Lockheed Martin: Our History and Founder

Our History

Over one hundred years ago, on August 16, 1912, Glenn L. Martin established the Glenn L. Martin Company in Los Angeles, California. He started the company after building his first plane in a rented church, where he took a leap of faith on his risky but innovative new aircraft design at the urging of none other than Orville Wright.

Four months later and four hundred miles away, on December 19, 1912, Allan and Malcolm Lockheed founded the Alco Hydro-Aeroplane Company, later renamed the Lockheed Aircraft Company. Talented mechanics, they set up shop out of a  garage, constructing seaplanes that would shatter speed and distance records for overwater flights.

A church and a garage. These were humble beginnings. But these were also men of unrelenting vision and unwavering purpose. The gift that Martin and the Lockheed brothers shared was a unique ability to look past the obstacles of today to the promise of a brighter tomorrow. And they knew – as we’ve known for 100 years – that innovation, performance and purpose were the keys to accelerating that tomorrow.

Accelerating Tomorrow

Take a journey looking back at the innovations and achievements that helped our customers rise to some of the world’s most vital challenges.

Our Legacy

From the Skunk Works® to Rosie the Riveter, explore the remarkable people and the little-known histories behind the achievements that shaped a over century of innovation.

The dispatch from operations was urgent, calling for the pair of F-15s flying out of Bagram Airfield in eastern Afghanistan to make an immediate U-turn. On the other side of country, a special-operations task force was pinned down in the town of Bala Morghab. Explosives had deterred a ground-based rapid-response team. Helicopters couldn’t reach the site. A hundred insurgents were circling.
Would you have any interest, Tellep asked Augustine, of putting Martin Marietta and Lockheed together - a merger of equals?
Throughout its 100-year history, including 54 years of space flight heritage, Lockheed Martin has designed, built and delivered 101 commercial geostationary communications satellites to operators around the globe. Customers worldwide such as SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation of Japan have placed their trust in Lockheed Martin, procuring multiple satellites whose deliveries and successful operations are critical to business plans.
During the tension-filled 1960s, as Russian and American submarines and surface combatants carefully jockeyed for position across the globe, Soviet engineers quietly turned their attention toward a new weapon capable of breaking the longstanding naval stalemate.
Learn how Lockheed Martin partnered with Ad Astra's film creative team to share what it’s really like to live and work in deep space.
When the first candidate for a new bomber for the U.S. Army Air Corps, a tri-motor aircraft from Henry Ford, ascended into the skies over Wright Field near Dayton, Ohio, in the fall of 1932, U.S. military officials were hesitant. First produced in 1925, the high-winged flyer was a symbol of the past, not a step toward the future.
One of the earliest weather maps was a crude drawing by Edmond Halley about 300 years ago—before he observed the famous comet he’s better known for—showing an approximation of prevailing wind directions over the oceans of the world. Today, sophisticated satellites peer down at Earth from space and provide information about the incredibly complicated weather patterns that forecasters simply need to have if they’re going to answer that question.
Every so often employees at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics are asked to clean house. They go through their desk drawers and file cabinets to discard old and unnecessary materials to make space for the new.
On July 20, 1953, Martin Marietta's chief test pilot O.E. "Pat" Tibbs climbed aboard the company's inaugural B-57 bomber for its first official test flight - a day military officials had been anxiously awaiting for the previous three years.
In the summer of 1972, Ben Rich, one of the most seasoned engineers in Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works® division, stood nervously outside the office of his boss, the legendary Clarence “Kelly” Johnson.
On August 23, 1963, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed it was a "great moment for our nation"when he unveiled by remote control from the White House the initial Lockheed C-141 StarLifter military transport plane.
The Vietnam War underscored the urgency of developing the capability to move U.S. troops and weapons quickly overseas. The need? A huge military transport that could carry nearly every type of combat equipment—including heavy tanks and helicopters—any place in the world. The solution? Lockheed’s C-5 Galaxy.
NASA’s Stardust was the first U.S. mission dedicated to exploring a comet and the also first U.S. mission designed to robotically obtain samples from a comet and return them to Earth.
From afar, it appeared as if the massive B-52 flying from Edwards Air Force Base on March 19, 1970, had shed a single silver tear into an endless expanse of piercing blue sky.
On the morning of February 7, 1991, U.S. General Tommy Franks stood before his artillery commanders in a dusty command post along the Iraq-Kuwait border and laid out his directives for the day.
The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) is the longest running production satellite program ever. In 50 years of service, DMSP satellites have saved billions of dollars and countless human lives as a result of timely weather forecasts.
On May 31, 1985, a strange-looking, 10-foot-tall, blue-and-white vehicle appeared on a narrow dirt road outside of Denver, creeping along at a snail’s pace in the dark shadows of the Rocky Mountains.
Designed by Lockheed's ace engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson to surpass the MiG-15 fighters that had stunned the aeronautical world in Korea, the F-104 Starfighter was something completely different.
General Dynamics won the US Department of Defense contract in 1962 to develop a supersonic aircraft under a program called TFX. This airplane, later designated F-111, would be the first in history to incorporate specific design features to make it capable of performing in multiple roles.
The F-16 was conceived in the early 1970s by a small group of engineers and defense analysts known as the Lightweight Fighter Mafia as an alternative to fighter aircraft that had grown increasingly heavy and unmaneuverable.
After nearly 44,000 wind tunnel test hours, 13,000 material sample tests, six years of development, and a trio of program rephasings mandated by Congress, the F-22 was finally airborne.
From 1951 to 1983, there was an Air Force post at the top of the world, which stood vigilant watch against Soviet aircraft during the Cold War. One of the Air Force’s most remote assignments, Cape Lisburne Air Force Station was a treeless, lonely outpost on the northern coast of Alaska that saw good sunlight for just six months out of the year. Clark Speicher is now a business development manager at Lockheed Martin, but in the spring of 1982 he was a squadron operations officer in the United States Air Force, stationed at this northernmost radar site of the Alaskan Air Command.
Learn about the creation of the Blackbird, the world's fastest plane, by Kelly Johnson and the Skunk Works team at Lockheed Martin.
In December of 2009, the U.S. Joint Forces Command called together a group of computer designers, engineers and defense-industry executives to make a single, powerful request: Remember the troops on the ground.
Launched on April 20, 2004, Gravity Probe-B investigated the structure of space and time as outlined in Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity in 17 months of data collection. The experiment tested two fundamental concepts of general relativity by taking measurements of orbiting gyroscopes as they move through a gravitational field twisted by the Earth's rotation. With oversight from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Stanford University leads the program. Lockheed Martin was under contract to Stanford to develop the spacecraft and payload.
In October 2000, the Army selected the Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control’s (LMMFC) innovative Arrowhead design to modernize the Apache Helicopter’s late 1970’s vintage electro-optical targeting and navigation system creating the Modernized Target Acquisition/Designation Sight and Pilot Night Vision Sensor (M-TADS/PNVS). The Arrowhead kit replaces legacy TADS/PNVS hardware via a field retrofit kit that can be applied on the flightline. Arrowhead improves system performance and reliability by over 150% and reduces maintenance actions by nearly 60%. Initially fielded in June 2005, over 1100 systems have been delivered to the US Army and 11 international customers through 2012.
In 1939, the top brass of the Lockheed Corporation - president Robert Gross, chief engineer Hall Hibbard, and chief research engineer Kelly Johnson - scheduled a key meeting with a VIP, a man with deep pockets who had recently shown an interest in buying not just one or a handful of new planes but a fleet of them.
In some ways, the initiative was more complex than the manned space programs and just as daunting. But the schedule was tighter. It was late in 1955, and the National Security Council called for the U.S. Navy to develop submarine-launched nuclear ballistic missiles, creating the critical third leg of the Nuclear Triad. Submarine systems were about to become inordinately complex.
Target found. Target leveled. Enemy neutralized. The precision of JASSM effectively brings an end to an Air Force training run, dubbed Operation Chimichanga, over the skies of Alaska on April 4, 2012. The future gold standard for long-range missiles had been tested and passed with thundering success.
After more than 70 tests, Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson pulled the model airplane with the 55-inch wingspan out of the wind tunnel at the University of Michigan for the final time.
On Dec. 7, 1948, Lt. Col. John Bartlett climbed aboard the largest American warplane ever created—the B-36 bomber—and prepared for a flight that would change the course of the Cold War.
To this day, Kelly Johnson's resume of accomplishments reads like a list of the most iconic airplanes in aviation history.
Conceived during the mid-1960s to transport 250 passengers on popular transcontinental routes, the L-1011 boasted unheard-of luxuries, including glare-resistant windows, full-sized hideaway closets for coats, and a below-deck galley, which lifted filet mignon and lamb chop dinners up to the main cabin via two elevators.
An unprecedented enterprise began 40 years ago when the Earth Resources Technology Satellite—later renamed Landsat—was launched. Five more Landsat spacecraft would reach orbit during the next 27 years. All were launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. into near-polar orbits, allowing them to image the entire Earth, one slice at a time, as it rotated below, and Lockheed Martin built every spacecraft at its Valley Forge, Pa., facility.
During the afternoon of December 7, 1941, as word of the attack on Pearl Harbor reached California, some 53,000 Lockheed employees, spread across 150 Southern California communities, stepped outside their homes to watch as countless P-38 fighters and Hudson bombers streak across the sky.
The 85th Academy Awards were held on February 24, and are the pinnacle of cinematic achievement. Since the early days of film, Lockheed Martin has had a supporting role in many award-winning movies and summer blockbusters, with the company’s aircraft taking center stage in a number of films' iconic scenes.
Charles Lindbergh became the first true global celebrity—and sparked a worldwide craze for flying—with his 1927 nonstop solo flight from New York to Paris in the custom-built Spirit of St. Louis. With that plane donated to the Smithsonian Institution the following year, and with Lucky Lindy’s de-facto role as the global ambassador for aviation expanding by the month, he needed a new, more versatile plane to suit his expanding horizons. He turned to Lockheed.
The call came in on May 11, 2012, to the Royal Navy’s Fort Victoria supply ship. Three merchant ships were in distress, under attack by roving pirates. All that was known was that the hijacked ships were located somewhere in the vast expanse of the North Arabian Sea and that the rather small window of time to save them was closing.
On the evening of February 13, 1991, on an arid patch of land where the borders of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait meet, a group of 10 armored vehicles positioned itself along a two-mile stretch of desert.
Lockheed Martin designed, built, and tested the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) at its space center near Denver and at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The MMU represents the culmination of more than a decade of research and development.
The development of missile defense systems took root during the early decades of the Cold War. Both the United States and the Soviet Union experimented with a variety of measures, including the detonation of nuclear warheads in the atmosphere to jam incoming guidance systems and the creation of radar-guided defensive missiles launched from underground silos.
From the days of Atari and the first PCs, educational circles have explored how to use games for learning and training. When Lockheed Martin purchased the rights to Microsoft’s ESP™ in 2009, the company’s engineers had a plan to extend the serious game-based technology for immersive, cost-effective training in the virtual world.
Discover the legendary Skunk Works division, founded in 1943, renowned for pioneering innovations in aerospace, including America's first iconic jet fighter.
Throughout history, humankind has looked skyward to Mars and wondered: Could it be another Earth? Mars has a tilted axis, an atmosphere, and a day only forty minutes longer than that of Earth. With so many surface similarities, even without clear evidence of life in Mars’s past, there is every reason to believe there is life in the Red Planet’s future.
After years as an exhibition pilot and several close calls, Allan Lockheed believed by 1912 that he knew enough to design and build a better aircraft than the ones he had been flying. He and his brother Malcolm proceeded to do exactly that—and more. Their first aircraft was the biggest seaplane in the United States at the time, and they turned it into a commercial success.
What does training on a Lockheed Martin C-130 military transport plane, a Humvee all-terrain vehicle and a Mark V Special Operations Craft speedboat have in common? The back of Brett Vonsik’s napkin.
The Kettering Aerial Torpedo, the world’s first unmanned aerial vehicle, was a remarkable piece of technology. With a wingspan of nearly fifteen feet and a length of twelve and one-half feet, this UAV, known as the Bug, was guided toward its target by a system of pre-set internal controls. After flying more than seventy-five miles at speeds close to 120 mph, an electrical circuit closed automatically, shutting off the engine. The wings were then released, causing the vehicle to plunge to earth. The Bug’s 180-pound payload of high explosives detonated on impact with the ground. The date: 1918.
Thin-skinned, but incredibly powerful. Lightweight, but capable of carrying a payload to the stars.
Over the course of twenty days in March 2002, Navy veterans from coast to coast were riveted as reports trickled back to the United States regarding Operation Anaconda, the military’s fierce offensive against al-Qaida and the Taliban in southeast Afghanistan.
On April 12, 1981, the space shuttle Columbia launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on its first official mission, beginning an era of manned spaceflight unlike any before or since. Columbia looked more like a sophisticated plane than the bubble-with-legs design of the Apollo moon landers. The space shuttle missions were also quite different. This was no race to the moon—this was to be sustained science and space exploration.
Glenn L. Martin was too excited to wait any longer. He knew he had built the most advanced bomber the world had ever seen, the MB-1, and was itching to show it off to the U.S. government.
On the morning of June 21, 1932, a neatly dressed young Harvard grad stood in a U.S. district courtroom in Los Angeles holding a single white envelope.
The Martin Company’s launch vehicle built a five-decade legacy stretching back to the earliest rockets designed and built in the United States. The nation’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) program; Project Gemini, NASA’s second human spaceflight program; the Mars Viking landers; the Voyager deep space probes; communications and reconnaissance satellites—all of these programs and more relied on Titan rockets for a safe and dependable launch.
If Rosie the Riveter had spent some time in college before the outbreak of World War II, she might have been known as Rosie the RCA Cadette.
Marie Calk and the 18 other women who walked into the brand-new Glenn L. Martin–Nebraska Company plant on October 20, 1941, were not looking for their place in the nation’s history books. They were looking for jobs on the Omaha-based factory floor of the sprawling B-26 bomber production facility. They found both.
It was in the spring of 1978 when the Skunk Works® decided to extend their stealth capabilities into the realm of submarines.
From afar, it looked like a scene straight out of an H. G. Wells novel. In 2003, a series of blimp-shaped air vehicles began rising, one after another, over the arid terrain of Afghanistan.
On September 24, 1929, Lieutenants James H. Doolittle and Benjamin S. Kelsey took off from Long Island’s Mitchel Field in a consolidated NY-2 biplane. Despite the dense fog, they successfully ascended from the runway with a long rollout, climbed to 1,000 feet, and flew in a 15-mile oval formation before landing safely in a large grassy field near the start of their expedition. This feat made them the first pilots to complete a fully “blind” flight thanks in large part to their Sperry precision instruments.
At the dawn of the jet age, Lockheed engineers developed a stubby turboprop cargo aircraft that became a timeless airlifter that still operates today: the C-130 Hercules.
U.S. Army officials staring at their radar screens on June 10, 1984, watched in breathless anticipation as two American missiles—one launched from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the other from a missile range in the Marshall Islands—hurtled toward each other far above the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.
Carl Wiley, a brilliant if eccentric engineer, seemed an unlikely candidate to solve this puzzle and usher in the modern era of global reconnaissance. In the 1940s, he had been the first American scientist to propose a design for “space sails” to harness solar energy and propel space flight; he wisely published under a pseudonym. But by 1950, Wiley had landed at Lockheed Martin legacy company Goodyear Aircraft Company and tackled airborne radar as his latest challenge.
On May 10, 1912, Glenn L. Martin stood on a dock in Newport Bay, California and solemnly handed over his gold pocket watch to engineer Charlie Day. “Take care of this,” the 26-year-old barnstorming aviator said, “in case I go for a swim.”
On February 24, 1943, three squadrons of B-24 Liberators—goliath, four-engine, 56,000-pound bombers—streaked toward Germany to strike Hitler’s vaunted Luftwaffe at its heart, targeting a key production facility in the town of Gotha, Germany.
In the mid-1990’s, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) acknowledged that even though there was tremendous potential for the incorporation of advanced composites to reduce aircraft structural weights compared to conventional metal structures, the industry was hesitant to implement them in new aircraft.
What British Prime Minister Winston Churchill needed, more than anything, during the summer of 1942 was time. With Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s vaunted Afrika Korps preparing to meet the British in North Africa, Churchill needed to head south to Cairo, as quickly as possible, to appoint a new commander. Transportation by boat, the safest option, was out of the question. He needed a plane—his own personal aircraft—at his disposal twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
On March 18, 2010, U.S. military officials focused their attention on a single F-35 fighter stationed at the remote Naval Air Station in Patuxent River, Maryland, anxious to see if Lockheed Martin’s vaunted fifth-generation fighter could pass the most important flight test in its history.
In the wake of the Wright brothers' first flight in December 1903, mechanics, tinkerers and inventors around the world tried their hand at the new field of aviation. But these sons of California stood out among the upstarts: brothers Allan and Malcolm Lockheed and Glenn L. Martin each became world-renowned aviation pioneers, leading lives and launching companies that took remarkably parallel paths on the way to becoming a joint force in 1995.
By modifying the Super Electra with a bomb bay and three machine guns, Lockheed delivered the Hudson, the first aircraft of American design to destroy an enemy aircraft during World War II.
December 17, 1955. Representatives from several aerospace contractors gathered in Washington, D.C., at the behest of Rear Admiral William Francis “Red” Raborn for a briefing on a new program to develop a fleet ballistic missile weapon system for the United States. The program would investigate the feasibility of a defense system based on converting Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) into submarine-launched weapons.
With the pressing need to counter the emerging German threat quickly, the War Department gave Johnson a seemingly insurmountable deadline to design and build the new aircraft—150 days.
The grave announcement came during the early-morning hours of November 4, 1956. Hungarian Prime Minister Imre Nagy, speaking for just 35 seconds in dire tones appropriate to the hour, announced to his fellow countrymen that their worst fears had come to pass.
One fateful December morning in 1940, a 21-year-old nightshift workman from the Lockheed-Vega Corp. named Burton Griffin found himself tossing and turning in bed, unable to shake an exciting idea that had taken hold in his imagination.
The initial designs for what would become the U-2 were created by Lockheed engineering guru Clarence "Kelly" Johnson in 1953.
Whether it was early sailors using the stars for navigation, Galileo training his telescope on Jupiter’s moons, or contemporary astronomers viewing a distant nebula from a mountain top observatory, earthbound observations have always been limited by the conditions and vagaries of the atmosphere. That changed in the last decade of the 20th century.
Since its development in the 1960s, GPS satellite navigation has become an essential tool for everything from military operations to the family road trip.
On the afternoon of July 4, 1927, a striking new airplane—looking sleeker, yet sturdier than any of its contemporaries—was taxied onto a runway in Burbank, California carrying the uncertain fate of the Lockheed Aircraft Company squarely on its graceful cantilevered wings.
The call to action came during a lecture by a senior military official to industry in 2004. Rates of convoy-related casualties in Iraqi, he announced, were at unacceptable levels, and rising. He couldn’t guarantee any contracts nor offer any formal requirements, but he needed a new technology to help protect U.S. soldiers overseas—and he needed it fast.
A former Marine Corps C-130 loadmaster, Lee Wiegand recalled the deer-in-the-headlights look of new crew members when he ushered them into the cavernous C-130. “You walk them into that aircraft and they’re faced with hundreds of pieces of equipment they have to learn,” said the manager of Lockheed Martin’s technical training staff for the C-130 Aircrew Training System in Little Rock, Ark. “They’re absolutely lost that first time.”
Yoh-koh - the Japanese word for sunbeam - carried four instruments to study the Sun in soft and hard x-rays and at gamma ray energies. Engineers and scientists at the Solar & Astrophysics Laboratory at the ATC developed Yohkoh's Soft X-ray Telescope (SXT).
In the days of World War II aircraft design and production, minor defects were tolerated in order to speed production lines and put planes into service faster. The defects could be addressed during routine repair and maintenance. But as the space age dawned, complex, multi-stage rockets did not return to the hangar for repairs. The rockets that would carry satellites—and later, human beings—into orbit offered only one chance to get it right. One defect would be one too many.