James H. Kindelberger - North American Aviation

North American Aviation

Kindelberger became the president and general manager of North American Aviation in 1934. He was promoted to chairman and chief executive officer in 1948, with Lee Atwood replacing him as president. In 1960, Atwood took over as chief executive when Kindelberger retired. Kindelberger remained chairman of the board until his death in 1962. "Under his guidance, North American Aviation broke technological barriers; produced propeller- and jet-powered fighters and bombers, military trainers, rocket engines, and rocket-powered aircraft; and began its role as the prime contractor for the country's space program". Between the years 1935 and 1967, North American Aviation (under Kindelberger's direction) built more military aircraft than any other airplane maker in U.S. history. Kindelberger was recently honored in a documentary by filmmaker William Winship. "Pioneers in Aviation: The Race to the Moon", which profiles four of America's legendary aerospace pioneers--William Boeing, Donald Douglas, Dutch Kindelberger, and James McDonnell--whose achievements led the nation and the world from the era of open-cockpit biplanes to the very threshold of Space. American Public Television will be airing this film starting in Spring 2006. The film has previously unreleased interviews, photos, and film footage of "Dutch" (Deutsch) Kindelberger.

Kindelberger and Atwood were young engineers when they met at Douglas in 1930, working on the DC-1 and DC-2 transports. They left Douglas together in 1934 to join the manufacturing division of North American Aviation, where they became a unique American industrial team. Kindelberger rose to be President of the company. He was an extrovert, a 'pile-driver' of a man. Atwood was quieter, serving as Chief Engineer.

When the two arrived at North American in 1934, the company had one passenger aircraft on order. Kindelberger managed to get a $1 million order for BT-9 aircraft. Then Britain asked North American to build P-40 fighters. Kindelberger told them he could make a better design than that and completed the prototype of the legendary P-51 Mustang in four months. 42,000 aircraft were built by the company by the end of the war.

After World War II Atwood expected there would be a need for improved rocket engines based on those developed by the Germans for the V-2. The two decided in 1946 to invest $1 million in a rocket engine test facility in Santa Susana, California, and a supersonic wind tunnel at Los Angeles International Airport. This paid off when North American landed the contract to develop the Navaho, a rocket-boosted intercontinental cruise missile. Navaho allowed North American to develop expertise in rocket engines, inertial navigation systems, and supersonic aerodynamics. This in turn led to securing contracts for many advanced aerospace vehicles in the late 1950s - the X-15 manned hypersonic spaceplane, the Hound Dog missile, and the XB-70 Valkyrie triple-sonic bomber. The XB-70 required the company to develop new materials, welding, and manufacturing processes.

Kindelberger died in 1962, and Atwood then became Chairman of the Board.

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