75 of 77 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 1998
If you want the definitive account of Kelly Johnson's life - this is the book. If you're looking for detailed technical information on the various aircraft he designed, look elsewhere. In my opinion this is the only real problem with this book - there are not enough details. Too many subjects that should warrant complete chapters are only mentioned in passing. This book would have to be over 1,000 pages to really do justice to Kelly Johnson's achievements. It's too bad that this book was written before the major declassification reviews of the past several years. With the passing of Kelly and Ben Rich, many interesting details have been lost forever.
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
The prior reviewers are right, the book is short on details of the of that flood of technical innovation ( beyond the leading edge of what was thought possible ) that characterized Kelly's work. One only has to walk through the Smithsonian to understand his impact. Not just the advanced design of the SR-71, now older than most of the visitors, but the hushed awe its black hulk imposes of visitors from those in kneepants to gray haired veterans.
Kelly, the book, offers perhaps a more important gift to those who follow. Looking at his technical achievements is like driving down the highway at 120 staring out the side window at the double yellow line. You get the sensation but no useful guidance.
The gift of the book is that it sets forth in simple terms the vision and principles that led to these incredible achievements. Kelly focused on simplicity - simplicity in mission statement, simplicity in concept, simplicity in leadership and simplicity in execution. Of course brilliant engineering was also the order of the day.
We live in a business world increasingly dominated by individuals holding advanced degrees in business management. I was part of the process, spending a number of years as adjunct faculty in a leading MBA program. The challenge in business, and politics, is not the lack of sophistication in our analytical techniques, but rather in our leadership, ethics, vision and communication. Kelly not only had these virtues, but left a priceless journal of his voyage through some of the greatest achievements of the 20'th Century.
For those with little interest in aircraft or technology, the book offers insights on how to overcome complex challenges in remarkably short periods of time and at a fraction of the accepted cost levels. For that alone the book is a gift to future generations if they are willing to consider the wisdom. In one page Kelly sets out his "rules" of project management which should be read by every student of science, engineering, business or politics.
The message of the book is both timeless history and the secrets of the ethical achievement of that which 99.9% of the experts deemed impossible. Now is a good time to locate a few used copies in hardcover for future generations.
UPDATE - After writing this review I checked the availability of used hardcover editions - around $500 which says something about the value of the book.
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2008
Clarence "Kelly" Johnson is probably the most recognizable name in the Aerospace Industry, rising to an iconic level as the designer of or major engineer involved with aircraft from the P-38 Lightning to the F-104 Starfighter and from the Lockheed Constellation to the SR-71 blackbird. He is widely regarded as a supremely capable engineer and aircraft designer, if not, THE supreme figure of the aerospace design and engineering industry. One of his principles was to seek the simplest solution for any problem, and this autobiography fits squarely in that mold, being a taut, quick, and easy to read story of what was a truly amazing life.
Kelly was born into rural northern Michigan to a working class family in 1910, a very modest begining for a meteoric career, but one which would prove fundamental. His family left him with a solid work ethic and a drive for learning, which he married to an intense interest in aviation he found by age 12. Working early in construction taught him the value of practicality and gave him a good knowledge of machinery. Guided half by accident and half by design he attended the University of Michigan gaining an excellent engineering degree - where aerospace engineers had to first complete strings of courses in all other engineering fields and where one of the nation's first wind tunnels was located. For someone who has suffered through engineering school, particularly being up till 2:00AM for days in a row studying in the dorms with a 8:00AM class looming while it seemed like over 50% of the rest of the students were running through the halls drunkenly fondling each other with classes in hyphenated American studies no earlier than noon, Kelly's experiences in college were, sadly, reassuring. He did not drink, nor did he have any time left over from his studies to go on any more than two dates his entire time at U of M, and he also suffered from ulcers that would last his entire life. He loved his studies though and what he got was a strong foundation in physics and engineering, and the discipline and know-how to teach himself to stay abreast of aerospace technology for what would be aviation's heyday of seemingly daily major advances.
Kelly's career at Lockheed is relatively well known and I won't go into it in detail, although the book does satisfyingly so. What was best for me from this majority section of the book were the timeless lessons learned about how best to design aircraft, build an aerospace company, deal with customer, etc. compared to how these things normally go in real life in contrast. Throughout the book he is straightforward and to the point, never embellishing, never bragging. He does however find room for levity, especially with regards to trying to teach Howard Hughes how to fly the Connie, and also for his philosophy of what is important in life which is quite morally inspired and rests on good values.
What emerges from this book is a picture of a patriotic, hard working, dedicated, and brilliant man who attained his genius more through work ethic and common sense than what was surely a healthy dose of natural ability. Near the book's end are his predictions for the aerospace industry, circa 1985. Many did not come to pass (not foreseeing the fall of the Soviet Union he predicted laser and particle beam weapons being common by 2000), some did (the shift in commercial transportation from speed to economy and fuel efficiency), and some may still (his predictions of mostly unmanned combat aircraft.) Throughout the book you get a well worthwhile glimpse into the reasoning behind the design decisions he made and the reasons for his beliefs and predictions for aerospace, which become more interesting in the limelight of hindsight rather than less so.
A passionate advocate for ethics and direct, straightforward management in the aerospace industry Kelly has set an example worthy of emulation by today's engineers, designers and managers. Definitely recommended for workers in the aerospace industry, or aerospace history buffs.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2009
I read this book after reading Skunk Works by Ben L Rich. This was a nice secondary read, and I'm quite happy with the *order* in which I read the books. Here, you get to see things from Kelly's persepctive. In Skunk Works, you get Ben Rich's side of the story (Kelly's employee and right hand man). From Richs accounts, Kelly is an abrasive character at times, but always fair and respectful; meanwhile, Kelly comes off much softer in his own book. Perhaps this dichotomy is a result of hearing the same story from two different perspectives, one the employee and the other the boss. After reading Kelly, this abrasive character can be clearly linked to his managment style. He is the boss. The end. This was key to their sucess. No design by comittee. Kelly had final say and that was that.
The book lacks the prose of Skunk Works and the amount of detail, but I think its a vital read for anyone interested in Aviation, and a MUST read for any aerospace engineers.
Kelly: The greatest Aerospace Engineer (possibly) of all time.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2009
Everyone on here seems to agree that they wish Kelly had gone deeper in his recollections about his storied career, but in his way, by giving us the basics, Johnson was true to his life and they way he lived it. Ben Rich's book, Skunk Works, supplies the details. This was a giant among men and one of the most amazing designers of aircraft that the world has ever seen.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2014
I got this book after reading Ben Rich's book. Johnson is no doubt a skilled engineer, but his writing skills leave me wanting more.
Johnson doesn't go into enough detail about his projects (history, inspiration, trouble points in the development cycle, etc.)
If you have to pick one, I suggest reading Rich's book over this one.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2009
Good book on the way things used to be in the DOD to contractor relationship. Mr. Johnson's clear and crisp autobiography is a great when accompanied by Ben Rich's Skunk Works. Highly recommended.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2014
Being an aviation enthusiast, I've always been fascinated with the Skunk Works, and those who have worked there. As others have said, the book is a bit skimpy on Skunk Works details, but is an interesting look at Kelly Jonson's life at and away from his work.
The thing I'll remember most is his work ethic and ability to complete a project and produce a product for much less time and money than perhaps others in the industry could. I think that if his methods were to be applied broadly in today's manufacturing industries, the U.S. could return to being a superpower of productivity.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2010
If you are an airplane buff or work in the aircraft design world, this is a must read and must have book. Kelly Johnson is arguably the most innovative aircraft design and aircraft manufacturing engineer that has ever lived and this book provides insight into his thoughts and persona. His techniques, management style, marketing acumen, and personality combine to create a series of designs and innovations that have forever marked the aviation world for the better, revolutionizing how people viewed the aerospace industry. If you love planes, read this book, it will not disappoint.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
While nobody is going to read this book for its literary qualities, this is a book which should be read by all engineers. Like other reviewers, I wished for more detail, but Johnson's prose reflects the spare purposefulness of his designs. He takes us from his youth, through school and his employment career.
I read this book around the same time as the mythical man month, and recommend software engineers consider reading them together, as many of the ideas on building effective "Skunk Works" for developing new technology are the same.