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Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years of Lockheed
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Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years of Lockheed

4.36  ·  Rating Details ·  3,292 Ratings  ·  262 Reviews
From the development of the U-2 to the Stealth fighter, the never-before-told story behind America's high-stakes quest to dominate the skies Skunk Works is the true story of America's most secret and successful aerospace operation. As recounted by Ben Rich, the operation's brilliant boss for nearly two decades, the chronicle of Lockheed's legendary Skunk Works is a drama o ...more
ebook, 400 pages
Published February 26th 2013 by Little, Brown and Company (first published 1994)
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Memet My super-keen aviation- obsessed 12 year old loved this book. yes, it is layman friendly. He liked it better than 747 as it had more details/…moreMy super-keen aviation- obsessed 12 year old loved this book. yes, it is layman friendly. He liked it better than 747 as it had more details/ engineering specs.(less)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Marisa
Nov 25, 2014 Marisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, favorites
“Skunk Works” is one of the best books I’ve read. It’s just as fascinating to me when I read it the 8th time as it was the first. I believe one of the reasons I ultimately majored in aerospace engineering was due to this book (and perhaps my unhealthy space obsession helped).

This is a “behind-the-scenes” look at how the United States’ most successful planes were created. The book explains in simple terms WHY the engineering was so impressive and how a group of motivated men managed to create pl
...more
Philippe
Feb 01, 2011 Philippe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: militaria, history
I picked this book up after having read Don DeLillo's Libra, which pictures the protagonist, Lee Harvey Oswald, at a USAF base in Atsugi, Japan during his military service. The U2 spy plane that was based there definitely adds to the aura of mystery and fatefulness that pervades the whole of DeLillo's excellent novel and aroused my curiosity. Rich's account of the Skunk Works' history entirely satisfied my interest in this mysterious airplane. The book can be read in different ways: as a thrilli ...more
Yusef Asabiyah
Feb 28, 2008 Yusef Asabiyah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to read this book because I wanted an example of "nomad science", a kind of guerrilla approach to engineering and problem solving, where a relatively small group of intensely-involved engineers or scientists take on relatively large challenges--actually, nearly impossible looking challenges-- and triumph...All innovation, all mobile strike force, no bureaucracy, no backbiting politics, no ego, no external reward,( this latter not entirely true, but relatively true - Ben Richardson recei ...more
Jean Poulos
Skunk Works is a personal memoir written by the chief engineer of Lockheed’s Skunk Works Ben Rick. The book tells of his first experiences at Lockheed during the 1950s; it ranges all the way past the First Gulf War.

The author describes the varied events that occurred and projects that were undertaken at Lockheed’s aerospace development wing. The first four chapters are about building the first stealth bomber. Rich tells how the name Skunk Works came about. He describes the U2 project and Blackb
...more
Erik Graff
Jan 07, 2011 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Aviation/Espionage fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: biography
Despite the Tom Clancy recommendation glaring on the cover of this edition, Skunk Works isn't a bad read. Whatever the writing skills of engineer Rich, cowriter Janos's collaboration with him resulted in an engrossing text. Of course I've long had a special interest in the history of espionage, so the subject-matter went far towards keeping me involved.

The Skunk Works is a part of the Lockhead Corporation, one of the few major contractors for high-tech defense contracts with the U.S. government-
...more
Hilary Mason
If you love history of science and engineering stories, this one is great. The books covers both the technical side of aerospace innovation (and stealth technology!) and the human side of how the skunk works organization managed to pull off some of their most famous projects. It's a compelling story and moves quickly.

That said, the author comes across as having a bit of an ego and an outdated notion of how society ought to function. For example, I think the only women mentioned in the book are w
...more
Julius Cerniauskas
BOYS WILL BE BOYS!
Atila Iamarino
Excelente livro para quem gosta de aviação ou qualquer coisa relacionada. Ben Rich CEO Lockheed Skunk Works foi o responsável pelo centro de inovação da Lockheed Martin de 1975 a 1991, quando lançaram o primeiro avião realmente invisível a radares (o F-117 Nighthawk da capa). Ele reconta como foi o desenvolvimento dos U-2 espiões, do Blackbird (que me motivou a comprar o livro) e outros.

Com ótimos detalhes sobre de onde vieram os planos, como as máquinas se comportavam, situações de testes e pe
...more
Pete
Oct 27, 2012 Pete rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Adam McNamara
A fantastic look at how Skunk Works works, told through stories of designing the U-2 spy plane, SR-71 Blackbird, and the F-117 stealth fighter.

Three factors led to the success of Skunk Works.

The first was how the Skunk Works defined its mission: "to develop low cost and rapid prototypes to achieve extremely difficult but specific objectives." The combination of extreme difficulty and extreme specificity is the recipe for innovation.

The second was how it operated with a high degree of autonomy an
...more
Simmoril
Jan 16, 2017 Simmoril rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For those who may not know, Skunk Works is a division of Lockheed Martin that was founded by Clarence 'Kelly' Johnson. This advanced research division created some of the most advanced aircraft of the 20th century, including the U-2, the SR-71 Blackbird, and the F-117 Stealth Fighter. This book recounts the history of the development of those aircraft, as seen through the eyes of Ben Rich, Kelly Johnson's protege and successor at Skunk Works.

Rich does a great job of capturing the spirit of those
...more
Mahendranath Ramakrishnan
'Skunk Works' is a riveting read from the first page to the last page. Author, an expert Thermodynamicist and Propulsion systems expert describes the various fantastic airplane projects produced by Lockheed between 1950-1990s. We get to know how each project came to be and how each one of their airplanes revolutionized the Aerospace industry. We get to know how Kelly Johnson,the legend of American aerospace ran aviation's apex R&D organization. Kelly is the designer of both the U-2 and the l ...more
Sara Dyer
Oct 02, 2016 Sara Dyer rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: aerospace gurus
There are many wonderful non-fiction, semi-technical books that appeal beyond their own field. For me, Michael Lewis' ability to create drama around the financial sector is the pinnacle. Michael Pollen has dome similar for the industrial food complex, etc.

I hoped Skunk Works would have the same effect on me, but it didn't. It's not that the book was overly technical, but rather that the author doesn't stop to reflect between technical sections. This got worse as the book went on (the editing was
...more
Brian
Oct 03, 2013 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I picked up this book hoping to learn about the SkunkWorks culture and operations. As software developer, lots of the operational strategies that were put in place by Kelly Johnson mimic whats being done in startup culture. It was interesting to see that startup techniques aren't anything new and have been used since the start of SkunkWorks in the 1940s.

One thing that bothered me was the timeline that takes place in the book is all over the place. It would have been easier to follow if the even
...more
James
Jan 03, 2016 James rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
OK, what I wanted was, a book about the history of airplanes I find fascinating - SR-71, F-117, etc. Throw in a little U2, B2, B1, and XB70? I'll take it! All the "Oh, sucks"-misogyny and old-boys club reminiscing? That I could've done without. However, the inside looks and behind the scenes stories were really interesting and I look forward to the next time I can see these planes in person, armed with new knowledge about some of their details.
Jim Knight
Interesting to know the background of the most famous spy planes. A bit rah-rah for my taste but a good history. The early part of the book is the most interesting I thought - about how they came up with stealth technology and the testing around it.
Chris
Apr 23, 2009 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Fascinating. Dick Cheney killed the SR-71 and stealth came from a Russian scientist's paper.
Alex
It's a great book, interweaving the history of aviation with the history of the Cold War, then adding a lot of hands-on advices for business leaders and then talking about massive systemic problems, corroding the modern world of military airplanes production, suffocated by the bureaucracy and wasting millions of dollars on busywork. In fact, at the end of the book when I actually did some additional research I was really sad to learn that the venerable F-35 is a product of the same Skunk Works d ...more
Grant
Mar 19, 2017 Grant rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A truly fascinating read if you have any kind of affinity for aircraft like the SR-71 and early stealth aircraft. Most of the technical information is presented as neat anecdotes rather than technical detail - it never really bogs down or gets into the weeds beyond a layman level of understanding. The frequent interjections of one-two page notes from pilots, politicians, and other engineers also sprinkle colour throughout the book and provide some vital in-the-cockpit perspectives that Rich can' ...more
Richard
Feb 28, 2017 Richard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incredibly fun read, a trip through the history of the genesis of much of todays aviation technology. Including the famed skunk works projects at Lockheed. Told in a way that is completely accessible and fun to read for the layman, no real science or technology background required. Great read, highly recommend.
Dan
Mar 04, 2017 Dan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At times touching, and constantly engaging, although at the end the author indulged in a diatribe about bureaucracy which, while accurate, could have been substantially shorter. Nonetheless, his concerns about the future of military aeronautics and procurement were prescient.
Herdware
Feb 28, 2017 Herdware rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Never thought I was going to like this book this much, that's for sure.
An amazing story about amazing people doing the "impossible" during the cold war.
vincent
Feb 12, 2017 vincent rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read about the history of Skunk Works and it's planes. Notably the F-117A, the U-2 and the SR-71.
Josh
Dec 21, 2016 Josh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book written by a key employee of the SkunkWorks program. Lots of great information. The conclusion had good points, but was a bit long, repetitive, and boring at times. It was the only chapter I didn't enjoy immensely.
Mark Kleiboeker
Dec 19, 2016 Mark Kleiboeker rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Love military and technology. Great read.
Patrick Ritchie
Mar 20, 2017 Patrick Ritchie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you enjoy reading books about management and scrappy organizations this is a solid 3-star book.

If you enjoy reading books about cutting edge aerospace this is a solid 3-star book.

If you're like me and enjoy both, you've found a rare gem and I highly recommend you pick up a copy.
Claudio
Jan 21, 2017 Claudio rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing book.
Ray
Jan 11, 2017 Ray rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As with most books like this its the anecdotes I like best.
Sam McGraw
Apr 28, 2013 Sam McGraw rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Ben Rich had a specific purpose when he wrote the book Skunk Works, and he tells the readers throughout the novel. Rich wants to give readers an inside story to the inner workings of the top-secret facility that developed advanced fighters called the Skunk Works, and he describes the events as he witnessed them. The book is non-fiction, and its entire purpose is to inform and occasionally entertain readers with anecdotes and stories, facts and figures, or even dates and details. The book is tol

...more
Ilya
Dec 25, 2010 Ilya rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: engineering, aviation
Ben Rich was born in 1925 in an upper-class Philippine Jewish family, which fled for the United States just before the Pearl Harbor attack; they lost everything but had more luck than Ben Rich's aunt, who survived a Japanese concentration camp. Ben Rich went to college at age 21, and got a master's degree in aeronautical engineering, despite his family's dreams of him becoming a doctor and his father-in-law's wishes that he inherit his delicatessen business. After the graduation he was hired by ...more
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“Clarence “Kelly” Johnson was an authentic American genius. He was the kind of enthusiastic visionary that bulled his way past vast odds to achieve great successes, in much the same way as Edison, Ford, and other immortal tinkerers of the past. When Kelly rolled up his sleeves, he became unstoppable, and the nay-sayers and doubters were simply ignored or bowled over. He declared his intention, then pushed through while his subordinates followed in his wake. He was so powerful that simply by going along on his plans and schemes, the rest of us helped to produce miracles too. Honest to God, there will never be another like him.” 2 likes
“We became the most successful advanced projects company in the world by hiring talented people, paying them top dollar, and motivating them into believing that they could produce a Mach 3 airplane like the Blackbird a generation or two ahead of anybody else. Our design engineers had the keen experience to conceive the whole airplane in their mind’s-eye, doing the trade-offs in their heads between aerodynamic needs and weapons requirements. We created a practical and open work environment for engineers and shop workers, forcing the guys behind the drawing boards onto the shop floor to see how their ideas were being translated into actual parts and to make any necessary changes on the spot. We made every shop worker who designed or handled a part responsible for quality control. Any worker—not just a supervisor or a manager—could send back a part that didn’t meet his or her standards. That way we reduced rework and scrap waste. We encouraged our people to work imaginatively, to improvise and try unconventional approaches to problem solving, and then got out of their way. By applying the most commonsense methods to develop new technologies, we saved tremendous amounts of time and money, while operating in an atmosphere of trust and cooperation both with our government customers and between our white-collar and blue-collar employees. In the end, Lockheed’s Skunk Works demonstrated the awesome capabilities of American inventiveness when free to operate under near ideal working conditions. That may be our most enduring legacy as well as our source of lasting pride.” 1 likes
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