Kelly Johnson: From MCC to Outer Space

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Numerous graduates of Mott Community College have gone on to notable careers, from U.S. Senator Don Riegle to Federal Judge Paul Gadola. In Science, one of the most famous graduates of MCC is the aeronautical engineer and designer Clarence “Kelly” Johnson.

Johnson was only 13 years old when he won a prize for his first aircraft design. In his autobiography (More Than My Share of It All), he described coming to Mott College (then named Flint Junior College): “I entered Flint Junior College. In junior college, I was able to take engineering courses for the first time. I studied physics, mathematics, and calculus. I reached the point where I could tutor in calculus and make some money. I loved mathematics and still do. It was a very good junior college, and I received a solid background for my more advanced university courses later.”

Graduating from Mott College, Johnson went on to the University of Michigan, where he received a Master’s Degree in Aeronautical Engineering and began a legendary career designing airplanes. During World War II, he designed the speedy P-38 Lightning, which pummeled destroyers and intercepted enemy fighters and bombers from Berlin to Tokyo; late in the war his team developed America’s first operational jet fighter, the P-80, in less than six months. Then he delivered the famed Constellation aircraft, which revolutionized commercial aviation. By 1955, Johnson and his secret division of engineers launched the world’s first dedicated spy plane, the U-2, just nine months after receiving an official contract.

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson presented Kelly Johnson with the Medal of Freedom, the highest civil honor the President can bestow. The President said, “Kelly Johnson epitomizes the highest and finest goal of our society, the goal of excellence. His record of design achievement in aviation is both incomparable and virtually incredible. Any one of his many airplane designs would have honored any individual’s career.”

In 1974, Kelly Johnson was enshrined the the Aviation Hall of Fame for creating innovative technical concepts that significantly advanced aircraft design, performance, and reliability and for helping to achieve supersonic flight and space flight.

In1983, President Ronald Reagan presented Kelly Johnson the National Security Medal. It was the first time an aeronautical engineer had been awarded the medal. In White House ceremonies the medal was presented for “Exceptional meritorious service performed in a position of high responsibility that has made an outstanding contribution to the National Security of the Nation”.

From MCC to Outer Space, Kelly Johnson is a great example of where you can go with the foundation of a science education at MCC.

Michael Kelly

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