The Marquardt Corporation was one of the
few firms dedicated almost solely to the development of the Ramjet engine. Marquardt
designs were developed through the 1940s into the 1960s, but the ramjet never
became a major design and the company turned to other fields in the 1970s. They
suffered a particularly bad financial crisis with the ending of the Cold War and went Bankrupt in the 1990s.
Roy Marquardt was an aeronautical
engineering graduate from Caltech who had worked at Northrop during World War II on the B-35 Flying-wing bomber
project. While working on problems cooling the engines, which were buried in
the wings, he found that the heat generated by the engines produced useful
thrust. This started his interest in the ramjet principle, and in November 1944
he started Marquardt Aircraft in Venice, California in order to develop and sell ramjet engines.
Marquardt's first products were wind
tunnels, but by the end of their first year they had delivered an experimental ramjet
to the U.S. Navy for testing. The United States Air Force purchased two of the
same design early in 1946, and fitted them to the wingtips of a P-51 Mustang Fighter for in-flight
testing. By this time the Navy had fitted theirs to a F7F and started flight tests in late 1946. Later
Navy tests fitted the same engine to a P- 83 and F-82 Twin Mustang.
In 1947 Martin built the Gorgon IV Missile test-bed, powered by the 20" engine. Four Gorgon flights
with the new engines were made that year at the subsonic speed of Mach 0.85 at
10,000 feet (3,000 m) altitude, and in 1948 a newer engine pushed the speeds to
Mach 0.9. Martin eventually won a contract to convert the Gorgon design into a
target drone, becoming the KDM-1 Plover and delivering Marquardt a contract for 600 more 20"
In 1948 the newly created United States Air Force took delivery of
several larger 30" (0.76 m) designs and fitted them to the wingtips of a P-80 Shooting Star which became the
first manned aircraft to be powered by ramjets alone. An even larger 48"
(1.22 m) design was built as a booster for a new interceptor design, but not
put into production.
The same year the company also started
conversion of the existing engine designs to operate at Supersonic speeds. This requires
the airflow to be efficiently slowed to subsonic speeds for combustion, which
is accomplished with a series of Shock Waves created by a carefully
designed inlet. Starting with the existing 20" design from 1947, work
progressed until the new engine was ready for use in 1949.
By this point the company had outgrown
its Venice plant, but had no money to fund a larger factory. Marquardt then
sold a controlling interest in the company to General Tire and Rubber Company in 1949, and used the funds to move to a new
site in Van Nuys. However the purchase
wasn't a happy one for General Tire due to management differences, after making
"only" 25% return in one year, they agreed to sell their share of the
company to another investor. Eventually such an investor was found, and General
Tire sold their stake to Rockefeller in 1950 for $250,000.
By 1952 Marquardt was
involved in a number of projects, including the Navy's Rigel Missile and the Air Force's BOMARC Anti-Aircraft Missile. To test the
new engine design for the BOMARC, the X-7 High-speed Radio-Controlled Test aircraft was also
Over the next few years the X-7 missile
would break record after record, and led the Air Force to award Marquardt with
the contract for the BOMARC missile engines. Originally they had intended to
award the production to a larger company with better manufacturing abilities,
as the Van Nuys plant wouldn't be able to build the 1,500 engines quickly
enough. Instead, the Air Force and Marquardt collaborated on a new plant on the
shores of Great Salt Lake in Utah. The plant was officially opened in June 1957, and delivered
their first engines a month ahead of schedule. By 1958 the engine was in full
production, leading to an additional engine contract from the Air Force for an
equally large run of a more advanced version for the IM-99B "Super BOMARC".
Meanwhile the X-7 continued to break records, eventually setting the speed
record for air-breathing vehicles at Mach 4.31.
By 1959 the company had sales of $70
million, and had purchased several smaller aerospace firms. One of these
purchases, Power Systems, led to a number of designs for small rocket motors
used as positioning thrusters. This would eventually become one of Marquardt
biggest product lines in the 1960s. Meanwhile the main Van Nuys plant was also
involved in research into new systems, include a nuclear-powered ramjet for PROJECT PLUTO and a LIQUID AIR CYCLE ENGINE (LACE) for the Air Force's AEROSPACEPLANE efforts. Another new
product line started with the introduction of their first RAM-AIR TURBINE, small air-powered
generators for providing aircraft with electrical power if the main engine
failed. With this diversification came a change in name, to Marquardt
By 1970 Marquardt was known primarily as
"the" company for small rocket engines and thrusters. Practically all
US space vehicles and satellites used their designs, eventually including a
major win for the NASA Space Shuttle program.
In 1983 the company was purchased by the
ISC Defense and Space Group. Unknown at the time, ISC was heavily involved in
illegal arms dealing, selling advanced US weaponry to anyone with enough money.
Through the 1980s ISC sold CLUSTER BOMBS to IRAQ, 1,500 LASER-GUIDED BOMBSto Iraq, and
electronics for nuclear development to SOUTH AFRICA, all with the full
knowledge of the CIA.
In 1987 ISC was purchased by Scotland-based Ferranti, but soon after the
merger Ferranti started to realize that ISC had been "cooking the
books". Eventually Ferranti was dragged down by the weight of the $700
million they paid for a company that had little real sales, and had existed
primarily on illegal arms dealings. Ferranti declared Bankruptcy in 1991 and sued ISC's
CEO, James Guerin. Guerin claimed he was doing this for the US government, but
this was disavowed. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to 15 years for
defrauding Ferranti of $1.1 billion, and illegal arms
a result of all of this, Marquardt was split in two. The Marquardt Jet
Laboratory, building rocket thrusters, was sold to Kaiser Aerospace, while the Marquardt Manufacturing Company disappeared. Kaiser
reportedly picked up Marquardt for a mere $1 million, with about $50 million in
outstanding Space Shuttle contracts. Kaiser eventually closed the Van Nuys
plant in 2001.