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The Many Awards of Kelly Johnson

Kelly Johnson & President Johnson

Kelly Johnson receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson. Medal of Freedom

"Aeronautical engineer, his genius for conceiving unique airframes and his technical management skills contribute mightily to the Nation's security by creating aircraft of daring design with unmatched rapidity and effectiveness."

President Johnson also presented the National Medal of Science to Johnson for "individuals deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical, or engineering sciences."

National Medal of Science

Johnson receiving the National Security Medal from President Ronald Reagan for "for distinguished achievement in the field of intelligence relating to the national security of the United States."

Reagan and Kelly Johnson

It was the first time an aeronautical engineer had been awarded the medal.

National Security Medal

List of Awards Received
by Kelly Johnson.

P-38 Lightning book
Classic Combat Aircraft of WWII

Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson

Kelly Johnson's motto says it all:

"Be quick, be quiet and be on time."

Kelly Johnson is credited with designing the first 400 MPH aircraft -- of course, our beloved P-38. 

At the remarkably young age of 33 he drew the preliminary sketches (see right) for what would ultimately become the most maneuverable -- and we believe the most beautiful airplane --in the Army Air Corps.

Johnson received an incredible number of awards during his career (listed at left), after emerging from a childhood of poverty and obscurity to make his mark on the aviation world in a BIG way!

Designer of almost every outstanding Lockheed aircraft from the P‑38 to the awesome Blackbirds, Kelly Johnson emerged from a childhood of poverty and obscurity to make his mark on the aviation world. His A‑12/YF‑12/SR‑71 was secretly flying at Mach III+ long before other designers even admitted it was possible.

At the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Wright Bros. first flight, Johnson was ranked #8 on their list of the top 100 "most important, most interesting, and most influential people" in the first century of aerospace, putting him right up there with Wernher von Braun, Charles A. Lindbergh and Leonardo da Vinci. Impressive!

Joining Lockheed as a tool designer, Kelly Johnson became one of America's foremost aircraft designers. He developed more than 40 aircraft and was the head of Lockheed's advanced development projects, known as the "Skunk Works."

If you wanted to work at the Skunk Works, here were "Kelly's 14 Rules & Practices"

1. The Skunk Works manager must be delegated practically complete control of his program in all aspects. He should report to a division president or higher.

2. Strong but small project offices must be provided both by the military and industry.

3. The number of people having any connection with the project must be restricted in an almost vicious manner. Use a small number of good people (10% to 25% compared to the so-called normal systems).

4. A very simple drawing and drawing release system with great flexibility for making changes must be provided.

5. There must be a minimum number of reports required, but important work must be recorded thoroughly.

6. There must be a monthly cost review covering not only what has been spent and committed but also projected costs to the conclusion of the program.

7. The contractor must be delegated and must assume more than normal responsibility to get good vendor bids for subcontract on the project. Commercial bid procedures are very often better than military ones.

8. The inspection system as currently used by the Skunk Works, which has been approved by both the Air Force and Navy, meets the intent of existing military requirements and should be used on new projects. Push more basic inspection responsibility back to subcontractors and vendors. Don't duplicate so much inspection.

9. The contractor must be delegated the authority to test his final product in flight. He can and must test it in the initial stages. If he doesn't, he rapidly loses his competency to design other vehicles.

10. The specifications applying to the hardware must be agreed to well in advance of contracting. The Skunk Works practice of having a specification section stating clearly which important military specification items will not knowingly be complied with and reasons therefore is highly recommended.

11. Funding a program must be timely so that the contractor doesn't have to keep running to the bank to support government projects.

12. There must be mutual trust between the military project organization and the contractor, the very close cooperation and liaison on a day-to-day basis. This cuts down misunderstanding and correspondence to an absolute minimum.

13. Access by outsiders to the project and its personnel must be strictly controlled by appropriate security measures.

14. Because only a few people will be used in engineering and most other areas, ways must be provided to reward good performance by pay not based on the number of personnel supervised.


Kelly Johnson hard at work.
Clarence Leonard
"Kelly" Johnson

27 FEB 1910 – 21 DEC 1990

Johnson's preliminary drawings of the XP‑38 (click to enlarge).

preliminary drawings of the XP­38

If you want to hear it straight from the horse's mouth, you'll want to read this book that Kelly Johnson wrote. He tells everything about the P‑38 right from his initial design, and it's a fascinating read!

Kelly Johnson's autobiography

Kelly Johnson

Here's a short excerpt:

"We had trouble before we got off the ground. We had trucked the airplane, under wraps for secrecy, to the Air Corps March Field near Riverside Calif., and reassembled it for first flight. The brakes had been received just the day before, because they had to be qualified first back at Wright Field in Dayton Ohio, before we could install them. We had loaded the rudder with a 500-pound pedal force and the usual type of linkage to the brakes.

So, on a bright, sunny morning, Kelsey started up those wonderful-sounding Allison engines. He decided to make a high-speed taxi run. He got up to speed, then stepped on the brakes. No deceleration. He pushed and pushed – in fact he bent those pedals that we had tested to 500 pounds of pressure the night before...."

Here's a fun bit of trivia...Kelly Johnson's student pilot's license.

Johnson's student pilot's license.