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The Lockheed Corporation has its origins with two brothers named Allan and Malcolm Loughead. The two brothers initially founded Alco Hydro-Aeroplane Company with Max Mamlock, and spent their time engineering and constructing a small ultralight seaplane they called the Model G. This airplane was one of the first “tractor” designs with a forward-mounted engine enclosed in the fuselage.
The brothers started another new venture in 1916, the Loughead Aircraft Manufacturing Company, based in Santa Barbara. The company was liquidated in 1921.
In 1926, Allan Loughead established Lockheed Aircraft Company (changed from Loughead due to mispronunciation), and the Lockheed Vega aircraft became widely known as an explorer’s airplane (Amelia Earhart used a Vega). Lockheed was acquired by the Detroit Aircraft Corporation in July 1929. Allan Lockheed resigned his post and sold all his holdings in the company. Under new management, Lockheed’s engineers produced a number of new airplanes. Most notable among them was a popular passenger transport called the Orion.
Lockheed was still operating profitably two years into the Depression despite its parent company’s poor financial condition. Lockheed was sold to a group of investors including Robert Gross and Lloyd Stearman among them. The new owners immediately developed the Model 10 Electra. The Electra was popular with Northwest and Pan Am’s fleets.
In March 1938, British officials gave Lockheed engineers five days to design a reconnaissance bomber per British specifications for the R.A.F. Lockheed presented the “Hudson,” a modified Model 14 Super Electra fitted with more powerful engines, a bomb bay, and guns. The British agreed to purchase at least 200 Hudsons for $25 million. It was the largest military contract awarded before the war and marked a turning point in Lockheed’s business.
By May 1943, Lockheed’s subsidiary, Vega, had manufactured over 3,000 Hudsons. Additionally, Vega produced other new aircraft for the allied forces, including the Ventura, the Harpoon, and variations of Boeing’s B-17 bomber. Lockheed also introduced the famous triple hull P-38 Lightning. In total, Lockheed produced 19,297 aircraft for the military, or 9% of total U.S. production. On top of all the production, the War Department requested civilian aircraft for military purposes. Therefore, Lockheed converted several aircraft, but the most notable was the four engine C-69 Constellation, which would later be a commercial success following the end of the war.
The 1950s were a decade of development at Lockheed. In 1953, the company established its missiles and space division which produced satellites and submarine-launched missiles. In military ventures, the company developed transports such as the C-130 Hercules, the C-141 Starlifter, and the C-5 Galaxy, the largest airplane in the world at the time. During this period, Lockheed’s military products were consistently chosen over competitors for pentagon contracts.
In the 1960s, Lockheed developed two very important jets, the U-2 spy plane and the SR-71. The U-2 flew at altitudes over 70,000 feet loaded with remote sensing electronic equipment. The SR-71 was designed in the early 1960s and has required no further improvement since its aerodynamics were regarded by most engineers as nearly perfect.
In 1967, under new management, Lockheed made a risky venture in the commercial airline market. To compete with Boeing’s 747 and DC-10, Lockheed responded the 1011 TriStar, which first began operation in November 1970. Unfortunately, the TriStar program was overwhelmed with problems. Rolls-Royce, the manufacturer of the 1011’s engines, went into receivership. Several airline companies experienced numerous equipment failures with their TriStars. Sales of the airplane began to drop, and the company faced a liquidity crisis. The decision to create a commercial aviation line nearly ruined the company. By 1971, Lockheed required a government bailout to remain afloat. Lockheed closed its TriStar program in 1981.
Lockheed’s focus switched back to military hardware in the 1980s. This included several projects such as building the F-19 stealth bomber and the Trident II submarine-launched missile, as well as maintaining the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s space shuttles. The U.S. government deemed Lockheed indispensable to the country’s defense.
As Lockheed entered the 1990s, however, its future role as a primary supplier of military hardware and aircraft weakened. With the end of the cold war and a dwindling defense budget promising little hope for robust growth, Lockheed entered into a new era for U.S. aerospace manufacturers that demanded sweeping changes to enable survival. In 1990, Lockheed increased its involvement in commercial aircraft maintenance, then maneuvered the company into conducting nuclear waste cleanup work for the Department of Energy and dismantling nuclear warheads
In 1993, Lockheed shifted policy once again after it made a deal to acquire General Dynamics Corporation’s fighter aircraft division, maker of the high-performance F-16 fighter aircraft. In beating out Northrop Corporation for the coveted fighter aircraft unit, Lockheed executed a masterstroke, paying $1.5 billion for an additional $3 billion in sales and $13 billion in backlog orders, as well as adding the F-16 and the F-22 program to the company’s established contracts to manufacture the F-117A stealth fighter. The acquisition of General Dynamic’s aircraft division fueled Lockheed’s growth for the year. As the company entered the mid-1990s, it continued to face the challenges of a leaner defense budget, but determinedly pursued its goal to become the largest defense contractor in the United States.
In 1995, Lockheed merged with Martin Marietta to form Lockheed Martin.
Link to the collection's Descriptive Finding Guide.