"Skunk Works" is the nickname for the headquarters of advanced development programs for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company at Palmdale, California, some 80 miles (128 km) north of Los Angeles in the Antelope Valley. Established in 1943 by what was then known as the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, the Skunk Works has been the birthplace of numerous extraordinary aircraft, including the U-2 and SR-71 reconnaissance planes and the F-117A stealth fighter.
During World War II, Lockheed established the facility, under the direction of Clarence L. (Kelly) Johnson, to build the ultra-secret P-80 Shooting Star, the first jet-propelled fighter in the U.S. air fleet. The Skunk Works got its name from a nearby chemical plant, the noxious odors of which wafted toward the Lockheed facility on windy days. Technicians there referred to the plant as the "skunk works," a term taken from the comic strip L'il Abner by Al Capp, and eventually the nickname became attached to the facility itself.
Over the decades that followed, the Skunk Works produced the U-2 in the 1950s, the A-12 Oxcart and SR-71 Blackbird in the 1960s, and the F-117A Nighthawk in the 1980s. It also adapted the C-130, used for troop transport by airborne forces, for special missions. The Skunk Works even built a ship, the U.S. Navy research vessel Sea Shadow. In addition, engineers at the Skunk Works developed the CL-282 and CL-400, two craft that were never went into use. The first of these, introduced in 1958, was to be a high-altitude reconnaissance craft, but plans for it were
scrapped in favor of the U-2. The CL-400 was to be a successor to the U-2, based on Johnson's design for a hydrogen-powered supersonic craft. However, the results satisfied neither Lockheed nor the Air Force, and the project was abandoned in October 1957.
█ FURTHER READING:
Bennis, Warren G., and Patricia Ward Biederman. Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1997.
Jenkins, Dennis R. Lockheed Secret Projects: Inside the Skunk Works. St. Paul, MN: MBI Publishing, 2001.
Miller, Jay. Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works. North Branch, MN: Specialty Press, 1995.
Pace, Steve. Lockheed Skunk Works. Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International, 1992.
Rich, Ben R., and Leo Janos. Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed. Boston: Little, Brown, 1994.
Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company. < http://www.lmaeronautics.com/palmdale/ > (April 2, 2003).
F-117A Stealth Fighter
U-2 Spy Plane