McDonnell Aircraft Corporation

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The McDonnell Aircraft Corporation was an American aerospace manufacturer based in St. Louis, Missouri. The company was founded on July 6, 1939 by James Smith McDonnell, and was best known for its military fighters, including the F-4 Phantom II, and manned spacecraft including the Mercury capsule and Gemini capsule. McDonnell Aircraft later merged with the Douglas Aircraft Company to form McDonnell Douglas in 1967.

McDonnell Aircraft Corporation
FateMerged with Douglas Aircraft Company
SuccessorMcDonnell Douglas
Founded1939; 81 years ago (1939)
FoundersJames Smith McDonnell
Defunct1967; 53 years ago (1967)
United States of America
Key people


McDonnell wordmark used until 1958

James McDonnell founded J.S. McDonnell & Associates in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1928 to produce a personal aircraft for family use.[1] The economic depression from 1929 ruined his plans and the company collapsed. He went to work for Glenn L. Martin. He left in 1938 to try again with his own firm, McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, based at St. Louis, Missouri in 1939.[2]

World War II was a major boost to the new company. It grew from 15 employees in 1939 to 5,000 at the end of the war and became a significant aircraft parts producer, and developed the XP-67 Bat fighter prototype.[3] McDonnell also developed the LBD-1 Gargoyle guided missile.[4] McDonnell Aircraft suffered after the war with an end of government orders and a surplus of aircraft, and heavily cut its workforce. The advent of the Korean War helped push McDonnell into a major military fighter supply role.

An FH-1 Phantom in 1948

In 1943, McDonnell began developing jets when they were invited to bid in a US Navy contest and eventually built the successful FH-1 Phantom in the postwar era. The Phantom introduced McDonnell's telltale design with engines placed forward under the fuselage and exiting just behind the wing, a layout that would be used successfully on the F2H Banshee, F3H Demon, and the F-101 Voodoo. David S. Lewis joined the company as Chief of Aerodynamics in 1946. He led the development of the legendary F-4 Phantom II in 1954, which was introduced into service in 1960.

Lewis became Executive Vice President in 1958, and finally became President and Chief Operating Officer in 1962. He went on to manage Douglas Aircraft Division in 1967 after the McDonnell Douglas merger. In 1969, he returned to St. Louis as President of McDonnell Douglas.

McDonnell made a number of missiles, including the pioneering Gargoyle and unusual ADM-20 Quail, as well as experimenting with hypersonic flight, research that enabled them to gain a substantial share of the NASA projects Mercury and Gemini. The company was now a major employer, but was having problems. It had no civilian side, and was thus vulnerable to any peacetime downturn in procurement.

Meanwhile, Douglas Aircraft was reeling from cash flow problems and development costs. It was also having a hard time meeting demand. The two companies began sounding each other out about a merger in 1963. On paper, they were a good match. Douglas' civilian business would have been more than enough to allow McDonnell to withstand any downturns in military procurement, while the cash flow from McDonnell's military contracts would have given Douglas badly-needed security. Douglas formally accepted McDonnell's offer in December 1966, and the two firms officially merged on April 28, 1967 as the McDonnell Douglas Corporation (MDC), based at McDonnell's facility in St. Louis. In 1967, with the merger of McDonnell and Douglas Aircraft, David Lewis, then president of McDonnell, was named chairman of what was called the Long Beach, Douglas Aircraft Division. He managed the turnaround of the division.

McDonnell Douglas would later merge with Boeing in August 1997.[5] Boeing's defense and space division is based at the old McDonnell facility in St. Louis, and is responsible for defense and space products and services. McDonnell Douglas's legacy product programs include the F-15 Eagle, AV-8B Harrier II, F/A-18 Hornet, and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.


McDonnell F2H Banshee, F3H Demon, and F4H Phantom II


Model name First flight Number built Type
McDonnell XP-67 1944 1 Prototype twin piston engine interceptor fighter
McDonnell FH Phantom 1945 62 Twin jet engine fighter
McDonnell XHJH-1 Whirlaway 1946 1 Twin piston engine helicopter
McDonnell F2H Banshee 1947 895 Twin jet engine fighter
McDonnell XH-20 Little Henry 1947 2 Prototype twin ramjet light helicopter
McDonnell XF-85 Goblin 1948 2 Prototype single jet engine parasite fighter
McDonnell XF-88 Voodoo 1948 2 Prototype twin jet engine fighter
McDonnell F3H Demon 1951 519 Single jet engine fighter
McDonnell XV-1 1954 2 Experimental single piston engine compound gyroplane
McDonnell F-101 Voodoo 1954 807 Twin jet engine fighter
McDonnell 120 1957 2 Experimental three ramjet light helicopter
McDonnell F-4 Phantom II 1958 5,195[a] Twin jet engine fighter
McDonnell 119 1959 1 Prototype four jet engine business jet
McDonnell 113 N/A 0 Unbuilt multiple turboshaft engine compound gyroplane

Manned SpacecraftEdit

Missiles and othersEdit

Aircraft enginesEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ This includes aircraft built by McDonnell Douglas and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.


  • Francillon, René J. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft since 1920. London:Putnam, 1979. ISBN 0-370-00050-1.

External linksEdit