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Johnson, Ralph S., 1906-2010



  • Existence: 1906 - 2010

Biographical Information

Ralph S. Johnson was born in Goodland, Indiana in 1906, where he grew up on a farm. His parents were John W. Johnson and Helen Johnson. Having been influenced by his uncle, Hartley Rowe, a Purdue graduate who became a famous engineer who helped build the Panama Canal, Johnson also decided to attend Purdue University. While at Purdue, Ralph was a member of R.O.T.C., Acacia fraternity, the Debate Team, Kappa Phi Sigma, Purdue Little Theater, Purdue Independent Association, and he worked his way through Purdue working at the Union, as a food server. He graduated from Purdue in 1930 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical and Mechanical Engineering.

Ralph Johnson's flying career began in 1930 after graduating from Purdue. He became an Army pilot, one of only four to complete the rugged flight program. He was chosen as personal pilot for General Wyman, Commander of the U.S. National Guard and Reserve Units. In 1933 he became a "mate" (co-pilot) flying Ford Tri-Motors for National Air Transport, which was absorbed by United Air Lines. He was named chief pilot in 1935.

During the early years of WWII, he was responsible for developing and testing a myriad of programs all aimed toward air safety. He flew hundreds of Boeing B-17s, B-24s, C-87s, DC-4s and PBYs modified by United's Modification Center in Cheyenne. He developed the stabilized approach taught to all USAF multi-engine pilots and produced a movie called, "All Weather Flying Methods" used by all the training commands.

At the end of the War, United moved to San Francisco. Johnson elected to stay in Wyoming. He invented spraying equipment to adapt war planes for use in agricultural aerial application. He also served two terms in the Wyoming State Legislature.

His many and varied contributions to the aviation industry are the legacy of Captain Ralph S. Johnson. He has won numerous awards over the years, and Purdue University awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Engineering in 2008.


Excerpts taken from his Oral History interview: " Text was also taken from the Wyoming Aviation Hall of Fame Certificate Johnson was awarded in 1995. Purdue University Archives and Special Collections Oral History Program