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McDonnell Aircraft Corporation

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McDonnell Aircraft Corporation
FoundedJuly 6, 1939; 84 years ago (1939-07-06)
FounderJames Smith McDonnell
DefunctApril 28, 1967; 57 years ago (1967-04-28)
FateMerged with Douglas Aircraft Company
SuccessorMcDonnell Douglas
United States of America
Key people

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 crewed spacecraft including the Mercury capsule and Gemini capsule. McDonnell Aircraft later merged with the Douglas Aircraft Company to form McDonnell Douglas in 1967.


James McDonnell founded J.S. McDonnell & Associates in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1928 to produce a small aircraft for family use.[2] The economic depression from 1929 ruined his plans and the company collapsed. He went to work for Glenn L. Martin.[3]

He left in 1938 to try again with his own firm, McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, based at St. Louis, Missouri in 1939.[3] 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.[4] McDonnell also developed the LBD-1 Gargoyle guided missile.[5] 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 was 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.

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 success of the Mercury capsule led the company adopted a new logo features the capsule circling a globe with the motto "First Free Man in Space".[1] The company was now a major employer, but was having problems. It had almost no civilian business, 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). Soon after the merger was announced, McDonnell bought 1.5 million shares of Douglas stock to help Douglas meet "immediate financial requirements".[6] McDonnell management dominated the merged company. It was based at McDonnell's facility in St. Louis, with James McDonnell as chairman and CEO.[7] In 1967, with the merger of McDonnell and Douglas Aircraft, David Lewis, then president of McDonnell, was named chairman of what was called the Douglas Aircraft Division. After managing the turnaround of the division, he returned to St. Louis in 1969 as president of McDonnell Douglas.

McDonnell Douglas later merged with Boeing in August 1997.[8] Boeing's defense and space division includes the part purchased from Rockwell (ROK) in 1986 and is based at the former McDonnell facility in St. Louis, and is responsible for defense and space products and services. McDonnell Douglas' 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[b] 1959 1 Prototype four engine business jet

Crewed Spacecraft[edit]

Missiles and others[edit]

Aircraft engines[edit]

Selected projects[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ This includes aircraft built by McDonnell Douglas and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
  2. ^ Renamed the McDonnell 220.


  1. ^ a b McDonnell Douglas Logo History, McDonnell Douglas, archived from the original on 5 June 1997, retrieved 29 November 2020
  2. ^ J.S. McDonnell & Associates, Early years: 1927-1938 (part 1) Archived 2008-01-04 at the Wayback Machine, Boeing.com.
  3. ^ a b J.S. McDonnell & Associates, Early years: 1927-1938 (part 2) Archived 2008-01-04 at the Wayback Machine, Boeing.com.
  4. ^ McDonnell Aircraft Corp, The War Years: 1939-1945 (part 1) Archived 2007-07-07 at the Wayback Machine, Boeing.com.
  5. ^ McDonnell Aircraft Corp, The War Years: 1939-1945 (part 2) Archived 2007-12-21 at the Wayback Machine, Boeing.com.
  6. ^ "Douglas, McDonnell aircraft firms announce merger plans". The Bulletin. (Bend, Oregon). UPI. January 13, 1967. p. 6. Archived from the original on July 10, 2021. Retrieved February 15, 2021.
  7. ^ Wright, Robert (January 26, 1967). "McDonnell and Douglas take a giant step". New York Times. Archived from the original on June 5, 2011. Retrieved January 7, 2010.
  8. ^ Boeing Chronology, 1997–2001 Archived January 2, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Boeing
  9. ^ Francillon 1979, p. 45.
  10. ^ Francillon 1979, p. 46.
  11. ^ "TD2D/KDD/KDH Katydid". Archived from the original on 2013-03-22. Retrieved 2006-12-30.


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

External links[edit]