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[This F-117A was painted to honor the retirement of Ben Rich. (Collection)]

The Skunkworks

[The aircraft of the Skunk Works.  Clockwise A-12/YF-12/SR-71, F-80, U-2/TR-1, F-104, F-117A, T-33. (Photo by Tony Landis)] The Skunk Works was created to design and develop the P-80 Shooting Star, America's first production jet aircraft at the end of World War Two. In the over 50 years since, the Skunk Works designed and built many revolutionary aircraft. Programs of the past include the P-80/T-33 family, YC-130 prototype, F-104 Starfighter, the U-2 family, the SR-71 family, the Have Blue demonstrators, and the F-117A. Continueing programs include supporting and udgradeing the U-2 and the F-117A. Currently the Skunk Works is responsible for prototyping of the F-22 Raptor, the Lockheed entry for the JSF Compitition-the X-35, the revolutionary SSTO X-33 demonstrator and it's folow-on "Venture Star" vehicle. In addition to these "White" or "White World" and "Gray" programs, the Skunk Works also has a number of "unacknowlegded" or "Black" programs under way currently.


"The Skunk Works is prepared to satisfy any national need requiring prototyping or specialized technology to produce a rapidly required system of limited quantity in a quick, quiet and cost-effective manner using all the strengths of the corporation."

The Name

[CAPTION: Skunk Works Patch] The "Skunk Works" name originated from cartoonist Al Capp's "L'il Abner" comic strip. The strip featured a hidden still in a secluded hollow called "the skonk works" in which smelly "Kickapoo joy juice" was produced from old shoes and dead skunks. Johnson's elite engineering group was originally housed in a rented circus tent adjacent to a smelly plastics factory. The XP-80 America's first operational jet and the first Skunk Works prodject. Due to the secrecy required for the World War Two prodject, anyone associated wuth the XP-80 was not to identify their location when answering the phone. The isolotion reminded the XP-80 chief fuselauge design engineer Irv Culler (d. 1999) of the "Skonk Works" in the comic strip.

[CAPTION: Skunk Works Patch] One day, during mid-1943, Navy officials in Washington D.C. were trying to establish a conference call connection with Lockheed's W. A. "Dick" Pulver, probably in connection with the Constitution program. The Lockheed operator mistakenly thought they wanted to speak to Irv Culver, and when his phone rang, Culver answered by stating, "Skonk Works, inside man Culver". After an awkward pause, one of the officers aske, "What?", and Culver repeated "Skonk Works". The name proved perfectly appropriate, and it stuck...but "Kelly" Johnson was not happy about it. Acording to Culver, "Kelly eventually got to like the name, but when he first heard abut the incident he told me I was fired. Of course he fired me about twice a day anyway..."

The "Skonk Works" name stuck. In the 1960's the widow of Al Capp claimed trademark enfringement and sued Lockheed and the ADP unit identifying themselves as the "skonk works". The ADP avoided the lawsuit by changing the spelling from "skonk" to "skunk". In 1973 "Skunk Works" became a copyrighted name, and the now familar skunk a trademark registered to Lockheed. The Skunk Works is now synonimous with secret research and development. Sikorskey Helicopter at once time had it's own "Skunk Works", and Boeing still has their "Phantom Works" for classified projects.

"A company within a company"

[CAPTION: The Lockeed Advanced Development Company-The Skunk Works] Officially, the "Skunk Works" was the "Advanced Development Projects" (ADP) division of Lockheed Aircraft Corporation California. Sometimes this was also abbriviated as "LADP". In 1990 the Skunk Works transitioned from being a division to an independent company under the Lockheed comglamerate, the Lockheed Advanced Development Company (LADC). In 1995 Martin Marietta merged with Lockheed to form Lockheed Martin. The Skunk Works was still it's own company and becam the "Lockheed Martin Skunk Works" (LMSW). Also at this time the term "Skunk Works" changed from being a nickname to the official name of the ADP outfit. The Skunk Works was one of three companies under the Aeronautical Systems based in Bethesda, Maryland. The other two companies were the Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems in Ft. Worth, Texas and the Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems in Marietta, Georgia.

Shermin Mullin

[Shermin Mullin with early model of YF-22 ATF aircraft. (Lockheed Martin Photo)]

Jack Gordon

[Jack Gordon. (Lockheed Martin Photo)] Jack S. Gordon became Skunk Works chief in 1993. Commenting on Gordon's 36-year career with Lockheed Martin, Micky Blackwell said, "Jack Gordon has played key roles in the development of the SR-71, D-21, F-117 and F-22 that have contributed substantially to the benefit of the corporation and the nation." Under Gordon's leadership, the Skunk Works completed its relocation from the original headquarters in Burbank, Calif., to Palmdale, and has doubled in size, while winning new opportunities such as the X-33 next generation reusable launch vehicle, the Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) and the JSF Concept Demonstrator aircraft.

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