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Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed Paperback – February 1, 1996

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 372 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; 1st edition (February 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316743003
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316743006
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (255 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,932 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lockheed's Advanced Development Project has set standards for the aerospace industry for half a century. Under its presiding genius, Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, the Skunk Works produced America's first jet fighter, the world's most successful spy plane (U-2), the first three-times-the-speed-of-sound surveillance aircraft and the F-117A stealth fighter. Rich was Johnson's right-hand man and succeeded him as director in 1975, retiring in 1990. In an entertaining style, the authors describe Johnson's tyrannical managerial style, his thorny but productive relationship with the Air Force and the stealth-technology breakthrough that revolutionized military aviation. Writing with freelancer Jonas, Rich also recounts Skunk Works' failures, including experiments with liquid hydrogen as a propellant and spy-drone flights over China's remote nuclear test facilities. He has much to say about the Defense Department bureaucracy and warns, "Everyone in the defense industry knows that bureaucratic regulations, controls, and paperwork are at critical mass... and... in danger of destroying the entire system." This is a significant book for those interested in aerospace research and development. Photos.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Since its inception in 1943, the Skunk Works has been one of the most top-secret military contractors. Now that the Cold War has ended, its story is uncloaked by former chief Rich, now retired. Using a small number of expert employees, the Skunk Works built technologically advanced aircraft that were disavowed by the government and its users, the Air Force and the CIA, for years after the aircraft were operational. The Skunk Works built notable planes such as the P-80 (the first operational jet fighter), U-2 (the high-altitude spy plane), and F-117A (the Stealth fighter). The story of Stealth's development is most interesting not only in the design, building, and testing but also in its origina in a Russian scientist's paper on aeronautics. There are first-person accounts of some of the missions flown by pilots and notes from many government officials. Highly recommended.
William A. McIntyre, New Hampshire Technical Coll. Lib., Nashua
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Makes you wonder what else is still too classified to tell in a book.
This book is a great history of Ben Rich and his long years in working with Kelly Johnson at Lockheed's Skunk Works.
John H. Austin Jr.
I don't read many books, but this one was very interesting and hard to put down.
Brian B.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 55 people found the following review helpful By John H. Hwung on December 23, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book is a gem on many levels:

1) On the history and development of spy planes: This has been covered by many previous reviews on this book. So, I won't write more here.

2) On creativity: There are a lot of books on creativity. Many of them are trivial. Most are written by people who themselves have not design or deliver noteworthy innovations that are of national or international significance. This book is different. It is written by a person who has contributed innovations at, and even run Skunk Works, which has delivered innovation after innovation that are internationally significant.

How does a smart scientist or engineer determine if an organization is a place of major technical inventions? This book tells you the characteristics of such organizations. How do you organize and run a place that can deliver breakthrough innovations at bargain prices? This book gives you the principles on how to do it correctly.

3) On cold war and patriotism: This book gives you a glimpse into the cold war, and the hair-triggering tension of nuclear war between U.S. and the ex-Soviet Union. Also, it shows the patriotism among the U.S. government officials, top military echelons, pilots, and civilian scientists and engineers. Even more, it shows how Skunk Works' technologies tipped the power towards the U.S.

4) On biographies: This book is a partial and vivid biography of both Kelly Johnson and Ben Rich. Their personal traits, both strengths and flaws, are clearly described.

5) On Navy's major shortcomings: Kelly's fifteenth principle of rather to starve than to deal with the Navy is nothing short of astonishment.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By J. Turner on May 10, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm not particularly an avid reader of military history books or contemporary history books in general, but after a coworker described this book, curiosity got the better of me and I bought it. I'm glad I did.
Ben R. Rich joined the legendary 'Skunk Works' as a young engineer, worked on some of the most secretive military projects in recent history, and later ended up taking over management of Skunk Works. As a result, perhaps no one else in the world has as much first hand knowledge of these projects, and no one else is better positioned to chronicle some of America's military crown jewels.
Rich (and Janos) have crafted a unique book that gives Ben Rich story, with interesting first hand accounts from pilots, air force personnel, and highly placed government officials. Rich covers the struggles encountered while building various classified aircraft: the U2, SR-71 BlackBird, the stealth fighter, the stealth boat, among others. He also lightly delves into the darker side of the defense industry: politics, waste, and bureaucracy.
An amazing read, and highly recommended.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By D. J Najarian on February 1, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Skunk works is the true story behind the coolest, high tech, top secret, aerospace engineering division operated by the Lockheed Martin corporation. Forged by legendary U. Michigan alumnus Kelly Johnson, the Skunk Works has created the coolest planes of recent memory, including the SR-71 Blackbird (currently visible on the flight deck of the Intrepid Aircraft Carrier in NYC), the F117A Stealth Fighter, and the U2 spy plane. The F22 Raptor and the Joint Strike Fighter are also creations of the Skunk Works, but are not covered in this autobiography written by the successor to Kelly Johnson, Ben Rich.
This quick read is well worth your while for a couple of reasons. First, the stories behind the creation of these planes is very interesting. For example, the Skunk Works engineers found the mathematical key to the stealth design buried within an obscure physics journal originally published in Russian. Oddly, the Russians military never capitalized on the principle, despite urgings from the article's Russian author. Furthermore, when the stealth plane was first designed and kept in a secret hanger infested with some bats, the bats couldn't detect the plane with their "sonar-like" sense, and they ended up crashing into it.
The book also makes for excellent military and therefore world history. Accomplishments of the U2 spy plane and the F117-A Stealth Fighter are covered in depth and literally changed the course of world events during the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the Gulf War, and other skirmishes. Many interesting, behind the scenes (formerly classified?) missions are also revealed in this book.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Graham Phillips on August 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
For 16 years Ben Rich was the head of Skunk Works, Lockheed Corporation's secretive special projects division. In this engrossing work, he examines 40 years of aerospace innovations, including the U-2, F-117, and (my favorite) the SR-71 Blackbird. Although the book is all about incredible innovations, do not fear that this book will be overly technical; I never bogged down while reading it and found a lot of it humorous, in fact. (On the same point, it's only fair to note that if you ARE looking for a highly technical work, this is probably not the book you want.)
I must admit that I grew up playing endlessly with toy jet-fighters, and thus for subject matter alone I would have to give three stars. Rather than telling the history of Skunk Works strictly chronologically, Rich breaks the book down into chapters that focus on specific projects. This approach avoids confusion that might arise from the overlapping development of multiple aircraft. It also allows the reader to go back and read about one particular plane without wading through unrelated information. Each chapter also contains "Other Voices," short sections written by others involved in the aerospace or defense industries. Many of these sections were written by pilots and provided some of the book's most exciting passages. I thought the "Other Voices" were a great addition that expanded the scope of Rich's work.
I also appreciated that this book was not propaganda for the military-industrial complex (a rut I believe Tom Clancy has fallen in). Rich is justifiably proud of Skunk Works' successes, but he also admits their failures, notably: an attempt in the late `50s to create a plane fueled by liquid hydrogen, and also a stealth catamaran ship.
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