Kelly Johnson: Michigan Aircraft Designers Innovations Transform the Skies
- Clarence L. Johnson (known as Kelly) was a talented aircraft designer from Ishpeming, Michigan
- He demonstrated his skills at a young age and went on to win prizes for aircraft design
- Robert E. Gross purchased the bankrupt Lockheed Aircraft Corporation in 1932, and Kelly worked as an assistant for the head of the University of Michigan’s Aeronautical Engineering Department
- Kelly was instrumental in the creation of Lockheed’s Model 10 (the “Super Electra”), which was used for record attempts and praised by the British Royal Air Force
- Kelly was promoted to Chief Research Engineer due to his impressive designs.
Forktailed Devil: A Look at the Success of the Lockheed P-80
- The Lockheed P-80 (nicknamed the “Lightning”) was a successful twin engine interceptor aircraft developed in 1938 as part of an initiative by the US Air Force
- Kelly Johnson, an engineer for Lockheed, solved the challenge of supersonic air flow to prevent nosedives at high speed and altitude, resulting in increased performance
- This success marked a turning point for prop driven aircraft and inspired Johnson to pursue jet propulsion
- In 1943, General Harry Hap Arnold commissioned Johnson to develop a jet fighter prototype in just 150 days which eventually emerged as the P-80
- The P-80 was so successful that it destroyed more enemy aircraft in WWII than any other Allied Fighter and became known as the “Forktailed Devil” by Nazi forces.
Americas Innovative War Technology: The P-80, U-2 & MIG-15
- Kelly Johnson and his team at Skunk Works developed the P-80 Shooting Star, America’s first true fighter jet, in an astounding 150 days
- The U-2 spy plane was designed to fly beyond Soviet radar, missiles and fighters, but the CIA and Air Force could not agree on a design
- Kelly Johnson eventually convinced them to choose his CL 282 design, which was built in secret and delivered within 8 months
- Lieutenant Colonel William Miller became the first person to shoot down a MIG-15 with a Shooting Star during the Korean War.
US Missile Program Unveiled: The Hard Data Behind the U-2, A12 and SR-71 Blackbird
- Tony Lavere’s test flight of the U-2 aircraft gave the US hard data on the Soviet Union’s missile program
- Kelly Johnson and his team at Lockheed Skunk Works created the a12 that could fly higher and faster than the U-2
- Kelly Johnson faced enormous logistical challenges
- He solved them by finding titanium suppliers, machining fillets, and creating its curved shape to reduce its radar cross-section
- The Air Force created SR-71 Blackbird as an improved version of the a12 with more practical capabilities serviceable for longer missions
- It flew four times faster than Lockheed’s first fighter jet, was never lost or damaged due to hostile action, and inspired its pilots while unnerving enemies
- Kelly Johnson was forced out of Lockheed in 1975 but continued serving as a board member until 1980 and replaced himself as head of Skunk Works with Ben Rich.
Revolutionizing the World Through Secret Development: Kelly Johnsons Legacy Lives On
- Kelly Johnson created the Skunk Works culture and process, leading to the development of secret divisions such as Google X, Amazon Lab 126 and Steve Jobs’ Macintosh computer team
- Today’s startups like Boom Supersonic and Hermius have the potential to revolutionize high-speed aircraft and potentially change the world
- The legacy of Kelly Johnson began in Burbank California with the SR-71 Blackbird, which was later replaced by unmanned spy satellites.