The Passing of an Innovative Builder of Aircraft

July 27, 1962

Aviation executive and pioneer James H. “Dutch” Kindelberger died at his home in Los Angeles at age 67. Kindelberger, who was described in an Associated Press story that day as “one of the giants of America’s aerospace industry,” had been born in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1895. He acquired the nickname “Dutch” because of his German (Deutsch) ancestry.

After dropping out of school in the 10th grade, Kindelberger worked as a steel mill apprentice. He also found time to continue his education through correspondence courses. Kindelberger eventually passed his high school equivalency exam and, at the age of 21, he began his engineering studies at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh.

During World War I, Kindelberger served in the U.S. Army Air Service and was stationed at Park Field in Memphis, Tennessee, as a pilot instructor. After the war ended, he decided to pursue a career in aviation. This job search led to him being hired as chief draughtsman and assistant chief engineer at the aircraft manufacturer Glenn L. Martin Company (now part of the Lockheed Martin Corporation) in 1920.

By 1925, Kindelberger was working for the Douglas Aircraft Company instead. He quickly rose through the ranks at that company, becoming its vice president of engineering by 1928. One of Kindelberger’s key contributions during his time at the company involved helping to develop what became the widely popular American DC (Douglas Commercial) transport aircraft series.

The next eventful chapter in Kindelberger’s career took place when he joined North American Aviation (NAA) in 1934. Kindelberger started out at that company as president and general manager, and in 1948 he became its chairman and chief executive officer.  During his many years at NAA in various leadership roles, Kindelberger oversaw the design of innovative aircraft ranging from G A-15 observation planes to the rocket-powered X-15. He played a pivotal part in NAA’s trailblazing technological breakthroughs in aviation and helped position for the company for its major contributions to the U.S. space program.

Kindelberger became renowned for both his formidable energy and considerable airborne accomplishments. “You cannot pull a rabbit out of the hat unless you carefully put a rabbit in the hat beforehand,” he once said while discussing the secret of his success. In 1972, Kindelberger was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame five years later. In 2006, Kindelberger was among the individuals profiled in the 2006 PBS documentary Pioneers in Aviation: The Race to the Moon.

For more information on James H. “Dutch” Kindelberger, please check out

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