In the summer of 1938, a twenty-eight-year-old farm boy from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan found himself holed up in a London hotel room. He had just seventy-two hours to design a new aircraft, one that the British Air Ministry needed to prepare for a war that looked more likely with each passing day
The young engineer’s name was Clarence Johnson, but ever since he’d trounced a local bully in grade school, he went by the more defiant nickname: “Kelly,” which suited his fierce and pugnacious personality.
Shortly after being hired by Lockheed six years earlier, Johnson had walked into his new boss’s office, pointed to the company’s promising new aircraft, the Electra, revealed a critical instability and then proceeded to correct the errors to the company’s amazement.
He lived by the motto “Be quick, be quiet, be on time.” So, while in London to finalize the sale of the new Hudson bomber, the British Air Ministry requested numerous design changes, and Johnson took on the challenge over three nearly sleepless days.
Although amazed by the new design’s precision, Air Ministry officials asked if they could entrust the future of their air force to someone so young. In their wisdom, Lockheed officials said they had complete faith in Clarence “Kelly” Johnson.
In time, it proved to be one of the most important decisions in the company’s history.