Lockheed Aircraft Service Company: The Beginning of a Global Lockheed Martin

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Lockheed Aircraft Service Company specialized in aircraft modification and systems integration for a wide array of special airborne applications. This overhead photo of a facility was taken in 1953.

It began with a clandestine operation, an international undercover convoy and a worldwide undertaking that would elude aviation history’s spotlight until recent time. There was a top-secret operation taking place behind locked doors of Lockheed Aircraft Service Company’s (LAS) Burbank, California, facility. The undertaking would set the path 60 years in the making for Lockheed Martin’s international growth and standing.

As a leader in technology and security, Lockheed Martin maintains a long-established global presence with more than 20 percent of total business based outside of the United States. Ever increasing in business pursuits, Lockheed Martin found its beginnings in international operations with LAS in a trademark “quiet” place, a stairwell between hallways in the Burbank facility in the late 1930s.

Woody’s Story

From his home in Los Angeles, California, Lockheed Martin retiree Duane O. “Woody” Wood, who celebrated his 100th birthday on Nov. 10, 2015, recalled his start with LAS. In 1942, at the age of 27, Woody enlisted to serve his country and company as part of a covert U.S. government mission entrusted to Lockheed in alliance with the British Army.

Along with 40 or so other Lockheed engineers and aircraft technicians, Woody began his career in dramatic fashion when crossing the vast and precarious North Atlantic waters with a marine convoy that, unfortunately, saw some vessels sink at the hands of German U-boats. Once safely landed on Ireland’s northern shores in 1942, Woody and his Lockheed colleagues were responsible for setting up the fictitious Air Base Depot 3, known, at the time, as Langford Lodge.

For three years, Woody and his fellow aircraft servicemen prepared, maintained, modified, repaired and overhauled Lockheed and other American planes for combat and kept them flying for missions over Europe when defending the Allies against the Axis powers. By 1945, the 6,000 enthusiastic, industrious and patriotic LAS employees at Langford Lodge completed approximately 40,000 service jobs on 3,800 aircrafts. Woody, who would later serve as President of LAS during the 1960s, and many of his “cleared” engineering teammates, who also made their start at Air Base Depot 3 would continue to support Lockheed in other various efforts and missions.

What began as a conversation around the need for a customer service department evolved into supporting the expanding Lockheed aircraft production for international allies, including maintenance, overhaul and modification of aircraft and electronic systems, quickly became a network of United Kingdom (UK) LAS facilities during World War II.

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In the late 1950s, the first Lockheed JetStar prototype was built in Burbank, California. The JetStar was Lockheed’s entry into the executive aircraft market, and was designed for a new generation of aircraft trainers.)

Post-War Missions

After the war ended in 1945, LAS was determined to ramp up its service support for current and potential international customers. LAS became a trusted partner in providing maintenance and modification services and a U.S. government contractor for control tower and terminal building services in addition to offering its expertise in maintenance, modification and overhaul of aircraft. Back in the U.S., additional facilities were also built in California, New York, Louisiana, South Carolina and offshore in Hawaii.

The next four decades would bring LAS major success. LAS worked with almost all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and was awarded some of the largest aviation contracts of the 20th century. One of the most prestigious LAS contracts was for the U.S. Presidential aircraft. The Presidential fleet, including Air Force One, consisted of Boeing 707s (VC-137s), 10 Lockheed Constellations, several twin engine T-29s, a number of Lockheed JetStars and smaller L-26 Aero Commanders. The pilots for President Eisenhower through President Nixon entrusted LAS to keep their planes fully functional.

In 1955, LAS was awarded a contract for the Airborne Early Warning (AEW) Barrier Protection of the U.S. The AEW Program focused on radar detection of possible incoming Russian bombers during the Cold War, and it involved heavy maintenance and support of the new fleet of more than 100 airplanes of AEW Lockheed Constellations (USAF RC-121s through U.S. Navy WV-2s) that protected the east and west coasts of the U.S.

In the 1960s, LAS’s Ontario, California main base became the maintenance and modification center for the highly classified USAF fleet of C-130 aircraft, known as “Big Safari.” LAS’ performance under this sensitive program, which remained with the company for more than 30 years, earned many commendations.

Also in the 1960s, the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) purchased its first group of C-130 Hercules cargo planes. This accounted for the most significant amount of international aircraft services in the company’s history at the time. LAS provided maintenance and support, as well as pilot and maintenance personnel training. By the mid 1970s, the RSAF acquired more than 50 Hercules, making it the world’s largest fleet of C-130s behind the USAF and British Royal Air Force. The program continued for more than 20 years and supported more than 800 people.

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The C-130 Hercules tactical transport aircraft is a rugged airlifter of cargo and troops.

Diverse Operations

In the 1970s through the 1980s, LAS further diversified its activities. The primary focus became supporting and enhancing Lockheed products around the world. The team performed heavy maintenance for many C-130 aircraft, modifications to L-1011 aircraft, support services to the world’s leading commercial airlines, manufacturing of maintenance training equipment and Flight Data Records, and managing Lockheed Support Systems, Inc.’s modifications and updates to U.S. Air Force aircraft and other systems at various bases.

Throughout this period, LAS operations performed in multiple U.S. locations and internationally with planes in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. There was an establishment of a Singapore LAS company, joint ventures in Greece, Malaysia, Hungary and Argentina, training of German pilots on the F-104 and instructing them on how to uphold and support their fleet of F-104s, maintenance support and pilot training for Saudi Arabia’s fleet of C-130s, and the installation and support of the Saudi radar air defense and civil air traffic control systems. At its peak in the 1970s, LAS had more than 1,000 employees in Saudi Arabia.

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Three West German F-140Gs flying in formation in the 1960s. LAS instructed the German pilots on how to support their fleet.

Beyond LAS

Throughout its existence, LAS played a major role in aviation and Lockheed Martin’s history. It was the company’s unique style of relationship building and tenacity: bringing rapid service support to a global customer base that contributed to LAS’s success for Lockheed Martin over the course of six decades. Woody, who was one of the thousands of outstanding LAS employees, left a legacy that influenced the direction of Lockheed Martin that still resonates today.