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Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed

4.41  ·  Rating details ·  5,817 ratings  ·  451 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 co ...more
Paperback, 382 pages
Published February 1st 1996 by Back Bay Books/Little, Brown & Co. (NY) (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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4.41  · 
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 ·  5,817 ratings  ·  451 reviews


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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
Philippe
Feb 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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
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
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
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
Julius Cerniauskas
Apr 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
BOYS WILL BE BOYS!
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
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
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...
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
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
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.
Jon Mellberg
Aug 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
U2… SR-71 Blackbird…F117A Nighthawk…These are the legends of Lockheed.

These aeronautical machines, as amazing, as powerful, and as effective as they were, weren’t the only legends. The men who designed and built them was just as Herculean as the feats performed by these high, fast, and stealthy fliers. The U2 required pogo-style take-off wheels to keep the enormous 103-ft wingspan from breaking before liftoff. The SR-71 Blackbird CRUISED at 3x the speed of sound (nearly 2200 mph!) at 80,000 fee
...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.
RC1140
Feb 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
As memoirs go ,that was one of the more enjoyable listens. It was interesting seeing how the aerospace industry compares to enterprise application development. Its amazing that they were able to get what away with what they did for so long ,but as expected bureaucracy seems to crush innovation unless you have enormous amounts of funding to work around it or a management team that is willing to fight to keep the company lean.
Ed
Feb 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Going in, I thought this would be a very war hawkish account of aviation but it's really a bunch of guys designing and overcoming technical problems. That they happen to be designing military planes is just the setting. Defense contracting is highly political, which is obviously still relevant today. This book covers decades of military planes from the U2 to the first stealth plane. Sometimes, the tech of all this crushed the momentum but the relationship between Ben Rich and his mentor Kelly Jo ...more
Andrea Carlevato
Apr 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Not as overly entertaining as I expected, Skunk Works is nevertheless a very interesting and revealing read on how you could find Lean fully deployed 50 years before we had a name for it, and how this proved to be a competitive advantage very hard to match.
Oleh
Aug 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
More then just a fascinating book about story of planes development. Absolutely loved it!
Robert Sielaff
Jul 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Cool book. Especially for those who work in aerospace. The author really is an engineers engineer. His gripes ring true today. I held back on the 5 star rating because it suffers a bit from an “we were always right” and I feel like that can’t always have been the case.
Pete
Oct 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Stacy
Oct 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nabil
Dec 12, 2018 rated it liked it
If you like a detailed history of the various types of stealth fighters created, this is your book!
Dennis
Apr 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Not a book that I would be prone to pickup. But, it's an interesting documentation of ingenuity and entrepreneurial effort.

It shows that today's wiz kids are really nothing new—it's part of the fabric of a frontier and “can-do” mentality.

The surprise to me was their story runs counter to the perception that companies with big government contracts would be flush and wasteful. This was a post-war era and I can't help but I think it was a time of transition from the old industrial “practical man”
...more
Simmoril
Jan 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
Sara Dyer
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
Mahendranath Ramakrishnan
Oct 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
'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
Brian
Oct 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it liked it
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.
Nikolay
Jun 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating story about a small team of aviation engineers at Lockheed making some of the greatest breakthroughs in the industry.

The greatest thing in the book was the insight in their management and engineering practices.

The second greatest was the insight into the many-billion-dollar American defense industry.

The pieces of war history explained made for quick and engaged reading.

The tone was patriotic American to which I couldn't relate for obvious reasons.
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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.” 5 likes
“When Congress approved the decision to retire the SR-71, the Smithsonian Institution requested that a Blackbird be delivered for eventual display in the Air and Space Museum in Washington and that we set a new transcontinental speed record delivering it from California to Dulles. I had the honor of piloting that final flight on March 6, 1990, for its final 2,300-mile flight between L.A. and D.C. I took off with my backseat navigator, Lt. Col. Joe Vida, at 4:30 in the morning from Palmdale, just outside L.A., and despite the early hour, a huge crowd cheered us off. We hit a tanker over the Pacific then turned and dashed east, accelerating to 2.6 Mach and about sixty thousand feet. Below stretched hundreds of miles of California coastline in the early morning light. In the east and above, the hint of a red sunrise and the bright twinkling lights from Venus, Mars, and Saturn. A moment later we were directly over central California, with the Blackbird’s continual sonic boom serving as an early wake-up call to the millions sleeping below on this special day. I pushed out to Mach 3.3.” 4 likes
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