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  • Writer's pictureIan Murphy

A Review of 'Skunk Works' by Ben R. Rich and Leo Janos

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

Author: Ben R. Rich and Leo Janos

Main topic: The history and successes of Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works.


Skunk Works is a memoir by Ben Rich, the director of Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works for nearly two decades. The Skunk Works is a secret aerospace research and development division that has produced some of the most iconic aircraft in history.

In his book, Rich tells the story of how the Skunk Works was founded and how it came to be so successful. He also provides firsthand accounts of the development of some of the division's most famous aircraft. Rich's book is divided into two parts. The first part is a history of the Skunk Works, from its founding in 1943 to the early 1990s. The second part is a more personal memoir of Rich's own experiences at the Skunk Works.


Rich's book begins with a brief history of Lockheed Martin and the early days of aviation. He then goes on to describe the founding of the Skunk Works and its first major project, the P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter. Rich then discusses the development of some of the Skunk Works' most famous aircraft, including the U-2, the SR-71 Blackbird, and the F-117 Nighthawk.

Founded by Lockheed engineer Kelly Johnson in 1943, Skunk Works developed a jet fighter for the US Army Air Corps. Johnson's team was able to produce the XP-80 Shooting Star in just 143 days, a remarkable feat for the time. The XP-80 was the first jet fighter to enter service with the US military, and it played a key role in the Allied victory in World War II.

After World War II, the Skunk Works continued to develop new and innovative aircraft, including the U-2 spy plane and the SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft. Both aircraft were able to fly at high altitudes and speeds, making them difficult to intercept by enemy radar and missiles. The U-2 was used to spy on the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and the SR-71 was used to gather intelligence on enemy forces during the Vietnam War. In the 1970s, the Skunk Works began developing the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter. The F-117 was the first aircraft to be designed specifically to avoid detection by enemy radar. It was used to great effect during the Gulf War in 1991, when it destroyed numerous Iraqi targets without being shot down.

In the second part of his book, Rich provides a more personal memoir of his own experiences at the Skunk Works. He describes his management style and his philosophy of innovation. He also discusses the challenges and rewards of working on cutting-edge aerospace projects, including the government contracting process, competition for funding, and the technical and geopolitical challenges that shaped their work.


Skunk Works is a fascinating and informative book. Rich's writing is engaging and easy to read, even for those who are not familiar with the technical aspects of aerospace engineering. Rich does a great job of explaining complex concepts in a way that is easy to understand.

One of the most important lessons that Rich teaches is the importance of creating a culture of innovation. He gave his engineers a great deal of autonomy and encouraged them to take risks. Rich also believed in the importance of teamwork and collaboration. He created an environment where engineers from different disciplines could work together to solve complex problems. Another important lesson that Rich teaches is the importance of perseverance. The development of many of the Skunk Works' aircraft was fraught with challenges. But Rich and his team were always able to overcome these challenges and produce successful aircraft.

Skunk Works is a must-read for anyone interested in aviation history or the development of new technologies. It is also a valuable resource for entrepreneurs and business leaders who want to learn how to create a culture of innovation and success.

Closing Thoughts

Skunk Works is a great read for anyone interested in aviation, technology, military strategy, or business. It is a multidisciplinary book that knows how to write for a variety of audiences and non-technical readers. This book is great for anyone looking to gain a better understanding of historical events and geopolitics in general. The book allows us to apply the lessons it portrays to current events such as the US-China conflict, intelligence collection amid the Russia-Ukraine War, and Cross-Strait Relations.


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