Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever

Kelly Johnson wasn’t the first man to build an airplane, nor was he the first to push the limits of what an airplane could do, but few men have played a more vital role in shaping mankind’s ascent into the skies.

According to the latest expert estimates, human beings just like you and I have been walking on earth for over 200,000 years. That figure gets even tougher to wrap your head around when you consider that a mere 200 years ago, mankind had yet to develop matches or typewriters. A century ago, we didn’t have antibiotics or movies with sound. These, along with countless other advancements, played a roll in a technological revolution that continues to this day, like a snowball rolling down hill, enveloping everything in its path.

Of course, mankind didn’t come by these incredible advancements by accident (most often, anyway) and behind each groundbreaking technology is a man or woman, dedicated to solving the problems of their day, and to getting out in front of those coming tomorrow. Nowhere is this human-driven rapid advancement of technology more prevalent than in one of our species most recent civilization-altering breakthroughs: aviation.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
Lockheed engineer Kelly Johnson with famed aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart. (Lockheed Martin)

In 1903, the Wright Brothers first took flight in Kitty Hawk. Less than forty years later, the first B-29 took to the skies with a pressurized cabin and a wingspan that stretched further than the length of Orville Wright’s entire first flight. A mere 19 years after that, Yuri Gagarin flew in space.

There’s no doubt that countless hands, hearts, and minds played vital roles in our rapid progression from the steam engine to the SpaceX Starship, but even amid this sea of engineers and aviation pioneers, some names stick out. Because while millions may have helped mankind reach the sky, some men’s contributions stand head and shoulders above the rest; Men, like Kelly Johnson.

Forged in the fires of World War II

Clarence Leonard “Kelly” Johnson was born in 1910, seven years after the Wright Brothers changed the world in Kitty Hawk. The son of Swedish immigrants, Johnson would win his first prize for aircraft design at the age of 13. By the time he was 22 years old, he was working as an engineer at the legendary aviation firm Lockheed.

At 28, Kelly Johnson’s role at Lockheed would bring him to London, where the island nation was preparing for the onslaught of Nazi Luftwaffe fighters and bombers that were to come just three years later in the Battle of Britain. The British were unconvinced that such a young man could produce an aircraft that could turn the tides of an air war, but the fruit of Kelly Johnson’s labor, dubbed the P-38 Lightning, would go on to become one of the most iconic airframes of the entire war.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
Steve Hinton flies “Glacier Girl,” a P-38 Lightning dug out from 268 feet of ice in eastern Greenland in 1992. The aircraft was part of a heritage flight during an air show at Langley Air Force Base, Va., on May 21. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker)

At the start of the fighting in Europe, many Allied air units were still operating bi-planes. By the end of World War II, Kelly Johnson and his team delivered the United States its first ever operational jet-powered fighter, the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star. Johnson had been tasked with building an aircraft around the new Halford H.1B turbojet engine that could compete with Germany’s Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe. In just an astonishing 143 days, Kelly had gone from the drawing board to delivering the first operational P-80s.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star (WikiMedia Commons)

The original Skunk Works

It was during World War II that Kelly Johnson and fellow engineer Ben Rich first established what was to become the legendary Lockheed Skunk Works. Today, the Skunk Works name is synonymous with some of the most advanced aircraft ever to take to the skies, but its earliest iteration was nothing more than a walled-off portion of a factory in which Johnson and his team experimented with new technologies for the P-38, developing the first 400 mile-per-hour fighter in the world for their trouble, in the XP-38.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
XP-38 (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

Later, Kelly’s secretive team again came through with the P-80, and again with the design and production of the C-130 Hercules, which remains in service for the U.S. and a number of other Air Forces around the world today. Then, in 1955, they received yet another seemingly impossible assignment: The United States needed an aircraft that could fly so high it could avoid being shot down, or potentially even detected.

Soviet Radar and intercept fighters of the era were limited to altitudes below 65,000 feet, and the highest any American aircraft could reach was just 48,000. In order to continue keeping tabs on the Soviets, the Air Force solicited requests for an airplane that could fly at an astonishing 70,000 feet with a long 1,500 mile fuel range.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, chief designer at Lockheed’s secret “Skunk Works” facility, initially designed the U-2 around the F-104 Starfighter fuselage. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Kelly Johnson’s Skunk Works responded with a design that they claimed could fly as high as 73,000 feet with a range of 1,600 miles, based on the Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter, a slender and supersonic intercept fighter. The Air Force rejected his design… but it caught the attention of America’s secretive spy agency, the CIA.

President Eisenhower wanted eyes on the Soviet nuclear program, and Johnson’s unusual aircraft design with long slender wings and no retractable landing gear seemed like it could do the job, despite its shortcomings. Johnson and his team were given a contract to design and build their high-flying spy plane, and in just eight months, they delivered the U-2 Dragon Lady.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

In order to test this incredible new aircraft, Kelly Johnson needed a remote air strip, far from the prying eyes of the American public. He chose a dry lake bed in Nevada for the job, and it proved particularly well suited for testing classified aircraft. Eventually, that little airstrip and accompanying hangars and office buildings would come to be known popularly as Area 51.

Taking spy planes to the next level

The U-2 may have been an immense success, but just as aviation advancements were coming quickly, so too were air defenses. In 1960, Soviet surface-to-air missiles finally managed to get a piece of a CIA operated U-2 flown by pilot Gary Powers. The aircraft was flying at 70,000 feet, higher than the Americans thought could be spotted or targeted by Soviet radar, when it was struck by an SA-2 Guideline missile. Powers had to ride the Dragon Lady down from 70,000 feet to 30,000 feet before he could safely eject, and as the secretive spy plane plummeted to the ground, Kelly Johnson and his team at Skunk Works were already developing a platform to replace it.

With spy satellites still more than a decade away, the United States needed a new aircraft it could rely on to keep tabs on the Soviets. It would need to not only fly higher than the U-2, but faster–much faster, so even if it was detected, no missile could reach it.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
SR-71 Blackbird (NASA)

Johnson and his team designed a twin-engine aircraft with astonishing capabilities in the A-12, which then led to the operational SR-71 Blackbird — an aircraft that retains the title of fastest operational plane in history to this very day. Lockheed’s SR-71 could sustain speeds in excess of Mach 3.2, flying at altitudes higher than 78,000 feet. During its 43 years in service, the SR-71 had over 4,000 missiles fired at it from ground assets and other aircraft. Not a single one ever found its target.

Another aviation revolution

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
(USAF Photo)

Kelly Johnson and the team at Skunk Works were on the cutting edge of speed and power, but as the Cold War raged on, it was Johnson and his team that recognized how the battle space was shifting. For years, the United States had focused on developing aircraft that could fly ever faster and ever higher, but with the advent of computer-aided engineering, yet another technological leap was within Lockheed’s grasp.

Johnson and his team needed to develop an aircraft that could defeat detection from not only enemy radar, but also other common forms of detection and targeting, like infrared. Using the most advanced computers available at the time, Skunk Works first developed an unusual angular design they dubbed “the hopeless diamond,” as it seemed unlikely that such a shape could ever produce aerodynamic lift.

Undaunted, development continued and by 1976, they had built a flyable prototype. The aircraft was called Have Blue, and it would lead to the first operational stealth aircraft ever in service to any nation, the legendary F-117 Nighthawk.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
Have Blue flying in testing (WikiMedia Commons)

The F-117, or “stealth fighter” as it would come to be known, played a vital role in America’s combat operations over Iraq in Desert Storm and elsewhere, but this program produced more than battlefield engagements. The technology developed for the F-117 directly led to America’s premier stealth fighters of today: the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The latter of those two is expected to serve as the backbone of America’s air superiority strategy for decades to come.

“The damn Swede can actually see air.”

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
Kelly Johnson (Lockheed Martin)

In total, Kelly Johnson had a hand in the design and development of some 40 aircraft for commercial and military purposes, with seemingly countless awards and credits to his name for his engineering prowess. The man had a genuine affection for his work, to the degree that he turned down the presidency of Lockheed on three separate occasions to retain his role within the Skunk Works he helped to found.

Kelly’s boss at Lockheed, Hall Hibbard, once exclaimed, “The damn Swede can actually see air,” as he tried to understand how one man managed to play such a pivotal role in so many aircraft, and in turn, in how the Cold War unfolded. Finally, Kelly retired in 1975, but remained a senior advisor to Skunk Works for years thereafter.

He passed away in 1990 at age 80, just one year before the United States, with all its incredible military technology, would emerge the victor of the Cold War.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why spears are the most common historical weapon ever

There’s a very good reason why you can find spears in the history of every civilization and tribe on Earth. It’s not just because they’re simple, be it a common pointy stick or an elaborately engineered and weighted one. And it’s not only because they were relatively cheap, compared to other weapons that could be mass-produced at the time.

No, spears were everywhere because spears work.


The men and women who practice HEMA, or Historical European Martial Arts, are extremely adept at swordplay, but Nikolas Lloyd (known online as Lindybeige) wanted to see if they could hold their own with history’s most ubiquitous weapon. He equipped sword experts with spears and some with swords, and pitted them against each other to determine which is better, once and for all.

None of the people fighting in the video above are experts with spears and shields, but all are familiar with swordplay. They would be fighting against their favorite weapons.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever

For the swordsman to have a chance at the spearman, he must be extremely fast, but even speed may not be enough. As Lloyd points out, the head of the spear can move very, very fast itself. There is very little chance of a swordsman closing against an eight-foot spear from any kind of distance – and keep in mind; this is not an expert spearman. In the hands of an expert, there is even less likelihood that the sword will hit its target.

When up close, the spear’s length becomes a drawback, so using a shield to get closer might be the obvious solution. Shields did raise the effectiveness of the sword against the spear, but not by much. When adding to the length of swords, the spear still came out on top. Check out the video to see the which weapon ends up being the most effective in medieval combat.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The reindeer that served on a submarine for 6 weeks

A pinnacle of wartime technology, the HMS Trident was supposed to patrol the Atlantic, doing submarine things. Maybe sink a ship or two, enforce the blockade, and smuggle a reindeer from Russia to England. If that last part sounds more like the plot of a Nickelodeon cartoon than a World War II mission, then you clearly don’t understand diplomacy.


Our stage is World War II, 1941. America is the Arsenal of Democracy but is not yet formally part of the war. Russia and England are the bookends to a powerful and super-evil Nazi Germany, and Germany is busily invading the latter while trying to contain the former.

Britain and Russia were not natural allies. Britain had interceded in the Russian Civil War in 1918 on the losing side, and many veterans of that war were still kicking in 1941. Some were resentful. Some, certainly, would’ve cheered if Germany had invaded the British Isles in 1940 and conquered it.

But Hitler made strange bedfellows. And so a Russian bear cuddled up to the British crown, and much canoodling was had by all. But young romances rely on careful gestures, and one side cannot spurn the gift of another. Which brings us to the strange events of the HMS Trident in 1941.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever

The Trident was sent to fight and kill Nazis in the Arctic, and its patrol took it into contact with a Russian crew. There, the crews exchanged tactics and had to play nice. A slip up on top of the world could cock up the whole alliance to the south. So, the men engaged with one another, were polite, and then the Trident crew prepared to head out for a fight with more German ships.

The Russian admiral hosted the British leaders, and British Commander Geoffrey Sladen mentioned that his wife was having trouble pushing her pram through the snow in England. The admiral had a great idea: The Brits should take one of the reindeer with them, and the reindeer could haul the pram around in England.

Again: This was the international diplomacy equivalent of a new high school romance. If the cute girl passes you a photo of her, even if it also shows her disapproving grandpa and some unsightly dental headgear, you give the photo a kiss, smile at the girl, and then tuck the photo into the door of your locker.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever

For those who are curious, the reindeer equivalent is: You accept the reindeer, name it Pollyanna, and carefully get it into your submarine by opening the torpedo tube and helping it slip in. You bring a barrel of moss aboard as well, so the young reindeer will have something to eat.

And so the British set sail for another six weeks of wartime patrol. Pollyanna often slept in the captain’s cabin next to his bunk. And, according to the BBC, she would trot to the control room and wait for the hatch to open when fresh air was allowed in. The moss eventually ran out, and the crew fed Pollyanna scraps from their meals.

When the sub returned to England, it took a bit of work to get Pollyanna back out. The moss and the table scraps had taken their toll, and the young reindeer was too large to make it back out of the torpedo tube. Instead, she was winched out through the top.

Polly went to the zoo and was reportedly happy, though she did have a few quirks from her submarine service. George Malcolmson, a Royal Navy Submarine Museum Archivist, said, “It was rumoured that she never forgot her submarine career, for whenever she heard bells or a sound like a submarine tannoy, she would lower her head as though preparing for diving stations.”

Pollyanna died at the zoo five years later, the same week that the HMS Trident was sent to the breakers yard to be reduced for scrap.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time an F-22 pilot told the Iranian Air Force to go home

The opening few minutes of the movie Top Gun make for, arguably, one of the coolest aerial scenes ever caught on film. There’s a reason it’s the enduring air power movie of the 1980s. Too bad for the Air Force that Top Gun featured the Navy.

Except Air Force pilots do that sh*t in real life.


In 2013, two Iranian Air Force F-4 Phantoms moved to intercept an MQ-1 drone flying in international airspace near the Iranian border. The two IRIAF fighters were quickly shooed away by two F-22 Raptors who were flying in escort.

Except, they didn’t just get a warning message, they were Maverick-ed. That’s what I’m calling it now.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever

How an F-22 Raptor intercepts a Russian-built bomber.

The two F-22 Raptors were escorting the drone because of an incident the previous year in which two Iranian Air Force Sukhoi Su-25 close air support craft attempted to shoot down a different Air Force MQ-1. In the Nov. 1, 2012, incident, the drone was 16 miles from Iran, but still in international airspace. Iran scrambled the two Su-25s to intercept the drone, which they did, using their onboard guns.

The fighters missed the drone, which captured the whole incident with its cameras. The drone returned to base, completely unharmed. Not surprising, considering the Su-25 isn’t designed for air-to-air combat.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever

Iranian Air Force F-4 Phantom fighters.

The following year, another drone was being intercepted by Iranian aircraft. This time, however, it had serious firepower backing it up. The Iranians came at the drone with actual fighters, capable of downing an aircraft in mid-flight. The F-4 Phantom could bring what was considered serious firepower when it was first introduced – in the year 1960. These days, it’s a museum piece for the United States and most of its Western allies. Not so for the Iranians, who still have more than 40 of them in service. When the F-4s came up against the MQ-1, they probably expected an easy target. That didn’t happen.

One of the F-22 Raptor pilots flying escort for the drone flew up underneath the Iranian Phantoms. According to then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, the Raptor pilot checked out the armaments the Iranian planes were carrying, then pulled up on their left wing and radioed them.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever

It wasn’t like this, but it could have been.

“He [the Raptor pilot] flew under their aircraft [the F-4s] to check out their weapons load without them knowing that he was there, and then pulled up on their left wing and then called them and said ‘you really ought to go home’,” Welsh said.

They did.

MIGHTY HISTORY

3 astonishing battles that came to be called ‘Turkey Shoots’

There have been many closely-fought battles that could have gone either way.


The Battle of Midway was one. The final outcome of Japan losing four carriers and a heavy cruiser compared to the United States losing a carrier and a destroyer looks like a blow out. But that doesn’t reflect the fact that the Japanese fought off five separate attacks before Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers fatally damaged the carriers Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu.

Other battles, though, were clearly blowouts from the beginning. As in, you wonder why the losing side even wanted to pick that fight in the first place. Three of these battles were so one-sided, they were labeled “turkey shoots.” Here’s the rundown.

1944: The Marianas Turkey Shoot

Within four days of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese captured Guam. Two and a half years later, the United States Navy brought the Army and Marines to take it back.

It was arguably a finer hour for Raymond Spruance than the Battle of Midway, when on June 19, 1944, the United States Navy shot down 219 out of 326 attacking Japanese planes. By the time the battle was over and done, Japan’s carriers had just 35 planes operational.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
Sailors aboard USS Birmingham (CL 62) watch the Marianas Turkey Shoot. (U.S. Navy photo)

1982: The Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot

In the Yom Kippur War, the Syrians and Egyptians surprised the Israelis with very good ground-based air defenses. The Israelis overcame that to win, but it was a very close call. When Syria and Israel clashed over Lebanon in 1982, three years removed from the Camp David accords, it was the Syrians’ turn to get handled roughly.

In the nine years since the Yom Kippur War, Israel started adding F-15 and F-16 fighters to their arsenal, but the real game-changer for the two-day battle of June 9-10, 1982 was the E-2 Hawkeye, which was able to warn Israeli planes of over 100 Syrian MiGs.

Final score over those two days: Israel 64 Syrian jets and at least 17 missile launchers, Syria 0.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
Israeli Air Force

1991: Desert Storm

While the air campaign was noted for what some sources considered a perfect 38-0 record for the Coalition (recent claims that Scott Speicher was shot down by an Iraqi MiG-25 Foxbat notwithstanding), there was one other incident called a “turkey shoot.”

That was a large convoy of Iraqi tanks, trucks, and armored personnel carriers. According to the Los Angeles Times, at least one pilot labeled that a “turkey shoot.”

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
(USAF photo by Tech. Sgt. Joe Coleman)

These one-sided fights still didn’t come without costs for the winners. But you have to wonder what the losing side was thinking when they started them.

MIGHTY HISTORY

World War I MacArthur was a bad ass

Gen. Douglas MacArthur is well known for his exploits in WWII and Korea. What is often overlooked is his exemplary combat record as a leader in the 42nd “Rainbow” Division in World War I.


 

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur reveling in victory of the Germans in St. Benoit Chateau, France. (National Archives, 1918)

At the outset of the Great War, MacArthur was appointed Chief of Staff of the 42nd Division and promoted to a wartime rank of Colonel. He and the rest of the division arrived in France in November 1917.  

The 42nd entered the line in February of 1918 and MacArthur wasted no time getting into the war. On February 26, MacArthur and another American officer accompanied a French unit on a nighttime raid of a German trench. MacArthur gained valuable experience for his own troops to employ but, more importantly, greatly aided in the effort to capture German prisoners for interrogation. The French awarded him with a Croix de Guerre while Maj. Gen. Charles Menoher awarded him a SilveFr Star.

Also read: 8 amazing facts about General Douglas MacArthur

Then on March 9, MacArthur joined Company D, 168th Infantry Regiment in an attack of their own. Being their first major action, MacArthur’s presence and coolness under fire inspired the men and they quickly carried the enemy position. MacArthur himself described it as a “roaring avalanche of glittering steel and cursing men.” For his bravery in the attack, MacArthur was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. He was also lightly wounded and received his first Purple Heart.

MacArthur received a promotion to Brigadier General on June 26, 1918 after he and the men of the 42nd held the line against the German Spring Offensive for 82 days.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
Brig. Gen. MacArthur (third from the left) receives the Distinguished Service Cross. (U.S. Army, 1918)

 

After a short rest, the division was quickly put back into the line to prepare for the German offensive in the Champagne-Marne sector. As the German onslaught surged forward under a rolling barrage, MacArthur once again joined his troops on the line to steady their nerves. As the Germans broke through the forward lines, MacArthur shouted encouragement and rallied his men for a fight. The German advance was broken up and MacArthur received a second Silver Star.  

After successfully holding the line, the division was moved to Chateau-Thierry to relieve the 26th Division and to maintain pressure on the retreating Germans. MacArthur led his men in a brutal offensive day after day in small unit actions and raids. As they approached the Main Line of Resistance, MacArthur led several large scale assaults to drive the Germans out of strong points and villages. One village changed hands eleven times before the Americans finally laid claim to the smoldering ruins.

Then on July 29, MacArthur led a valiant assault against the Germans at Seringes et Nesles. Under intense enemy fire, the men forded a stream and rushed up the slopes of the defenses before driving off the German defenders. For his part in the action MacArthur was awarded a third Silver Star.

Just days later, MacArthur was placed in command of the 42nd Division’s 84th Infantry Brigade after its former commander was relieved of duty. One of MacArthur’s first orders of business was to personally conduct a reconnaissance of German positions thinking that they might have withdrawn. He and a runner crawled through the mangled corpses and dying wounded of the German defenders left behind. In a tense moment MacArthur’s runner took out a machine gun position with a grenade before they could be spotted.

Eventually they reached the brigade on their flank and determined that the Germans had indeed withdrawn. MacArthur went straight to division headquarters to report his findings. After he explained his mission to his superiors, and passed out from not having slept in four days, the corps commander, Gen. Hunter Liggett, exclaimed “Well, I’ll be damned, Menoher, you better cite him!” MacArthur received his fourth Silver Star.

After another rest, MacArthur led the 84th Brigade in the main assault against the Germans at St. Mihiel on September 12, 1918. After months of fighting, MacArthur knew the German tactics; they would hold the center of the line while leaving the flanks weak. To counter this, his assault plan would fix the German center and then envelope the flanks. It worked, and on the first day of the attack the 84th Brigade drove farther than any other unit and suffered less casualties. They also captured some 10,000 German prisoners. This garnered MacArthur his fifth Silver Star.

 

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
American engineers returning from the front at the Battle of St. Mihiel. (National Archives, 1918)

 

Two weeks later, during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, MacArthur’s unit was ordered to conduct a diversionary raid against German strong points in their sector. MacArthur made a great show of it and, while accomplishing his diversionary mission, managed to suffer less than 20 casualties. For his exceptional leadership he was awarded a sixth Silver Star.

As the offensive continued on, MacArthur continued his valiant leadership. When his corps commander ordered the taking of a position — or to “turn in a list of 5,000 casualties” — he heartily replied, “We’ll take it, or my name will head the list.” MacArthur’s soldiers fought through bitter cold and determined resistance with mounting casualties, but they finally took the position. MacArthur was recommended for a promotion to Major General and a Medal of Honor. Instead, he received his second Distinguished Service Cross, which in the citation states: “On a field where courage was the rule, his courage was the dominant feature.”

Next, in the mad dash to take Sedan, he was awarded his seventh Silver Star when he averted a disastrous overlap of units from the 42nd and 1st Divisions by personally leaving friendly lines to communicate with the units involved at great personal risk to himself. During this period of fighting, MacArthur, known to not carry his gas mask as it impeded his movement, was gassed, earning a second Purple Heart.

For his exceptional service to the 42nd Division he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and also briefly made the division’s commanding officer in November 1918. His seven Silver Stars were a military record that stood until David Hackworth earned ten during fighting in Korea and Vietnam.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The fascinating origin of a favorite gloating phrase

You’ve just proven yourself to the doubters and in your moment of triumph you turn and ask just one question: “How do you like them apples?” This phrase has been used for decades and has been made popular by films like Good Will Hunting and Rio Bravo, but where does it come from?

While many claim that the origin of this phrase is unknown, others claim that it comes straight from the trenches of World War I.


Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever

When developing the first armored fighting vehicles, the British didn’t want everyone to know what they were working on, so they called them ‘water tanks.’

(Imperial War Museums)

World War I was, at the time, the largest international conflict ever. As such, troops came together from all kinds of backgrounds. As they intermingled, they picked up on dialects from other cities, countries, and continents and, as a result, a large number of new phrases were born from adapting elements of these different languages. It was during this same war that the first armored fighting vehicle was dubbed a ‘tank’ and anti-aircraft fire was called an ‘ack-ack.’

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever

You can still find these on the internet because why not?

(International Military Antiques)

The origin behind “how do you like them apples” actually has nothing to do with apples and everything to do with mortars. Specifically, we’re talking about the British-made 2-inch medium mortar, better known as the “toffee apple.”

This mortar used a smoothbore muzzle loading (SBML) system that fit a 22-inch shaft with a spherical bomb on the end, which would be exposed from the tube. This mortar, like others, was designed specifically for dropping warheads on foreheads in enfilade, but found use in other areas of the war.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever

Hopefully, your calculations aren’t too far off.

(The Atlantic)

The spherical shape and low velocity meant that the warhead wouldn’t penetrate the ground prior to detonation, leaving shrapnel to devastate enemy forces. Unfortunately for its operators, the system had a fairly short range. Oftentimes, in order to land an explosion in enemy trenches, this system would need to be used from no man’s land — an extreme risk.

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Oh, Matt Damon.

In addition, to clearing out enemy infantry, these bombs could be used to cut barbed wire fences and destroy enemy machine gun emplacements.

Though some say this term was used during the first World War, many others will tell you it wasn’t used until the 1959 classic, Rio Bravo. In the film, after chucking some explosives, a character remarks, “How do you like them apples?” Since then, it’s appeared in (and was arguably popularized by) Good Will Hunting.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The wife of the famous ‘kissing sailor’ is in the iconic 1945 photo – and it’s not the nurse

You don’t have to be a history buff to be familiar with Alfred Eisenstaedt’s “Kissing Sailor” photo — though its actual title is “V-J Day in Times Square.” It was taken hours before President Truman officially announced America’s victory in the Pacific War. The sailor in the photo happened to be on a date in New York City. He suddenly decided to celebrate by kissing the closest nurse — it’s just too bad his date wasn’t a nurse.


Authors George Galdorisi and Lawrence Verria did an extensive background study on the photo in their 2012 book, The Kissing Sailor. Their extensive forensic analysis determined that sailor was George Mendonsa and the nurse was Greta Zimmer Friedman. Friedman was not prepared for the kiss. In later years, she admitted that she didn’t even see him coming and that the two were strangers.

Related: Iconic World War II nurse Greta Friedman dies at 92

Friedman was working in a dental office at nearby Lexington Avenue, and though the war hadn’t officially ended, the rumors around NYC were swirling that Imperial Japan was set to surrender. She went over to Time Square to read the latest news, and sure enough, the electronic tickers all read “V-J DAY, V-J DAY.” That’s when Mendonsa grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her in.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever

“It wasn’t that much of a kiss, it was more of a jubilant act that he didn’t have to go back,” she told a Veteran’s History Project Interview. “I found out later, he was so happy that he did not have to go back to the Pacific where they already had been through the war.”

He grabbed a nurse because he was so grateful to nurses who tended the wounded in the war. The good news was her bosses cancelled the rest of the appointments for the day. The bad news was she never knew the sailor’s name. She never even saw the photo until the 1960s. What she did know was that Mendonsa had been drinking (he was likely drunk).

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever

Then-Navy Quartermaster 1st Class George Mendonsa was on 30 days leave from his ship, The Sullivans, at the time. He had been at the helm during the Battle of Okinawa, rescuing sailors from the carrier Bunker Hill after it was hit by kamikaze attacks. It’s small wonder he was happy to not have to go back into combat.

He was on a date with his then-girlfriend, Rita Perry, a woman that would later become his wife, waiting for his train back to the West Coast and back to the war. That’s when he heard the news that the war was over.

Rita can be seen just over Mendonsa’s right shoulder.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
Former Navy Quartermaster 1st Class George Mendonsa and his wife of 71 years, Rita, celebrate George’s 95th birthday.(Photo by Hal Burke)

By the time The Kissing Sailor hit bookshelves, Rita Perry (now Mendonsa) and George Mendonsa had been married for 66 years. When asked about her feelings being in the background of a famous photo of her husband, 95 years old as of 2018, kissing another woman, she said, “he’s never kissed me like that.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Finns stopped the Soviets with this polka song

There’s a subsection of YouTube dedicated to playing the same song on repeat, over and over again, for hours at a time. Parents think it’s just a part of raising children when they have to listen to the same kids’ song, over and over again, for days at a time. Both of these cases have nothing on the five months of playing the exact same polka song over 1,500 times, continuously, as the Soviets retreated from Finland during the Continuation War.


As the Finns recaptured the city of Vyborg from the Soviets, they would have to travel across land saturated with mines left behind by the Soviets.  When the Finns chased out Soviet soldiers, the Soviets retreated to safety, the mines detonated and devastated the Finns. There were so many mines left that civilians, even after reclaiming the city, were still forbidden to reenter their homes.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
…if they still had one. (Photo via War Archive)

This was until an unexploded mine and the radio equipment next to it was brought to Jouko Pohjanpalo, credited as being the “father of Finnish radio” for his work establishing the Finnish radio field. Jouko tinkered with the explosives and the associated radio device and discovered that it operated at the frequency 715 kHz. Inside the radio receiver were three tuning forks. When a certain three-note sequence was sent over the radio and all three forks vibrated — boom.

Now all they needed to do was send out a signal to jam the sequence. They needed something fast with a lot of chords that wouldn’t also set off the mines. So, they played Säkkijärven Polkka by Viljo “Vili” Vesterinen. It was an immensely popular song at the time and many Finns associated it with great national pride, similar to how Americans feel today hearing America, F*ck Yeah!

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever

And so began Operation: Säkkijärvi Polkka. The Finns blasted the song at 715 kHz so the mines wouldn’t explode and they continued to fight. The Soviets learned what was going on and changed the radio frequency for their mines. Because the Soviets didn’t change the mines, just the frequency, the Finns played the song on repeat on every frequency the mines could possibly operate on. Out of the one thousand or so mines in the city, only 12 went off.

In a press interview years later, Jouko told them,

In the crowds and the homeland, the operation received a legendary reputation because of its mystery. Säkkijärvi’s polka went together about 1,500 times. All kinds of rumors circulated about somebody crazy enough to have emitted it on every radio station.

To hear the majestic polka song that helped win a war, check out the video below.

(Dallape30 | YouTube)

Articles

A cut-rate Gaston taught U.S. infantry how to kill tanks

The U.S. Army made a lot of training videos for World War II. Think of them as the PowerPoints of yesteryear. And when it was time to teach infantry to fight tanks, the Army hired an actor that looks suspiciously like the character Gaston and then filmed him drinking beer in a hunting lodge.


Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
(GIF: YouTube/PeriscopeFilm)

Seriously, even the lights hanging from the ceiling are similar. He’s one dentally-challenged sidekick away from being this guy…

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
(Screenshot: YouTube/Theano Sakalidou)

Considering the fact that the new Beauty and the Beast revealed that Gaston was a veteran, it’s starting to look like Disney based their character on an old War Department training film.

But while Gaston is known for being an idiot, the staff sergeant in the training film knows his stuff. He’s a tanker who takes a little time out to teach infantryman how best to destroy armor.

He starts with how small arms can be used to force tankers to “button up,” diving into their hatches. Once the tanks are buttoned, they can be completely blinded by rounds hitting the view slits and periscopes:

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
(GIF: YouTube/PeriscopeFilm)

Then, it’s time for grenadiers to try and shoot the crew through the armor with anti-tank rifle grenades:

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
(GIF: YouTube/PeriscopeFilm)

But if the tanks make it past the grenadiers, the rest of the riflemen can throw Molotov Cocktails at the fleeing armor:

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
(GIF: YouTube/PeriscopeFilm)

All of these were real weapons and tactics in the fight against German armor, and Gaston helped make it happen.

You can see the whole clip — and learn how to destroy Axis tanks — below:

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the American Civil War happened

Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly caught a lot of heat for his comments about the cause of the American Civil War. Kelly said that it happened because of “a lack of ability to compromise.” And while that is technically true, it could be said that every war starts because of a lack of ability to compromise.


 

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
And sometimes, a compromise is actually a terrible idea.

 

Even if you venture away from the politics of the moment and step back in time to the politics of 1860, the cause of the American Civil War is still because of one issue: slavery. Even a more holistic understanding of the war reveals the one true cause at the heart of the conflict.

State’s rights

When someone is trying to make the cause seem like something other than slavery, the first issue they talk about is “state’s rights.” This happens so often, “state’s rights” has become a euphemism for slavery. But the power of federal law over state law was first settled by the Nullification Crisis in the 1830s.

South Carolina tried to declare certain federal tariffs null and void within the borders of the state. They also asserted they could nullify any federal law they declared unconstitutional. But they were dealing with a president who believed nullification was a step toward secession and he wasn’t having it.

 

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
Andrew Jackson didn’t take sh*t from anyone.

While Jackson lowered the tariffs to resolve the crisis, he also signed the Force Bill into law, which said the federal government had the authority to implement federal authority by force if necessary. Here the first stones of the road to war were laid, but if the war was really about the authority of states versus the federal government, the Civil War would have started in the 1830s.

Bleeding Kansas

The Civil War was not the first time American started shooting at each other over the issue of slavery. As the Union expanded after the Revolutionary War and more states were added, the balance between slaveholding states and free states was carefully maintained.

Representatives from slave states believed if too many free states were added to the union, the power of slaves states would diminish so much that slavery everywhere could be easily outlawed. But as more destiny manifested in the form of new U.S. territory, someone had to organize the unorganized territory.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
That’s really what they called it.

In 1820, the Missouri Compromise determined the Free State-Slave State border at a latitude of 36° 30′ – a separation of North vs. South. After the Mexican-American War acquired new territory, and thus new states, the Compromise of 1850 determined which would be admitted as Free and Slaveholding states.

Then in 1854, the law of unintended consequences showed up and the Kansas-Nebraska Act said the people of a state would vote on whether or not their state would have slaves. Settlers flooded into the new territories and violence soon erupted between pro- and anti-slavery fighters.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
Abolitionist John Brown literally slayed bodies with a broadsword in Kansas.

 

It was a sign of things to come. Literally. Like Terminator 2, the second coming of John Brown is even more epic than the first.

The Dred Scott decision

When a black slave named Dred Scott was sold to a white man who moved Scott into the free areas of Illinois and Wisconsin, Scott sued his owner, arguing that being in a state where slavery was illegal meant that he could not be a slave. That’s when the Supreme Court made the worst decision since declaring that black people in America were to be counted as 3/5 of a person.

 

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
Someone hold Chief Justice Taney’s beer.

 

The Supreme Court ruled that any black person, free or slave, was property and neither a person nor subject to the protections of law. While the court and President-elect James Buchanan were hoping that the decision would end public debate about legislating slavery, Northerners saw the decision as removing the idea of “free” states entirely and fueled the conspiracy theory of a pro-slavery cabal of rich men in Congress.

John Brown’s raid

Abolitionist John Brown led a raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, between Oct. 16 and Oct. 19, 1859. He wanted to seize the arms there and distribute them to the local slave population. His intent was to lead a revolt that would destroy slavery in the United States.

 

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
Remember John Brown? Told you so.

 

Brown’s 22 fellow abolitionists fought a company of U.S. Marines under Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart. Ten of Brown’s men were killed in combat. Brown would be captured and hanged for treason and murder. He would also be considered a martyr by the northern states, which led the south to believe northerners wanted to exterminate their way of life.

Suddenly the Presidential election of 1860 became even more important. It was seen as a referendum on the future of the nation – the country would be free or slaveholding.

Lincoln wins

Lincoln received zero votes in nine states, but still won 40 percent of the overall vote, including majorities in the most populous states. It was enough to beat a heavily divided opposition in the Electoral College. By the time of his inauguration, seven states already seceded from the union – even though Lincoln promised to leave slavery alone where it already existed.

No matter how you study the roads that led to the Civil War, it always comes back to one cause.

The Civil War would kill more Americans than the Revolution, WWI, WWII, and Vietnam – combined.

Articles

This awesome ‘trench broom’ terrified Germans in both World Wars

A single weapon used predominantly in World War I and with a limited deployment in World War II was so effective and so terrifying that Germany lodged a diplomatic protest against its use by American forces. It wasn’t the flamethrower or the machine gun. It was shotguns, especially the Winchester Models 1897 and 1912.


Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
A World War II Marine carries a Winchester Model 1897 shotgun. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)

The two shotguns were first entered into combat after America realized how brutal trench warfare really was. The soldiers and Marines serving on the Western Front needed a way to clear attackers from the American trenches as well as to quickly clear defenders from enemy trenches during assaults.

The spread of a shotgun was perfect for this mission, but the Americans didn’t stop at just buying off-the-shelf weapons. The War Department contracted for standard, trench, and riot versions of most shotguns.

Standard shotguns were civilian versions of the weapon, often with a sling added for easy carrying. Riot guns were similar but with shorter barrels. The most heavily modified versions were the trench guns which featured shorter barrels — usually 20 inches or shorter, heat shields, and bayonet lugs.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
The Trench Winchester Model 1897 shotgun features a cut-down barrel, sling, heat shield, and a bayonet lug. (Catalog Illustration: Public Domain)

The Model 97 quickly became one of the most popular shotguns issued, partially because of how well it stood up to the rigorous conditions on the Western Front. Operators could quickly clean mud and water from the weapons and get them ready to fire after a mishap, and the weapon continued to function even if it was dropped or slammed against trenchworks.

But the big reason that the Model 97 became so popular was that it could be “slamfired.” Typically, an operator readies a pump-action shotgun by pumping it to feed a round into the chamber and eject any empty casing currently in it. Then, they pull the trigger while aimed at their target to fire. Repeat.

But when slamfiring, they keep the trigger held back while pumping the weapon. When the new round feeds into the chamber, it will automatically fire. This meant the weapon could be fired as quickly as the operator could pump the handle.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
A standard pump-action Winchester Model 1897 lacks military features like the heat shield and bayonet lug. (Photo: Public Domain)

The Model 97 held six rounds of 00 buckshot, each shell of which held nine pellets. A trained soldier slamfiring could fire all six rounds, 54 total lead pellets, in approximately two seconds. At the close ranges in many World War I trenches, the effect was devastating.

Shotgunners would rapidly clear German trenches, cutting away the defenders. The tactic was so effective that Model 97s picked up the nicknames “trench brooms” and “trench sweepers.”

The German government lobbed an official protest against the weapon, saying that the weapon inflicted unnecessary cruelty. America responded that the claim was hollow coming from the nation that introduced chemical weapons and flamethrowers into warfare.

There are even reports that American soldiers skilled in skeet shooting were placed along the front trenches to shoot enemy hand grenades from the air, deflecting or destroying the devices before they could hurt American troops.

The Winchester Model 97 and Model 1912 would go on to serve similar functions in World War II, again clearing German defenders from trenches and bunkers as well as operating in the Pacific. The two Winchester shotguns were deployed to Korea and Vietnam, though the U.S. was slowly transitioning to newer shotguns by that point.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Old Guard marks 70 years of ‘Flags In’ to honor Memorial Day

Almost seven years ago, Spc. Dakota Williams lost more than his stepbrother. He lost his hero.

His stepbrother, Spc. Dylan Johnson, had been deployed in Iraq’s Diyala Province just north of Baghdad for less than a month when a bomb detonated next to his vehicle. The explosion killed him.


Inspired by his service to the country, Williams later joined the Army to follow in his footsteps.

On May 24, 2018, he personally honored his stepbrother when he placed an American flag at his headstone in Section 60 of the Arlington National Cemetery during the annual Flags In event.

“He’s not here, but he’s here,” said Williams, 23, of Salina, Oklahoma. “He’s still such an important part of my life.”

All Soldiers, including Williams, in the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard,” participated in some way in 2018’s Flags In. The regiment has conducted the event before every Memorial Day since 1948. It was then when the regiment was designated as the Army’s official ceremonial unit.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lane Hiser)

Over a course of four hours, more than 234,000 small flags were laid in front of headstones across the 624-acre cemetery. Flags were also placed inside the Columbarium as well, where the cremated remains of service members reside. In all, enough flags were placed to account for the more than 400,000 interred or inurned within the cemetery. Regiment Soldiers also placed about 11,500 flags at the nearby Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery.

“It’s a great commitment by these Soldiers to do this, to place them at the hundreds of thousands of graves here,” said Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper. “What it does is it pays respect and homage to those who served before them, going all the way back to the Civil War and signals the importance of their service and that they will never be forgotten for what they did. So that they know, these young Soldiers today, much as I knew when I was in uniform, that should I have to pay that ultimate price, I would not be forgotten either in America’s hearts and minds.”

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lane Hiser)

Col. Jason Garkey, the regiment commander, said Flags In is also a time of reflection for the Soldiers who participate.

“For every one of those headstones where we put a flag at, we have the solemn honor to put that flag in for a family member who can’t be here to do it themselves,” he said. “That’s a privilege.”

Each Soldier who took part in the event had the opportunity to place hundreds of flags into the ground, about 1 foot centered in front of every headstone.

When doing so, Garkey encouraged his Soldiers to read the name engraved onto the headstone.

“I tell them that the cemetery is alive,” Garkey said. “If you pay attention, it will tell you things.”

Buried throughout the cemetery are Medal of Honor recipients, young service members who were killed in war, retirees and spouses — all with a story to share.

Garkey, who took part in his sixth Flags In, recalled one time seeing two graves next to each other with the same last name. From the dates on the headstones, he believed they belonged to a father who had served much of his adult life in the military and his son who had died in combat years before him.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lane Hiser)

“There’s no worst thing than for a parent to bury their child,” he said. “But they ended up there for eternity.”

When his Soldiers recognize those sacrifices, he said, it helps put things into perspective while they perform their ceremonial duties.

“You realize there are many stories in the cemetery and that brings the cemetery to something more than just a place where we go to work,” the colonel said. “It makes it a living, breathing entity where we honor our fallen.”

For Sgt. Kevin Roman, who serves with Williams in the regiment’s Presidential Salute Battery that is responsible for firing blank howitzer rounds during ceremonies, Flags In gives him the chance to appreciate those who came before him.

“Memorial Day is a day to pay your respects to the [service members] who have made the ultimate sacrifice or who have served honorably,” said Roman, 23, of Bronx, New York. “For some people, it’s just a holiday and the unofficial start of summer.”

Before he participated in his fourth Flags In, he said every time he gets to place flags it is still meaningful to him.

“When you get out there and start reading tombstones, you gain that respect back that you may have lost during those hard days in the cemetery,” he said. “Everything comes flooding into you and you get that sense of proudness and that American spirit.”

Some gravesites are even more significant to other Soldiers in the regiment, whether they belong to a family member or a service member they once served with.

Garkey places a flag at the headstone of retired Lt. Col. Toby Runyon, a Vietnam War veteran and a family friend who died two years ago.

“I’ll take a photo and send it to his spouse just to say that we were thinking of Toby today,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said, the regiment’s sentinels who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will stop at the gravesites of former sentinels.

Kelly Johnson: How one man changed aviation forever
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lane Hiser)

“Everybody has got their specific places that they go to,” Garkey said. “There’s a healing aspect that goes into it for us. It’s more than just a task, it’s an experience.”

Esper also placed flags at gravesites in the cemetery. A former Soldier himself, he said, he knows comrades in arms who have died in service to their country.

“On a day like this, I think about also my West Point classmates,” Esper said. “I know one for sure who passed away during my war, Desert Shield/Desert Storm. I had another one who was killed when the Twin Towers were felled on 9/11. And another one killed in Afghanistan. And I think about them as well, because they are peers, and like me, I can relate more to their point in life, where they got married or had children, or maybe never had the opportunity to do either. I think about them especially.”

Over Memorial Day weekend, Esper said, he hopes that Soldiers, family members, and Americans across the country will be thinking about those who fought for and died to secure freedom for the United States.

“Hopefully they will all reflect upon the great sacrifices that America’s Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines make in defense of our country and in defense of our liberties,” Esper said. “Particularly those fallen heroes that are here in Arlington National Cemetery.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @usarmy on Twitter.

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