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Ralph S. Johnson papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSA 25

Scope and Contents

The Ralph S. Johnson papers (1924-2010; 14.05 cubic feet; 1 mss box, 11 cubic foot boxes, 2 large flat boxes and 3 items) document the pioneering aviation career of Ralph S. Johnson.  Included among the papers are aeronautical engineering drawings done by Johnson, along with articles and papers authored by him.  The newspaper clippings, awards, and honorary Doctorate of Engineering from Purdue University focus on the latter part of his career, as he was being recognized as an aviation pioneer.  The biographical information was often collected and written by the authors, as a part of a nomination for an award.  His memoirs provide a unique look into his life at this time period in aviation history.  The photo albums and scrapbooks reflect many areas of his career. Most of the individual photographs represent the planes he flew during his career, along with incredible aerial shots taken during his training days.  The collection contains a wealth of information regarding flight history and safety during the 1930s and 1940s.  The papers are arranged into six series:


  • 1924-2010
  • Majority of material found within 1930-1947

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Purdue University, per deed of gift.


14.20 Cubic Feet (21 mss boxes, 4 cubic feet boxes, 2 large flat boxes, 2 small boxes, one tube and 2 items)


Engineering drawings, articles, papers, newspaper clippings, awards, honorary Doctorate of Engineering from Purdue University, memoirs and biographical information, along with photographs, albums and scrapbooks which document the pioneering aviation career of Ralph S. Johnson.


The papers are arranged into six series:

Series 1. Papers, Engineering Drawings, and Articles, 1929-2009 (3.25 cubic feet). This series of the Ralph Johnson papers has a strong focus on the unique air safety contributions he made to aviation and aeronautical engineering. Included are Johnson's engineering drawings, papers he authored, various articles, biographical information, clippings, certificates, correspondence, manuals, memorandums, memoirs, "reading files," records, reports, and transcripts. Highlights of the papers are Johnson’s reports on "The National Army Air Maneuvers of 1931;" "Exposure – The Key to Flight Safety," which includes Johnson's designs; all weather and landing techniques; ice accumulation studies/de-ice issues; and papers authored by Johnson and published in Air Transport.

Some of the material focuses on the latter part of Johnson's career, as he was recognized for his pioneering aviation feats. The memoirs give the reader a look into the life of Ralph S. Johnson, as he saw it during this unique time in early aviation history. Most of the biographical information was collected and written by the authors for awards for which Johnson had been nominated.

Series 2. Aeronautical Publications and Patent Information, 1929-2009 (2 cubic feet). Included in this series are various aeronautical related publications; United Air Lines news; OX5 News; Engineers in Theater Operations, reports of operations, United States Army Forces in the Far East, Southwest Pacific Area, Army Forces, Pacific, 1947; Agricultural Aircraft Operations information; and the book, "The Aviation Book: A survey of the world's aircraft" (2006). Also included are documents concerning Johnson’s patents and files from his patent attorney (1966-1975); Johnson's United States patent, 3,860,202; Method and Apparatus for Dispensing Granular Material from Aircraft, January 14, 1975; and patent information on his "Map Vending Machine," 1975-1977.

Series 3. Day Planners, Notebooks, Pilot Logs, and Flight Logs, 1930-1968 (1 cubic foot). Due to the unique nature of the logs, notebooks and day planners, they have been separated into their own series. Included are Johnson's United States Army, Air Corps, pilot's books (1930-1936) which include Johnson's grades from The Air Corps Advanced Flying School and application for extended active duty with a tactical unit of the Air Corps, along with pay and expense vouchers. There are several notebooks which contain Johnson's engineering designs and notations, along with a 1942 pilot’s training log from United Air Lines, and day planners, circa 1960s-1980s.

Series 4. Artifacts, circa 1930s-2008 (2 cubic feet). This series includes Johnson's flight bag and flight plan log (indicates time period as test pilot); plaques (awards); medals; pilot's license; tools, flight goggles, compass kit, cockpit checklist, along with other miscellaneous items. Also included is the hood from when Johnson received his honorary doctorate from Purdue University in 2008.

Series 5. Photo Albums, Photographs, and Scrapbooks, 1924-2008 (3 cubic feet). The photo albums include an album featuring family, Purdue, and Post-Purdue events and memorabilia. One album titled, "Pictures and story of my trip to and eight months training as a flying cadet, at March Field, Riverside, California, June 22, 1930 – June 22, 1931," which includes descriptive text by Johnson. Another album, "Graduating at March Field," Riverside, California, 1931, includes certificate of graduation and program from graduation exercises, aerial shots taken over major cities and air fields during training and bomber formation shots, program from visiting United States Air Corps, commemorating the dedication of the New York City Municipal Airport, Floyd Bennett Field, May 27, 1931. One can also find a scrapbook containing clippings and photographs from his early career, and an album from events surrounding Johnson's honorary doctorate from Purdue.

Many of the photographs show the numerous aircraft that Ralph S. Johnson flew during his career, along with photographs of air fields and aerial shots.

Series 6. Oversized Material, 1944-2010 (2.8 cubic feet). The oversized material was separated out for preservation purposes. Included are awards, certificates, engineering designs, photographs and two 8mm films.

Source of Acquisition

Ralph S. Johnson

Method of Acquisition

May 9, 2008, Abra Johnson Parkhurst, granddaughter of Ralph S. Johnson; donation and February 12, 2010, Alan Johnson, son of Ralph S. Johnson; donation

Accruals and Additions


Existence and Location of Originals

multi-part note content

Related Materials

multi-part note content

Processing Information

All materials have been housed in polyester sleeves, acid-free folders, and acid-free boxes. Some clippings containing images of people, color graphics or front pages of newspapers have been preserved for display purposes, with photocopies made available for research. Oversized items have been separated and grouped into their own series for preservation purposes.

Processing Information

Per the Flight Archivist's request, the papers were re-boxed in April 2018, and the finding aid was revised accordingly by Mary A. Sego.
Ralph S. Johnson papers
Mary A. Sego, 2009; Revised 2018
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections Repository

504 W. State Street
West Lafayette Indiana 47907 United States