Legends of Lockheed Jan 31, 2008
SkunkWorks is the official biography of Lockheed's chief designer Ben Rich, who succeeded the legendary Kelly Johnson of U-2 and SR-71 blackbird fame.
Rich presided over the design of the stealth fighter F-117 that became famous after the first Gulf War. He tells us how the stealth fighter came into being after a chance reading of a Soviet engineer's research paper on 2-dimensional radar cross section calculations. Pyotr Ufimtsv's paper was translated 8 years after its publications when a young Lockheed engineer read and had a couple hour long discussion with Rich.
Two computer engineers then developed a program based on the paper to use it towards the design. We are also told that had the computers being powerful enough then, there would be no need for the weird shape of the plane, since 3-dimensional calculations were beyond the computer's ability. That's why every part had to be in the form of a plate with two dimensions. Remarkably, most of the other parts including engine were picked off the shelf, which is a miracle in itself.
This book is replete with witty anecdotes and clearly reflects the nostalgia that Ben has for Lockheed, and Kelly Johnson in particular.
Ben also cites the stifling limitations that the bureaucracy poses to design breakthroughs and process completion. Some of the figures about forms to be filled to ensure compliance are just unnerving, and sad.
Overall this book is a great read for those who admire the marvels of technology and would like to get a view from the top. In case of Ben and Lockheed they really have one, literally and otherwise.