Manufacturers that changed history - North American

By Minette Keyter

North American was originally a holding company founded in 1928 by Clement Melville Keys. North American was originally buying and selling shares in aviation and not involved in the development of aircraft.

Clement Melville Keys (1876 - 1952)

The Airmail Act of 1934 restricted these types of holding companies and North American recruited James "Dutch" Kindelberger from the Douglas Aircraft Company to be their new leader. Kindelberger moved North American to California and the company began manufacturing aircraft, changing its name to North American Aviation (NAA). Kindelberger believed that moving NAA to California would have more benefits such as better flying conditions, simpler training and easier to establish a manufacturing company because of the qualified workforce available.
The first aircraft manufactured by NAA was the O-47 also known as the GA-15, three-blade propeller, mid wing plane. Around the 1930's the T-6 Texan, better known as the Harvard, was produced and became one of the most advanced training planes entering World War II. Until this day the Harvard remains one of the most famous aircraft around the world.

T-6 Texan (Harvard)

In the 1940's, the B-25 Mitchell and the P-51 Mustang both flew in World War II. The B-25 Mitchell medium bomber received its fame after the "Doolittle Raid" in 1942 when the B-25 was able to take off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet and bomb Tokyo.

B-25 Mitchell

The P-51 Mustang bomber was produced by North American Aviation in the United States of America and soon after its production it was sent to England for test flights. Some alterations were made to the P-51 and the new Rolls Royce Merlin engine enhanced its performance.

P-51 Mustang

The North American/ Ryan Navion also made its appearance in the 1940's and became famous after World War II. There are still many fine examples Navion in South Africa.


Later on in the 1940's, NAA manufactured its first F-86 Sabre which played a vital role in the Korean War because of its ability to counter the MiG-15. The Sabre showcased its importance in both the Korean War as well as other areas.

F-86 Sabre

The F-4 Fury, not as popular as the F-86 Sabre, was a sweptwing fighter bomber that evolved from the F-86 Sabre.

F-4 Fury

In 1954 the chief test pilot of the NAA, George "Wheaties" Welch died after crashing his F-100 Super Sabre. Some expensive alterations were made to the Sabre after the accident to improve its safety and handling characteristics.

The North American X-15 rocket-powered aeroplane was developed in the late 1950's and set various World speed and altitude records. This sort of aircraft was developed for research benefits and to collect information on hypersonic flights. Three of these X-15 aeroplanes were built, completing a total of 199 flights.

X-15 in the National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC

The 1960's saw some changes at North American Aviation when Lee Atwood became the new CEO and James "Dutch" Kindelberger passed away. Another big milestone for the NAA was the creation of the XB-70 Valkyrie bomber which had its first flight in 1964. This extraordinary bomber with its six-engine never went into production and only a few prototypes were made for technological innovation.

It was in the late 1960's that the NAA decided to get involved in the manufacturing of space rockets and missiles. The Apollo Command/Service Module was designed but the blame fell partly on the NAA when Apollo 1 killed all its crew members after a fire started at the launch pad.

In the 1970's North American Aviation merged with Rockwell-Standard, becoming North American Rockwell and later on changing it again to Rockwell International. A few years later Rockwell International was sold to the well-known aviation company, Boeing.

Manufacturers That Changed History

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