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Clarence "Kelly" Johnson
Page pulled from the National Aviation Hall of Fame, Inc.
One of the first things "Kelly" did after graduating from high school was go to a local airfield, where a barnstormer was performing and asked the cost of flying lessons. "Save your money, kid, you don't want to be like me," the old pilot advised. "Go to college and study aeronautical engineering." Kelly did just that, working his way through college and earning both a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Aeronautical Engineering.
- Johnson created innovative technical concepts that significantly advanced aircraft design, performance, and reliability.
- Johnson helped design 40 of the world's top aircraft including the Lockheed P-38, T-33, F-80, F-104, U-2, YF-12A and SR-71 aircraft.
- Johnson helped achieve supersonic flight and spaceflight.
- He won the Collier Trophy twice as well as two Theodore von Kármán and two Sylvanus Albert Reed awards.
- He was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 1964.
OIn 1933 Clarence Leonard "Kelly" Johnson began his career with Lockheed Aircraft Corporation by helping design the Orion, an aircraft which the famous Jimmy Doolittle used. Johnson proceeded to design the advanced Model 10 Electra that Amelia Earhart utilized in her attempted flight around the world.
After Johnson designed the Model 12 Electra, he conceived the XC-35, the first successful pressurized cabin plane, in 1936. A year later, the Super Electra was born and the famous Howard Hughes used one of them on a record-smashing flight around the world.
When World War II broke out, Johnson designed the versatile Hudson bomber for the desperate British in 1939. His unusual interceptor design earned Air Corps approval and later the resulting P-38 Lightnings served in every theater of the war. Just before hostilities began, Johnson turned out the Lodestar, later converted into Ventura bombers for the Army Air Corps and PV-l's for the Navy. He subsequently designed the revolutionary Constellation for Howard Hughes's Trans World Airlines, and Hughes used the Constellation to set a transcontinental record. The military versions, C-69s, served all over the world and Orville Wright flew one of them in his last flight. After the war, Eleanor Roosevelt christened the first of Capital Airlines's fleet of Connies, and Air Force C-121s play a vital role in the Berlin Airlift.
When Johnson set out in 1943 to create a critically needed jet fighter in 180 days, his temporary facility became known as the Skunk Works. But though his jet, nicknamed Lulu-Belle, was a great success, the war ended before P-80 Shooting Stars could see combat. Later, the improved version became the basic Air Force fighter. Next Johnson developed a reliable Neptune patrol plane for the Navy. One of them, named the Truculent Turtle, made a record 11,235 mile flight from Perth, Australia, to Columbus, Ohio.
After the war, Johnson designed the giant Constitution for the Navy in 1946, then proceeded to create the Air Force T-33 and Navy TV-2 trainers and these T-Birds were used to teach a generation of jet pilots. His next model was the speedy F-94 Starfire jet interceptor that scored the first radar-directed destruction of an enemy plane over Korea.
Johnson's X-7 recoverable Ramjet test led Lockheed into the space and missile business in 1951. Johnson's sleek, needle-nosed F-104 Starfighter interceptor set world records of 1,400 miles per hour and 103,000 feet altitude and Jackie Cochran used one to become the first woman to attain MACH 2.
After Johnson designed the unique Salmon in 1954, intended for vertical takeoff and transition to horizontal flight, he created the Seastar trainer for the Navy. His versatile Hercules cargo plane came next, and it served the military and industry all over the world.
In 1960, Johnson's glider-like U-2 entered the public eye after one of them was downed over the Soviet Union while on a high altitude reconnaissance mission. Johnson's elite Jetstar became Lockheed's entry into the pure jet transport field.
After Johnson assissted in the development of the Agena D spacecraft in 1962, out of his Skunk Works emerged the YF-12A Blackbird interceptor. The Blackbird was made of precious titanium to withstand stress and heat. A spectacular success, it proceeded to set nine world records in a single day, including hitting 2,070 miles per hour. Johnson then created the even more fantastic MACH 3 strategic reconnaissance SR-71 Blackbird. Though President Johnson presented Kelly Johnson the coveted Collier Trophy for his greatest accomplishment in 1964, his Blackbird, even today, startles the imagination with a one hour, 55 minute flight from New York to London and a return nonstop flight from London to Los Angeles. These were indeed truly outstanding achievements by which to measure the contributions of pioneering aircraft designer Kelly Johnson.
Kelly Johnson died on December 21st, 1990.
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