The Early Years: 1927-1938

McDonnell Aircraft Corp. ... Ready for a Fighter

At the end of the first year, our backlog was zero, sales zero, earnings zero.
-- James S. McDonnell, 1933

The Depression was under way. American families were more interested in buying food than airplanes. James McDonnell's dream to provide every American family with a personal airplane was clearly impossible.

McDonnell dissolved J.S. McDonnell & Associates and found employment, first with a Chicago firm as a consulting engineer and then with the Great Lakes Aircraft Corp. as an engineer and test pilot. In mid-March 1933, McDonnell went to work for the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Co. in Baltimore, Md.

He was chief project engineer for landplanes -- the same job Donald Douglas left 13 years before. Under McDonnell's guidance, the company developed the Martin B-10 and B-12 bombers.

McDonnell resigned in December 1938 and, in six months, raised $165,000 so that on June 6, 1939, he could incorporate the McDonnell Aircraft Corp. at Lambert Field near St. Louis, Mo., with 15 employees. The company's first production order was for $7,672 worth of parts for Stinson observation planes. Business expanded as World War II began.

By March 1940, McDonnell was included in the list of manufacturers invited to submit proposals for fighter construction. McDonnell's Model 1, a pusher-propeller aircraft, lost the bid, as did his second proposal. His third submission gave him the funds to build two prototypes for a single-seat, long-range fighter the Army Air Forces designated the XP-67, which first flew Jan. 6, 1944. By then, McDonnell's FH-1 Phantom fighter was on the drawing board.

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