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Publisher's Summary

Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson led the design of such crucial aircraft as the P-38 and Constellation, but he will be more remembered for the U-2 and SR-71 spy planes. His extraordinary leadership of the Lockheed "Skunk Works" cemented his reputation as a legendary figure in American aerospace management.

©1985 Smithsonian Institution (P)2019 Tantor

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Memoir of a Legend

This is a memoir of an aviation leader. A few years ago, I read “The Skunk Works” by Ben R. Rich about the Lockheed Research Department. Kelly was responsible for the design of the famous Constellation and the P-38. He also was responsible for the U-2 and SR71 Blackbird.

This is the story of the Skunk Works at its peak (1950-1990) by one of its founders. I think reading both books gave me a balanced insight into the halcyon days of aviation at Lockheed. Both books are well balanced, but Johnson’s book is a bit more technical. Johnson tells the story of his life as a child in Michigan to working at Lockheed. The book was originally published in 1988. This is a great book about a brilliant aeronautical engineer and the early days of aviation.

The book is six hours and six minutes. Johnny Heller does an excellent job narrating the book. Heller is an actor and a well-known audiobook narrator. He has won many awards such as the Audiophile’s Golden Voice Award and Best voice of 2008, 2011, 2014, 2018. He was also selected as one of the fifty voices of the 20th Century. His list of awards is too numerous to list.

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Read this after "Skunk Works", didn't disappoint

The only low points are where the author starts covering details of his personal life that are entirely unrelated to aviation history. I don't really care to hear his justifications for remarrying a month after his wife's death.

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Brilliant men and brilliant machines

Though the content frequently left me wondering if the author has switched subjects and the narrator rarely shifted tone or pace, I find this story to be a fascinating one about the early days of Lockheed and about what it takes to build things better. It isn't too long of a listen; granted my frequent rewinds to try to catch what was just said lengthened the time, but I still considered it worth it.

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a fascinating insight into the life of Kelly Johns

This was really a fascinating book especially the technical parts. The only reason I didn't give it five stars was I had an expectation, perhaps unrealistic, that this would be more of a technical book and talk more about the programs in detail.

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A bit impersonal, but some nice content

While much has been told elsewhere, there is some unique content here that make this book a valuable read.

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Still a good listen

Even after 35 years the life of this engineer is amazing. It’s entertaining to hear predictions for the year 2000. Although I wished for greater technical detail, Johnson’s inside view of early aviation and developments into the 1980s is fascinating. Narration was poor, too fast, and at times confusing. In print, publishers put breaks and pauses on the page for a reason that was apparently lost on this narrator. I won’t bother with another title narrated by this individual.

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A good autobiography

I had previously listened to "Skunkworks", by Ben Rich, so I wasn't as enamored by this book as I could have been. I also think that the period that it was written influenced it. Still, it is well worth listening to. I just wished that I had listened to this one first.

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Great Account of a Great life

Good mix of technical and personal. Johnson seemed to know what readers would want to know. Mentions five times that he wanted to grow up to be Tom Swift. Narrator's voice is a bit scratchy but acceptable.

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What an Autobiography Should Be

Kelly Johnson is as succinct and practical in his writing as he was in his engineering. he tells an unembellished story of his life and work, philosophy, and outlook in his field. if you are a fan of any of the Lockheed Skunk Works aircraft and want to know about the man who was responsible, this book is for you.

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Excellent and hard to put down

I’d read The Skunk Works a couple years ago and thought since this was much shorter, it might not be that great. Wrong! This includes a lot on the engineering developments and the way the Skunk Works functioned. Fast moving story, very difficult to take any break from. Kelly Johnson epitomizes America at its’ best.

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  • MR J R Stagg
  • 01-13-20

For the engineering out there

Great listen, Great insight. The elusive skunk works somewhat unraveled, the engineering pitfalls and problem solving was impressive to hear.

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  • a mcmeekin
  • 05-10-22

Very interesting but ......

Fascinating account, but the listener MUST take into account the occasional "American Chest-beating" and the historical truth "bending" here and there!
Example "No one has solved the issue of deep stalling with SST's. look at what happened to the Russian TU-144!"
Err .... what about Concorde???

there is an element of plainly misguided and overt patriotism running through this, but if you can ignore that it's a great account!

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  • Michael
  • 01-15-22

Great

Awesome read for as an engineer aspiring to do vehicle/machine development. Excellent narrator too.