Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson (February 27, 1910 - December 21, 1990) was an aircraft engineer and aeronautical innovator with Lockheed who played a leading role in the design of more than forty aircraft.
Johnson was born in the remote mining town of Ishpeming, Michigan, to immigrant Swedish parents. He designed his first aircraft, for which he won a prize, before he was thirteen. He worked his way through school, first at Flint Junior College, and then at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
Johnson, with a master's degree under his belt, joined the Lockheed Company in 1933 as a tool designer at a salary of $83 a month. After assignments as flight test engineer, stress analyst, aerodynamicist, weight engineer, he became chief research engineer in 1938. In 1952, Johnson was named chief engineer of Lockheed's Burbank, California plant which later became the Lockheed-California Company. In 1956 he was chosen for the post of Vice President of Research and Development.
He became Vice President of Advanced Development Projects (ADP) in 1958. The first ADP offices were nearly uninhabitable; the stench from a nearby plastic factory was so vile one of the engineers began answering the phone "skonk works!" (Big Barnsmell's Skonk Works – spelled with an "o" – was where Kickapoo Joy Juice was brewed in the comic strip "L'il Abner" by Al Capp.)
However, his team delivered "Lulu Belle," the prototype for the P-80 Shooting Star, in only 143 days, more than a month ahead of schedule.
He joined the board of directors in 1964 and became a senior vice president of the corporation in 1969. He officially retired from Lockheed in 1975 but continued as a consultant at the Skunk Works. He was succeeded by Ben Rich. Kelly left the Board of Directors in 1980. In June of 1983, the Lockheed Rye Canyon Research facility was renamed Kelly Johnson Research and Development Center, Lockheed-California Company, in his honor for 50 years of service to Lockheed.
Kelly Johnson was first married to Althea Louise Young in 1937, who died in December 1969. His second marriage was in May 1971, to MaryEllen Elberta Meade of New York, who died on October 13, 1980, at 38 years old. Johnson then married Nancy Powers Horrigan in November, 1980.
Johnson died at the age of 80 at St Joseph Medical Center after an illness of many years. He is buried at Forest Lawn (Hollywood Hills), Los Angeles, California.
Kelly Johnson contributed to the design of the following aircraft:
- F-80 Shooting Star
- T-33/TV-2 trainers
- F-94 Starfire
- F-104 Starfighter
- Lockheed U-2
- Blackbird family: A-11, A-12, YF-12, SR-71, M-21, and D-21
- Orion 9D
- Model 10 and Model 12 Electra/XC-35/C-36/Y1C-37
- Model 14 Super Electra
- P-38 Lightning
- Model 18 Lodestar
- PV-1 Ventura/B-37 bomber
- P2V Neptune
- Constellation series
- C-130 Hercules
- Rich, Ben; Janos, Leo. (1996) Skunk Works. Little, Brown & Company, ISBN 0316743003
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