The Michigan Engineer News Center

America’s first fighter jet

It's 1943 -- in the thick of World War II -- and a new German jet fighter is menacing the skies over Europe. Can Clarence "Kelly" Johnson help thwart the Nazi threat?| Short Read
EnlargeA manufactured image of Michigan alumnus Kelly Johnson superimposed over a historical image of a Lockheed P-80 fighter jet.
IMAGE:  Clarence "Kelly" Johnson and the Lockheed P-80. Photo: Michigan Engineering.

On June 17, 1943, Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, Lockheed’s 33-year-old chief engineer, was at the U.S. Air Corp’s Eglin Field in Florida, observing the performance of the latest version of his P-38 Lightning war plane. This was the day Johnson (BSE AeroE ’32, MSE ’33) first learned — as Wright Field’s Colonel M.S. Roth sidled over to confide in a whisper — that the U.S. military was testing a new U.S. Bell jet.

“You wanted to build a jet for us once,” Roth reminded Johnson. But Johnson didn’t need any reminders.

Johnson and Lockheed had developed the P-38 beginning in 1937. And though it still was the nation’s fastest propeller-driven fighter, Johnson had only been able to increase its speed by a mere 17 miles per hour — even while nearly doubling its power. In 1939, with the Brits and the Germans working feverishly on jet turbines, Johnson proposed his own audacious new jet design that he claimed would approach the speed of sound. But the Air Corps — more eager for more planes to fly more immediately into battle — turned him down flat.

Read the full article

A manufactured image of Michigan alumnus Kelly Johnson superimposed over a historical image of a Lockheed P-80 fighter jet.
Portrait of Randy Milgrom

Contact

Randy Milgrom
Multimedia Project Editor and Writer

Michigan Engineering

(734) 764-3944

3214 SI North

Reading cancer’s chemical clues

A nanoparticle-assisted optical imaging technique could one day read the chemical makeup of a tumor. | Medium Read