24 December 2015

Saving Lockheed for Christmas

Carl Squier
I had written this article a year ago for Christmas but I think it's worth reposting given this is Christmas Eve. There are a lot of folks in aviation little known to history but whose actions footnotes of the time set the stage for larger events in history. Carl Squier is one such individual- the 13th licensed pilot in the United States, in 1917 he became an Army pilot and flew in France in the first World War and became a long time friend of American ace Eddie Rickenbacker.

In 1928 he became the VP of the Eastman Flying Boat company after a career barnstorming after he returned from the Western Front. That year Eastman was bought by the Detroit Aircraft Company and they sent him to California to manage a struggling subsidiary they had just also acquired, Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank. While running Lockheed for the parent company, he found himself a home in aviation and became a patron of the employees at the Burbank plant.
With the stock market crash and the Great Depression, Detroit Aircraft went bankrupt and it dragged Lockheed into the red. No one was sure if Lockheed would survive. A few days before Christmas, he sent the employees home early from the Burbank plant and at the exit, handed each demoralized employee a ten dollar bill (a hearty sum in those days) and wished them a Merry Christmas. All one-hundred ten employees of Lockheed Aircraft went home that evening with ten dollars, all from Carl Squier's own savings which he emptied for his employees. The following January he mortgaged his own car and home to make payroll for the employees. When Lockheed finally succumbed to bankruptcy a few months later, Lockheed only had three employees- his secretary, an accountant, and a stock clerk who doubled as the night watchman for the Burbank hangar of the company.

Carl Squier with Howard Hughes
Squier so believed the Lockheed name was too good to pass into history and the people he came to lead too good to abandon, he convinced an investor, Robert Gross, Gross' brother Courtlandt, three other men, and what he had left of his own savings to purchase Lockheed's remaining assets. Gross wanted to run an aircraft company of his own and in 1932 the group purchased what was left of Lockheed for $40,000. In the bankruptcy courtroom that day sitting in the back was none other than Allan Lockheed himself, who on his way out told Gross "I hope you know what you're doing". With a shoestring staff led by a young engineer they recruited, Hal Hibbard, Lockheed came back to life with its Lockheed Model 10 Electra. The Model 10 Electra was Amelia Earhart's aircraft on her ill-fated 1937 around the world flight. As Lockheed had limited resources and facilities at the time of the program launch, much of the wind tunnel work was done at the University of Michigan. Much of the tunnel work was done by a master's student at the school, a young engineer named Clarence "Kelly" Johnson. It was Johnson's suggestions based on the tunnel work on the Electra design that the aircraft switch from a single tail fin to twin tail fins as well as the deletion of the original large wing root fillets. When Kelly Johnson completed his master's degree, he was hired full time at Lockheed. 

Hal Hibbard and Robert Gross would go on to build Lockheed into one of the giants of American aviation and Kelly Johnson would design some of the most iconic aircraft of the century, but it all started with the passion, generosity, and salesmanship of Carl Squier. It was said that if it wasn't for Carl Squier, there wouldn't be a Lockheed. He retired in 1956 as the VP of sales and flew west in 1967.

Source: The Electra Story: Aviation's Greatest Mystery (Bantam Air & Space Series No. 9) by Robert Serling. Bantam Publishing, 1962, 1991.

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