This time I am reviewing an old book. And I have a feeling most of the people that read a blog like mine may have already read this book. It was printed in 1994, so the same year I graduated from high school. It’s called Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years of Lockheed by Ben R. Rich.
Wow, what an amazing story this book has to tell. It starts out talking about the F-117 stealth fighter. He covers where they got the idea of how to beat stealth (spoiler: it was from the Russians). He talks about all the problems associated with making a completely new technology that nobody has any experience with that they invented.
This is pretty much a recurring theme throughout this book. There is so many innovations made by Skunk Works that even methods of machining had to be figured out by them.
Skunk Works was this very small company compared to others in the same industry. It was full of the best and brightest people that Kelly Johnson could find that could put up with him. They worked crazy hours with unrealistic expectations and loved every minute of it. And this resulted in some of the most important, most inspirational, most innovative, most overall amazing planes in the country’s history.
Ben Rich started at Skunk Works back in the U2 spy plane days. So this book covers the company from then until the early ’90’s. It follows Ben Rich’s advancement from thermodynamicist to head of Skunk Works. The story is both inspirational and tragic. The feats the company and it’s employees pulled off were nothing short of astonishing. But since it covers a long time line, the book also introduces all the hardships involved with government work. It paints a sad picture of how equal opportunity, unions, OSHA, and general government oversight practically destroyed one of the greatest assets this country has ever possessed. It was tough for me to read through some of it because of how angry I was getting. But luckily, there was always another inspirational story just around the corner.
There is so much awesome information throughout this book I was always finding myself taking breaks from reading to tell my wife stories from the book. I doubt she found it 1/100th as interesting as I did. But it was just so good I had to share.
I picked this book up at Amazon for $11. If I paid 3 or 4x that much I would have felt I got the better side of the deal. I can’t recommend this book enough for anyone into engineering, design, airplanes, military, or just plain old innovation. I am not one to re-read books, but this one I will wear out and buy again. Yes it is that good!