Bielema's Close Call on the 1988 Beechjet


FAYETTEVILLE — The Razorback Foundation is purchasing a used 2007 Learjet40 for $4.7 million, replacing the 1988 Beechjet that had been in service since Ken Hatfield was Arkansas’ coach.

Count first-year Arkansas coach Bret Bielema among those happy with the Razorback Foundation's decision after a nerve-wracking experience on the Beechjet last winter.

Bielema spoke about the close call during his appearance at the NWA Touchdown Club on Wednesday morning. He was returning from a recruiting trip with defensive line coach Charlie Partridge and as they were getting closer to their destination, one of the pilots informed him there was a problem.

“He said, ‘There’s a light that came on,’” Bielema said. “As soon as we took off, they hadn’t been able to clear that light. I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ Long story short, he told us we needed to prepare for an emergency landing. Don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. Could be a simple thing. The light malfunctioned. Could be the landing gear doesn’t come down. Really, anything from A to Z.

“I said, ‘Well I know what the hell I want it to be.’”

Bielema said plenty crossed his mind while the jet made its way to the ground. One of them was whether he should call his wife, Jen. But he decided not to worry her.

Eventually, the Beechjet landed without issue.

“Reality check came around the corner, when you came around and all of a sudden there were four people on the plane and there were four ambulances and four fire trucks,” Bielema said. “I’ve never been more damn happy to be on the ground.”

Bielema didn’t waste much time suggesting the need for a newer jet. The Beechjet was needed service at one point last winter and was potentially heading for engine overhaul. So Bielema said Tuesday it was “time to get into the year 2000.”

Bielema — who said he didn’t have a jet while at Wisconsin — has used them frequently since being hired for recruiting trips, speaking engagements arond the state and other appearances. The Razorback Foundation, the Arkansas athletic department and the university also will use the new Learjet.

“Nobody is driving around a 1988 Buick,” Bielema said. “I know that.”

— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau