Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed - Ben R. Rich

The book follows the development, construction and usage of multiple Lockheed aircraft from personal memories.

It starts with the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk. A stealth attack aircraft.


The F-117 consists of flat triangular shapes because the software back then was only able to calculate the radar cross section of a given configuration if it’s in two dimensions. That’s why the B-2 Spirit, a later stealth aircraft, has some rounded shapes due to improved software. Context: The radar return from an object is related to its edge configuration, not its size.

We learn the argument to build a stealth aircraft was mostly to invalidate the huge spending the russians had on radar infrastructure. A stealth aircraft does not care how much you spend on radars.

Other learnings include working on a ultra-classified project. Having lots of security measures where the people in charge of assuring the security care more about following the guidelines than turning out a successful project.

The chief auditor came to me during a plant visit and said, “Mr. Rich, let’s get something straight: I don’t give a damn if you turn out scrap. It’s far more important that you turn out the forms we require.”

Or dealing with competitors who want to sell other machinery to the government and generals who want to use the funds for something else. Suppliers who suddenly change their paint formula to have the paint lose its radar-absorbing potency.

Then quality assurance and the necessity for the engineers to work closely together with the pilots. One example

… carelessly leave a bolt or screw inside an engine. One loose bolt left inside could cause us to replace an entire $2.5 million jet engine. Carelessness was costing us about $250,000 annually in repairs. We solved part of the problem by designing pocketless coveralls and installing a very strict parts and tool auditing system on the assembly floor. Our people had to account for every rivet and screw.