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John K. Northrop

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Aeronautical Engineering Genius

Born Newark, New Jersey

November 10,1895—February 18,1981

 

The modern airplane has been shaped by many men, but few have contributed more to its performance, safety, and longevity than John Knudsen Northrop. "Jack" Northrop grew up in Santa Barbara, California, totally dedicated to the aeronautical sciences. In 1916 Northrop started as a draftsman for the Lockheed brothers who were then producing their first aircraft.

While working with the Douglas Aircraft Company in 1923, he participated in the design of the Round-the-World-Cruiser. He rose rapidly from draftsman to designer to project engineer on the husky Douglas biplanes of the period.

Casting his lot with the just formed Lockheed Aircraft Company in 1927, his genius came to wide public acclaim with the flight of the famed VEGA monoplane. This novel design, a monocoque fuselage and cantilever wing, produced unusually high performance for that period and was widely used by such top pilots as Wiley Post, Amelia Earhart, and Hubert Wilkins. In 1929, he produced an all metal monoplane with pilot and engine within the wing structure. Although this aircraft had booms to attach the tail group, it was in fact the first step toward the flying wing. More familiar to the world were his beautiful Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Gamma designs that provided the industry a quantum leap in flight performance and airframe life.

He founded the Northrop Corporation in 1939, and served as President, Head of Engineering, and Chief of Research. The first project was a true flying wing, flown first in reduced scale versions in 1940, and ultimately as the giant B-35. Design followed design in great profusion, the X-56, a welded magnesium fighter, and the most famous of his wartime creations, the deadly Black Widow, the first American night interceptor of which more than 700 were constructed, and which performed so effectively in every theater of the War.

His genius continued into the postwar era of jet aircraft, to produce the F-89 Scorpion all weather interceptor, and B-49 long range bomber, the Snark intercontinental missile, and automatic celestial navigation systems. He was a man of high ethics and dedicated public service who placed human values above the material.

Invested 1972 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


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Updated: March 12, 2004