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Walter Boyne’s Lockheed biography traces the history of a distinctive corporate culture.

By C.V. Glines

Walter Boyne has just had his 28th book published, and it promises to be a classic among books about the aviation industry. Beyond the Horizons: The Story of Lockheed (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1998, $29.95) is the definitive biography of a premier American enterprise that traces its roots back to 1913. Boyne follows Lockheed’s ups and downs through wars and depressions, technology upheavals and intense competition, as the firm emerges as one of today’s major aerospace giants. Boyne’s unique background as Air Force pilot, historian, novelist and former director of the National Air and Space Museum enables him to present an inside story with appropriate drama, featuring the people as well as the hardware that enabled the company to survive and prosper.

The essence of Boyne’s insightful work is summarized in his preface about Lockheed’s distinctive corporate culture: “This culture, while difficult to define as it changed to meet new needs, nonetheless maintained certain consistent, identifiable traits. The Lockheed corporate culture involved brilliant people working together at all levels, strong individuals who were willing to sacrifice their time, and in some cases, their lives, to the ideals of the company. For most of them, company loyalty was a simple metaphor for their loyalty to their country, for they knew that the United States depended upon Lockheed products to a critical degree.”

Although a Lockheed history could center solely upon the flying machines, beginning with the Loughead brothers’ 1913 aircraft, and the firm’s modern esoteric aerospace products, Boyne also chose to feature the men who, over the decades, helped the company justify a World War II public relations slogan, “Look to Lockheed for Leadership.” He begins with a quick sketch of the Loughead family, brothers Malcolm, Allan and Victor, then explains the change of the company name to Lockheed to square with the commonly accepted pronunciation, and the emergence of Malcolm and Allan as aircraft designers and manufacturers. Their most significant development during the period just after World War I was the molded plywood fuselage used in record-breaking aircraft of the late 1920s.

It can be said that the real story of Lockheed Aircraft Corporation began in 1926 with the success of the molded-wooden-body, cantilever-winged Vega, followed by the Orion, Air Express, Altair and Sirius variants. Record-setting speed flights in them by the aviation “names” of the day led to the phrase, coined by Allan, “It takes a Lockheed to beat a Lockheed.”

The good times ended when the Great Depression began, and Lockheed folded in mid-1932. However, it was quickly revived by Robert E. Gross, who bought the firm’s assets for $40,000. Allan Lockheed was not invited to participate in the new company’s management and formed two unsuccessful aircraft companies before ending his aviation career in 1938.

Gross had experience with the Stearman Aircraft Company and had previously formed two other aircraft companies. His business philosophy and management style would leave a lasting imprint. The first aircraft built under his leadership was the all-metal Model 10 Electra. Its ultimate design is attributed to Hall Hibbard, Richard von Hake, Lloyd Stearman, James Gerschler, C.F. Beed and Jack Infield. A young engineer named Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, later to become famous for his “Skunk Works” products, was responsible for the famous Lockheed twin-tail design. It was Gross’ gathering of brilliant minds that marked the transition from the single primary engineer concept of aircraft design to a team effort by highly qualified engineers.

Britain’s urgent need for a transport/bomber type led to the manufacture of 200 Hudsons in 1938, principally for anti-submarine patrol, an order that grew to nearly 3,000. That was followed by the Neptune, Ventura and Harpoon models. Meanwhile, the company had other ideas on the drawing boards: a twin-tailed fighter (the XP-38) and a four-engine, triple-tailed transport, the Constellation.

The jet age began for Lockheed with the P-80 Shooting Star, produced in the fabled Skunk Works under the leadership of Kelly Johnson. There were various problems and accidents at first, but the result was a record-setting aircraft that was also used for photoreconnaissance (the RF-80) and ground attack (the AT-33); its variants included the T-33, which became the lead jet trainer of the Free World, with 5,691 produced. The last T-33 was retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1997.

Boyne gives us a perceptive look at the operations of the super-secret Skunk Works and its leader, as well as cohorts Hall Hibbard, Willis Hawkins and Ben Rich. Boyne shows that Johnson was difficult to work with. “Yet,” he explains, “there was no one like Kelly Johnson for seeing solutions to impossible demands and for motivating a workforce to accomplish otherwise unobtainable goals.”

Beyond the Horizons explores the many Lockheed projects, reorganizations and the men who caused them–all of which contributed vitally to America’s holding on to the balance of air power during the Cold War. The far-reaching projects included the F-104, U-2, Orion, C-130 Hercules, C-140 JetStar, C-141 Starlifter, C-5A Galaxy, L-1011 TriStar, A-12/SR-71, F-117A Nighthawk and F-22 Raptor.

The X-7 and X-17 projects brought the company into the space business and led to the establishment of the Lockheed Missiles and Space Company. The Polaris, Poseidon and Trident programs resulted. The company was also involved in building the Hubble Space Telescope.

During the mid-1970s, a financial scandal erupted about paying bribes to obtain foreign contracts, but Lockheed was rejuvenated under the stewardship of Robert W. Hauck, Roy Anderson, Larry Kitchen and Daniel M. Tellep, and the company became anchored in the aerospace realm of satellite communications, remote sensing and global positioning programs. The end of the Cold War led to a vast reshuffling of the aerospace defense giants, and Lockheed merged with Martin Marietta in 1996. The new Lockheed Martin Corporation is developing the X-33 VentureStar reusable single-stage-to-orbit vehicle and a Joint Strike Fighter.

Walter Boyne has taken a complex company history and sorted out the important milestones and the characters who achieved them. Best of all, he gives credit for Lockheed’s successes to whomever it is due and does not sugarcoat the company’s management failures.