Kelly Johnson and Lockheed Story

Inspirational documentary about Kelly Johnson. Remarkably, it ends with a music by Russian composer Tchaikovsky commemorating the victory of Russian people over French aggression against Russia in 1812. I say remarkably because technologies created by Johnson were first of all against Russia.

Several quotes from the film:

Johnson was willing to accept mistakes as long as they were reported promptly. Typically, he never asked why, but what are you going to do to fix it!

He wanted everyone who’d worked on the airplane they now call Lulu Belle (F-80) be on hand. He told test pilot Milo Burcham: ”She’s all yours, Milo. Treat her nice. Find out if she’s a lady or a witch”. Back on the ground Burcham was able to report that Lulu Belle was indeed a lady.

. . .confirming Johnson’s insistence on simplicity.

The whole ordeal taught Johnson never again to take on a job unless the requirements were both well-defined and firm.

Johnson visited the Korean battlefront in 1951 still smarting from the XF-90. He’d gone there to talk to the ultimate customers, combat pilots, about what they wanted in a fighter. To a man, it was higher speed, more altitude, and less complexity.

The urgency of the project also freed him from what he regarded as the tyranny of technical specifications.

At 70 knots I became aware of being airborne which left me with utter amazement as I had no intentions whatsoever of flying. Those fragile wings had more than enough lift. He completed the first real flight four days later and on the subsequent flight reported that the aircraft climbed toward the heavens like a homesick angel!

Though everything about it and its activities would remain cloaked and a heavy shroud of secrecy, this was the aircraft that everyone came to know as the Blackbird. Solid coat of black paint which seemed to add to its allure and mystery, actually had a very practical purpose that reduced skin temperatures by about 75 degrees. Its clean elegant lines and the smooth contours of its blended wing body shape give the impression that an artist had sculpted it into a rare a work of art. In aircraft design however, more than any other field, form follows function, and here again every line, every detail of the airplane exists only to serve some practical purpose.

It’s kind of ironic that skunk, a lowly creature known primarily for its odiferous emanations had, for the time he retired, become a universal symbol for excellence. What was his secret? Well, he had a remarkable capacity to take a complex problem, reduce it to its simplest components, and then take the most direct and sensible approach to its solution. Always a maverick he was smart enough and tough enough not to follow the committee rule with conventional wisdom. This gave him remarkable freedom. With that freedom came a tremendous burden of responsibility. Finally, and most importantly, he understood himself well enough to realize, that with a few good people you can do remarkable things! Kelly Johnson’s most important legacy wasn’t what he did but the way he did it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: