Thomas V. Jones, LA aerospace giant was 93

Thumbnail image for moraga-vineyard.jpgThomas V. Jones led Northrop Corp. to to the top ranks of the U.S. defense industry in three decades as CEO. He was "one of the last great titans of the U.S. arms business," Ralph Vartabedian writes in the LA Times obituary tonight. He also famously planted grape vines on his 16 acres in the Bel Air hills and established Moraga Vineyards and winery. After his wife of 67 years, Ruth, died last June, Jones sold the vineyard, winery and estate to Rupert Murdoch. Jones remained in the home and died Tuesday of pulmonary fibrosis.

From the LAT obit:

Jones came from an era when the chiefs of U.S. aerospace companies laid huge bets on future projects, and over an extraordinary three-decade tenure as Northrop's chief executive he made some of the biggest of any company, winning big and losing big in the process....

In the process, Jones hobnobbed with European royalty, befriended the shah of Iran and was close to air force chiefs from West Germany to Argentina. On many weekends, he hosted elaborate parties with a long list of foreign dignitaries at his Bel-Air mansion. He courted the politically powerful, including his friend President Reagan and the influential widow of Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese general who lost the civil war against the Communists.


In 1975, Jones signed a consent agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission in which he promised not to bribe any foreign officials. That was after the company had allegedly paid $30 million to foreign officials in connection with international arms deals.
Jones also pleaded guilty to a federal felony count during the Watergate scandal in which he admitted to falsifying documents involving political contributions that were linked to a Richard Nixon slush fund.

From a family obituary released by Jones' son Peter Jones, the LA documentary maker:

During his nearly four decades at Northrop, most as its top-ranked executive, Mr. Jones fought for a number of technical and management breakthroughs in the aviation industry that eventually changed the way military systems are designed and major production contracts are awarded. He pioneered “stealth” technology, one of the most dramatic breakthroughs in modern weapon design, and campaigned relentlessly for greater reliability in the nation’s defense equipment....

From the outset as Northrop’s head, he insisted that advanced technology could be used to
simplify systems and increase their reliability and ease of maintenance, and urged the Pentagon to make reliability standards a contract requirement for new aircraft equal to other conventional factors such as speed, altitude and range and payload. “High performance aircraft sitting on the ground because they need repairs after only a few hours of flight do not contribute to the nation’s defense,” he said. His persistence in this area eventually helped change Pentagon thinking and contracting practice, introducing formal reliability goals to the weapon selection process.

Mr. Jones’ aerospace career was not without other controversy. In the 1970s, Northrop and Mr. Jones were among a number of companies and executives who were fined for making illegal campaign contributions. The company’s reputation at the time also suffered from the disclosure of improper payments Northrop and other defense companies had made in the pursuit of overseas sales. Mr. Jones stepped down temporarily as chairman, but as chief executive officer weathered these events and regained the chairmanship the following year after a reorganization of the board of directors and the institution of new management controls and procedures.

Under his direction Northrop developed unprecedented radar-evading “stealth” technologies and the complex manufacturing tools and techniques to produce them the B-2 flying wing bomber. The materials such as carbon fiber and highly sophisticated computerized production methods have since been applied to many new major weapons and are at the heart of most new commercial transport aircraft. Aviation Week Magazine, a leading journal of the aviation industry, cited Mr. Jones for his “20 years of perseverance and investment of company funds and resources (which) led to… the B-2.” Although 120 B-2’s were planned by the Air Force, the end of the Cold War cut production to 21.

At the time he bought the vineyard, Murdoch noted in a tweet that Jones had been on the cover of Time magazine as the face of the aerospace industry.

File photo of the Moraga Winery vineyard in Bel Air

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