Ralph S. Johnson

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Ralph Samuel Johnson
Wyoming State Representative from Laramie County
In office
Personal details
Born (1906-06-26)June 26, 1906
Goodland, Newton County
Indiana, USA
Died January 12, 2010(2010-01-12) (aged 103)
Tempe, Maricopa County, Arizona, USA
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Ruth Bond Johnson (married 1937–2009, her death)

U.S. District Judge Alan Bond Johnson
Stephen Johnson

Janet Johnson Rowe (deceased)
Residence Cheyenne, Laramie County, Wyoming (1935–1988)
Occupation Aviator; Businessman
For another Wyoming aviator, see Raymond A. Johnson.

Ralph Samuel Johnson (June 26, 1906 – January 12, 2010)[1] was a pioneer of American aviation who served a single term from 1951 to 1953 as a Republican member of the Wyoming House of Representatives. He represented Cheyenne, the seat of Laramie County, Wyoming, where he resided from 1935 to 1988.[2] In 1995, Johnson was among the first four inductees to the Wyoming Aviation Hall of Fame in Cheyenne.[3]

A test pilot, Johnson developed several aviation businesses and created various innovations for pilots that are still in use. "He will forever be remembered as one of Wyoming's greatest aviators, as well as a truly great citizen of this state for many years," said John Richard Waggener, president of the Wyoming Aviation Hall of Fame and an associate archivist with the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.[2]

Early years and education[edit]

Johnson was born in Goodland, Newton County, Indiana, fewer than three years after the Wright Brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Johnson was the fourth of ten children born on a farm at a time when horses still plowed fields and steam fueled harvesting machines. Johnson built the family car from parts in a junkyard. As a teenager, he started a mechanics business to earn money for college. In 1930, he graduated from Purdue University, with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering.[2]

Military and civilian aviator[edit]

He joined the United States Army Air Corps, the forerunner of the Air Force. On receiving his wings, Johnson served as the personal pilot for the 8th Air Corps commanding general.[2]

After two years in the Army Reserve, Captain Johnson worked as a pilot in Muncie, Indiana, where he flew a Sikorsky S-39 amphibian from Lake Wawasee in Indiana to the Century of Progress Exhibition, also known as the Chicago World's Fair of 1933. A chance meeting at the fair led to another job as chief test pilot at the Cheyenne maintenance base of United Airlines. In Cheyenne, Johnson developed the stabilized approach to landing that is still in use. His other innovations include cockpit crew coordination techniques, visual approach slope lights, propeller de-icing equipment, and a scrolling checklist.[2] He held five patents.[4]

In the 1930s, he helped test fly the Douglas DC-3 and evaluated the little-known DC-5. During World War II, Johnson was based at the Cheyenne Regional Airport, where he was responsible for the engineering and testing of hundreds of B-17s, B-24s, and PBYs coming through the modification center. Various aircraft were flown from the factory into Cheyenne, where they were modified with armaments and combat equipment and then test flown by Johnson and his crews.[5]

By 1948, having left United Airlines, Johnson started a general aviation business which offered aerial surveys. He also operated a light plane dealership, and developed a fleet of wartime surplus aircraft. He outfitted planes to fight forest fires and inspect pests, such as fire ants and grasshoppers. He continued to fly until he was eighty-two, at which time he sold the business.[2]

Family, death, legacy[edit]

In addition to his legislative service, Johnson was appointed to the U.S. Export Expansion Council. In 1953, he served as the interim head of the Wyoming Aeronautics Commission. In 1961, he joined in the establishment of Teton National Insurance Company. He was president and chairman of Ideal Aerosmith, a precision instrument manufacturing firm.[2]

In 1937, Johnson married the former Ruth Bond (September 1, 1912 – September 23, 2009),[1] a native of Union City, Tennessee, who was reared in Nashville. She graduated from Vanderbilt University in Nashville with a degree in mathematics and a minor in sociology. She hosted a radio program in Nashville. In 1936, Ruth visited Cheyenne to attend a rodeo. While at the Farthing Ranch at Farthing, also known as Iron Mountain, Ruth met Johnson, who at thirty was a test pilot for United Airlines. They married the next year and made Cheyenne their home until 1988, when they retired to, first, Scottsdale and later Tempe, Arizona.[6]

Ralph and Ruth Johnson died at Friendship Village in Tempe. The couple had two sons, U.S. District Judge Alan Bond Johnson (born 1939), and Stephen Johnson, an Air Force veteran, a former government official, and an officer with the conservative Heritage Foundation. A daughter, Janet J. Rowe, died of cancer prior to her parents' deaths.[2][6]

In 2008, Purdue University conferred on Johnson an honorary doctorate in aeronautical engineering.[2]

Johnson donated one of his Lockheed PV-2s to the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona.[7]

Johnson's friend Billy Walker said on the aviator's death: "Captain Ralph S. Johnson was the Best of the Best. He was a mentor's mentor and left those of us in aviation an unparalleled legacy. For all of us, if we followed his example of personal values, we could solve much of what is wrong in our world. ... "[8]


  1. ^ a b "Social Security Death Index". ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved April 6, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Bill McCarthy, Aviation pioneer dies at age 103". Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Retrieved April 6, 2010. 
  3. ^ "WAHF List of Inductees". dot.state.wy.us. Archived from the original on July 17, 2011. Retrieved April 7, 2010. 
  4. ^ "Wyoming Inventors". cowgirl.state.wy.us/inventors/name. Archived from the original on August 14, 2011. Retrieved April 6, 2010. 
  5. ^ "About the Airport". cheyenneairport.com. Archived from the original on October 15, 2009. Retrieved April 7, 2010. 
  6. ^ a b "Ruth Johnson obituary". findarticles.com. Retrieved April 6, 2010. [dead link]
  7. ^ "Letter to Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame, May 10, 2003". ox5.org. Archived from the original on June 5, 2004. Retrieved April 7, 2010. 
  8. ^ Billy Walker, Reflections on Ralph S. Johnson, in Wyoming Tribune Eagle, January 15, 2010