Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed” as Want to Read:
Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed

4.40  ·  Rating details ·  4,908 ratings  ·  375 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)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Skunk Works, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
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)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Rating details
Sort: Default
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
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
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 Richardson recei ...more
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
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
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-
Julius Cerniauskas
Apr 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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...
Jul 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
No stinker here.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Loved it!
Oct 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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!
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”
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Jim Knight
Dec 14, 2016 rated it liked it
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.
Apr 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Fascinating. Dick Cheney killed the SR-71 and stealth came from a Russian scientist's paper.
Chris Esposo
Jan 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A 3 for 1 book, 1/3 professional biography of Ben Rich, the 2nd President of Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, 1/3 semi-technical history of the engineering challenges arising from the development of mainly 3 planes, the U2, The SR71, and the F117, and 1/3 mid-late Cold War aerospace history. Only in the first category, the bio of Ben Rich is this book found wanting, as we don't get much more than cursory information on Ben's background, outside of his schooling, no real biographical info. If anythin ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Sled Driver: Flying the World's Fastest Jet
  • Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds
  • Red Eagles: America's Secret MiGs
  • Yeager: An Autobiography
  • Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage
  • Kelly: More Than My Share of It All
  • Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War
  • Failure is Not an Option: Mission Control From Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond
  • Viper Pilot: A Memoir of Air Combat
  • Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century
  • The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs
  • "Live from Cape Canaveral": Covering the Space Race, from Sputnik to Today
  • Moon Lander: How We Developed the Apollo Lunar Module
  • Thud Ridge: F-105 Thunderchief missions over Vietnam
  • Flying the SR-71 Blackbird: In the Cockpit on a Secret Operational Mission
  • The Puzzle Palace: Inside the National Security Agency, America's Most Secret Intelligence Organization
  • Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution
  • Forever Flying

Goodreads is hiring!

If you like books and love to build cool products, we may be looking for you.
Learn more »
“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.” 3 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.” 2 likes
More quotes…