Clarence “Kelly” Johnson

Clarence “Kelly” Johnson was the chief designer of the SR-71 Blackbird, one of the most iconic aircraft ever designed. Johnson was a legendary figure in the aviation world, known for his genius-level intellect and his ability to think outside the box. He was the founder of Lockheed Martin’s famous Skunk Works division, which was responsible for some of the most groundbreaking aircraft ever developed, including the U-2 spy plane and the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter.

The SR-71 was designed in response to a request from the US government for a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft that could fly faster than any missile or fighter plane that could be launched against it. Johnson and his team began work on the project in the early 1960s, and the result was a truly revolutionary aircraft.

The SR-71 was powered by two Pratt & Whitney J58 turbojet engines, which allowed it to reach speeds of over Mach 3 and altitudes of over 85,000 feet. The aircraft was designed to operate at extremely high temperatures, with its titanium skin capable of withstanding temperatures of over 600 degrees Celsius.

Today, the SR-71 remains a symbol of American technological prowess and innovation, and it serves as a reminder of the incredible achievements that can be accomplished when talented individuals are given the freedom to think creatively and push the boundaries of what is possible. Clarence “Kelly” Johnson was the driving force behind the SR-71, and his legacy continues to inspire engineers and designers today.


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3 Comments. Leave new

  • Abhishek Raut
    April 26, 2023 8:14 am

    Hi Elvin
    Clarence “Kelly” Johnson sounds like an incredible figure in aviation history!
    It’s amazing to think that the SR-71 was designed in the early 1960s, yet it remains a symbol of American technological prowess and innovation today.
    I had also mentioned it in my post for the aesthetics of aerodynamic design due to its radical design.
    I wonder how hard it would have been to design such an engineering marvel at a time when the designers and engineers didn’t have access to the computational and analytical tools that we have right now.

  • Reed Beidleman
    March 5, 2023 7:31 pm

    I had never heard of Johnson before this but am very familiar with the SR-71. He was a truly revolutionary designer as seen by his incredible aircraft. I can’t help but think he kept a certain look or aesthetic in mind when designing the SR-71 because of how beautiful it looks. Very good choice of designer, I would have never thought to choose him!

  • I am also a fan of Kelly Johnson. His work is so extensive in the U.S. military aircraft field. He was responsible for the twin engine, propellor driven P38, which was the only U.S. aircraft manufactured for the entire duration of WWII. It was probably the first aircraft to break the sound barrier, although in a fatal, uncontrolled dive. What an amazing designer to create piston aircraft to Mach 3 jets.


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