Sunday, May 19, 2013

Warbirds of World War II and Area 51

My career was full of lucky breaks and amazing adventures
by Theodore O.

First, let me say, sorry for this 95-year-old’s “scribblings." I hope, at least, some of the following will be of interest! I was one of the many who hired into what was then known as the Lockheed-California Company in Burbank. The main plant was on the north side of the Burbank Air Terminal. The year was 1939, and Carl Kotchian was president. I must have hired in on the last rung on the ladder. My starting was 52 cents per hour in the parts department. A month or so later, an example of one many Lockheed lucky breaks, I was transferred to the tooling department into the jigs and fixtures section. Months later, I transferred into tooling design. A few months after that, I was promoted to the design department, where I worked on preliminaries. By then, the United States was supplying arms in World War II.

I worked on such famous warbirds as the P-38 Shooting Star (or Lightning). The Germans called this aircraft the “twin-tailed devil” when it arrived in Europe. Our enemies called our aircraft their nemesis. I worked on the Ventura series of bombers and cargo aircraft, some of which are still flying today (angel flights into Vietnam)! The bombers also included the Harpoon, which was the only bird that could out fly and out fight the famed Japanese Zero aircraft. All were Lockheed aircraft heroes!

Lockheed Harpoon
In my early years at Lockheed, I also learned how to fly. One of Lockheed’s test pilots, Mr. Herman “Fish” Salmon, taught me how to fly in a Piper Cub. During my years in the main plant, Chief Engineer Kelly Johnson built the plant across the airstrip to house the ever-growing "top-secret" projects. This plant became known as "Skunk Works." It is still called this name to this day! The name was not Kelly's, but I believe it was named for meat stockyards near the new plant. Needless to say, the area stunk to the high heavens! In fact, the rendering plant was hastily purchased and covered with tons of new earth! At any rate, this site became Skunk Works. During the War years, I was lucky enough to serve a time or two in Skunk Works. There, in my design work, I was asked to “goof up” the beautiful streamlining of the P-38 lightning by having to design to huge front air cowlings on each of the two Allison water-cooled engines due to engine overheating! I was asked to design a tail hook for the Billy Mitchell bomber. The tail hook worked fine, but it pulled the tail end out of the aircraft!

Like so many able-bodied men and women, through the courtesy of Uncle Sam, I was finally drafted in 1944. Although I was a “sailor,” I never saw a ship, let alone, stepped on board one. Instead I spent my first year in basic training at Farragut Naval Training Station in Idaho, graduating with the title of "Aviation Ordnance Man First Class." I spent the rest of my service the Naval Air Station at Groom Lake, out in the desert. Today it is called Area 51, where what goes on at that top-secret complex is not allowed to be revealed. My only clue as to why it was sent there, was my earlier work at Skunk Works.

Today, Lockheed Martin is still progressing into the future! Not only within the United States, but now a famous name known worldwide. The company can be proud of its achievements in faster-than-sound high-altitude stealth aircraft (SR-71), shipbuilding, submarines, missile and aerospace technology, along with massive exploration of our solar system. The far horizons are yet to be explored, and Lockheed Martin will lead the way!