Johnson, Clarence L.

Johnson, Clarence L. (“Kelly”)

(1910–90) aircraft designer; born in Ishpeming, Mich. After receiving a master's degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Michigan, he went to work for Lockheed Corporation in 1933. Beginning as a tool designer he held positions as flight test engineer and stress analyst before becoming chief research engineer in 1938. He was involved in designing over 40 airplanes, including the U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance plane, the F-104 Starfighter, and the P-38 Lightning plane used during World War II. He also helped develop several high-speed long-distance airplanes. During his years at Lockheed he became best known for his leadership of the "Skunk Works," the company's advanced development unit. In 1943, in only 143 days, the group produced the nation's first operational jet fighter, the P–80 Shooting Star. Awarded the Medal of Freedom in 1964, Johnson retired in 1975 but remained a senior adviser to Lockheed until his death.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.