Friday, January 9

Passing of an Era

Thomas Victor Jones, with YF-17 Model before it Evolved into the F-18
As is always the case, the end of a year is marked by news agencies summarizing notable people who passed away during the year. Among these articles reviewing 2014, there is at least one giant name missing; Thomas Victor Jones. You see, Tom Jones was the last of a breed in the aerospace industry that we are not likely to see again in our time. Some might not think that a bad thing, but it also probably means less future innovation in that same industry. The photo, above, comes from the LA Times Obituary. Perhaps it is ironic that Ralph Vartebedian wrote it - Ralph was a thorn in Jones's side for many years.

Northrop F-5 at Boeing Museum
In the first half century of aviation, most companies funded a major portion of new aircraft from their own resources. Northrop Corporation was one such. When I started work there, Jack Northrop was still alive, though frail. The CEO was Tom Jones. He made his name by pushing for the T-38 and F-5, aircraft that are still in service today more than 50 years later. He also pushed to get Northrop into the unmanned aircraft business. The mostly Northrop-funded YF-17 later developed into the F/A-18 on his watch and is still being built. It was a point of pride at Northrop that almost ALL the company facilities were company owned. More commonly, the US Government owned large aircraft facilities. Northrop was different under Jones. We purchased license plate holders that said: "Northrop Aircraft Division, a Good Place to Work" at the company store.

Less well known is that Northrop, again under Tom’s watch, played a major role in funding and supporting Boeing (his son just passed away as noted HERE) in the development of the original 747. I’ve been told that Northrop built and owned many of the original tools for that aircraft until Boeing later purchased them back. Certainly, Jones’s support of stealth research and guidance systems directly led to Northrop’s B-2, Peacekeeper missile and YF-23, and there is much more.

It was the F-20 that truly showed him as having the spirit of a Mississippi river boat gambler. It also led to his downfall. For those not familiar with the F-20, it started life as the “F-5G.” The F-5G was Northrop’s response to a Carter Administration initiative to have US companies privately develop fighters for export to friendly countries that were outside the NATO/Israel umbrella. Well, to make a long story short, Northrop spent $1.25 billion of its own money only to find its potential market completely undercut by that same US Government. It then got to spend hundreds of millions more on the ATF competition. Jones went away from Northrop and the last Mississippi river boat gambler was gone by 1990. You can read the whole, sordid story, HERE. Not long after he left, the City of Hawthorne renamed "Thomas Victor Jones Park" to "Holly Park." Sheesh.

Unlike Jack Northrop, who was pretty much despondent when the US killed off his flying wings and ordered them cut up, Tom Jones went into an elegant retirement. He founded Moraga Vineyards around his mansion in Bel Air, California. Moraga is the most expensive vineyard property on the planet. In 2013, he sold the place to Rupert Murdoch (yes, THAT Murdoch) and remained in the house itself until his death in early 2014. We will not see his like again soon. Perhaps it is fitting that the Moraga property once belonged to Victor Fleming who directed “Gone With the Wind.” Maybe Jones was a bit inspired by Rhett Butler.

From the Moraga site, a Low Key Note of Tom's


Steve A said...

Forgot to mention - when the Shah of Iran fell, Northrop got all its employees OUT safely. Unfortunately, the F-5 was such a good plane that the Iranians were able to keep them flying long afterwards and they formed the basis for localized copies.

Trevor Woodford said...

An Interesting and informative post Steve...Thanks....

Chandra said...

Interesting post, Steve.
I still am fascinated by aircraft.
Peace :)

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