Tag Archives: Lockheed P-38 Lightning

Clarence Leonard (“Kelly”) Johnson (27 February 1910–21 December 1990)

Clarence Leonard "Kelly" Johnson. (guggenheimedal.org)
Clarence Leonard “Kelly” Johnson. (guggenheimedal.org)

Clarence Leonard (“Kelly”) Johnson was born at Ishpeming, Michigan, United States of America, 27 February 1910. He was the third of five children of Peter Johnson, a stone mason, and Kjrstie Anderson Johnson. His parents were immigrants from Sweden.

C.L. Johnson, 1932 (Michiganensian)

Kelly Johnson attended Flint Central High School, graduating in 1928. After studying at a community college, Johnson transferred to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He graduated in 1932 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering (B.S.E. AeroE.). He won the Frank Sheehan Scholarship in Aeronautics, which enabled him to continue at the University to earn a Master of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering (M.S.E.) in 1933.

Kelly Johnson started working as a tool designer for the Lockheed Aircraft Company in Burbank, California, in 1933. After transferring to the engineering department, he was assigned to the company’s Model 10 Electra project. Johnson identified a stability problem with the airplane’s design, and he was sent back to the University of Michigan to conduct a wind tunnel study which resulted in his proposal of the twin vertical tail configuration which was a characteristic of many Lockheed airplanes that followed. Johnson also served as a flight test engineer for the airplane.

A genius of aeronautical engineering and design, he was responsible for all of Lockheed’s most famous aircraft: the Lockheed Hudson and Neptune medium bombers, the P-38 Lightning twin-engine fighter, the P-80 Shooting Star, America’s first full-production jet fighter. He designed the beautiful Constellation airliner. The list is seemingly endless: The F-94 Starfire, F-104 Starfighter, U-2, A-12 Oxcart and the SR-71 Blackbird.

Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson conducted wind tunnel testing of the Lockheed Model 10 at the University of Michigan. (Lockheed Martin)
The prototype Lockheed Model 10 Electra NX233Y during flight testing. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed Model 12 Electra Jr. (SDASM Catalog #: 01_00091568)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed Model 14-N2 Super Electra Special, c/1419, NX18973. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed Model 414 Hudson (A-29A-LO) in U.S. Army Air Corps markings. (U.S. Air Force)
Prototype Lockheed Model 18 Lodestar, NX17385. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed Ventura (IWM ATP 12110C)
Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson (left) and Chief Engineering Test Pilot Milo G. Burcham, with the XC-69. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed XC-69 prototype, NX25600, landing at Burbank Airport. (Lockheed Martin)
The Lockheed XP-80 prototype, 44-83020, at Muroc AAF, 8 January 1944. (Lockheed Martin)
Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson with a scale model of a Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed XP2V-1 Neptune prototype, Bu. No. 48237, 1945. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed TP-80C-1-LO (T-33A) prototype, 48-356, with P-80C-1-LO Shooting Star 47-173, at Van Nuys Airport, California. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed YF-94 prototype, 48-356. (See TP-80C prototype, above.) (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed XF-104 prototype, 53-7786, photographed 5 May 1954. (Lockheed Martin)
Kelly Johnson seated in the cockpit of a prototype Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed U-2, “Article 001” (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation prototype, NX6700, ex-L-049 NX25600. (Lockheed Martin)
The second Lockheed L-1649A Starliner, delivered to Trans World Airlnes in September 1957. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed EC-121T Warning Star. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed Model L-349 JetStar.
Lockheed A-12 60-6924 (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed SR-71A 69-7953. (U.S. Air Force)
Clarence L. (“Kelly”) Johnson, Director of Lockheed’s Advanced Development Projects (“the Skunk Works”) with the first YF-12A interceptor, 60-6934. (Lockheed Martin)

Kelly Johnson was married three times. He married Miss Althea Louise Young, who worked in Lockheed’s accounting department, in 1937. She died of cancer in December 1969. He then married Miss Maryellen Elberta Meade, his secretary, at Solvang, California, 20 May 1971. She died 13 October 1980 of complications of diabetes. He married his third wife, Mrs. William M. Horrigan (née Nancy M. Powers), a widow, and MaryEllen’s best friend, 21 November 1980. Johnson had no children.

Kelly Johnson retired from Lockheed in 1975 as a senior vice president. He remained on the board of directors until 1980.

Clarence Leonard Johnson died 21 December 1990 at St. Joseph’s Medical Center, Burbank, California, after a long period of hospitalization. He was buried at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, California.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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Charles Augustus Lindbergh (4 February 1902–26 August 1974)

Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Aviator.

4 February 1902: Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Brigadier General, United States Air Force, Medal of Honor, was born at Detroit, Michigan. He was the son of Swedish immigrant Charles August Lindbergh (born Karl Månsson), an attorney, and Evangeline Lodge Land Lindbergh, a high school chemistry teacher. Lindbergh attended Redondo Beach High School, Redondo Beach, California, 1917–1918.

Lindbergh, age 11, with his dog, Dingo. (The Denver Post)

In 1920–1922 Lindbergh was enrolled as an engineering student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He shared an apartment with his mother who was teaching at the nearby Emerson School. A friend from the university showed Lindbergh a brochure from a flight school. Mrs. Lindbergh is reported to have told the friend, “If Charles goes to flying school, I will hold you responsible.” Soon after, Lindbergh left the university and entered a flying school in Nebraska. In 1927, the University of Wisconsin bestowed the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) on him.

Certainly one of the world’s best known pilots, Lindbergh began flight training at the age of 20. He was an Aviation Cadet, 19 March 1924–16 March 1925, and trained at the United States Army flight schools at Brooks and Kelly Fields, in Texas. He graduated at the top of his class and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Officers Reserve Corps, U.S. Air Service, with date of rank of 14 March 1925.

Second Lieutenant Charles A. Lindbergh, Air Service, United States Army, circa 1925. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

Lindbergh was promoted to First Lieutenant, Air Corps, 7 December 1925, and to Captain, 13 July 1926. He flew as an Air Mail pilot and gained valuable flight experience.

Lindbergh was the chief pilot of Robertson Aircraft Corporation at Lambert Field, St. Louis, Missouri. The company was contracted to fly the mail to Chicago, with intermediate stops at Springfield and Peoria, Illinois, using several modified de Havilland DH-4 biplanes. On two occasions, 16 September and 3 November 1926, Lindbergh had to bail out of his mail plane at night.

Air Mail Pilot Charles A. Lindbergh, circa 1927. (NASM)

He resigned from Robertson Aircraft and formed a group to finance and build the Spirit of St. Louis.

On 20 May 1927, Lindbergh departed New York in his custom-built Ryan NYP monoplane, Spirit of St. Louis, and 33 hours, 30 minutes later, he landed at Paris, France, becoming the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. For this accomplishment he won the Orteig Prize of $25,000 (about $355,000 in 2018 dollars).

Charles A. Lindbergh with the Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis at Roosevelt Field, New York, 20 May 1927.
Charles A. Lindbergh with the Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis at Roosevelt Field, New York, 20 May 1927. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

When he returned to the United States, Lindbergh was presented the Distinguished Flying Cross by President Coolidge. On 14 December 1927, by Act of Congress, Lindbergh was awarded the Medal of Honor:

“For displaying heroic courage and skill as a navigator, at the risk of his life, by his nonstop flight in his airplane, the Spirit of St. Louis, from New York City to Paris, France, 20–21 May 1927, by which Capt. Lindbergh not only achieved the greatest individual triumph of any American citizen but demonstrated that travel across the ocean by aircraft was possible.”

Charles Augustus Lindbergh’s Medal of Honor at the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis, Missouri. (Robert Lawton)

Captain Lindbergh was promoted to the rank of Colonel, Officers Reserve Corps, U.S. Army Air Corps, 18 July 1927. In the 1930s, he had various assignments, including evaluating new aircraft at Wright Field.

Two years after his transatlantic flight, Lindbergh married Miss Anne Spencer Morrow, daughter of the United States Ambassador to Mexico, 27 May 1929, at Englewood, New Jersey. They would have six children.

Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh with their Lockheed Model 8 Sirius, NR211, at Grand Central Airport, Glendale, California, shortly before their departure for New York, 20 April 1930. (HistoryNet)

In 1930–1931, the Lindberghs flew a Lockheed Model 8 Sirius named Tingmissartoq from the United States to China, traveling through Canada, Alaska, Siberia, and Japan.  Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote about the journey in North to the Orient (Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1935). The Sirius was equipped with floats for a part of the trip. In 1933 they flew the Model 8 to explore air routes in Europe, Africa and South America. NR211 is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum.

Charles Lindbergh testifies at “The Trial of the Century.” The defendant, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, is at the lower right with his back toward the camera. (Library of Congress/New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection 3c09416)

Their first son, Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr., was kidnapped from the family’s home, 1 March 1932. A ransom of $50,000 was paid (equivalent to $900,000 today), however the boy’s body was found 12 March. At “The Trial of the Century,” Bruno Richard Hauptman was convicted of the crime. He was later executed.

Left to Right: Albert Kisk, Harry Guggenheim, Dr. Goddard, Charles A. Lindbergh, Nils Lindquist and Charles Mansur. (U.S. Air Force photograph.)

During the mid-1930s, Lindbergh was an active supporter of the rocketry experiments of Dr. Robert H. Goddard. He had other interests a well. With Nobel Prize winner Dr. Alexis Carrel, he invented the Perfusion Pump to allow oxygenated blood to be supplied to human organs. This eventually led to the “heart-lung machine” that made “open heart” surgery possible.

“Charles Lindbergh and Alexis Carrel with the glass heart,” Samuel Johnsonson Woolf, 1938. (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)
Colonel Lindbergh in the cockpit of a Curtiss Wright P-36A Hawk, 38-102, circa 1938. This airplane was destroyed during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, 7 December 1941. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

During World War II, Lindbergh served as a civilian adviser and flew the Chance Vought F4U Corsair in combat missions with Marine fighter squadrons VMF-216 and VMF-222. He also flew the Lockheed P-38 Lightning with the Army Air Force 433rd Fighter Squadron, 475th Fighter Group.

Charles A. Lindbergh with a Chance Vought F4U-1 Corsair at Emirau Island in the Bismarck Archipelago, May 1944. (U.S. Navy)
Charles A. Lindbergh in the cockpit of a Chance Vought F4U-1D Corsair, Green Islands, Solomon Sea, May 1944. (NASM)
Another photograph showing Charles A. Lindbergh in the cockpit of a Chance Vought F4U-1D Corsair of VF-24, Roi-Namur, Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, circa 1944.

On 28 July 1944, Lindbergh was flying “Blue 3” with a flight of P-38s from the 433rd along the north coast of New Guinea. Over Elpaputih Bay, Blue Flight encountered enemy aircraft. Lindbergh shot down one of them. Various sources identify the aircraft as a Mitsubishi Ki-51 Type 99 “Sonia” flown by Captain Saburo Shimada.

He is starting down in a wing over—out of control. The nose goes down. The plane turns slightly as it picks up speed—down—down—down toward the sea. A fountain of spray—white foam on the water—waves circling outward as from a stone tossed in a pool—the waves merge into those of the sea—the foam disappears—the surface is at it was before.

The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh, by Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Harcourt Brace Jovanovoch, Inc., New York, 1970, at page 889


Charles A. Lindbergh with a Lockheed P-38J Lightning, circa July 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower reactivated his Army Air Corps commission and appointed him Brigadier General, United States Air Force.

Charles A. Lindbergh was the author of We (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1927), Of Flight and Life, (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1948), and The Spirit of St. Louis (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1953). This third book won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1954, and is very highly recommended by This Day in Aviation. The book was made into a motion picture in 1957, directed by Billy Wilder and starring Jimmy Stewart as Lindbergh. (This film was a major influence on the author of TDiA.)

In 1972, while accompanying a television crew investigating a “lost tribe” in the Philippine Islands, Lindbergh and the group were stranded when their helicopter broke down. They were rescued by the 31st Aerospace rescue and Recovery Squadron, based at Clark Field.

Charles Lindbergh died on Maui, Hawaii, 26 August 1974. He was buried at the Palapala Ho’omau Church Cemetery, Kipahulu, Maui.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 November 1941

Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689, manufacturer's serial number 122-2202. (Lockheed)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689, manufacturer’s serial number 122-2202. (Lockheed Martin)
Ralph Burwell. Virden (Los Angeles Times)

4 November 1941: Lockheed test pilot Ralph Burwell Virden was conducting high speed dive tests in the first Lockheed YP-38 Lightning, Air Corps serial number 39-689 (Lockheed’s serial number 122-2202).

As the airplane’s speed increased, it approached what is now known as its Critical Mach Number. Air flowing across the wings accelerated to transonic speeds and began to form shock waves. This interrupted lift and caused a portion of the wing to stall. Air no longer flowed smoothly along the airplane and the tail surfaces became ineffective. The YP-38 pitched down into a steeper dive and its speed increased even more.

Designed by famed aeronautical engineer Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, the YP-38 had servo tabs on the elevator that were intended to help the pilot maintain or regain control under these conditions. But they increased the elevator’s effectiveness too well.

The Los Angeles Times described the accident:

      Witnesses said the twin-engined, double-fuselaged ship was booming westward at near maximum speed (unofficially reported to be between 400 and 500 miles an hour) when the duralumin tail assembly “simply floated away.”

     A moment afterward the seven-ton craft seemed to put on a burst of speed, the the high whine of its engines rising.

     It then went into a downward glide to about 1500 feet, then into a flat spin, flipped over on its back and shot earthward.

     Several persons said that they thought they had heard an explosion during the dive, but qualified observers doubted it. . .

     . . . Fellow pilots at Lockheed said, “Ralph was the best we had, especially in power dives.”

      Robert E. Gross, president of Lockheed, said, “Ralph Virden was a great pilot but an even greater man. If anyone ever had national defense at heart it was he, who every day was carrying the science of aviation into new and higher fields.”

     Various witnesses said the ill-fated ship’s tail assembly could be followed easily as its bright surfaces glinted in the sun during its drop to earth. It landed several blocks from the scene of the crash.

     Mrs. Jack Davenport of 1334 Elm Ave., left her ironing board when she heard the unfamiliar roar of the plunging plane’s engines.

     “I ran out and saw it passing over us, very low. It disappeared among the trees and then zoomed back into sight just before crashing in the next block.,” she said. “It looked just like a toy airplane. I knew the pilot didn’t have a chance, as the ship was too low and going too fast.”

Los Angeles Times, Vol. LX, Wednesday, 5 November 1941, Page 1, Column 6, and Page 2, Column 5.

The YP-38 crashed into the kitchen of Jack Jensen’s home at 1147 Elm Street, Glendale, California. Fire erupted. Ralph Virden was killed. The airplane’s tail section was located several blocks away.

Another view of Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689. It's factory serial number, "2202," is stenciled on the nose. (Lockheed Martin)
Another photograph of Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689. The factory serial number, “2202,” is stenciled on the nose. (Lockheed Martin)

39-689 was the first of thirteen YP-38 service test aircraft that had been ordered by the U.S. Army Air Corps shortly after the XP-38 prototype, 37-457, had crashed on a transcontinental speed record attempt, 11 February 1939. 39-689 made its first flight 16 September 1940 with test pilot Marshall Headle at the controls. With hundreds of production P-38s being built, Lockheed continued to use the YP-38 for testing.

Newspaper phototograph of the wreckage of Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689 at 1147 Elm Street, Glendale, California. (Los Angeles Times)
Newspaper photograph of the wreckage of Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-689 at 1147 Elm Street, Glendale, California. (Los Angeles Times)

The YP-38s were service test prototypes of a single-place, twin engine long range fighter with a unique configuration. There was not a fuselage in the normal sense. The cockpit, nose landing gear, and armament were contained in a central nacelle mounted to the wing. Two engines and their turbochargers, cooling systems and main landing gear were in two parallel booms. The booms end with vertical fins and rudders, with the horizontal stabilizer and elevator between them. The P-38 was 37 feet, 9–15/16 inches (11.530 meters) long, with a wingspan of 52 feet, 0 inches (15.850 meters) and height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.952 meters).

The P-38’s wings had a total area of 327.50 square feet (30.43 square meters). Their angle of incidence was 2° and there was 5° 40′ dihedral. The leading edges were swept aft 5° 10′.

The YP-38 had an empty weight 11,171 pounds (5,067 kilograms). The gross weight was 13,500 pounds (6,123 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight 14,348 pounds (6,508 kilograms).

The YP-38 was powered by two counter-rotating, liquid-cooled, turbosupercharged 1,710.597-cubic-inch displacement (28.032 liter) Allison V-1710-27 right-hand tractor and V-1710-29 left-hand tractor, single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines (Allison Engineering Co. Models F2R and F2L) with a Normal Power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., and 1,150 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. for takeoff. They drove three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters) through a 2.00:1 gear reduction. In a change from the XP-38, the propellers rotated outboard at the top of their arc. The V-1710-27/-29 engines were 7 feet, 1-5/8 inches (2.175 meters) long, 2 feet, 5-9/32 inches (0.744 meters) wide and 3 feet, 0-17/32 inches (0.928 meters) high. The V-1710-27/-29 weighed 1,305 pounds (592 kilograms)

The YP-38 had a maximum speed of 405 miles per hour (651.8 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and it could climb  from the surface to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in six minutes. Normal range 650 miles (1,046 kilometers).

Lockheed built one XP-38, thirteen YP-38s, and more than 10,000 production fighter and reconnaissance airplanes. At the end of World War II, orders for nearly 2,000 more P-38 Lightnings were cancelled.

Lockheed YP-38 39-692 in flight.(Hans Groenhoff Photographic Collection, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum NASM-HGC-967)

Ralph Burwell Virden was born 11 June 1898, at Audobon Township, Illinois. He was the second child of Hiram R. Virden, a farmer, and Nancy Carrie Ivy Virden.

Virden attended Bradley Polytechnic Institute at Peoria, Illinois. At the age of 17, 15 October 1918, Ralph Virden enlisted in the U.S. Army. With the end of World War I less than one month later, he was quickly discharged, 7 December 1918.

In 1919, Ralph Virden married Miss Florence I. McCullers. They would have two children, Kathryn and Ralph, Jr. Kathryn died in 1930 at the age of ten years.

Ralph Burwell Virden with a Boeing Model 40 mail plane, circa late 1920s. As a U.S. Air Mail pilot, Virden is armed with a .45-caliber Colt M1911 semi-automatic pistol. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Boeing Airplane Company President Clairmont L. Egvtedt and United Air Lines Captain Ralph B. Virden examine a scale model of the Boeing 247D airliner. (Boeing)

During the mid-1920s, Virden flew as a contract mail pilot. He held Airline Transport Pilot Certificate No. 628, and was employed by Gilmore Aviation and Pacific Air Transport. For thirteen years, Virden was a pilot for United Air Lines. He joined Lockheed Aircraft Company as a test pilot in 1939. He had flown more than 15,000 hours.

Virden lived at 4511 Ben Ave., North Hollywood, California, with his  family. Ralph, Jr., now 19 years of age, was also employed at Lockheed. (Following his father’s death, the younger Virden enlisted in the United States Navy.)

After the accident, Lockheed, the Air Corps and the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) undertook an extensive test program of the P-38.

The Lockheed YP-38 Lightning, 39-690, was sent to the NACA Research Center at Langley Field, Virginia. This photograph is dated 4 February 1942. (NASA)
The second Lockheed YP-38 Lightning, 39-690, was sent to the NACA Langley Research Center at Langley Field, Virginia. This photograph is dated 4 February 1942. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 39-690 in the NACA Full Scale Tunnel, December 1944. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 39-690 in the NACA Full Scale Tunnel, December 1944. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690, serial number 122-2203. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690, serial number 122-2203. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 #2 in the NACA full-scale wind tunnel at Langley, Virginia. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning, 39-690 (122-2203), in the NACA Langley Research Center’s full-scale wind tunnel at Langley Field, Virginia, December 1944. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690, 122-2203. (NASA)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning 39-690, 122-2203. (NASA)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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