Lockheed Martin Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Aerospace company formed by the 1996 merger of Lockheed and Martin.

Early Years

Lockheed was originally founded by brothers Allan and Malcolm Loughead in 1916. The Loughead brothers had broken into the aircraft manufacturing business three years earlier when they constructed a seaplane under the auspices of their Alco Hydro-Aeroplane company in San Francisco. The Loughead Model G seaplane carried visitors to the Panama-Pacific Exposition over San Francisco Bay at a cost of $10 per person. The company folded when the exposition ended, and the Loughead brothers decided to move to sunnier Los Angeles, where they formed the Loughead Aircraft Manufacturing Company.

During World War I, the company built two patrol bombers for the U.S. Navy, but these did not lead to additional orders. The Loughead brothers then decided to capitalize on the popularity of aviation in the United States by building a sport airplane for the masses. The program produced an aircraft known as the S-1. The S-1 was a technological breakthrough, but a commercial disaster. The U.S. government dumped thousands of war surplus aircraft into the market and Loughead did not sell a single S-1. The Loughead Aircraft Manufacturing Company went out of business in 1920.

Six years later, Allan Loughead and his former employee Jack Northrop decided to begin manufacturing airplanes again. They incorporated the Lockheed Aircraft Company in December, 1926. Irritated by mispronunciation of his name, Allan Loughead decided to use the phonetic spelling for his new company. The company immediately began work on a planed designed by Jack Northrop. Lockheed dubbed the aircraft the Vega, starting a tradition at Lockheed of naming planes for celestial phenomena.

Charles A. Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927 sparked widespread interest in aviation and the Vega quickly became a popular aircraft. The first well-known Vega pilot, George Hearst, Jr., disappeared during a race from San Francisco to Honolulu, but this did not spoil the Vega’s reputation. Australian George Hubert Wilkins bought the fourth Vega, and he and his pilot, Ben Eilson, used the plane to become the first men to fly over the North Pole on April 15, 1928. Famous American aviator Wiley Post and his navigator flew the Vega around the world in 8 days and 16 hours in 1931. Two years later, Post made the same journey solo in 7 days, 19 hours. Post also flew the plane to an unofficial altitude record of 55,000 feet in 1935.

The success of the Vega created a great deal of interest in Lockheed, and in 1929, the company accepted a buyout offer from the Detroit Aircraft Company. Allan Loughead opposed the sale, but the company’s board of directors did not agree. Bitter at this defeat, Loughead resigned and, despite repeated attempts, never established another viable aircraft or manufacturer. At the same time, Jack Northrop also left Lockheed to form the Avion Corporation, which later became the Northrop Corporation.

The Lockheed company continued on as part of Detroit Aircraft’s “General Motors of the Air” and produced three more notable aircraft before World War II. The Sirius immediately became famous when Charles A. Lindbergh bought the first model. He and his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh used the plane in 1930 for a number of well-publicized flights over the North Pacific and North Atlantic. Lockheed followed up the success of the Sirius with the Altair. Both the U.S. Army Air Corps and the U.S. Navy acquired Altairs, which were the first aircraft with fully retractable landing gear to be purchased by either service. Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith also used an Altair to fly from Australia to San Francisco in 1934, becoming the first person to cross the Pacific in that direction. Lockheed continued its success by constructing an airliner. The Orion made its first flight in April, 1931, and soon became a fixture in airports around the world. American, TWA, Northwest, and Swissair all made Orions part of their fleets. The Orion was particularly suited for high-speed routes, with one plane making the trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles in just 65 minutes.

Wartime Production

In 1931, the Detroit Aircraft Corporation went bankrupt, another victim of the Great Depression. A group of investors, including several employees, managed to get Lockheed out of receivership and founded the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation on June 6, 1932. The company began work on a new aircraft, the Electra. Amelia Earhart flew an Electra on her ill-fated attempt to become the first woman to fly around the world in 1937. Subsequent variations of the Electra would see service in airlines around the world. Also in 1932, Clarence “Kelly” Johnson became an engineer with the company. The Model 14 Super Electra, designed by Johnson, became the basis for the Hudson bomber, which ushered in a new era in Lockheed’s history.

From the company’s beginning, Lockheed had sought military contracts, but had enjoyed only marginal success. The war clouds looming over Europe in the late 1930’s gave the company a fresh opportunity. Britain agreed to purchase more than two hundred Hudson bombers in 1938. Lockheed’s factory in Burbank, California, produced 2,941 Hudsons during the war for a number of armed forces, including the U.S. Army and Navy.

Lockheed made a valuable contribution to the U.S. fighter arsenal during World War II with the creation of the P-38 Lightning. Designed by Kelly Johnson and Hall Hibbard, the plane featured an unusual twin-fuselage design to accommodate its engines. Lockheed secretly constructed the first Lightning in 1938 and the plane made its first flight on January 27, 1939. The Army Air Force bought more than 9,000 P-38 Lightnings during World War II. The Lightning served in all theaters, accounting for the destruction of 1,771 enemy planes in Europe. In the Pacific, the highest-scoring U.S. World War II ace, Dick Bong, flew the P-38, as did two other top-ten U.S. aces. The P-38 also accounted for perhaps the most famous mission of the war when eighteen Lightnings shot down the plane carrying Japan’s famed naval strategist Isoroku Yamamoto on April 18, 1943.

Important Postwar Military Aircraft

Lockheed began work on a jet fighter in 1943. The company gave its top designer, Kelly Johnson, a team of workers and a crude building to start the project. Johnson’s secret area in the Lockheed complex became known as the Skunk Works. The Skunk Works eventually designed all the company’s high-performance fighters and reconnaissance planes. Ironically, this top-secret part of the company ultimately became famous for its research and development. Besides Lockheed’s well-known fighter aircraft, the Skunk Works also produced such famous planes as the U-2 spy plane in 1954 and the SR-71 Blackbird in 1964.

The P-80 Shooting Star, the first plane designed in the Skunk Works, made its first flight in January, 1944. The Army Air Force soon ordered 5,000 Shooting Stars, but only a handful made appearances during the war. Lockheed continued production with successive upgrades of the Shooting Star and the aircraft represented half of the U.S. Air Force’s jet fighter strength at the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. Lieutenant Russell Brown used a P-80 to shoot down a Chinese MiG-15 on November 8, 1950, in the world’s first dogfight between jet fighters. However, the Air Force relegated the P-80 to second-line status during the Korean War, as greater numbers of the more advanced North American F-86 Sabre jet became available.

Responding to the input of pilots during the Korean War, Kelly Johnson designed a new fighter that would outperform any aircraft in service. Lockheed started testing F-104 Starfighter in 1954, though early crashes marred the test flight program. Following corrections, the air force adopted the Starfighter in 1958. Despite having wings under 8 feet long, the F-104 flew at more than 1,400 miles per hour and higher than 100,000 feet. The Starfighter saw limited action in Vietnam before the air force phased out the aircraft in 1967.

In addition to building fighters, Lockheed produced a mainstay of the U.S. Navy’s air arm, the P-3 Orion. After a three-year test program, the first Orions entered service in 1962. The plane was designed for antisubmarine duty and its four turboprop engines gave it a range of 5,200 miles. The Orion remained in service through the end of the twentieth century.

Lockheed’s greatest postwar military planes were the company’s transports. The first, the C-130 Hercules, flew in 1954 and the air force adopted the plane two years later. The C-130 family proved its versatility in places as diverse as Vietnam and the Arctic. The company followed up the success of the Hercules with the C-141 Starlifter. The C-141 used jet engines to extend its range and lifting capacity beyond the turboprop C-130. The first model flew in 1963 and entered service two years later. The C-141 played an important role in the Vietnam War because it could fly nonstop from California to Saigon, freeing up the shorter-range C-130’s for tactical missions. In 1965, Lockheed won a contract to produce the largest transport plane in history, the C-5 Galaxy. The C-5 flew in 1968 and entered service in 1970. The Galaxy allowed cargo loading through both aft doors and the nose and could take off and land in the same distance as a jetliner. The plane became a foundation of the Air Force’s transport system due to its ability to carry more than 100 tons of payload.

Lockheed also developed one of the most successful trainer aircraft in history, the T-33 T-Bird. The first T-Bird flew in 1948 and became Lockheed’s biggest-selling jet. Air forces around the world adopted the T-33, and it remained in service in the U.S. Air Force for more than forty years.

Postwar Commercial Aircraft

Before World War II interrupted commercial air service, Lockheed and other American manufacturers developed four-engine airliners. In Lockheed’s case, TWA and its majority stockholder, Howard Hughes, pushed the company to design the Constellation. In 1939, TWA ordered forty of the new airliners, but the war preparations halted production in May, 1941. TWA finally received its first commercial Constellation on October 1, 1945. Despite two early crashes, the Constellation and its successors, the Super Constellation and the Starliner, became great successes. Airlines from South Africa, India, West Germany, and many other countries made the Constellation part of their fleets. In the United States, the final plane in the series, the Starliner, remained in regular service with TWA until 1967 and made the airline’s final piston-engine flight.

The success of the Constellation line ended with the advent of jetliners. In 1966, Lockheed began work on its first jetliner, the L-1011 Tristar. The L-1011 and McDonnell Douglas’s competing DC-10 both began sales to airlines in 1968. Unfortunately for both companies, the planes were nearly identical and competed for the same marketplace. This competition, combined with the expense of developing the C-5 and L-1011 at the same time, drove Lockheed to the brink of bankruptcy. The company was saved only when the federal government guaranteed Lockheed’s credit to lenders in 1971. Between 1970 and 1985, Lockheed built 250 L-1011’s, but the program was not as successful as the company had hoped.

Missiles and Space

To take advantage of the demand for missiles in the Cold War, the company founded the Lockheed Missile Systems Division in 1954. This division developed the weapons for the U.S. Navy’s ballistic missile submarines. The first missile, the Polaris, had a range of 1,200 nautical miles and became operational in 1960. Lockheed followed with two more variations of the Polaris, eventually increasing the range to 2,500 nautical miles. The missile remained in service until 1982, when the Navy replaced it with another Lockheed product, the Poseidon, first introduced in 1970. The Poseidon was similar to the Polaris, but had a wider diameter. Lockheed followed the Poseidon with the Trident, which came into service in 1981 and extended the Navy’s ballistic missile range to more than 4,000 nautical miles. Lockheed’s missile and space division also developed ceramic heat-resistant tiles for the space shuttles and built the Hubble Space Telescope.

Corporate Changes

Following the difficulties of the L-1011 program, Lockheed’s directors rededicated the company to military and space products. Lockheed purchased General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon division in 1992. In 1996, the company merged with Martin Marietta to form Lockheed Martin. Martin Marietta had designed the B-24 bomber during World War II and the Titan missile and rocket system. The new company entered the twenty-first century building the Air Force’s new F-22 Raptor fighter, as well as working on a replacement for the space shuttle, the X-33 VentureStar.

  • Boyne, Walter J. Beyond the Horizons: The Lockheed Story. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 1998. An up-to-date examination of Lockheed from one of America’s foremost aviation historians.
  • Rich, Ben R., and Leo Janos. Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed. Boston: Little, Brown, 1994. A insider’s view of Lockheed’s famed advanced design division.
  • Yenne, Bill. Lockheed. New York: Crescent Books, 1987. A photographic history of Lockheed’s aircraft, suitable for readers of all ages.

Aerospace industry, U.S.

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Categories: History