Captain J.N. Murphy, USN

Murphy's Law

04 APR 2007

I have been searching for information regarding Captain J.N. Murphy, USN. I keep bumping into him linked somehow to the Skyhawk Organization. That may be because he was C.O. of Pt. Mugu back in 1950, when the A4 was in early development. I believe he was also C.O. at China Lake back in those days.

He retired as a Rear Admiral and I believe his final tour was as Bureau of Aeronautics General Representative - Central District (BAGR-CD) at Wright-Patterson AFB. Admiral Murphy was a Naval Aviator and designated as an Aeronautical Engineering Duty Officer (AEDO). I served under him at BAGR-CD at WPAFB. in '56-57.

My interest in him stems from the fact that I strongly believe that he deserves recognition for being the originator of "Murphy's Law". A USNA graduate, probably somewhere in the late 1930, he soon won his wings and was sent to MIT for graduate studies in aeronautical engineering, which lead to his designation as an AEDO. Pearl Harbor found him assigned to a fighter squadron aboard one of our Pacific Fleet carriers where he soon became one of our first aviators to gain combat experience against Japanese aircraft. Before long he was ordered back to BuAer in Washington where his combat experience could be utilized in the specifications for new fleet aircraft. In that role, he traveled about visiting our aircraft factories, consulting with their engineers on the design of new aircraft to help make them superior to the Japanese aircraft.

Our fleet aircraft were being maintained by boys barely out of high school, and one of the lessons Murphy constantly hammered on was, "If a part can be installed incorrectly, it will be installed incorrectly" or words to this effect. It was vital, he maintained, that engineers actually design parts so they could not be installed incorrectly. This became known in the aircraft manufacturing plants of WW II as "Murphy's Law".

I suspect Murphy's Law was incorporated in the design of the Skyhawk, and possibly even earlier in the AD and later SBDs produced by DAC, and most other post '41 designs of all WW II aircraft. Admiral J. N. Murphy deserves credit as the author. My research into the origins of Murphy's Law discloses that credit is generally going to some USAF engineer involved in the sleds used in ejection seat tests at a later date. Wikepedia does contain a brief mention possibly attributing it to a Commander J. Murphy who was a naval aircraft procurement officer in the '30s. This, I believe, may be a partially accurate clue, but they still give the credit to the USAF's Murphy.

How can we make this right? Rear Admiral Murphy was one of the finest Naval Officers I ever knew.

Allyn E. "Al" Rowley, CDR, Supply Corps, USN (Retired)

San Juan Capistrano, CA

Webmaster's Note: I support the above assessment of the origins of "Murphy's Law". It's entirely possible that later another Murphy coined the jest of the law, perhaps based upon what he was exposed to, or had heard, earlier in his career. Or someone who worked around him remembered a past reference to a Murphy's Law and revitalized the term.

Perhaps someone who worked in the aircraft plants of WWII, or has related historical documentation of that environment, can verify that "Murphy's Law" existed in their environment.

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