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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

4.33 of 5 stars 4.33  ·  rating details  ·  1,804 ratings  ·  152 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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“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
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
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
Erik Graff
Feb 04, 2014 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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-
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kariuki Njiru
"I told him the story of the kid who proudly tells his father that he saved a quarter by running alongside a bus rather than taking it. The father slapped the kid on the head for not running next to a taxi and saving a buck fifty"

You know a book is not going to be boring when you start seeing jokes in the first chapter. This book explores the history of the real skunkworks (all the others try to emulate this one). Skunkworks is by far the best model of how Research and Development should be do
Chris Dietzel
This book will certainly have a limited appeal amongst the general readership, but those who are interested in U.S. history of any kind--not just U.S. military history--will be rewarded with fascinating details of policy and decision-making since WWII. One of the countless gems that fills the pages from beginning to end: the SR-71 was actually named the RS-71, but after Lyndon Johnson mistakenly called it the SR-71, the air force had every single plane, document, manual, etc repainted and rewrit ...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
Christopher Obert
A great book, one of the best that I have read in a long, long time! This book covers so much material. It is a history of the famous Lockheed Skunk Works and its military and spy aircraft. It is also the history of the technology and business practice behind those projects. The book is an autobiography of author Ben Rich and a biography of the Skunk Works creator Kelly Johnson. While covering much material the book is easy to read and follow. I found the book stoke to me in many different ways ...more
"All of us had been trained by Kelly Johnson and believed fanatically in his insistence that an airplane that looked beautiful would fly the same way. No one would dare to claim that the Hopeless Diamond would be a beautiful airplane. As a flying machine it looked alien" (Rich, pg# 29).

"I didn't give a damn about the airplane's performance characteristics because its only purpose was to demonstrate the lowest radar signature ever recorded. I joked that if we couldn't get her airborne, maybe we c
Dave Winter
No aviation buff should go without reading this little gem. Ben Rich was successor to Kelly Johnson in the 1980s at Lockheed's "Skunk Works" secret design facility in California. Ben was an engineer under Johnson during the development of the high-altitude U2 spy plane, then later the supersonic SR-71 Blackbird, and once Johnson died, Rich became the director for the elusive F-117 stealth bomber, which was revealed during Bush 41's attack on Iraq in 1991.

Mr. Rich takes the reader from his junior
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
Chris Youngblood
This is a truly fascinating read about the American spy-plane projects of the middle-to-late 20th century, and the amazing technological breakthroughs that were achieved during that time. I've always found the SR-71 Blackbird to be a true testament to the heights that can be reached when creativity and engineering are combined and given free reign to do whatever they like.

But more than this, more than just the 'boys and their toys' side of the book Skunk Works also contains an interesting busine
A must-read history of the U-2 spyplane and the SR-71 Blackbird spyplane.

U-2 SPYPLANE: "The U-2 overflights of the Soviet Union provided us with the greates intelligence breakthrough of the twentieth century. ... For example, those overflights eliminated almost entirely the ability of the Kremlin ever to launch a surprise preemptive strike against the West. There was no way they could prepare for war without our cameras revealing the size and scope of those activities." (comments by Richard Helm
Sam McGraw

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

This is an excellent look at the heart and soul of the R&D world of aerospace from the end of World War II through the build up of tensions of the Cold War and into the end of the 20th Century. Ben Rich provides details never before revealed about the inner workings of the design of the U2 spy plane, the SR-71 Blackbird and the F-117A Stealth Fighter. This book isn't all praise for Lockheed and the Government though, Rich gets in his jabs at bureaucrats who he's convinced are getting in the ...more
Alex Yalen
This is one of the more fascinating nonfiction stories I've read in some time. Ben Rich was in perfect position to witness -- and in fact, develop -- some of the most sensitive technologies of the Cold War (and slightly post-Cold War.) He worked hand-in-hand with one of America's great (in my opinion, under-appreciated) engineers in Clarence "Kelly" Johnson.

It's not some techno-thriller; it's real people with real problems, solving them at the highest levels. I came away in awe of these guys. Le
Greg Gates
When I was in High School trying to determine what direction to take for a career, Aerospace and military aviation were my top two choices. However, aerospace seemed to be tanking (especially the cancellation of the B-1 bomber let alone fighter aircraft production being cut back) and military fighter pilot flight times were being cut to only a few hours a month...
Many years later while reading this book, I found out why... It was all because of one plane...
A damned good memoir by the man who took the baton from Kelly Johnson, the true sage of advanced flight. I got to know a man who'd worked for both Johnson and Rich and who held both in high regard, though he felt that Rich could've shared the credit a bit more in this book. I really enjoyed Skunk Works throughout. I also see it as a springboard to everything else written about Lockheed's Skunk Works.
David Wen
Awesome book detailing some of the ins and outs of the Skunk Works group in Lockheed. Reads like a dedication to Ben Rich and Kelly Johnson but these guys deserve every accolade. The technological hurdles and engineering challenges they faced were unheard of and every engineer wishes this was the type of job they had. Sad to see that this exceptional group is becoming extinct as time goes on.
Dennis Boccippio
I started Skunk Works expecting to like it, but not expecting to love it as much as I did. Other reviews here recap its content well - it covers the period of SW history in which the U-2, Blackbird, and F-117A stealth bomber were developed (along with some less well known ventures such as high altitude spy drones and a stealth ship), and does good justice both to the incredible engineering and the cold war context and political climate of the day.

Rich's personal story is enhanced with 2-3 page
All in all, I found this book to be fairly self-congratulatory and had mixed feelings about the writing style. Ben tends to start the chapters with a start of a story which then descends into sporadic details about the programs. I did really enjoy the "other voices" section where views from others related to the programs were included. I'm looking forward to the Kelly Johnson book now.
Jeah pretty cool. One of the dudes who ran Lockheed Martin's Skunkworks (an elite company-within-a-company with high resources and autonomy) talks about engineering and delivering innovative airplanes for the military. Uh also he talks about what made the Skunkworks so freakishly successful, able to bring in crazy difficult projects on time and under budget. I'm sure managers love this book.

The Skunkworks delivered the F-117A stealth fighter as well as the U-2 spy plane and the SR-71 Blackbird,
A fascinating look into how the top secret development wing of Lockheed worked during the Cold War. Working at the Skunk Works seems like an engineer's dream, and reading it was pretty exciting as well. I felt like I shared in the successes and setbacks of the teams, and was rooting for the engineers and scientists the entire team. Highly recommended!
Stephen M.
A fairly average book. Rich tells of his time at the Skunk Works, including running it after "Kelly" Johnson retired. But Rich seems to fight against his own conclusions at times.

E.g., he says that a certain reconaissance drone project failed because of Air Force interference. There were too many people involved, and the need to justify their existance led to a 100% failure rate. Later, he talks about how to save money in defense procurement: get rid of unnecessary Air Force and other go
Mike  Davis
Five stars. Admittedly I am an aviation fan and a scientist so this book kept me captivated throughout. But it covers a lot of ground - an autobiography of Ben Rich and biography of Kelly Johnson of the famed Skunk Works secret development arm of Lockheed; details of the incredibly complex problems overcome in building the SR-71 Blackbird and F-117A stealth fighter; insights into the political and military issues of the time; and a portrait of how incredibly efficiently Skunk Works operated and ...more
A great take on the inner workings inside one of the most secretive yet astonishing aeronautical divisions in the US. Ben Rich took over after the great Clarence "Kelly" Johnson and provides a wonderful account of his entire time there. From being plucked from the larger Lockheed plant by Kelly himself, through all those years of developing amazing machines and cutting edge products this truly was an exciting read. Ben and Leo really made you feel like you were right on the shop floor. I especia ...more
Feb 05, 2008 erin rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Mr. Maybee
Wow - Rich gave this book to me to read and it is just like visiting an airplane museum: at first, you might think that you're going to be bored during a very dry tour of the installations, but once you get going you are sucked in and captivated by what you're seeing and learning.

This book was just like that. I have a passing interest in aviation evolution and this book really kept me reading. What I enjoyed most was the first-hand account of Ben Rich's writing style. It didn't bore me or patron
Far more interesting and engaging than I expected. He made aerospace very accessible to read about, and it's not normally a subject I delve into. My only objection with how flip it seemed he was about loss of life, both personal and professional, but that may have just been his writing style. Some of the chronology was a bit confusing, but it didn't hamper the book very much.
Rupin Chaudhry
The book details the workings of the special design and development bureau of lockheed. The projects had been so secretive and classified that the government and the end users denied their existence even after years of deployment in active service. It is only the fall of soviet union that has uncloaked the mysterious shroud of this crown jewel in aerospace industry.
The author has given the lucid account of development of stealth fighter, U2, black bird and other projects. Intermixed is the cold
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