The Founding of Lockheed Martin

The Founding of Lockheed Martin
October 01, 2020

“Now I Was An Aviator”

On a Chicago ball field in December 1910, twenty-one-year-old Allan Haines Lockheed climbed into a spindly collection of light wood and fabric, cables and glue, bicycle wheels, and a 30-horsepower engine. Many had tried to get this Curtiss pusher biplane to gain enough speed to alight. Despite the fact that Lockheed had never piloted an aircraft, he applied his mechanical know-how to tinker with the engine. He offered three-to-one odds to his fellow mechanics that he would be the first to get the plane to fly, but no one took the wager. Anyone betting against Lockheed would have lost.

Taking to the air, Lockheed’s natural skills at the controls became apparent. He piloted the normally cumbersome Curtiss craft in a graceful circle and brought it down to a gentle landing, to the accolades of his fellow mechanics. “It was partly nerve, partly confidence and partly damn foolishness. But now I was an aviator,” he said some years later.

“We Got It Off The Ground.”

Glenn Luther Martin attempted his first flight in Santa Ana, California, in a rickety single-wing aircraft of his own design in July 1907. When Martin’s associate spun the propeller, Martin gained a feel for the plane’s controls as the craft bumped along across a pasture and stalled at the far end of the field. Martin climbed out to re-launch the propeller himself—an unwise tactic with no one at the controls—as the engine caught and the plane lurched forward. The edge of the propeller clipped Martin’s hat as he dove under the wheels and the plane passed over him. All he could do was hold on as the craft dragged his feet, and the plane turned circles and eventually collapsed in total ruin.

Despite ceaseless mockery from his fellow Santa Ana residents, Martin remained undeterred. He headed back to his “factory,” a former Methodist church he rented, and started anew.  After two years of sleepless nights and obsessive work, on August 1, 1909, his next lurching, bumpy ride gave way to a moment of peace as the aircraft took to the air. Martin gently landed his plane after 100 feet of flight, achieving a modest altitude of eight feet. “We got it off the ground. It flew,” he told his parents later that morning.

The Birth of the Aviation Industry

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.

The similarities between the founders are uncanny. At a time when aircraft were remarkably difficult to fly, both the Lockheeds and Martin, without training, quickly exhibited abundant natural talent as aviators. Both were mechanically brilliant and self-taught pioneers in the emerging field of aircraft design. Both felt a profound calling to the skies. And it was in the creation of reliable sea planes that the men launched their respective companies.

1912: Lockheed Martin Takes Flight

In 1912, Glenn Martin set out to break the distance record for flight across open water, setting his sights on Catalina Island, 30 miles from the mainland. On May 10, he guided his team as they mounted a pontoon beneath a Martin Model 12 aircraft, and despite ominous cloud cover, took off from Newport Bay for Catalina. After a quick wave to his parents and colleagues on the dock, Martin climbed to an estimated 4,000 feet. As he approached 30 minutes in-flight, his compass work impeccable, he broke out of the cloud cover to find Catalina’s Avalon Bay directly in front of him.

International acclaim soon followed, and so too did the formal incorporation of the Glenn L. Martin Company, on August 16, 1912. That same year found Allan and Malcolm Lockheed hard at work building a sea plane. Spending nights and weekends in a San Francisco garage where they repaired cars during the day, an aircraft took shape that in many ways resembled the plane that Martin flew to Catalina.

The Model G was designed to carry pilot and passengers, and, it was hoped, make money. On December 19, 1912, with investors in place, the brothers incorporated the Alco-Hydro Aeroplane Company. On June 15, 1913, Allan and Malcolm launched the sea plane from a boat ramp into San Francisco Bay. Allan pushed the throttle and soon the plane was airborne. Lockheed’s first flight of the Model G was in the books. Malcolm joined Allan for the second flight—a complete cruise over the bay—soaring to an altitude of 300 hundred feet over the Golden Gate, Alcatraz Island, and Sausalito Bay, to the delight of onlookers.

But the challenges didn’t abate. When their plane was damaged in an encounter with a dock on the rough bay waters six months later, the Lockheeds were forced to buy it outright from their investors. It took more than a year but the brothers repaired the craft just in time for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. The international gathering proved a huge revenue generator: The Lockheeds sold flights to over 600 people for the dizzying sum of $10 a ride, all without incident or injury.

After their inaugural flights and initial financial successes, the founders and the companies they led shared many of the same struggles through the decades that followed: pursuit of government contracts, exponential growth during World War II, and a shift of focus to space and then to cyberspace. In 1995, these two companies formalized their history of shared experiences by creating the “merger of equals” that stands today as Lockheed Martin Corporation.

Loughead and Lockheed

Both Allan and Malcolm Lockheed legally changed their name from the original spelling of “Loughead” to the current spelling of “Lockheed.” They also changed the name of the company from “Loughead” to “Lockheed” at the same time. To reflect that change, this article and other stories from our Centennial campaign will use the current-day spelling of “Lockheed.”