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What made Kelly Johnson such a successful airplane designer?

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: July 26, 2010 
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 Aviation History Reader Poll

Lockheed designer Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson was responsible for some of the most innovative airplanes ever produced. What do you think accounts for his phenomenal success?

Give us your thoughts in the comments box below.


6 Responses to “What made Kelly Johnson such a successful airplane designer?”


  1. 1
    Trimblephil says:

    What amazes me about the design team at the "Skunk Works" didn't have computers and other technologies we have today. Yet they were able to design and build innovative aircraft with advanced technology and were able to do it in a remarkably short time. I wonder if such men and women exist today?

  2. 2
    DALE BRANSON says:

    Sirs: I think that Kelly was a genius in his on right, but was smart enough to surround himself with very intelligent and free thinking engineers. Together thay made a team unmatched in building the ultimate planes. Though he made many enemies in the pentagon he still would not let them dictate to him. This in turn kept all the egg heads like McNamara away from him. Very few men are as he was, strong willed and refused to be cowed by power and money. Thanks

  3. 3
    Robin says:

    STYLE !!!!
    The Steve Jobs of the aerospace industry.

  4. 4
    ben says:

    No Robin, Steve Jobs was the Kelly Johnson of the consumer IT industry

  5. 5
    ben says:

    Kelly had a philosophy of risk and reward, AKA Biblical faith. He rejected committees. "Working within the safety of committees you may avoid utter failure but you will also avoid utter success". Unlike men who are phenoms almost by accident, Kelly could articulate this and meant he understood the concept, quietly and deliberately managing his achievements without committees as part of his genius.

  6. 6
    Canuck says:

    D Branson is correct. Johnson made a point of getting the very smart and "out of the box" thinking people around him.
    When the foolish Canadian gover't killed the Avro ARROW project and laid off the brilliant engineers, Johnson and NASA divided the spoils. Johnson hired many of those Canadians whose thinking was far ahead of their time.
    To this day top edge Canadian talent is recognozed in the USA before it is in Canada.



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