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Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed

4.42  ·  Rating details ·  8,237 ratings  ·  647 reviews
From the development of the U-2 to the Stealth fighter, the never-before-told story behind the high-stakes quest to dominate the skies Skunk Works is the true story of America's most secret & 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 of cold w ...more
Paperback, 382 pages
Published February 1st 1996 by Back Bay Books/Little, Brown & Co. (NY) (first published October 1st 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/ engineer…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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Average rating 4.42  · 
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Marisa
Nov 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Jean
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
Philippe
Feb 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, militaria
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 rated it it was amazing
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 Rich received re ...more
Erik Graff
Jan 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Carlex
Jan 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
A good look at the military aviation industry in the US from the end of the World War II, with the first jet aircraft, until the end of the 20th century.

Particularly interesting are the development and further clandestine use of these aircraft ahead of its time: the magnificent U-2 and SR-71 "Blackbird" spy planes and also the incredible F-117, the first fighter jet with stealth technology.
...more
Michael Burnam-Fink
May 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, history, war
Skunk Works is one of those phrases which sets aviation fans' hearts a-flutter. The secretive engineering team from Burbank was responsible for some of the most incredible planes of all times. The SR-71 was built in the 1960s, and it remains the highest flying, fastest plane in aviation. It's a marvel of engineering built with slide rules.

Ben Rich, the second director of the Skunk Works, writes a fun account of his views on aviation, engineering, and procurement politics. The Skunk Works was an
...more
Peter
Sep 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Ben Rich worked at Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works from 1954-1991, and spent nearly 20 years overseeing the legendary engineering organization. His memoir is equal parts a Cold War history, a how-to manual for running high-output engineering organizations and a meditation on how technology progresses, not by random stochastic chance but by sheer force of will and a commitment to excellence.

The Skunk Works was responsible for an incredibly large number of the major breakthroughs that occurred in th
...more
Mark Jr.
May 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio, 2020, library-book
Destin Sandlin of Smarter Every Day made me do it. Not my normal fare. But truly enjoyable and instructive. I had no idea what achievements the U2, the SR-71, and the various stealth aircraft I’ve always sort of known were. And I had no idea how long ago they were made.
Julius Cerniauskas
Apr 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
BOYS WILL BE BOYS!
Peter Tillman
Jan 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-tech
Cool memoir. Very interesting read. A great time (and place!) to be an aeronautical engineer.
An Idler
Aug 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
This memoir has multiple angles. The best part is the narration of the development of the U2, the Blackbird, and the Stealth "Fighter". Another angle is advice on how to apply the Skunk Works model to general business and industry, and a third angle is commentary on the inefficiencies of US defense spending. The first is entertaining and fascinating, the second is perhaps of interest only to middle managers, and the third is as frustrating as only government waste can be.

A good blend of engineer
...more
Adam McNamara
Feb 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
Oktawian Chojnacki
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a must read.

Skunk Works is the best R&D team in the world and you can see a little bit - do you need more encouragement? I don’t think so.
Bob
Aug 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Summary: The story of Lockheed’s secret “Skunk Works” operation that produced innovative planes and other products for the military including the U-2, the SR-71 Blackbird, and the F-117 Stealth fighter.

The term “skunk works” has become common parlance in the business and technical worlds for a group within an organization given a high degree of autonomy and freedom from bureaucratic control to work on advanced or secret projects. The development of the original Apple Macintosh computer is an exa
...more
Noah Goats
Jul 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a fascinating tour through the development of the most groundbreaking planes built by the legendary Skunk Works division of Lockheed. From the U-2, through the SR-71 Blackbird, to the stealth fighter, it’s an impressive record of engineering might.

My brother, who is an engineer, has been recommending this book to me for years, but I’ve always thought “Sure, YOU like it, because you’re exactly the kind of nerd it would appeal to. I’m a different kind of nerd entirely.” But it was ve
...more
The Vince
Jul 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
A fascinating insights into the very secretive Skunk Works. Covering mostly the famous U2, SR-71 and F-117 with a bunch of side stories.

It didn't top my ratings despite some entertaining stories and intriguing anecdotes about technical, political and personal aspects of spy plane development after WW2 and during the cold war. Story-telling is ok but not great, but this is what you usually get from this kind go biographie. Sometime over-romanticized and repetitive but sufficiently entertaining ov
...more
Kyle
This is a wonderful book, especially if you have a bit of interest in airplanes. Ben Rich was the head of Lockheed's Skunk Works in the late 70's to early 90's, and delivers interesting stories about the development of the U-2 spy plane, the SR-71 Blackbird, stealth technology (including the creation of the F-117), and his admiration for Kelly Johnson. Also included are short passages by other Lockheed employees and military officials, which give a slightly different spin on each given story. Th ...more
Vicki
Jun 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
If you love reading books about the early days of the American space program and all the efforts in the air around the 1950s and 1960s, this is a fantastic book. It goes into the history of what it took to build the SR-71 Blackbird, a reconnaissance aircraft that was probably 30 years ahead of its time. It combines a number of fascinating approaches: philosophies around project management, the interaction with the Soviet Union during those years, geopolitics, and the author's perspective on lead ...more
Jaak Ennuste
Apr 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Enthusiasm, engineering brilliance, out of the box thinking. Solving the problems, never solved before in aerodynamics, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, material science....
Just wow!
Only bureaucracy could kill Skunk Works method...
Jacob Gubbrud
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Super interesting! Highly recommend to all, especially engineering folks!
Oleh
Aug 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
More then just a fascinating book about story of planes development. Absolutely loved it!
Sara Swart
Oct 02, 2016 rated it it was ok
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
Hilary Mason
Jan 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Jay Pruitt
Oct 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's clearly not for everyone, but if you grew up like I did daydreaming about all the incredible fighter, bomber and recon planes that were rumored (but never confirmed) to be in development or in use by the military, then this may be the perfect book for you. The book is all about Lockheed's legendary Skunk Works, but focuses mostly on the U-2 spy plane, the mach-3 Blackbird, and the technology known as "stealth". It's simply amazing how this group of engineers, ...more
Josh Friedlander
It was interesting to contrast the tone of this book with Kai Bird's virtuoso Oppenheimer biography American Prometheus. Oppenheimer, the dovish intellectual, worked to prevent proliferation of the weapon he designed after the scientific and engineering obstacles had been cleared. By contrast, here is a book from the inner sanctum of the military-industrial complex, proud and unapologetic. Ben Rich spent several decades running Lockheed's (now Lockheed Martin) Skunk Works, the secretive team bui ...more
Lekan
Jun 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Going back and reviewing books I've read a long time ago...

There are many contexts in which to read this book, and it excels at them all. I've gifted this book more times than any other book at this point.

Read this to understand what overcoming challenges really means -- they had to invent from whole cloth the methods and tooling to work with titanium before manufacturing the SR-71.

Read this as a startup manual -- between Kelly Johnson's 14 rules, and especially the philosophy of only having exc
...more
Tõnu Vahtra
Jun 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you were wondering why Elon Musk wanted to name his most recent child A12 then read this book. One would not believe that such "rocket science" was already possible in 1950s and 60s. The book illustrates the technical concepts and challenges of stealth bombers and spy planes and the struggle to stay ahead in the cold war weapons race with USSR, definitely enlightening and also inspiring. Since all those projects were initially classified then even today you cannot be sure how much in the deta ...more
Bouke
May 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cold-war
The incredibly interesting story of the Skunk Works section of Lockheed, which was responsible for revolutionary technology like the U-2, SR-71, and the F-117. This book shows how small teams of very smart and very driven people can produce incredible results. The initial designs of these planes were done with just around a score of people, but each brought in a revolution in the capabilities of the US military. There’s also a lot of funny anecdotes in this book, some of which I’ve highlighted.
Przemek
Feb 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audible
This is something very different from most of the books I read. You don't need to be an engineer to understand the magnitude of discoveries and craftsmanship at Skunk Works. SR-71 still looks like an alien ship to me and to read how it came to be is great. Many different perspectives are presented, pilots, policymakers, airforce generals. Many of the 'Skunk Works rules' are popular today, very frugal, rugged product development, quick iterations, engineers, designers and workers sitting next to ...more
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73 likes · 21 comments
“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.” 6 likes
“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.” 5 likes
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