Found in 23 comments on Hacker News
edge17 · 2021-01-13 · Original thread
I'm just going to plug this book because it's so good and adds a lot more color to these comments -

For context, this book covers history on the development of these UFOs and was written by Ben Rich, who worked at and eventually led the Lockheed division that developed these planes. If nothing else, it's a fascinating account of many historical events from a totally different vantage point.

As much as I appreciate what you're saying, the answer to your question is

> the aircraft architect

because that's the guy who really built it. He could not have done it alone or without the help of everyone you mentioned, but let's not pretend like everyone was equally important here.

As a tangent, this is one of my favorite books detailing the creation of some of Skunkworks' projects, including the SR-71:

vvanders · 2020-04-03 · Original thread
Yeah, one of the things that struck me when reading about the development of the SR-71 and F-117[1] was how a lot of what we consider "start-up" culture has already existed in one form or another.


mercwear · 2018-08-02 · Original thread
This article mentions Clarence "Kelly" Johnson. If you don't know who he is and care to learn more about one of the best engineers that ever lived (SR-71 is his work), check out his book:

His second in command at Lockheed, a man named Ben Rich also wrote a very good book:

strictnein · 2017-11-21 · Original thread
If you like the SR-71, and are interested in other Skunk Works projects like the U-2 and F-117, the book Skunk Works is a great read (and also a great audio book).

Inconel · 2017-02-04 · Original thread
I have a copy of "Skunk Works" and it is indeed a great book. Amazon still has it for under $12[1]. And seeing as it's quite popular, most large libraries should have a copy as well.

It's great that you brought up "Sled Driver", I'm actually currently saving up to buy a copy. Brian Shul still has new copies available on his website for $250[2]. I think the copies that go for very high prices on eBay are the first editions or some of the special commemorative versions.

May I ask your opinion on the print quality of "Sled Driver"? I know Shul is a photographer, in addition to being a former SR-71 pilot, so I assume the photographic print quality is quite high. Have your read his companion book "The Untouchables"?



jayjay71 · 2017-01-12 · Original thread
A large part of why the original Skunk Works was so successful is because Kelly Johnson, and later Ben Rich, did not care about outward appearances. They had a job and they did it (and they made it profitable). Here's a great book on the subject.

jayjay71 · 2017-01-12 · Original thread
A large part of why the original Skunk Works was so successful is because Kelly Johnson, and later Ben Rich, did not care about outward appearances. They had a job and they did it (and they made it profitable). Here's a great book on the subject.

sukh · 2016-03-18 · Original thread
One of the best books I've ever read, courtesy of Hacker News.

ethbro · 2015-07-02 · Original thread
I'm reading through Skunkworks ( on a recommendation from HN, and thoroughly enjoying it.

I'd heard this before, but the actual genesis of Lockheed's Have Blue/F-117 was this: 1) Petr Ufimtsev in the 1960s develops the equations for calculating the radar energy reflected by a given geometric configuration 2) USAF notices and translates this into English 3) Denys Overholser and Bill Schroeder at Lockheed find, read, and implement it in software (which the Russians didn't have the computational power to do) 4) Lockheed is looking for a new Skunkworks project (this is post-SR 71, and Kelly Johnson was transitioning out of Skunkworks after handing things over to Ben Rich) and decides to bet on stealth ("What?! That'll never work! It's crazy!") 5) {... many, many, MANY person-hours later} 6) F-117

Side note: the reason the F-117 has geometric surfaces is that when it was being designed in the 60s and 70s there wasn't enough available computational power to calculate more complex shapes (e.g. F-22).

Spooky23 · 2015-03-21 · Original thread
Nearly everything you do with computer tech was seeded by government/large corps.

For a military contracting specific account:

dangoldin · 2015-01-18 · Original thread
Also not on the list and doesn't take place in SV but I loved it and the culture is very SV like -
pcorliss · 2014-03-14 · Original thread
I just read an interesting book about Lockheed's skunkworks program. It covers a bit of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, but mostly the post-Vietnam era.

melling · 2014-03-07 · Original thread
The world's fastest plane was built before we landed on the moon. We're spoiled in tech by Moore's Law but the difficultly in making advances in commercial and military aviation is disappointing. In the 1970's everyone probably though NY to London in 2 hours was a given by now.

Here's a great book to read about the SR-71.

incision · 2013-06-26 · Original thread
I thoroughly enjoyed Masters of Doom.

At the time, I recall a number of people who read the book bemoaning 1991 as a bygone era of opportunity, as if all the good ideas and opportunities to invent had been "used up". Interesting how different people take the same text as self-defeating vs inspiring.

Also, on the topic of inspirational books, I always have to mention Skunk Works[0], one of my all-time favorites.


excuse-me · 2012-04-18 · Original thread
There's nothing new in this - it has been done before.

Want to build a Mach3 aircraft in the days when most people thought jets were pretty clever?

Want to do it in <2years using materials that had never been used in a plane before - and do it on budget.

And repeat the success with half a a dozen other projects.

And it's described in a book that everyone in technology (or management) should read

nobody31415 · 2011-10-21 · Original thread
Twas ever thus. Ben Rich was Kelly Johnson's assistant at the original Lockheed Skunkworks (creator of the U2, SR71, etc) - he was regularly approached to leave and create skunkworks for every other aerospace company.

As soon as he talked to them they enthused about the Skunkworks setup and how their version would be better since it would be in the main plant, with it's own set of VPs to supervise it and be properly intergrated into the main business etc.

ps. Read his biography if you think any of this Silicon Valley stuff is new

icegreentea · 2010-11-22 · Original thread
The Blackbird is full of amazing stories. Skunkworks - Ben Rich's memoirs [1] is full of ridiculous stories, both of making the SR-71 as well as stories from pilots (as well as a lot of other projects).

Not every thing in there can be taken at face value (his rant against the paint locker on the Sea Shadow for example... it's really the 'toxic solvents and chemicals locker'), but still full of gold.

For example, they had into all sorts of problems wielding titanium for the first time. Chlorine would wreck all sorts of havoc on the plates they used, which they discovered when someone drew on a plate with a ball-point pen. And then they completely ripped their hair out when the municipality increased the chlorination in the water they were using to clean the plates.


chwolfe · 2010-09-21 · Original thread
I highly recommend Ben Rich's autobiography to anyone interested in the engineering and business practices behind Skunk Works:

papaf · 2010-06-19 · Original thread
For those that don't know about it, this book on skunk works is a wonderful read:

johnswamps · 2010-05-11 · Original thread
I've been reading "Skunk Works" (, which talks about the development of the SR-71 and other planes (such as the U-2 and the stealth bomber) at Lockheed's Skunk Works facility. It's a good read. I think it may have been suggested by another HNer.
zandor · 2010-04-07 · Original thread
If anyone is interested in a bit more of the history behind the aircraft (also the U-2 and the F-117), do check out Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir... by Ben Rich

It's a great read!

chadgeidel · 2009-03-17 · Original thread
Also take a look at "Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years of Lockheed" by Ben Rich (manager at Lockheed after Kelly Johnson). Despite the title, he also talks extensively about the U2 and SR-71 projects - Amazing pieces of engineering all.

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