Monday, December 6, 2010

DBTL Extra: Kelly, Jack, and Eddie visit Białystok

Kelly, Jack, and Eddie visit Białystok
by Dan McDonald


The New York Times, March 3rd, 1950


Washington - President Alben Barkley met with military and industry officials today before their departure to Warsaw, Poland, for a Warsaw Pact summit. The summit, the first since the Senate ratified the Warsaw Pact treaty, starts Monday . . . .


With voters polarizing on the issue of international involvement, the 1950 congressional elections look to be . . .


The Lockheed C-23 (a military repackaging of the Lockheed JetCon) now labelled "Air Corps One" just crossed over the western shore of Scotland. General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, soon-to-be-exiting commander of the US Army Air Corps, looked out the window of the smaller of two "offices" on board the transport. The larger one belonged to the President.

"Kelly, I just want to know one thing. Can you build me something that can keep up with anything we've seen," he grimaced, "including those goddamn British rocket planes? Or do I have to stay on an extra year and beg to Congress to buy something off the Polish government?"

Clarence "Kelly" Johnson anticipated this question, and calmly replied, "General, those rocket planes are a waste of money and metal. They are good for small-payload missions. Great for dropping an A-bomb and then scrambling, but not much else. And it's not like anyone else besides the British or the Poles will have them. What we want is something that can go fast, say just below Mach 1, and still be able to turn on a dime and fight."

Arnold stared out over the Atlantic, now the only thing in view, and said, "I like that. A jet-powered dogfighter. Something like the Lily, but faster."

Johnson chuckled at the flowery names of planes originating in the Garden, "Yes. A straight-wing jet won't cut it here.[1]"

"Can you do it? And have a prototype before I retire?"

"I'll need to set up my own shop, my own way. I don't want people looking over my shoulder," he looked around, "Christ, I had Howard Hughes and his goons bugging me constantly while working on this lady."

Kelly Johnson's Lockheed Jet Constellation (JetCon, his "lady") and Boeing's 287 (Dash) had kept American aviation moderately up to snuff with European passenger designs. The swept-wing, four-engine JetCon held the passenger aircraft speed record for New York to London, and had secured Johnson's reputation as a designer. In spite of this, he chafed at the restrictions the private sector placed on his designs.

He was surprised when General Arnold had invited him, Jack Northrop, and Eddie Allen of Boeing along for a visit to the Polish Commonwealth. He was more surprised at the escorts that flanked the JetCon upon entering Polish airspace. Jet powered fighters that kept up with and even outran his speedy entry into commercial aviation. Now that was what he dreamed about, reading Tom Swift as a child. Finally, he was floored at being allowed to visit the fabled "Garden" at Białystok. The Orchid bomber, which could reach any city in Europe from Warsaw and fly back after dropping its load; and the Lily, the straight-winged jet that was the mainstay of the Warsaw Pact air forces - both of these made Kelly Johnson jealous. He could've built either one of these given what he was asking of Arnold. He'd heard whisperings of a "Sunflower", but couldn't suss anything about it save its absolute secrecy.

Arnold continued, "If we can grow it at home, I don't think anything will be too unreasonable. Just ask for it, money, men."

Johnson interrupted, "I want to hand-pick my men, and I won't need a lot of them, nor a lot of money. I just want freedom to build what I want to outfly the Lilies, or whatever the Russians, Japs, or anyone else have."

Arnold nodded. Arnold had heard his own whispers, about Soviet defectors flying their MiGs into the Commonwealth.

Johnson continued, "I'll give you reports, but I don't want to have to bury myself in red tape and paperwork."

Arnold smiled, "Done."

Johnson smiled, "General," he paused, "I can put us ahead if you let me."


From Skunk Works at 50 - An Illustrated History (c) 2001

On the flight back from Warsaw, Arnold, convinced that Johnson could deliver, commissioned specifications for new jet-powered military aircraft. Three types, a trans-oceanic bomber, a medium-range low-flying bomber, and a air-to-air fighter, were to be put out for contract.

Lockheed bid for, and won, the fighter contract. With Arnold's help, Johnson convinced Lockheed to commission the Advanced Projects Facility. . .

. . .

The Lockheed YF-1 Lightning shocked the world. In two years, Johnson's Skunk Works had prototyped the world's first supersonic fighter. It would prove to the Warsaw Pact, and the American people, that the US intended on being an equal partner in its new alliance.

"The funny thing about the Lightning was that we would've been ready sooner were it not for engine problems," said Johnson after the 1955 introduction of the F-1A, "We still beat the Tigerlily by 6 months, but we had to invent concepts like an afterburner, not to mention build them."

(Picture of a plane that looks like a cross between OTL F-104 Starfighter, F-100 Super Sabre, and F-4 Phantom.)

[1] In OTL, Johnson's first jet, the P-80/F-80 Shooting Star, was a fixed-wing aircraft that soon proved behind the times in Korea. With commercial and Soviet vs. Japanese swept-wing experience in DBTL, he understood the advantages.

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