Pop Johnson, the Rocket Man

By Robert A Brown

Rufus Summerfield "Pop" Johnson was a machinist who had worked as an Army aircraft mechanic. In 1923 Johnson, like many others in that era, built what he felt was an improvement over the Curtiss Jenny. He was later associated with Alexander Aircraft and Culver, possibly as a dealer or distributor. His associations with the Swift and the Johnson Rocket are the best documented periods of his life.

    In December 1947 Johnson Aircraft Corp of Grand Prairie TX began work on the Johnson Bullet. It was initially to have been a two-place design but soon developed into a four-place. Irwin Weise, who had worked on the Rocket, was chief engineer. In September the next year it was announced that Johnson Aircraft would move to Stewart Airport in Tyle TX.

    The prototype Johnson Bullet was sold to oilman S J Taylor on Dec 15, 1948. I suspect that this was as collateral on money advanced to the company. Johnson made the first flight of the Bullet on Jan 23, 1949. In March 1949 the Aircraft Mfg Co was formed with Taylor and W E Stewart (owner of Stewart Aircraft and Stewart Airport) as the primary stockholders. It was announced that they would build the Bullet while Johnson Aircraft would handle distribution and sales.

    The IRS seized the assets of Johnson Aircraft, and Aircraft Mfg Co purchased them at auction in February 1950. Johnson went to Henderson TX where he began work on the Regent Rocket in May 1950 for Regent Aircraft Corp.

    Aircraft Mfg Co completed certification of the Texas Bullet on Nov 30, 1950. The most notable changes from the prototype were elimination of the "jet assist" exhaust thrust augmentor and relocation of the horizontal stabilizer to a higher location, out of the wing wake, with a jackscrew to trim the front of the stabilizer rather than the elevator trim tab used on the prototype.

    The prototype was never brought to the approved type design configuration. Five aircraft were built and registered with Standard Airworthiness Certificates, the last in Nov 1951. The Regent Rocket was powered by a 260hp Lycoming GSO-435, and Johnson made the first flight in April 1951 (ref: Western Flying June 1951). Johnson later built a factory in Lafayette LA where he intended to build that airplane as the Johnson 260 with a 260hp Continental IO-470.

    There was also a proposed twin-engine Johnson 450 advertised using the corporate names of Crescent Aircraft and Aerosonic. I am told that there was an unfinished airframe with the engine mount fittings on the wings for the twin-engine version. As far as I know, that was the last Johnson aircraft to make it to the metal stage. (12/19/02 rev 8/26/04)