Review: Lockheed's Skunk Works

Jay Miller. Lockheed's Skunk Works: The Official History. Updated Ed. (Leicester, UK: Aerofax—Midland, 1995) pbk., 216 pp, 9x12", illus., color & B/W photos, line drawings. Index and appendices. $29.95.

One always hesitates to say that any book is surely the definitive source on anything. Someone always feels the need to prove such assertions wrong. However, I am going out on that limb with this lavishly illustrated and extremely informative volume. Those familiar with the Aerofax series of booklets will recognize the typeface, layout, and relatively high production values. However, as a history, Miller's book is far more informative than any of these less ambitious books. He starts with the development of the first Skunk Works project, P/F-80, and takes us over such lesser-known Lockheed Advanced Development projects as the the Model 75 Saturn airliner, the XR6V Constitution transport, the T-33/F-94, the XF-90 penetration fighter, the X-7 ramjet test vehicle, the XFV-1 Pogo VTOL fighter, the turboprop Constellation, the YC-130, the F-104, and the JetStar business jet.

For most of us, however, the book's main point of interest lies in hitherto ubntouched details of the development and use of the clandestine aircraft for which the Skunk Works is so well known. The book supplies brief but fascinating details of the development of the Air Force's largely forgotten conversion of the P2V Neptune, the RB-69. These aircraft were used for signals intelligence (SIGINT) agent insertion, leaflet dropping, and support of CIA-sponsored partisans on the Chinese mainland. Supposedly untraceable, "sheep-dipped" CIA contract crews flew the airplanes, which were painted black and given Taiwanese markings. This is followed by a fascinating account of the U-2 program. Many of the mysterious U-2 variants and payloads are identified and clearly illustrated here, often for the first time in a generally available source (at least as far as this author can recollect). These include Navy carrier-equipped versions, antiship-missile launching U-2s, and ground attack U-2s carrying laser-guided bombs. Project Suntan, the CIA's stillborn, hydrogen-fueled, hypersonic reconnaissance airplane, the A-12/SR-71/YF-12A and late-1950s stealth alternatives receive comprehensive coverage. The proposed bomb bay of the SR-71 is illustrated(originally the abbreviation stood for Strike Reconnaissance rather than Strategic Reconnaissance). Miller explains why the exotice D-21/M-12 drone/mothership program (codename Senior Bowl) failed and why the only slightly more successful B-52 launched D-21B program (Tagboard) was abandoned. Brief accounts of the lightweight fighter and stealth programs (Have Blue, F-117, YF-22) round out the narative.

Miller has also provided a set of informative appendices that describe and illustrate the many configurations and projects that Lockheed Advanced Development abandoned over the years. They also provide brief biographical sketches of key Lockheed personnel and an account of the Skunk Works approach to project management. Recommended.

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© 1995 by Robert Craig Johnson. First published in Eagle Droppings, the Newsletter of the Rocky Mountain Chapter, IPMS/USA.