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Article: A Skunk Of A Different Kind!


A Skunk Of A Different Kind!

On a chilly and dry day with an outdoor temperature in the lower 40s and with NNE winds gusting tin excess of 20 mph at Kitty Hawk, NC, two brothers went down to the beach to try to fly their new contraption called an "airplane!"

At 10:35 am December 17, 1903 Orville Wright made the first of four flights that day. The first flight lasted all of 12 seconds and traversed the distance of about 120 feet.

The first flight by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, NC.

By the conclusion of the four flights the longest covered 852 feet in just under a minute.

Mankind had achieved manned flight in an aircraft!

What followed was a rush to design new and better performing aircraft by entreprenuers and wanabe pilots. 

On August 2nd, 1909, the U.S. military began its grand aviation adventure when the Wright Brothers delivered the first airplane, a Wright A Flyer, to the U.S. Army Signal Corps. 

The U.S. Army Signal Corps first aircraft, a Wright A Flyer purchased for $ 30,000.

It is June 28th of 1914, and Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia were visiting Sarajevo, Bosnia, when a small of Serbian dissidents assassinated both of them.

The next thing that happened was the world erupted into a Global Conflict which become known as World War One.

By the time Europe was plunged into World War I in the summer of 1914 the military potential for the use of the airplane was becoming very clear.

Americans became excited about aviation by the end of WWI, and many aircraft and pilots from that conflict had returned home and wanted to continue their flying. 

Cheap airplanes and eager pilots began barstorming around the country, each trying to outdo the other, and other seeking more practical uses for airplanes.

The Golden Age of Flight was born, and between World War One and World War Two the country found air races, record setting flights, and aircraft evolving from wood and canvas to streamlined metal monoplanes.

Clarence Leonard Johnson

In the North woods of Michigan's Upper Penninsula on a cold, snowy, and windy day on the 27th day of February 1910, the world welcomed the arrival of a young man by the name of Clarence L. Johnson.

The third of five children of Peter and Kjrstie Johnson Iimmigrants from Sweden), they could not have known that little Clarence would grow up to change the world!

During his childhood Clarence was so interested in learning he showed up to school early every morning just to be the first to start learning.

As wtih most schools, one of the schools Johnson attended had a bully. This bully's name was Cecil, and Cecil delighted in calling Clarance Clara - a girls name!

Well, Clarance had enough of this nonsense and finally confronted Cecil which resulted in a broken leg for Cecil. Clarence proudly told his teacher that he had done that to Cecil on purpose.

Well, this then resulted in the application of some discipline in the form of his knuckles being rapped hard with a ruler. 

Clarence refused to cry, and this awed his peers who then decided a tough guy needed a better moniker than Clara. They chose a good Irish name like Kelly which was more appropriate for a tough guy like Clarence.

Kelly Johnson went to high school at Flint Central High grauating in 1928. He then entered community college, transferred to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Aeronautical Engineering (B.S.E. AeroE).

As a result of his grades he won the Frank P. Sheehan Scholarship in Aeronautics at the U of M culminating in earning a Master of Science Degree in Aeronautical Engineering (M.S.E.).

A copy of the U of M Michigan Daily listing the Frank P. Sheehan scholarship.

Clarence "Kelly" Johnson Gets His First Job

In 1933 Johnson is hired by Lockheed Aircraft Company in Burbank, CA as a tool designer for a salary of $ 83 a month. Shortly he was transferred to the engineering department where they were developing the Lockheed Electra 10 aircraft.

Kelly Johnson noticed a problem with stability in the airplane's design,and never one to be shy brought it to the attention of the chief engineer, Hall Hibbard. Kelly Johnson convinced Hibbard that the current design of the Model 10 would be unstable.

Johnson was so convincing in his evaluation of the design that Hibbard sent Johnson back to the University of Michigan where they had a wind tunnel.

Kelly Johnson made a number of changes to the wind tunnel model, including giving the Model 10 an "H" tail configuration.

Note the tail of the Electra tail which Kelly Johnson felt need to be changed tp the "H" conficguration.

Lockheed accepted Johnson's suggestions, and the Lockheed Electra Model 10 went on to be a success. This is the same model airplane that Amelia Earhart went on to make her famous and tragic around the world flight.

His success brought him to the attention of company management who promoted him to aeronautical engineer!

He then became a flight test engineer, stress analyst, aderodynamicist, and weight engineer, and finally chief research engineer in 1938. 

In 1940 during World War II Johnson led the team that developed the advanced twin-engine fighter plane, the P-38 Lightning. Almost 10,000 of Lightnings were built.

The Lockheed P-38 Lightning in flight.

In 1943 Johnson proposed to the U.S. Army Air Force that Lockheed would develope a jet airplane in just six months! The resultant aircraft was the P-80 Shooting Star.

Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson with a scale model of a Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star.

It was completed on time and became America's first operational jet fighter.

A flight of four P-80 Shooting Stars flying in formation

By 1952 he became the chief engineer of Lockheed's Burbank, CA facility. In 1956 he was promoted to Vice President of Redearch and Development there. 

Rapidly climbing the corporate ladder, Johnson became the Vice President of Advanced Development Projeces in 1958.

Over the years Johnson helped design the following Locheed aircraft:

  • Model 9D Orion;
  • Model 10 Electra;
  • Model 12 Electra Junior;
  • Model 14 Super Electra;
  • Model 18 Lodestar;
  • PV-1 Ventura;
  • P-38 Lighning;
  • Constellation Family;
  • F-80 Shooting Star;
  • T-33 and TV-2, training versions of the F-80;
  • XF-90, prototype penetration fighter, first Lockheed jet to fly supersonic;
  • F-94 Starfire;
  • X-7 testbed for ram jet engines;
  • F-104 Starfighter;
  • F-117A Nighthawk;
  • C-130 Hercules;
  • U-2 Dragon Lady high altitude reconnaisance aircraft;
  • Blackbird family: A-12, YF-12, SR-71, M-21, and D-21;
  • JetStar/C-140 business jet.

 Much of Kelly Johnsons success was the result of a set of rules he developed to show how to accomplish the best result in the shortest time possible.

Kelly Johnson's 14 Rules of Management



1 Don`t be hesitant to give orders.
2 Don`t hesitate to share information.
3 Reach a workable compromise quickly.
4 Don`t temporize.
5 Don`t waste time in detail.
6 The risk must be accepted.
7 Be quick to praise any improvement.
8 Be concerned with the next step.
9 Don`t delay in making decisions.
10 Don`t frozen changes.
11 The customer must be satisfied.
12 The management must be informed.
13 Don`t allow proposals to accumulate.
14 Don`t worry about the details. Correct go.


Kelly Johnson, Test Pilot and Aeronautical Engineer

Kelly Johnson wasn't one of those "sit behind the desk and shout orders" kind of executive. Not at all!

Kelly Johnson was a test pilot and flew the chase plane while developing the Blackbird SR-71 aircraft.

He logged some 2,300 hours flying some of the fastest and most sophisticated aircraft of the day despite the fact he didn't get his pilot's license until the ripe old age of 62!

During his career Kelly Johnson won many honors and rewards and was considered number eight in Aviation Week's All-Time Top 100 Stars of Aerospace and Aviation.

He was also listed at number twenty-three by Flying Magazine's 51 Heroes of Aviation.

Kelly Johnson was married three times during his career, and strangely enough his first two wives died before he remarried for the final time to his secretary's friend, Nancy Powers Horrigan in November of 1980.

Kelly died at the age of 90 at St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, CA after physical and mental deterioration caused by the hardenng of his arteries connected to his brain.

Kelly Johnson and Gary Powers in front of the Lockheed U-2 aircraft

I hope you enjoyed this trip through some of the history of aviation. If you enjoyed this trip, and are new to this newsletter, sign up to receive your own weekly newsletter here: Subscribe here!

Until next time, keep your eyes safe and focused on what's ahead of you, Hersch!

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