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Special Report / History Aviation (9) / F-117 Nighthawk: The “Innovative Signature” Of Skunk Works®..!

F-117 Nighthawk

The F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighter…

  • The F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter, developed in total secrecy, was the first operational platform to employ what is known today as “stealth.” Its startling, unconventional shape clearly signified the arrival of a new era in fighter performance through low-observable technology.
  • Operation Desert Storm first saw the potential of an aircraft that could penetrate dense threat environments at night. Comprising 2 to 3 percent of coalition forces, the F-117 accounted for 30 to 35 percent of first-night targets and hit rates of 75 percent in Desert Storm to over 90 percent in Operation Allied Force. The F-117 also sustained the highest mission-capability rates of any deployed fighter or bomber in both conflicts, exceeding 82 percent.
  • While the USAF retired the F-117 on 22 April 2008 it continues to symbolize the innovative thinking of Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works® / F-117 Nighthawk /
*(Source of Photos: Lockheed Martin / F-117 Nighthawk / )

F-117 Nighthawk

F-117 Nighthawk: Have Blue Program…

  • The Have Blue program was conducted to demonstrate and validate that radar signatures sufficiently low to negate battlefield air defense threats could be achieved in a practical flight vehicle. Two aircraft were developed in the mid-1970s by Lockheed using IR&D funds.  The Have Blue program led to the development of the successful F-117A. / F-117 Nighthawk /

F-117 Nighthawk

Skunk Works:® The Origin Story… / F-117 Nighthawk

  • In 1943, the U.S. Army’s Air Tactical Service Command (ATSC) met with Lockheed Aircraft Corporation to express its dire need for a jet fighter to counter a rapidly growing German jet threat.
  • One month later, a young engineer by the name of Clarence “Kelly” L. Johnson and his team of young engineers hand delivered the XP-80 Shooting Star jet fighter proposal to the ATSC. Quickly the go-ahead was given for Lockheed to start development on the United States’ first jet fighter effort. It was June of 1943 and this project marked the birth of what would become the Skunk Works® with Kelly Johnson at its helm.

  • The formal contract for the XP-80 did not arrive at Lockheed until October 16, 1943; four months after work had already begun. This would prove to be a common practice within the Skunk Works. Many times a customer would come to the Skunk Works with a request, and on a handshake the project would begin, no contracts in place, no official submittal process. / F-117 Nighthawk /
  • Kelly Johnson and his team designed and built the XP-80 in only 143 days, seven less than was required.
  • What allowed Kelly to operate the Skunk Works so effectively and efficiently was his unconventional organizational approach. He broke the rules, challenging the current bureaucratic system that stifled innovation and hindered progress. His philosophy is spelled out in his “14 rules and practices.” / F-117 Nighthawk /

F-117 Nighthawk

How the Skunk Works® Got Its Name / F-117 Nighthawk

  • It was the wartime year of 1943 when Kelly Johnson brought together a hand-picked team of Lockheed Aircraft Corporation engineers and manufacturing people to rapidly and secretly complete the XP-80 project. Because the war effort was in full swing there was no space available at the Lockheed facility for Johnson’s effort. Consequently, Johnson’s organization operated out of a rented circus tent next to a manufacturing plant that produced a strong odor, which permeated the tent.

  • Each member of Johnson’s team was cautioned that design and production of the new XP-80 must be carried out in strict secrecy. No one was to discuss the project outside the small organization, and team members were even warned to be careful how they answered the phones. / F-117 Nighthawk /
  • A team engineer named Irv Culver was a fan of Al Capp’s newspaper comic strip, “Li’l Abner,” in which there was a running joke about a mysterious and malodorous place deep in the forest called the “Skonk Works.” There, a strong beverage was brewed from skunks, old shoes and other strange ingredients.
  • One day, Culver’s phone rang and he answered it by saying “Skonk Works, inside man Culver speaking.” Fellow employees quickly adopted the name for their mysterious division of Lockheed. “Skonk Works” became “Skunk Works.”
  • The once informal nickname is now the registered trademark of the company: Skunk Works®. / F-117 Nighthawk /

The Skunk Works® Today… / F-117 Nighthawk

  • Advanced Development Programs (ADP), also known as Skunk Works, has built a strong foundation of achievement in aerospace by creating breakthrough technologies and landmark aircraft that continually redefine flight.
  • ADP’s advanced technology solutions for manned and unmanned systems draw on world-class capabilities in conceptual design, systems engineering and integration, complex project management, software development and rapid prototyping. These core ADP capabilities of today tie to the foundation of the Skunk Works where the mantra, “quick, quiet and quality,” guides each and every project from concept to flight. / F-117 Nighthawk /

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