LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Nevada aviator John Lear’s death Tuesday night has sent ripples through the worlds of aviation and conspiracy theories. Lear was widely known for his claims about UFOs and Area 51, but also for a lifetime of daring exploits in everything that could fly.
“Most people think I’m absolutely nuts and that’s OK with me,” Lear told 8 News Now in a 2007 interview.
He didn’t mind when people attacked his wild stories. In fact, he reveled in it. He came to be known as the “Godfather of Conspiracies,” but anyone who was given the tour of his jam-packed den knew there was a lot more to Lear than tall tales. Those walls were a museum of his life, pictures with the famous and infamous, of planes he had flown, secret places, and projects he’d investigated. Regret wasn’t a word he was known to use.
George Knapp: “Would you do it the same way.”
John Lear: “Exactly the same way.”
Lear was the son of a world-famous man. His father, Bill Lear, created the Lear jet and invented the 8-Track tape system. Determined to carve out his own path, Lear dove into aviation, becoming an accomplished pilot at a young age, eventually setting multiple world records in all manner of planes. His daredevil life came with a cost — serious injuries caused by plane crashes he shouldn’t have survived.
During the Vietnam era, he flew cargo planes for the CIA and continued to court danger by flying in and out of other hotspots. His contacts in the aerospace world were extensive, and Lear became interested in secret planes and projects. In the 80s he and a few friends started staking out obscure bases in the Nevada desert, places that later became world-famous.
Lear helped KLAS-TV break the story about the existence of a secret plane that was invisible to radar. In the mid-80s, he started hearing stories about a UFO coverup, and not surprisingly jumped in with both feet, making various media appearances to discuss his ideas.
“There’s always something going on there, some secret project going on there,” Lear said.
In March 1989, he accompanied a small group to the outskirts of Area 51. Three Wednesday nights in a row, they watched a glowing disc rise above the mountains over Papoose Lake, a dry lake bed.
On March 29, 1989, Lear and friends recorded video of this object, a glowing disc that rose from a facility that officially didn’t exist. Ironically, March 29 was the same date Lear died at his Las Vegas home, though many years later.
The person who initiated the desert outing was a scientist who claimed he worked at Papoose on flying saucers. That scientist was interviewed live on television in May 1989 from Lear’s driveway, a tale that spread around the world.
Later that year, the identity of Lear’s friend was made public. Bob Lazar’s claims put Area 51 on the map, inspired movies, TV shows, and entire industries along what came to be known as Nevada’s Extraterrestrial Highway.
In his later years, Lear’s health declined. He could no longer fly but continued to share stories about increasingly outrageous conspiracies, enjoying the outrage they generated.
The crazy stories don’t obscure what was an amazing life. In the end, Lear figured he’d be vindicated.
“All I can tell you is when you find out the truth a month or years from now, you’ll look back and say, my gosh, the son of a gun was right.” You can see that video clip at this link.
Lear instructed his daughter to issue this message after his death.
“Tell them John Lear has embarked on his next adventure.”
Statements sent following Lear’s death
“John was a great pal for over 30 years – if you were lucky enough to meet him, you know he was an unforgettable and unique person. If he didn’t make you think he certainly made you smile. I’ll truly miss him.”
Aviation writer Jim Goodall:
“John Lear came into my life just short of a half-century in early 1973.
One of John’s favorite pranks was to pretend he was livid at you for something you had no knowledge of. He’d almost be foaming at the mouth. But you had to watch his eyes.
If you detected that “John Lear” gleam in his eyes, you knew he was just pulling your leg. And when caught, he would respond with a big belly laugh.”
Lear’s friend Gene Huff:
“If you were never entertained, educated, or astonished by John Lear, you never spoke to him! Ufology will never be the same without him.”
Jeremy Corbell, filmmaker:
“John Lear was a legend both for his aviation accomplishments and for his dynamic contributions to the study of the UFO mystery. Everything we’re seeing unfold today in the UFO field would not have been possible without John Lear. He was one of a kind.”
John Lear’s daughter said her father asked her to post this message on his Facebook page when he went on to his next lifetime.
“Angels are allowed a few mistakes but he tried not to abuse that privilege.”