McDonnell Aircraft Corporation

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
joint-stock company 
FateMerged with Douglas Aircraft Company
SuccessorMcDonnell Douglas
FounderJames Smith McDonnell 
HeadquartersSt. Louis, Missouri


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.

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. Dave 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. Lewis 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, Dave Lewis, then president of McDonnell, was named chairman of what was called the Long Beach, Douglas Aircraft Division. Lewis 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.



  • XP-67 experimental twin-engine propeller fighter[7]
  • FH Phantom twin-engine jet fighter[8]
  • F2H Banshee twin-engine naval jet fighter[9]
  • XF-85 Goblin experimental jet fighter[10]
  • XF-88 Voodoo experimental twin-engine fighter[11]
  • F3H Demon single-engine naval jet fighter[12]
  • F-101 Voodoo twin-engine supersonic, long-range jet fighter-bomber (single-seat) and interceptor (two-seat)[13]
  • F-4 Phantom II two-seat, twin-engine supersonic, long-range all-weather fighter-bomber[14]
  • McDonnell 119/220 business jet[15]
  • XV-1 Convertiplane VTOL[16]
  • XH-20 Little Henry experimental ramjet-rotor powered helicopter [17]
  • XHJH-1 Whirlaway twin-engine helicopter built in 1946[18]
  • McDonnell Model 113 large military transport convertiplane project[19]
  • Model 120 experimental crane/lifting helicopter[20]

Manned Spacecraft


Aircraft engines

See also


  1. J.S. McDonnell & Associates, Early years: 1927-1938 (part 1) Archived 2008-01-04 at the Wayback Machine,
  2. J.S. McDonnell & Associates, Early years: 1927-1938 (part 2) Archived 2008-01-04 at the Wayback Machine,
  3. McDonnell Aircraft Corp, The War Years: 1939-1945 (part 1) Archived 2007-07-07 at the Wayback Machine,
  4. McDonnell Aircraft Corp, The War Years: 1939-1945 (part 2) Archived 2007-12-21 at the Wayback Machine,
  5. Boeing Chronology, 1997–2001 Archived January 2, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Boeing
  6. TD2D/KDD/KDH Katydid
  7. Francillon 1979, p. 370.
  8. Francillon 1979, p. 380.
  9. Francillon 1979, p. 426.
  10. Francillon 1979, p. 456.
  11. Francillon 1979, p. 460.
  12. Francillon 1979, p. 480.
  13. Francillon 1979, p. 537, 541.
  14. Francillon 1979, p. 556.
  15. Francillon 1979, p. 600.
  16. Francillon 1979, p. 510.
  17. Francillon 1979, p. 440.
  18. Boeing gallery Archived 2008-06-02 at the Wayback Machine
  20. Francillon 1979, p. 554.
  21. Francillon 1979, p. 45.
  22. Francillon 1979, p. 46.
  • Francillon, René J. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft since 1920. London:Putnam, 1979. ISBN 0-370-00050-1.
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