Origin of the name "Skunk Works"


The name originated from cartoonist Al Capp's Li'l Abner comic strip, which featured an outdoor still called the "Skonk Works" in which "Kickapoo Joy Juice" was manufactured from old shoes and dead skunks. Kelly Johnson's elite engineering group was originally housed in a rented circus tent adjacent to a smelly plastics factory. One day an aircraft designer answered the phone and said, "skonk works." The name stuck, and later became today's Skunk Works©, the "Lockheed Martin Advanced Development Program."


Skunk Works is a trademark of the Lockheed Martin Corporation

Their earliest creation was the Lockheed P-38 Lightning but the name Skunk Works didn't come about until shortly after. Kelly Johnson and his design team are responsible for:

The P-38 Lightning, A twin-engined WWII fighter that first flew on 27 January, 1939. When it finally reached the war it was the first U.S. airplane that could outclimb and outrun the Japanese Zero.

The P-80 Shooting Star, America's first operational jet fighter first flew on 8 January, 1944. Along the way in its service the United States Air Force was born and all "P" aircraft became "F" aircraft and the Shooting Star became the F-80.

The L-649 Constellation, built originally to satisfy an airline contract for a 40 passenger airliner, first flew on 9 January, 1943. The "Connie" went above and beyond the requirements by seating 81. It is rumored that the requirements of the design were set by Howard Hughes himself. Hughes was the head of TWA at the time.

The L-1049 Super Constellation was an updated model of the L-649 introduced in 1951 with more power, range, and payload.

The F-94 Starfire. It's hard to believe now that fighter aircraft used to come in two varieties. Daytime interceptors and all weather interceptors. Radar sets of the day were heavy, complex, and in many cases difficult to operate requiring a second man. The F-94 Starfire was a two seat all weather interceptor developed from the P-80 Shooting Star. The second crewmember would direct the pilot toward an attack based on his radar indications. It first flew on 16 April 1949.

The U-2, arguably the most infamous spyplane ever produced. It got that way when Francis "Gary" Powers was shot down in one over the Soviet Union on 1 May, 1960. The U-2 first flew completely by accident on 29 July, 1955 during a high speed taxi test.

The ubiquitous SR-71 Blackbird. Not enough can be said about the SR-71 Blackbird. There are several books on the subject. This remarkable aircraft is arguably the one design that advanced the field of aviation more than any other design since the Wright Brothers. Virtually everything that went into the SR-71 had to be developed from the ground up. It first flew on 26 April 1962 as the YF-12A.

The F-104 Starfighter, called the "Missile with a man in it," was designed as a very light very simple aircraft in a time when fighters were gaining weight and complexity. It first flew on 4 March, 1954. The F-104 is the first aircraft to hold both world speed and world altitude records simultaneously.

The C-130 Hercules first flew on 23 August 1954. It was designed to meet an Air Force specification. It has now been in service for almost 50 years as a valuable asset. The turboprop driven "Herky Bird" has the distinct advantage of being able to use unimproved landing areas and very short runways meaning it can get the cargo much closer to where it's needed than can its jet powered brethren the C-141, C-5, and now the C-17.

This is by all means not a complete listing of the Skunk Works development team's accomplishments. Several other experimental and operational aircraft came from the Lockheed Burbank facility (Which, sadly, no longer exists) and the Lockheed Palmdale Skunk Works complex at Air Force Plant 42. Kelly Johnson was, without a doubt, one of the most talented aircraft designers in the world. He retired from Lockheed in 1975 and passed away on December 12th 1990

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