Monday, December 17, 2012

Flint Artifacts: Flint Pennant


  1. Well, might ask yourself "why would a pennant for Flint, Michigan feature an early-1930s Lockheed Electra passenger airplane flying over farm fields?"

    Anyway, that's what I asked myself.

    It turns out that from 1929 to 1931, Lockheed Aircraft Company was owned by Detroit Aircraft Corporation, a company set up mostly by individuals who at the time were also involved in the automobile business. Among the prominent names on their Board: C.S. Mott and Ransom E. Olds.

    We think of Lockheed as a California company, but significant parts of the engineering for the very famous and successful Electra were done in the U of M wind tunnel in Ann Arbor by a grad student named Clarence Johnson. His lowly grad student status notwithstanding, he suggested major improvements to the aircraft, and eventually they were adopted. This so improved the plane that it became a major sales success. Sales of the Electra allowed Lockheed to come back from bankruptcy during the Depression, and positioned them to make a major contribution during WWII.

    Detroit Aircraft Corporation built a number of airplanes at various Michigan locations, though I don't think the Electra was one of them.

    Clarence Johnson went on to be one of the most accomplished aircraft engineers the world has known. He was born in Ishpeming, but his parents moved to Flint early on. He graduated from Flint Central and then Flint Junior College before transferring to U of M.

    None of this quite explains the pennant. My guess, though, is that Bishop...which opened in 1929...had Lockheed Electra passenger service very quickly because all of the local connections. I'd guess that then as now, airports served by the best airlines and equipment tended to brag about it to draw more passengers. Thus, maybe, the pennant.

  2. Wow, JWilly! I had no idea of the Flint connection of "Kelly" Johnson. I only knew of some of his handiwork -- the P-38 Lightning in WWII, the P-80 Shooting Star, the F-104 Starfighter, the U-2, the SR-71 Blackbird, and others. I had no clue the dude had a local connection. Thanks!

  3. Kelly Johnson was a chief engineer at AC. at one time. My dad was a licensed mechanic and pilot at Bishop airport in the late twenties to mid thirties. The Electra was used also for mail delivery back then. It was dependable, fast,and expensive. In 1956 the "civilian" pilots were trained at a small Air Force base (Stead)in Reno, Nev. That was the U-2 and Johnson was part of the CIA training
    program. There was seven aircraft at that time. I was with the 317th Fighter Squadron at McChord AFB Wa. we had Convair F-102 Delta Daggers that were replaced with F-104 Star Fighters (Delta Darts)Lockheed. When I was subsequently assigned to a SAC base in Alaska, we had a U-2 reconaissance aircraft that was really fun to watch take off. It would take off normally then kick in after burners
    and clime out of eyesight straight up. That was over fifty years ago.....think of what they have today even with satelites. Eat breakfast at eight o clock in Maryland and arrive in Los Angeles a couple hours before lunch with the Blackbird not even breathing hard.
    Nothing classified here. Just horse and buggy stuff.


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