Earle Schuyler “Sky” Kleinhans was born in 1905 as the son of a foundry and machine company engineer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When his father was killed in a trolley accident when “Sky” was three, his family migrated to settle in Van Nuys, California. He graduate from Hollywood High School in 1922, then studied chemistry for two years at the University of California at Berkeley till transferring to earn his B.S. in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1927. As an early airplane pioneer, Sky joined Keystone Aircraft Corporation as a design engineer, and then the Commercial Aircraft Company. In 1929, he accepted an offer from the Metal Aircraft Corporation as Assistant Chief Engineer building an airplane called the Flamingo. One was sold to American aviator Jimmy Angel, who later used it to discover the world’s highest waterfall (Angel Falls) in Venezuela in 1935. From 1930-1933 Sky Kleinhans worked for the Sikorsky Aviation Corporation designing flying boats for the Navy, where his engineering team built the XP-3S1, a twin-engine amphibious flying boat which sold to Pan American Airways, and helped to design the Sikorsky S-40, S-41, S-42 and S-43 flying boat designs for the Navy. He was then placed in charge of designing a series of seaplanes and amphibians for four years until about 1937 when he moved to commercial design. His career included a distinguished range of projects advancing the aviation industry:
- 1935 – Chief Designer for the DC-4E and the B-19
- 1941-1945 – Assistant Chief Engineer for Douglas Aircraft Company during World War II, opening the Long Beach plant, responsible for final designs for the DC-3, DC-4, DC-6 and DC-7
- 1945 – Inaugurated the era of jet airplanes with the Douglas twin-jet B-43; when more suitable and reliable engines for commercial airplanes were developed, airplanes such as the Douglas DC-8 emerged.
- 1960 – named as Chief Engineer, Douglas Aircraft Company
In 1962, Sky was named Corporate Vice-President of Engineering and retired in 1967 after the merger with McDonnell Aircraft Company. From 1967-1969 he served as Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the McDonnel Douglas Corporation. He was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.