The Marquardt Story
An entire book could be written about the Marquardt Company’s experiences with Ramjet technology, another perhaps, about its involvement with the Space Shuttle Program, and even a third book about the Apollo Project and lunar expedition support. This book is only an overview of the Marquardt Company and its rise to the rarified air of a space technology provider to the Government and the plummet to earth when the cold war ended in the early 1990’s. This is by no stretch of the imagination a complete history because most of that story died off with the old timers that lived and worked for Roy Marquardt as he built the company from scratch with only an idea and a few friends to support him.
Roy Edward Marquardt was born on Christmas Eve, 1917, in the town of Burlington, Iowa. Burlington is located in the southeast corner of the state on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River that forms the border between Iowa and Illinois. The family’s home was at 1604 Osborn Street in the north end of town, a ten-minute walk to the river and even closer to the open countryside to the west.
It can only be imagined what growing up in that area at that time held for a young boy, but Roy must have been some sort of mix of Tom Sawyer, Tom Swift, and Harry Potter. As a young man Roy designed and flew model airplanes powered by rubber bands. His enthusiasm for the model planes was infectious and he soon had established a model club among his aviation minded friends. A boyhood friend, Jack Johnson, treasures the framed blueprint on his wall of a model plane called, “Special R.O.G.” (R.O.G. = Rise off ground) designed by Roy before he was 14 years old. The intent of the plane’s design was to provide for indestructible landings. In addition to a balsa wood stick fuselage, slivers of bamboo were used in the wing and tail assemblies and then covered by tissue paper, which was steamed to shrink it tight over the frame. He entered one of his designed model planes in a St. Louis Model Airplane Meet and won the sweepstakes prize when his entry made the longest flight on record, some 30 miles. His design for a folding propeller for model airplanes was first introduced in 1934 when Roy was 17 years old and is still used by builders today and can be found on the Internet under his name. By the time he reached High School, Roy was teaching model airplane construction and aeronautics both at school and the YMCA and produced a plan for a glider kit, which became the class project. He constructed a wind tunnel at the old Burlington High School building at Central and Market streets where students such as Frank Broeg and George Bied learned to make model planes and later on helped produce World War II bombers. Another friend, Dan Bied, remembers Roy carrying his full size glider atop his Studebaker sedan to the airport just south of town, where, it is assumed, he hitched a tow from someone’s open cockpit biplane to get him up in the air.
Roy finished High School and stayed at home to finish Junior College in Burlington, teaching the same aeronautics course he had established four years earlier and enjoying the substantial income brought by his model airplane business. By 1938 he was ready to follow his dream and left Iowa for the sunny climate of Southern California. He enrolled at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, turning his back on aviation (except for the model business) and enrolling as a Liberal Arts major. His tussle with the world’s social problems lasted just one year and in his senior term returned to his first love, where two years later, in 1940, he received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Aeronautical Engineering. He stayed at Cal Tech and helped himself financially by building and selling model airplanes and writing magazine articles. During his studies for a master’s in Aeronautical Engineering he also taught mathematics and aerodynamics at Cal Tech and the University of Southern California. In 1942 Roy received his Master’s Degree and moved to the Northrop Corporation as Engineer-in-charge of Navy research. His evenings were filled teaching “Jet Propulsion” and “Helicopter Design” at USC.
While working at Northrop on engine cooling and exhaust problems on the XB-35 “Flying Wing”, Roy was trying to find a way to cool aircraft engines so that they could be mounted within the wings, thus reducing drag and increasing range and speed. He accomplished his task and in the process, he rediscovered the ramjet principle; a principle of propulsion that had been brought to light sometime around 100 B.C. through the inventive genius of the Alexandrian philosopher, Hero. He found that there was energy galore in the engine-warmed cooling air and properly handled, this could be used to augment the thrust of the prime power plant. Furthermore, a tremendous thrust would result from burning additional fuel with this engine-warmed air.
The interest in ramjets as a practical means of propulsion had been around since 1913 when a French engineer named Lorin first published an article describing the “flying stovepipe”. The Germans experimented with jets in the 30’s and even flew a jet plane in 1939 but sacrificed jet engine development to concentrate on the pulsejet that powered the V-1 buzz bombs. Pulsejets and ramjets operate on similar principles except that ramjets have no moving parts to break or wear out. Roy’s interest was probably sparked by the sudden appearance of jet-powered aircraft while he was a student at Cal Tech. The British had flown their first plane with a turbo-jet engine in 1941, which developed, ultimately into the Rolls-Royce jet engines and General Electric’s first U.S. models. The British “Meteor” jet fighter was in service by 1944 to fight the V-1 buzz bombs and Germany’s Me-262 fighter appeared about the same time in the skies over Europe.
The sudden development of jet engines during World War II, while Roy was an engineering student, led to great leaps in thinking about aircraft engines and the speeds they could attain. In ten short years aviation had progressed from cloth covered bi-planes to 500-mph fighters and the ramjet seemed like the perfect answer to reach speeds heretofore thought unattainable. Roy preached the vision of ramjet technology to anyone who would listen and eventually the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics became enthusiastic over his proposals for ramjet research and development and, since Northrop wasn’t interested, it awarded USC a contract to develop a subsonic ramjet engine with a 20-inch diameter. Since USC had no manufacturing facilities, the Marquardt Aircraft Co. was incorporated to provide hardware and test equipment on a sub-contract. Roy, at the age of 26, and nine friends, including; a stockbroker, a salesman, an attorney and six fellow engineers put together $1,000 in capital and opened for business on November 3, 1944. Roy received 51 percent of the stock, 19 percent went to the six other young engineers and 30 percent was sold to some philanthropic businessmen who gambled $100 each.
Originally, Marquardt shared space with the Wilton tool Company in what had once been a real estate office on Robertson Boulevard in Los Angeles. When more space was needed, the company moved to a 20-by-20-foot stall in the old Los Angeles Ranch Market on Third Street. The previous occupant, an apple peddler, had gone broke. Primary reason for their choice of this particular stall was that the Wilton Tool Company’s shop was just across the patio, and arrangements were made for Marquardt to use Wilton’s lathe, welding machine and other pieces of equipment. Roy invested about $700 in benches, drill presses and other small tools, later augmenting these with other bits of equipment borrowed from Wilton.
The first factory on Robertson Blvd. Making a wind tunnel for USC.
It was at this time that Marquardt Aircraft hired its first full-time employees – Robert A. Calkins, Sig Caswell and Dale Lentz. Calkins, who had known Roy since their Northrop days, left the Harlow Aircraft Company to join Marquardt and brought Caswell and Lentz with him. “Roy said he thought the job might last only four months,” Calkins recalled, “but the work sounded fascinating, so I decided to take it anyway.” The Marquardt Company’s first contract was to build a wind tunnel at USC capable of producing airflows up to 600 miles an hour. It was to be about 60 feet long and up to 12 feet in diameter. Conveniently, the work on this project was done outside during the summer months, which solved the problem of building a 60-foot tunnel in a 20-foot shop.
A second wind tunnel or some source of high velocity wind – more exactly, the lack of one – was an early problem for the Marquardt Aircraft Company. When the first hand-formed ramjet model (the earliest engines were formed by shaping the metal over the curvature of a curbstone with a tire iron or sledgehammer) came out of the shop, a tremendous air supply was required to simulate the ramjet’s high-speed movement through the atmosphere.
Roy located a 13,000 horsepower standby compressor at the Kaiser Steel Mill in Fontana, California, and gained permission to set up a test area on the roof of the powerhouse. Within a week, a makeshift work area had been rigged up and tests were being run. However, broken windows and meetings interrupted by the racket created by the high velocity wind soon proved to be even too distracting for a steel mill, and it was suggested that the Marquardt Aircraft Company find another test site.
Evicted from the steel mill, Marquardt moved his test operation to the USC campus. If anything, this was an even unhappier situation. Roy’s fellow professors complained bitterly about the noise; and one irate resident of the neighborhood threw a pail of water on him.
By November 1945, a year after the company was incorporated, Marquardt’s operation had grown to such an extent that it had to seek larger quarters for the second time in less than 12 months. An arrangement was made with Aviation Products at 4221 Lincoln Boulevard in Venice, California, for Marquardt Aircraft to occupy about 4,000 square feet of their facility. At about this same time, the owner of Wilton Tool Company was called into the Armed Services and Marquardt bought him out. All of Wilton’s tools, many of them remarkable in their antiquity, were included in the transaction.
The Venice Plant Employees- December 8,1947
There were 12 people on the Marquardt payroll at the time of the move to Venice. With the increase in workspace and business, more people were added on a daily basis. Roy resigned his post at USC to push along the ramjet program and the development of a pulsejet helicopter – the first of its kind in the world.
This became known as the Marquardt M-14 or “Whirlajet” (N4107K), a one person, open cockpit, experimental, first of its kind, pulsejet-powered helicopter with 29’ blades. It flew its test flights in 1948 but was never commercially built.
The “Whirlajet” with pulsejet rotor tips - 1948
Before the end of 1945, Marquardt Aircraft delivered its first ramjet engine to the Navy for flight-testing, and immediately began a development program for a newer and more advanced version. By the summer of 1946 the Navy had begun manned flights of the Marquardt 20-inch ramjet with engines installed on the Grumman F7F Tigercat. The Air Force, not to be outdone by the Navy, took delivery of a 20-inch ramjet at the end of 1945 and began flight-testing at Wright field. In early 1946 two Marquardt ramjets were installed on the wing tips of a P-51 Mustang and created an increase in maximum speed of 40 miles per hour. Although this was not phenomenal, the 20-inch Marquardt engine, which weighed slightly more than 100 pounds, could provide as much thrust as a turbojet engine that weighed 10 times more. Continued testing in the 20-foot wind tunnel at Wright Field further advanced knowledge and design of ramjets, which allowed larger and more powerful models to be built. Roy Marquardt was quickly becoming known around Washington D.C. as “Mr. Ramjet”.
In November of 1947 Roy invested money with a struggling company owned by James B. Lansing that made audio speakers. As part of the agreement, Marquardt Aviation agreed to furnish manufacturing space for a cost to Lansing of 10% of net sales, with the Marquardt Company receiving the right to take assignment of accounts receivable to satisfy at any time the amount due. Marquardt further agreed to lend money to Lansing for working capital in such amounts as would not be a burden on the Marquardt Corporation itself. The Marquardt Company was further given an option on 40% of the stock of the Lansing Company. William H. Thomas, an original partner in the founding of the Marquardt Company and its present Treasurer and General Manager, represented the Marquardt Aircraft Company on Lansing Sound’s board of directors. Lansing relocated its offices and manufacturing facilities from its factory in San Marcos, near San Diego, to the Marquardt plant on Lincoln Boulevard in Venice. In late 1948 the Lansing enterprise moved once again to the new Marquardt facility at 7801 Havenhurst Avenue in Van Nuys, California. Lansing Sound Inc. occupied the western mezzanine of building 3 for its short time at the Van Nuys plant.
By December of 1948 Lansing’s debt to the Marquardt Aircraft Company had reached almost $15,000, and it was inevitable that the company would have to be taken over by Marquardt with Lansing continuing as an employee. In early 1949, Marquardt was purchased by the General Tire and Rubber Company of California, which was not interested in continuing the relation with Lansing and the tie between the two companies was consequently severed. At that point, William Thomas left Marquardt and assumed ownership of Lansing Sound Inc. JBL speakers are still one of the premier brands on the market today.
It is rumored that during the company’s sojourn in Venice, a beautiful young woman in her early twenties by the name of Norma Jean Baker went to work for Roy. She was an aspiring actress and later became known as Marilyn Monroe.
The Navy continued its testing with different airplanes in 1947 and mated the 20-inch ramjet to a Bell Aircraft P-83 and the North American F-82 Twin Mustang. The big story in 1947, however, was the Gorgon IV test missile produced by the Glenn L.Martin Company. Four Gorgon flights with the new advanced Marquardt engines were made that year at the subsonic speed of Mach 0.85 at 10,000 feet altitude. The following year, 1948, a fourth model engine flew several tests reaching a speed of Mach 0.9 with no flameouts. The sound barrier was quickly being approached with the aid of the Marquardt ramjets.
Meanwhile, the Air Force was going for bigger and faster models of the ramjet. In 1948 Marquardt delivered their latest creation, a 30-inch model that weighed 300 pounds and developed approximately 4,000 pounds of thrust. The Air Force installed two of them on the wing tips of a new Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star jet fighter and took off from the Burbank Air Terminal, Lockheed’s home field, accelerated to 400 miles an hour, fired up the two ramjets and idled his main turbojet. The F-80’s rate of climb doubled and the ramjets provided a level flight speed of nearly 600 miles per hour – the first flight of an aircraft powered solely by ramjets. The residents around the airport lit up the police switchboards with reports of flying saucers, airplane crashes and other disasters caused by the noise of the overhead ramjets.
A 48-inch ramjet was built by Marquardt in 1948 and test flown under Air Force sponsorship. The engine was designed as an expendable auxiliary thrust unit for a new interceptor airplane. Although neither the 30-inch nor the 48-inch engines were produced in quantity, they clearly demonstrated that the ramjet could be scaled up or down in diameter. In four short years, ramjet engines had progressed from an oddity to a practicality, and helped the Martin Company secure a Navy contract to convert the Gorgon missile to the Plover KDM-1 target drone. Marquardt produced more than 600 engines for the KDM-1 at an average price of slightly more than $1,000 per engine, or about 50 cents per ramjet horsepower.
All of Marquardt’s advanced subsonic ramjet accomplishments and technology paved the way for the transition to the supersonic era of ramjet flight. Marquardt’s substantial efforts in 1947 and 1948 were related to supersonic activity on Grumman’s Rigel flight test vehicle and an Air Force 20-inch supersonic ramjet engine. By 1948, supersonic ramjet technology showed such promise and the demands from the military services became so great, that Marquardt found itself riding the crest of a wave that threatened to inundate it unless some means of immediate aid for expansion was forthcoming. The Venice facilities were too small, test facilities inadequate, and working capital requirements such that outside help was mandatory.
Roy’s answer to the problem was to offer a share of the company to investors. General Tire and Rubber Company bought up 50% of Roy Marquardt’s stock (17,000 shares at $1.00 per share) and all the shares owned by others to gain 75% control of the company and Marquardt became a subsidiary, along with the Aerojet Company which was already controlled by General. With fresh capital in hand the company moved to new quarters in the San Fernando Valley, next to the Van Nuys Municipal Airport, to a World War II plant owned by the Timm Aircraft Company. This plant facility, comprised of 3 large aircraft hangers and several smaller buildings, had 110,000 square feet of floor space, (compared with an original 4,000 feet at Venice), with 28 acres of land for future growth.
Otto Timm founded the Timm Aircraft Corp. in about 1922. He was a barnstormer and went around the country giving rides to people for a nominal fee. In 1922 he gave a young college man named Charles Lindberg Jr. his first ride in an airplane. Lindberg quit college, bought an airplane and taught himself to fly and became a barnstormer himself before his famous transatlantic flight in 1927. Timm went on to build custom aircraft for customers in the 1930’s and eventually bought out the Kinner Aircraft Co in 1939 which owned the plant in Van Nuys next to the airfield known as Metropolitan Airport. Timm purchased the airport in 1941 to use as a testing area for the 2-seat trainers which the Navy had contracted with Timm in 1940. This led to additional contracts to build gliders that were used in the D-day invasion. After the war ended Timm sold the airport to Aetna Aircraft Corp. of Los Angeles and in 1947 leased the plant to Gary Davis for his automobile business.
By the time Marquardt moved to Van Nuys the company had backing from the Air Force, which wanted the ramjet to power a long-range supersonic missile. Employment doubled within a year after the move, and construction of the multi-million dollar test facility known as the Marquardt Jet Laboratory began in earnest, eventually becoming one of the largest airbreathing test facilities in the country.
The Van Nuys Plant - 1949
The contrast in facilities was staggering. In Venice, the employee roster had grown to 170 engineers and technicians who were rather compactly situated in an area of 10,000 square feet. Equipment and supplies from the entire Venice plant were moved out to Van Nuys in one weekend with no interruption in production. One crew of men actually accompanied a boilerplate engine on the truck, started up their work on it as soon as the engine was set on the floor.
With new facilities and new business, employment at Marquardt doubled in the year following the move to Van Nuys. Machine tools were added to the shops, and the Marquardt Jet Laboratory began to take shape. New facets of the ramjet field accelerated the expansion as afterburners, control units and accessory powerplants, came out of engineering and into production.
The Timm Aircraft Factory in Van Nuys was leased to Gary Davis from 1947 until Marquardt moved in at the end of 1948. Bldg. 3 was the site of the “Davis Car” assembly plant which produced two prototypes of it’s 3-wheel vehicle in 1947 and went into production in 1948, building an additional 13 cars before being forced to move across the airport when Marquardt moved in. It was rumored that Marquardt employees help push the last Davis Car out the front door as the moving trucks arrived from Venice.
The Davis Car 1948
The first five years of the Marquardt Aircraft Company’s existence had seen remarkable progress. It was the leader in ramjet development and technology and annual sales had reached nearly $2 million dollars, establishing a pattern of profitability, which was to characterize the Company’s operations in the future. The new decade of the 50’s promised to be even better for the 32-year-old Roy Marquardt and the Company, with the development of the supersonic ramjet.