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Kelly Johnson was in his 20s when he challenged the early design of Lockheed’s Electra (Lockheed Martin)

Head Skunk

Kelly Johnson was a giant in aircraft design. On the 100th anniversary of his birth, we find out how his legend grew.

A catch, a stammer in his voice in that interview was perhaps the first sign of the dementia that would soon begin to devour him. Three years later, he fell and broke his hip. He never left the hospital after that. Increasingly eroded by senility, he lived another four years. The towering Kelly Johnson of legend faded slowly away; he died on December 21, 1990. He was buried in the foothills south of Burbank Airport, where his career began. There he sleeps, and the jets wheel overhead.

Peter Garrison’s last feature on legendary engineers was about Richard Whitcomb (June/July 2002).

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