Aerospace Legacy Foundation

Your portal to America's aerospace history

Aerospace Legacy Foundation (ALF) is a community based non-profit organization (501c3) including aerospace retirees and the public at large. Preserving Southern California's Aerospace and Aviation History including Downey's aerospace legacy.

Aerospace History Gallery 1

The History of Southern California Aerospace


Early Aviation      Missiles and Aerospace      Apollo & Space Shuttle

Downey's Aerospace History


Downey's Aerospace History


Some photos courtesy- Downey Historical Society

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Downey's Aerospace History

"When it comes time to memorialize the origins of space flight, there is an industrial plant in Downey, Calif., that would certainly qualify as a shrine.
This Downey plant was the birthplace, homestead and laboratory for much of America's wondrous space technology- the Space Age's equivalent of Orville and Wilbur's bicycle shop.  It is here in Downey that space structure, guidance and power were prominently pioneered.  And, it is here that the celebrated Apollo command was created and manufactured."
Cradle of the Cosmic Age by Russ Murray.

The Downey plant was begun in 1929 by the E.M. Smith Company, which built airplanes under the Emsco name until it failed in the 1932 Depression.  The next resident was the National Security Aircraft Corporation, headed by Walter Kinner, a noted producer of sport planes. It was a short stay.  In 1936 the Vultee Aircraft Corporation moved in...Behind the front offices is the saw tooth roof line of the vast factory bay where Vultee assembled over 11,000 military planes during World War II.  The most famous of these was the BT-13, a low-wing trainer that was inspiring christened "Valiant," but suffered the ignominy of its service nickname, the Vultee "Vibrator."  The present occupant, Rockwell International (see North American Aviation, Inc.), entered in 1947.Not so really long ago, in 1969, U.S. astronauts Neil Armstrong and Mike Collins, shortly out of quarantine after their world-stirring Apollo 11 lunar landing mission, spoke to an assembly of Downey plant workers. 

Said Collins: “the trip to the moon started right here."

In a material sense, that was so.  They laid the keel and constructed the crew ship (command and service modules) of the Apollo space vehicle at Downey, whereupon it was transported to Cape Kennedy and rocketed to lunar orbit.
It took the Apollo astronauts less than two and one-half days to go from earth to moon, but it was a tedious quarter-century of travel along the advanced technology trail before the U.S. could arrive flight-ready for the venture." From
Cradle of the Cosmic Age by Russ Murray

Below- Security Aircraft plant in Downey, CA in 1933. Corner of Washburn Road and Cerritos Avenue (Lakewood Boulevard).

Above- The first building built in Downey was EMSCO Aircraft and field. By the time E.M. Smith opened this plant, the great Depression began to take its toll. By 1932, it was leased to Bert Kinner of Security National Aircraft. Kinner lasted about a year, before which this photo was taken of the plants entrance on Cerritos Ave. (Lakewood Blvd.) and Alameda St. in Downey, CA. Washburn Ave. is also seen to the left of the building. Image- Dick Whittington Collection.

Above- Vultee Aircraft "Rotunda" in 1940 at 22124 Lakewood Blvd. in Downey.

Above- North American Aviation's Downey Plant is supplied by (left to right) Marion Burgman, Wilma McDonnell and Chari Sewell, company employees. 

"The Legacy" - Downey Aerospace History


North American Aviation’s

"Dutch" Kindelberger

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"Little escaped Kindelberger's eye. He noted that airplane designs were cunningly adapted for simple tooling. 
Machinery and plant layouts were superb. The Heinkel factory reminded him of his own in California. A German engineer admitted that American methods had been copied. Dutch saw that a single extra shift would double production to 2000 planes a month; he visited schools where the reserve workers were in training. After ten eye-popping days, he returned to London. There he made pointed remarks in the proper quarters and pocketed an order for 200 trainers.

The trainers were delivered so fast that the pleased British asked for fighters too. North American had none. The British said that copies of the obsolescent P-40 would serve. Kindelberger and Atwood did some scratch-pad figuring and made a counteroffer: they would layout a brand-new plane, undercut the P-40 price and fill orders in record time.

Edgar Schmued took over the preliminary design. One hundred and twenty-seven days after his first pencil stroke, a P-51 Mustang stood on the floor, wanting only its engine. Flight tests disclosed top speeds that the British disbelieved and put down to Yankee boasting. Hence they gave P-51's meek reconnaissance jobs - until Spitfire fighter pilots complained that Mustangs were whizzing past them over the Channel. Later triumphs of the P-51's over Berlin and Tokyo of course are too well known to need recounting.

Only three military types bore the North American label during the war: the AT-6 trainer, the P-51 and a blue-ribbon medium bomber, the B-25. Dutch Kindelberger lived partly in a B-25-speeding between his plants in Los Angeles, Dallas and Kansas City, Kansas - and partly in hotels. In his mind's eye he had a dream house. He put it all down on graph paper, bit by bit, as he rocked along beside his pilot". More here- Merchant of Speed

Dutch Kindelberger at Douglas Aircraft Corporation. Image- Boeing NAA History Files. Courtesy- NAA Bald Eagles, more here...

Whether outwardly or inwardly, whether in space or time, the farther we penetrate the unknown, the vaster and more marvelous it becomes. 
— Charles Lindbergh


North American Aviation (NAA) 

Aviation and Missiles 1949-1960

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Below- North American Aviation Navaho XSSM-A-2. Image courtesy- NAA Bald Eagles.

More here... Video


Although North American Aviation's headquarters were in Inglewood / El Segundo, "the Downey division pioneered advances in missile technology that became the cornerstone of America's rocket industry.  The Downey plant produced the GAM-77 (AGM-28 Hound Dog Missile) Hound-Dog, an air-to-surface nuclear missile carried under the wings of B-52 bombers.
Downey U.S. Air Force Plant 16/North American Aviation, Inc., occupied the same Downey land that E.M. Smith had bought in the 1920s to found an air field and aviation company, and which Vultee made great during the World War II years. 
The project, the Hound Dog Air-to-Ground Missile Program, was to aid the mighty U.S. fleet of B-52s hit targets while remaining at a relatively safe distance. It used much of the tracking technology already developed for the Navaho Missile. July 1957: Proposal for GAM-77 Hound Dog is submitted to Air Force.   The contract was awarded North American in Oct 1958, two and a half years after the Strategic Air Command had realized its need.  
The Hound Dog was the mainstay of the company through the early 1960s, turning out missiles to arm SAC's 29 B-52 squadrons. Production ceased in 1963."

North American Aviation Downey California. Downey's Aerospace History .

Image sources include: Downey History Center, Aerospace Legacy Foundation, Boeing, USC Digital Image Library, LA Public Library, NASA, Library of Congress and more.

Above- Monogram US Space Missiles 2nd Issue- Titan II- Atlas- Minuteman II- Thor- Hound Dog- Corporal- Nike Hercules- Sergeant- Nike Ajax

Above- Chart Showing Development and Initial Deployment of Air Force Ballistic Missiles 566th SMS - First SAC Missile Squadron. Image- Wiki

Above- Titan Missile Family. Image- Wiki

North American Aviation X-10

"At the time of its development, the unmanned North American X-10 was the fastest turbojet-powered

aircraft ever flown - only one survived testing".  More here...

North American Aviation X-10 on runway. "The North American X-10 was an unmanned technology demonstrator, developed by North American Aviation. It was a subscale reusable design that included many of the design features of the SM-64 Navaho missile." More here...

North American Aviation Missile Development- From Nativ through Navaho


Gemini- Mercury Programs

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Astronaut Ed White floats in the microgravity of space outside the Gemini IV spacecraft. Behind him is the brilliant blue Earth and its white cloud cover. Image- NASA

Little Joe Rocket

Downey's Aerospace History

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"In order to test Apollo hardware under more stressing conditions that it would experience during an abort situation at higher altitudes and velocities, a launch vehicle of some sort was needed. In this case, NASA used the Little Joe II. The original Little Joe was developed to perform abort tests in support of the Mercury program starting in 1959. " Little Joe 50th

"It was called "Little Joe," because it was like rolling a two on each of the dice in a craps game. Four is the point Max Faget and Paul Pursur were trying to make in their quest to prove that harnessing that many modified Sergeant engines would make a $200,000 vehicle that would perform as well and with more flexibility, and would less cost than a $2.5 million Atlas or $1 million Redstone rocket.

Faget and Purser were two NASA space pioneers, whose aim was testing some of the Mercury components that would evolve into Apollo, including the escape and parachute systems and recovery methods, plus the performance of the space capsule under pressure at altitude.

Little Joe got off to an ignominious start when it blew its top one day at Wallops Island.

"We had a little guy who used to count, 'countdown, Little Joe, T-minus how many hours so and so,' " Roger Messier remembered from his den in Poquoson. "And then he went 'T-minus' … and then there was smoke everywhere." Messier howled with laughter." 
Giant Leaps Began With "Little Joe" By: Jim Hodges (Langley Research Center)

The Little Joe boosters were built by North American Aviation at their production facility in Downey, California. This footage is excerpted from the DVD "Little Joe: Mercury's First Steps." For more information visit:

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With Their Eyes on the Stars-

The documentary "With Their Eyes on the Stars," was produced in 1963 by North American Aviation and NASA to encourage support for the Apollo program. John Stewart together with brother Mike's group, "WE FIVE," John Phillips and Scott McKenzie recorded the score using traditional American folk songs as well as songs written by John and Mike. Directed by Cal Reed. Produced by Cedric Francis. (Thanks to Jerry Burgan).

I uploaded this video from the DVD provided by Stan Barauskas of Aerospace Legacy Foundation Museum in the old Rockwell Plant in Downey. Here is the headline of "SKYWRITER", a publication of North American Aviation, dated Jan 17, 1964: DOWNEY PREMIERES LUNAR FILM Jan. 21.

From Our Retirees

The economy boomed in Downey, Calif., back when Bob Thompson helped build Apollo 11 in the 1960s at North American Aviation. But after a couple of mergers, the Downey plant closed in 1999, leaving thousands unemployed and many local businesses shuttered. Mr. Thompson is President of the Downey Historical Society.

Above- Bob Thompson President Downey Historical Society

"It happened right here in Downey...."

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We were born in Downey, California in 1995 and lobbied tirelessly for creation of Downey's Columbia Memorial Space Center. We continue to collaborate with the space center and call it our home for meetings and related events.  For about 10 years, we had our offices and archives at Downey Studios / IRG (now the Promenade of Downey). Eventually, we asked to leave our offices. IRG let us stay for many years and because of that generosity we recovered many historical images and artifacts; during those 10 years we also accumulated other assets including office furniture, file cabinets, image panels and much more. We have numerous archive collections donated by former aerospace executives and engineers. Most of this is in storage. We are now without a permanent home and by the generosity of the Columbia Space Center have a place to meet and call home for now.

Downey has always been a key player in our nation’s aviation history including over 13, 500 trainer planes built here at the Vultee Aircraft plant during WWII. Later, with the advent of jets and missiles, the Downey plant became North American Aviation (NAA). By the early 1960's North American got into the "space race" business, signing not only the Apollo spacecraft contract but also the Saturn booster rocket contract too. In the 1960's Lakewood and Firestone Blvd.'s was as the busiest intersection in the world. The area comprising NAA buildings stretched from south of Imperial Highway to Stewart & Gray Road; from Lakewood Blvd. to Bellflower Blvd. With much of the Space Shuttle orbiter also built and designed in Downey, ALF has been fortunate to have a connection with local retirees who spent much of their life working here in aerospace engineering & spacecraft development. North American Rockwell Space Division pioneered discoveries that have changed the way we live our lives.

Thus, much of today's "Downey Landing" and "Promenade of Downey" was once the "Home of Apollo" and early aviation in Southern California. The buildings along Lakewood Blvd. are very historic and because of "Deed Covenants" cannot be demolished. In the back of this historic building near today’s “Pick up Stix”, you can see the rear section of the oldest building still standing ; its rear section sheared. This is a portion of the original EMSCO Building built by E.M. Smith in 1929. 

We are a volunteer, 501c3, non-profit organization in California

Our mission has always been to preserve and protect Southern California aerospace history, sharing this information through public and private events and with our Speakers Bureau. More on what we do...

On Sept. 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy announced that the United States would land men on the moon.

Inspire yourself, dream.


Space Shuttle Orbiter

Manufactured in Downey, CA with final assembly in Palmdale, CA.

Supplied by hundreds of local companies in Southern California and abroad.


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Preserving Our Past, Focusing On The Future