Thursday, December 13, 2007

In 1943 the "Skunk Works" was born. The Lockheed Company had a contract with the Army Air Forces to develop a jet fighter built around the British DeHavilland jet engine in only 180 days. The rush was in response to reports that the Germans were flying a jet aircraft. Kelly Johnson with the approval of Lockheed President Robert E. Goss, formed a team of 23 engineers and 103 shop personnel that were mostly pirated from other projects. The team worked in a small assembly shed at the Lockheed plant in Burbank. Some reports indicate that an old circus tent was used owing to the lack of available secure space due to the need of wartime production demands.

In 143 days, 37 days less than the contracted amount, the P-80 Shooting Star made it first flight on January 8th, 1944. The Advanced Development Projects team had it's first success. The nickname "Skunk Works" came from the Al Capp comic strip "L'il Abner" where the denizens of Dogpatch would throw in skunks, old shoes and who knew what else to make that fearsome brew "Kickapoo Joy Joice". The folks at Lockheed started to refer to the building where Kelly Johnson's crew was working as "The Skunk Works" because who knew what they where building.

It was the 1950s that saw the development of one of the greatest designs of the Skunk Works. Driven by a need to conduct overflight reconnaissance of the Soviet Union in order to collect data on the Soviet military and missile work the U.S. goverment turned to Kelly Johnson and the Advanced Development Project team. In 1955 the Skunk Works rolled out the long winged U-2 (shown above). The U-2 could fly at over 70,000 ft. with a range of 4,000 miles. The U-2 was also a money saver. Johnson's team returned $2,000,000 of the $20,000,000 contract. Lockheed also built 26 of the U-2 aircraft instead of the 20 airctaft that was in the contract.

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