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Learjet 85's private, high-tech luxury to cost a mere $20.8M

The aircraft maker talks to CNET about advances made in the 50 years since its first private jet took to the skies.

A mock-up of the LearJet 85 in flight. Bombardier LearJet

If you have $21 million to spare, the Learjet 85 may be right up your alley.

The Learjet 85 is the latest private jet from plane manufacturer Bombardier Learjet. Flexjet, a company that sells partial one-sixteenth stakes in private jets, used the 50th anniversary of the first Learjet on Monday as an occasion to set up a model of the upcoming plane in Manhattan for prospective buyers.

CNET got a chance to check out the model Learjet 85, as well as speak with Ralph Acs, vice president and general manager of Bombardier Learjet, about the changes that have helped modernize aviation over the last 50 years.

With the Learjet 85, the company created a plane that is lighter, more fuel efficient, and can go further than any other plane in its family. Rather than metal, the plane is primarily made of composite material, which makes it more durable and lighter, Acs said.

The plane seats eight people and two pilots. It has a long-range cruising speed of 515 mph, while its high-speed cruise is at 541 mph.

Just as home entertainment systems have evolved from VCRs to DVD players to digital streaming video, the avionic systems in private jets have been revamped and modernized. Long gone are switches, dials, and gauges, and in their place are sleek monitors and, in some cases, touch-screen controls. On board the cockpit of the mock-up of the LearJet 85, there were iPads sitting by each pilot's seat.

The Learjet 85 offers a "virtual world" feature that creates a simulated image of the outside world when conditions are too foggy to see outside. The plane knows to draw from a database of the airport and city housed in the plane's software.

Controls, meanwhile, used to run on cables connected to the steering column. Pull back on the stick, and a mechanical system of cables and pulleys would move the wing and rudder and steer the plane. With the LearJet 85, all that runs on a wire system, where movement of the steering column sends electrical signals throughout the plane.

The removal of the cables and pulleys further lightens the load of the plane.

Of course, Wi-Fi is available on board these planes to keep the power users going.

"During your flight, you still have your calls," Acs said. "It continues to be a workable period as you travel."

While the Learjet 85 is the largest, fastest, and longest-ranging plane in the Learjet fleet, it and its $20.8 million price tag aren't even considered high-end private jets. Learjet Bombardier also manufactures two other families of jets, Challenger and Global, which go up as high as $70 million.

If full ownership is too much, Flexjet offers "fractional ownership" of the plane. For "only" $1.18 million, you get 50 hours of flight time each year for five years, after which Flexjet will buy back your stake in the plane. There are, of course, additional fees to cover hangar and fuel costs.