U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission home page


Canadair Northstar

The North Star, a modified DC-4, was one of General Dynamics' first planes when it was still called Canadair.

Canadair Argus

Canadair Argus in flight.

General Dynamics F-111A Aardvark

Originally known as the TFX (Tactical Fighter "X"), the F-111 was conceived to meet a U.S. Air Force requirement for a new tactical fighter-bomber. The first production models were delivered to the Air Force in 1967.

General Dynamics F-111 escape module

On October 19, 1967, the F-111 escape module was used to save the lives of two General Dynamics pilots flying an F-111A when the plane experienced complete hydraulic failure and became uncontrollable. Ejection was made at 28,000 feet, and the two occupants remained safely in the module as it parachuted to Earth.

General Dynamics AGM-78 Standard ARM

The General Dynamics AGM-78 antiradiation missile (ARM) was used extensively by the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War to destroy North Vietnamese radars.

General Dynamics WB-57F Canberra

The WB-57 "Canberra," a redesignation of the General Dynamics RB-57 of the 1960s, was used to conduct air sampling missions at high altitude, to sample radioactive fallout after above-ground nuclear tests conducted by countries other than the United States, and for traditional weather missions like storm tracking.

General Dynamics F-16A Fighting Falcon

The F-16A "Fighting Falcon" was flown by the Thunderbirds demonstration team from 1982 to 1992. The F-176 evolved from the 1972 U.S. Air Force Lightweight Fighter prototype. It became combat-ready in October 1980 and has been used by many foreign nations.

General Dynamics AGM-129A Advanced Cruise Missile

The Advanced Cruise Missile is an air-to-ground cruise missile for use by the Strategic Air Command.

Blueprint for the Centaur upper stage.

General Dynamics Corporation

General Dynamics was officially established on April 24, 1952, when the shareholders of Electric Boat Corporation, a company based in Washington and New York States, followed the recommendation of its president and chief executive officer, John Jay Hopkins, and voted to change the company's name. Hopkins felt the name change was necessary because Electric Boat was no longer only a shipbuilder and had diversified its business after World War II.

As World War II concluded in 1945, Electric Boat had plenty of capital but had nothing to buy and nothing to build. With no work, its workforce shrunk from 13,000 to 4,000. At the same time, the aircraft firm Canadair Ltd., which was owned by the Canadian government, began to weaken and the Canadian government put it up for sale. Hopkins bought the company for $10 million in 1946, a purchase that is still seen as one of the greatest bargains in the history of aviation. Even by the Canadian government's calculations, the factory alone was worth more than $22 million without including the value of the planes being built or the spare parts on location. With the purchase of Canadair and development of the USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, Electric Boat was no longer in a single market.

When Hopkins purchased Canadair, its production line and inventory systems were in disorder. To start the process of returning Canadair to profitability, Hopkins installed Canadian-born mass-production specialist H. Oliver West as president. West's performance was remarkable. He reformed the inventory system and production lines, and soon their "North Stars," modified Douglas DC-4 airplanes, began to roll into service for Trans Canadian Airline (TCA). The turnaround was so remarkable that Canada Pacific and British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) placed new orders that were filled sometimes eight months in advance.

In January 1948, Thomas Finletter, who chaired the Air Policy Commission under President Harry S. Truman, issued a national air policy report titled "Survival in the Air Age." The report stated the need for a large peacetime Air Force, and coupled with the detonation of an atomic bomb by the Soviets, led to a surge in military work, especially in aviation. This surge in military work occurred in Canada as well as in the United States, and Canadair won numerous contracts to build fighter jets for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). These contracts included the T-33, a two-seat jet trainer, a fleet of long-range Argus reconnaissance transports, two military versions of the civilian Britannia passenger plane, and the North American Aviation F-86 Sabre Jets, which flew in the Korean War. Between 1950 and 1958, 1,815 Sabre Jets were built.

Hopkins' next acquisition was Convair from the Atlas Group in March 1953. Because Convair was based in the United States, General Dynamics acquired the capability to bid on U.S. aerospace contracts, perhaps one of the greatest advantages of the merger. Over the next 40 years, Convair operated largely as an independent company under the General Dynamics umbrella. It would produce several notable aircraft, including the 880/990 series jetliner, the F-102A, and the B-58 Hustler. It would also develop the first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) as well as launch vehicles that were used to lift NASA astronauts and satellites into space.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, General Dynamics had major management problems. Frank Pace replaced Hopkins, who was severely ill, in late 1957. During the development and production of the Convair 990, John Naish succeeded General Joseph McNarney as the head of Convair. Colonel Henry Crown became the company's largest shareholder and merged his Material Service Corporation with General Dynamics in 1959. Naish left in May 1961, taking most of Convair's top people with him. General Dynamics reorganized into Eastern Group New York and Western Group San Diego. The Western Group housed all aerospace activities and discontinued the Convair label. Frank Pace retired under pressure in 1962 and Roger Lewis, former Secretary of the Army and Pan American Airway's chief executive, was brought in as the new General Dynamics chief executive.

When the dust settled from the management overhauls in the early 1960s, General Dynamics teamed with aerospace company Grumman to bid on the TFX (tactical fighter experimental), a Navy-Army dual-purpose variable wing airplane. After four rounds of bids, the General Dynamics-Grumman team beat Boeing and won the contract to build the General Dynamics F-111. Winning the contract assured that the General Dynamics plant in Fort Worth, Texas, would stay open.

The F-111 first flew in December 1964. It completed its first variable-geometry test flight, which tested how well its wings moved between the swept-back and straight configurations, in January 1965. The F-111B flew in May 1965, but the Navy said that it was too heavy for use on aircraft carriers. The F-111 never achieved its dual purpose and had a poor record in Vietnam. With an unacceptable Navy version, estimates for 2,400 F-111s, including exports, were sharply reduced, but General Dynamics still managed to make a $300-million profit. The government thought it would save money by building a dual-purpose airplane, but it turned out that it would have been cheaper to build two separate planes.

In May 1965, General Dynamics reorganized into 12 operating divisions. The board decided to build all future planes in Fort Worth, ending plane production at Convair-San Diego, but continuing with space and missile development. In October 1970, Roger Lewis left and David S. Lewis from McDonnell Douglas was named CEO. Lewis required that the company headquarters move to St. Louis, and General Dynamics moved in February 1971.

In 1972, General Dynamics bid to build the Air Force's lightweight fighter (LWF). It was similar to the F-15 but smaller, lighter, cheaper, and more easily maintained. General Dynamics and Northrop were awarded contracts to build competing prototypes. General Dynamics, urgently needing a production successor to the F-111, put together its own version of Lockheed's Skunk Works, its advanced concepts laboratory, and developed the YF-16 in record time. The YF-16 first flew in January 1974 and won over the Northrop F-17 prototype in flyoff tests. It entered production as the F-16 in January 1975 with an initial order of 650 and a total order of 1,388. The F-16 also won contracts worldwide, winning over the F-17 and foreign competition. European militaries ordered 348 planes to be built at plants in Belgium and the Netherlands. F-16 orders totaled more than 4,000, making it the largest and most successful program for General Dynamics since World War II.

In 1976, General Dynamics sold the struggling division Canadair back to the Canadian government for $38 million. In 1984, General Dynamics had four divisions: Convair in San Diego, General Dynamics-Fort Worth, General Dynamics-Pomona, and General Dynamics-Electronics. In 1985, General Dynamics acquired Cessna, reflecting the company's desire to diversify into commercial aviation.

In late 1987, teamed with McDonnell Douglas, General Dynamics received the contract for the stealth A-12 naval strike aircraft. The A-12 had a fixed $4.8-billion development budget and a strict timetable. The program experienced serious delays and development was canceled in January 1991.

In 1985, the Space Systems Division was formed from the Convair Space programs. Also in 1985, plans went forward to use the Centaur upper stage to deliver Space Shuttle payloads. (General Dynamics had been involved in the Atlas-Centaur launch vehicle since the late 1950s.) However, NASA canceled use of the liquid-fueled Centaur for Space Shuttle missions after the 1986 Challenger accident because of increased safety concerns. The upper stage has continued use on unpiloted missions, including some of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Spacecraft (GOES) meteorological satellites and on the Cassini orbiter, as well as on some commercial satellites.

In the 1990s, after the death of Henry Crown, the company's largest stockholder for 40 years, General Dynamics sold many of its business units. General Dynamics sold Cessna to Textron in January 1992, its missile operations to General Motors-Hughes in May 1992 for $450 million, its Fort Worth Division to Lockheed for $3 billion in March 1993, and its Space Systems Division to Martin Marietta in 1994. The Convair Aircraft Structure unit went to McDonnell Douglas in 1994 and the Convair division was closed in 1996. In 1999, General Dynamics acquired Gulfstream Aerospace, a small airplane producer.

In 2001, General Dynamics Aerospace Division produces the Gulfstream V, V-SP, G200, and G100 and provides aviation services in avionics, airframes, engines, and refurbishments.

—Joel Rumerman


Bilstein, Roger E. The American Aerospace Industry: From Workshop to Global Enterprise. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996.

Franklin, Roger. The Defender: The Story of General Dynamics New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1986.

Pattillo, Donald M. Pushing the Envelope: The American Aircraft Industry. Ann Arbor, Mich.: The University of Michigan Press, 1998.

On-Line References:

"General Dynamics Aviation and Aerospace Milestones." 2001. General Dynamics. 21 Oct. 2001 http://www.generaldynamics.com/overview/history/aviation/aviation_as.htm

"History of General Dynamics" 2001. General Dynamics. 21 Oct. 2001 http://www.generaldynamics.com/overview/history/Default.htm

"Thomas K. Finletter." 2001. United States Air Force. 22 Nov. 2001 http://www.af.mil/news/biographies/finletter_te.html

Educational Organization

Standard Designation (where applicable

Content of Standard

International Technology Education Association

Standard 6

Students will develop an understanding of the role of society in the development and use of technology.

International Technology Education Association

Standard 10

Students will develop an understanding of the role of experimentation and research and development in problem solving.