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Clarence "Kelly" Johnson

Renowned Aero Engineer

Born Ishpeming, Michigan

November 27, 1910

Died

December 21, 1990

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Clarence Leonard "Kelly" Johnson received a Science Degree from the University Michigan in 1932 and his Masters of Science in Aeronautical Engineering in 1933. While in college, he worked as a consultant on the aerodynamic design of automobiles for the annual Indianapolis races.

Kelly Johnson joined Lockheed Corporation in 1933 as a tool designer. After assignments as flight test engineer, stress analyst, aerodynamicist, weight engineer, and wind tunnel engineer, he became Chief Research Engineer in 1938. His original and creative thinking led to the development of many innovations in the aerospace industry. He contributed significantly to 40 different Lockheed airplane designs. Of these, 19 were primarily Johnson products, some of the best known aircraft in the world; the Hudson bomber, the Constellation and Super-Constellation transports, the P-38 fighter, the T-33 trainer, the F-94 interceptor, and the Jetstar. The first U.S. production jet, the F-80 Shooting Star which made its initial flight in 1944, set a pattern for Johnson and his co-workers. Managing Lockheed's Advanced Development Projects Division (The "Skunk Works"*), he developed the first double-sonic U.S. jet, the F-104 Starfighter, the high flying U-2 spyplane, and the superfast Mach 3 SR-71 Blackbird.

In 1975, he retired as senior Vice President of Lockheed. Among his many awards** are two Collier trophies, two Theodore Von Karman awards, and the National Medal of Science. He has also been awarded the Medal of Freedom for his "significant contributions to the quality of American life" in the advancement of aeronautics. His genius in the design and production of state-of-the-art aircraft has yet to be equaled.

Invested 1965 in the International Aerospace Hall of Fame

From "These We Honor," The International Hall of Fame; The San Diego Aerospace Museum, San Diego, CA. 1984


* Skunk Works was purportedly named by Lockheed engineers after the cartoons' Lil' Abner's "Skonk Works" where a
potent Kickapoo Joy Juice was created by throwing into the drink mixture "skonks", old shoes and other items. Kelly
Johnson's appropriation of men and material to accomplish the design goal at the Palmdale, CA, assembly shed of
Lockheed's Advanced Development Projects Division was reminiscent of that process.

** Johnson received over 50 awards, many of which were national awards, for his aircraft designs.

The San Diego Aerospace Museum's biography was enhanced by materials (* and **) from the National Academy of
Sciences' biographical memoir of Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, written by Ben R. Rich.


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Updated: March 12, 2004