February 27, 1910–December 21, 1990
BY BEN R. RICH
BE QUICK, be quiet, be on time.
That was the credo of Clarence L. (Kelly) Johnson, the aeronautical innovator who founded Lockheed's supersecret “Skunk Works” where he designed the world's fastest and highest-flying aircraft—the SR-71 Blackbird.
Johnson played a leading role in the design of more than forty aircraft and set up a Skunk Works-type operation to develop a Lockheed satellite—the Agena-D—that became the nation's workhorse in space. His achievements over almost six decades captured every major aviation design award and the highest civilian honors of the U.S. government and made him an aerospace legend. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1965 and enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1974 and was honored by many other prestigious institutions and organizations for his work.
Johnson achieved international recognition for the highly successful Skunk Works operation—“a concentration of a few good people . . . applying the simplest, most straightforward methods possible to develop and produce new products” with minimum overhead and outside oversight—and