Kindelberger was a natural aviation engineer, who quickly was named Donald Douglas' chief engineer in the early days of that company. In 1934, when it was clear that Douglas' son was the anointed successor at the firm, Kindelberger accepted an offer from General Motors to take over the new airplane division they had formed out of Berliner-Joyce and Fokker America. Lee Atwood, another Douglas talent, went with him. Kindelberger was an extrovert, a 'pile-driver' of a man. Atwood was quieter, and served as Chief Engineer. The new company they headed had only one aircraft on order, but a core team of German and Dutch master aircraft builders that were part of the Fokker operation. With this team, he set out to create the most successful aircraft company in the mid-20th century.
Kindelberger rangled a $1 milion order from the British for trainer aircraft. Derivatives of this would eventually be manufactured in the United States as the T-6 Texan, and in Britain as the Harvard, and be adopted by nearly every Air Force on earth. The British were so impressed with the Harvard that they signed a contract with Kindelberger to produce 320 new-design fighters. Kindelberger's team rolled out the prototype of the P-51 Mustang only three months later. It went on to become the most successful fighter aircraft in history, and the cornerstone of American aerial dominance in World War II.
The British were so impressed with the Harvard that they asked North Amerian to build 320 P-40 fighters. Kindelberger told them he could make a better design than that and completed the prototype of the legendary P-51 Mustang in four months. 42,000 aircraft were built by the company by the end of the war. It was the most successful fighter aircraft in history, and the cornerstone of American aerial dominance in World War II.
After the war Atwood expected there would be a need for improved rocket engines based on those developed by the Germans for the V-2. The two decided in 1946 to invest $ 1 million in a rocket engine test facility in Santa Susanna, California, and a supersonic wind tunnel at Los Angeles International Airport. This paid off when North American landed the contract to develop the Navaho, a rocket-boosted intercontinental cruise missile. Navaho allowed North American to develop unrivalled expertise in rocket engines, inertial navigation systems, and supersonic aerodynamics. This in turn led to securing contracts for many of the most advanced aerospace vehicles in the late 1950's - the X-15 manned hypersonic spaceplane, the Hound Dog missile, and the XB-70 triple-sonic bomber. The B-70 required the company to develop new materials, welding, and manufacturing processes.
Kindelberger was opposed to these low-production rate space projects. He was more interested in continuing production of thousands of fighters for the Air Froce - the F-86, F-100, and then F-108. But Atwood rightly saw that the company's future was in space.
North American had informally been notified that they had won the USAF competition for the Man-In-Space-Soonest program in 1958, but when NASA took over the program, the award was cancelled. The requirement was recompeted as the Mercury program, and McDonnell received the contract.
Finally North American landed the contract to develop the Apollo command and service modules. Atwood felt there were two main reasons for North American's success: unrivalled experience in the previous projects, and the fact they bid alone rather than as part of an industrial team. McDonnell had wanted to team with North American, but in retrospect Atwood believed they would have lost the competition if that team had been realised.
Kindelberger died in 1962, and Atwood then became Chairman of the Board.