Tag Archives: Project AQUATONE

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 YP-38 Lightning (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed Model 414 Hudson (A-29A-LO) in U.S. Army Air Corps markings. (U.S. Air Force)
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 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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1 August 1955

Right profile illustration of the first Lockheed U-2. Image courtesy of Tim Bradley Imaging, © 2015
Right profile illustration of the first Lockheed U-2, Article 341. Image courtesy of Tim Bradley Imaging, © 2015
Anthony M. “Tony” LeVier.

1 August 1955: Test pilot Anthony W. LeVier made the first flight flight of the Lockheed U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance airplane at Groom Lake, Nevada. LeVier was conducting taxi tests in preparation for the planned first flight a few days away, when at 70 knots the U-2 unexpectedly became airborne.

LeVier later said, “I had no intentions whatsoever of flying. I immediately started back toward the ground, but had difficutly determining my height because the lakebed had no markings to judge distance or height. I made contact with the ground in a left bank of approximately 10 degrees.”

On touching down on the dry lake, the U-2’s tires blew out and the brakes caught fire. A landing gear oleostrut was leaking. Damage was minor and the airplane was soon ready to fly. Tony LeVier was again in the cockpit for the first actual test flight on 4 August.

The Lockheed U-2A is a single-place, single-engine aircraft powered by a turbojet engine, intended for very high altitude photographic reconnaissance. Thirty U-2A aircraft were designed and built for the Central Intelligence Agency by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s secret “Skunk Works” under the supervision of Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson.

Lockheed U-2, “Article 341,” at Groom Lake, Nevada, 1955. (Lockheed Martin)

The company designation for the proposed aircraft was CL-282. Its fuselage was very similar to the XF-104 Starfighter and could be built using the same tooling. The reconnaissance airplane was produced under the code name Operation AQUATONE.

The U-2A was 46 feet, 6 inches (14.173 meters) long with a wingspan of 80 feet (24.384 meters). Its empty weight was 10,700 pounds (5,307 kilograms) and the gross weight was 16,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms). The engine was a Pratt and Whitney J57-P-37A which produced 10,200 pounds of thrust. This gave the U-2A a maximum speed of 528 miles per hour (850 kilometers per hour) and a ceiling of 85,000 feet (25,908 meters). It had a range of 2,200 miles (3,541 kilometers).

Because of the very high altitudes that the U-2 was flown, the pilot had to wear a David Clark Co. MC-3 partial-pressure suit with an International Latex Corporation  MA-2 helmet and faceplate. The partial-pressure suit used a system of capstans and air bladders to apply pressure to the body as a substitute for a loss of atmospheric pressure. Each suit was custom-tailored for the individual pilot.

Robert Sieker
Robert Sieker

On 4 April 1957, Article 341 was flown by Lockheed test pilot Robert Sieker. At 72,000 feet (21,946 meters) the engine flamed out and the cockpit pressurization failed. Parts of the U-2 had been coated with a plastic material designed to absorb radar pulses to provide a “stealth” capability. However, this material acted as insulation, trapping heat from the engine inside the fuselage. This lead to a number of engine flameouts.

Sieker’s partial-pressure suit inflated, but the helmet’s faceplate did not properly seal. He lost conciousness and at 65,000 feet (19,812 meters) the U-2 stalled, then entered a flat spin. Sieker eventually regained consciousness at lower altitude and bailed out. He was struck by the airplane’s tail and was killed. The first U-2 crashed northwest of Pioche, Nevada, and caught fire. Robert Sieker’s body was found approximately 200 feet (61 meters) away.

Because of the slow rate of descent of the airplane while in a flat spin, the impact was not severe. Portions of Article 341 that were not damaged by fire were salvaged by Lockheed and used to produce another airframe.

The first Lockheed U-2A, Article 341. (Lockheed)
The first Lockheed U-2, “Article 341.” (Lockheed Martin)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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