bibliographic Citation

The William P. and Moya Olsen Lear Papers/The Museum of Flight