Former Hughes Aircraft Co. President D. Kenneth Richardson recounts the aerospace company’s rise and fall after Howard Hughes’ reign.
By Peter Pae, Los Angeles Times
For the generation that grew up during the Cold War, Hughes was synonymous with aerospace, an industry that flourished and dotted Southern California’s landscape. At its height in the mid-1980s, Hughes Aircraft Co., like the industry, was ubiquitous, from Newport Beach to Santa Barbara with sprawling facilities in Culver City, El Segundo and Canoga Park. More than 85,000 worked for the company developing the nation’s most advanced military electronics.
Despite its ever-presence in the region, not much has been written about the aerospace giant other than as a sideshow to its eccentric founder Howard Hughes. One of the more obvious reasons was that the bulk of the work done at Hughes was classified. Few dared to talk about it for fear of being arrested. To this day, some former Hughes engineers and scientist have yet to tell even their spouses of their work, much of which is still classified.
In collaboration with more than 90 retired Hughes employees, the company’s former president D. Kenneth Richardson attempts to fill that void in one of the more comprehensive accounts of the company, from the moment Howard Hughes relinquished control in 1953 to its breakup four decades later. Richardson was in a unique position to recount its history, having started as a hardware designer just as the company began its ascent to retiring 40 years later in 1991 as its No. 2 executive.