James McDonnell

James Smith McDonnell, also known as ‘Mr. Mac’, was born on 9 April 1899 in Denver, Colorado, in the USA. He graduated with honours in physics from Princeton University in 1921. He then immediately enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), from which he later graduated with a master’s degree in science, specialising in aeronautical engineering. Meanwhile, he also earned his pilot’s licence with the US Army’s Reserve Officers Training Corps. Over the next few years, he worked for the Huff Daland Airplane Company as a draftsman, Consolidated Aircraft Company as a stress analyst and Ford Motor Company as an aeronautical engineer. At Ford, McDonnell contributed to the development of the company’s famous Trimotor. He also designed a small monoplane, which failed commercially due to the Great Depression. In the 1930s, McDonnell worked for the Great Lakes Aircraft Company and later the Glenn L. Martin Company.

Finally, in July 1939, he founded his own company, the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation. McDonnell’s company manufactured parts for other aircraft manufacturers during World War II in the early 1940s, but the company quickly grew to become a major producer of military aircraft. Some of the more notable aircraft designed by McDonnell Aircraft included the F2H Banshee, F-101 Voodoo and F-4 Phantom II. The company also proved to be instrumental in NASA’s (National Aeronautical and Space Administration) Mercury and Gemini programmes.

In 1967, McDonnell Aircraft Corporation merged with Douglas Aircraft Company to form McDonnell Douglas. James McDonnell served as CEO and chairman of the board throughout the 1970s, with the company producing several successful aircraft types, such as the MD-80 airliner, F-15 Eagle, F/A-18 Hornet and KC-10 Extender. Even in terms of weapons, McDonnell Douglas produced the Harpoon anti-ship missile and famous Tomahawk cruise missile. In 1977, James McDonnell was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. He died on 22 August 1980 at the age of 81.