Kelly’s Heroes: Lockheed’s five finest airplanes


Update: It’s Memorial Day weekend here in the US, and the Ars staff has a long weekend accordingly. As we all reflect on the sacrifice of the people bravely serving in the Armed Forces, we thought resurfacing this piece—an homage to some of the finest aviation ever deployed by the US—would be a welcomed accompaniment. This story originally ran on March 4, 2016, and it appears unchanged below.

Roughly 110 years ago, one of the world’s greatest aircraft designers—Clarence “Kelly” Johnson—was born in Ishpeming, Michigan. And since we’re gigantic aviation nerds here at Ars Technica, the week of his birthday (February 27) is as good a reason as any to celebrate some of his legendary designs. Johnson spent 44 years working at Lockheed, where he was responsible for world-changing aircraft including the high-flying U-2, the “missile with a man in it” F-104 Starfighter, and the almost-otherworldly Blackbird family of jets.

In his career at Lockheed, Johnson’s engineering acumen won him two Collier trophies, the most prestigious award one can win in the field of aeronautics (Lockheed chief engineer Hall Hibbard once famously said about Johnson, “That damn Swede can see air!”). In addition to being an excellent engineer, Johnson was also a powerfully effective manager; his practices running Lockheed’s Advanced Design Projects unit are commonly regarded now as a master-class on how small focused groups should communicate and manage projects.

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