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Lockheed Hudson

Aerial view of the wartime Hudson.

Lockheed P-38 Lightning

The P-38 Lightning, photographed in 1943, was the first service aircraft to encounter problems associated with approaching the speed of sound.

Lockheed P-38 in flight

This P-38F model was used by the 5th Air Force in the Pacific theater.

Lockheed Constellation

The Constellation model-049 was tested by Lockheed and the USAF during the war and later became commercially available for postwar intercontinental travel.

Lockheed Super Connie in flight

TWA flew the Lockheed Super Connie in the 1950s.

Lockheed Super Connie interior

Interior of Super Connie, around 1950.

P-3 Orion

The P-3 Orion was a military version of the Lockheed Model 188 Electra.

P-3 Orion

The P-3 Orion entered the U.S. Navy's inventory in July 1962.

Milo Burcham and XP-80

Lockheed's Kelly Johnson shaking hands with test pilot Milo Burcham after the first flight of the XP-80, 1943.

Lockheed in Mid-Century

World War II saw Lockheed grow enormously. At the end of 1937, the company employed fewer than 2,000 people and had produced only a few hundred planes during its entire corporate lifetime. On March 31, 1940, its workforce stood at about 7,000 employees. By 1941, it had grown to almost 17,000 employees, and by 1943, to more than 90,000 people, including thousands of women who were engaged in building aircraft on the Lockheed production lines. By 1945, the company was rolling out 23 planes per day, and held war contracts valued at $2 billion. Between July 1, 1940 and August 31, 1945, Lockheed turned out more than 19,000 aircraft to become the fifth largest U.S. aircraft producer.

In 1937 Lockheed established a new AiRover Aircraft subsidiary to give Lockheed a place in the personal aviation market. Ai developed the StarLiner business airplane, but it didn't sell in the depressed market. AiRover became Vega Airplane Company in June 1938, which converted to military activity when the war began. At the end of 1941, Vega Airplane became Vega Aircraft Corporation, and Lockheed absorbed it on November 30, 1943. Its plants at Burbank, California, built more than 2,500 Boeing B-17s under license and also the PB-1 patrol bomber.

Lockheed also became a multinational corporation. During the war, it operated in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Australia. The company provided Hudson aircraft for maritime patrol duties to Britain, benefiting from Britain's failure to build up its antisubmarine reconnaissance air fleet and its reliance instead on a sonar device that proved ineffective against German submarines. During 1938, an order that Britain placed for Hudsons as well as for Ventura transports and options on P-38 Lightning fighters totaled $65 million.

The Hudson was the first U.S.-built aircraft to be used operationally by the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the war. Responding to an urgent British requirement, Lockheed first received a contract for 200 aircraft; this grew to 250 aircraft by November 1939. By the time production ended in May 1943, a total of 2,941 Hudsons had been built. The Hudson succeeded in elevating Lockheed into the ranks of major aircraft manufacturers. During the war, a Hudson scored the first RAF victory of the war when it shot down a German flying boat on October 8, 1939, and the plane also scored a number of other military firsts.

Another Lockheed plane, the P-38 Lightning, was developed to satisfy a 1937 U.S. Air Corps need for an advanced high-altitude fighter. It was the first military design under legendary Lockheed engineer Kelly Johnson. The plane first flew on January 26, 1939. It became the first service aircraft to exceed 400 miles per hour (644 kilometers per hour) and the first to encounter problems associated with approaching the speed of sound. It entered service in late 1941. More than 10,000 were built, and the plane was used in every theater during the war.


After the war, hundreds of military transports were suddenly available as well as the many civil transports that had been pressed into military service. These included the Lockheed C-69 (L-049 Constellation), which had first entered service in 1943 and was the first pressurized air transport—much preferred for long-distance routes—produced in large numbers. By the mid-1950s, Lockheed had developed stretched versions of this plane—called the Super Connie—that could carry more than 100 passengers for over 4,000 miles (6,437 kilometers) and could cross the Atlantic on regularly scheduled flights.

In the mid-1950s, Lockheed was seeking to replace its Super Constellation series with a mid-range airliner, which it did with its four-engine turboprop Model 188 Electra. On June 8, 1955, American, Eastern, and other carriers ordered several dozen. The Model 188 was completed in 26 months and flew on December 6, 1957, eight weeks ahead of schedule. Airline deliveries began in 1958. But three Electras were lost in fatal accidents in 14 months in 1959-60, and the company was forced into an expensive modification program. In two of the crashes, in-flight structural failures caused by weakness of the engine mount that led to excessive vibration had torn the aircraft apart. Although Lockheed overcame the problem, the public lost confidence in the plane, and its production ended after only 174 aircraft were built. Lockheed suffered an estimated loss of $57 million plus another $55 million in lawsuits. A military version, the P-3 (P3V) Orion long-range patrol aircraft, however, went into service in 1962 and stayed in production into the 1990s, with hundreds of variants successfully flying worldwide.

Work on jet propulsion had started at the beginning of the war, and Lockheed received a contract for its first jet fighter, the XP-80, from the U.S. Army Air Force in June 1943. The XP-80 project was completed in just 143 days. It embodied Kelly Johnson's credo: "Be quick; be quiet; be on time." At the start of the program, Lockheed designer Kelly Johnson had established his famous Advanced Development Projects Section, housed next to a plastics factory. Its location earned it the nickname "Skunk Works" after the smelly moonshine still in Al Capp's Li'l Abner comic strip. The Skunk Works' method of an isolated project team focusing on a single goal would become part of the Lockheed aura, especially in connection to future classified reconnaissance aircraft such as the U-2 and the SR-71.

The Lockheed P-80 "Shooting Star" (based on the XP-80) was America's first production jet fighter and first flew in 1944. Plans had been to produce some 5,000 of the planes, but it was not ready for combat until December 1945, after the war had ended. However, the P-80 (later called the F-80) was used during the Korean War and about 1,700 were eventually built. A lengthened two-seater F-80 used as a trainer designated the T-33A served with more than 30 Air Forces, and almost 6,000 were built.

In January 1951, Lockheed reopened a government-built plant at Marietta, Georgia, and the complex was used to build Boeing B-47 Stratojets, C-130 Hercules, and JetStar aircraft. The YC-130 prototype, which would become famous as the Hercules, first flew on August 23, 1954. The JetStar would continue in production until 1980. In 1961, the Lockheed-Georgia Division was reorganized as the Lockheed-Georgia Company.

—Judy Rumerman


Bilstein, Roger E. The American Aerospace Industry. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996.

Bowman, Martin W., compiler. Lockheed. Images of America. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England: Tempus Publishing, Ltd., 1998.

Boyne, Walter J. Beyond the Horizons – The Lockheed Story. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.

Donald, David, general editor. The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1997.

Pattillo, Donald, Pushing the Envelope. Ann Arbor, Mich.: The University of Michigan Press, 1998.

Educational Organization

Standard Designation (where applicable)

Content of Standard

National Center for History in the Schools

World History

Era 8

Standard 4

The causes and global consequences of World War II.

National Center for History in the Schools

US History

Era 9

Standard 1

The economic boom of postwar United States

International Technology Education Association

Standard 6

Students will develop an understanding of the role of society in the development and use of technology.