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The Original Skunk Works – Nickolas Means | The Lead Developer UK 2017

Feb 27, 2020
well thanks for the introduction Marian as always it is a great privilege and a pleasure to be on this stage. I tweeted this morning that this is one of my favorite events of the year and it's because I'm with my tribe here, we all do the same thing. things day in and day out we fall down we all struggle with the same issues so it's a real privilege to be able to come back and be invited so thanks for that as Mary mentioned last year I gave a talk about a plane crash specifically this plane flight 232 that crashed outside of Sioux City Iowa and in the introduction to that talk I said that I was a student of plane crashes and that's true, I am, but it's not the whole truth.
the original skunk works nickolas means the lead developer uk 2017
I have been obsessed with aviation all along. I can remember and my obsession with aviation started when I was eight or nine years old and my parents took me to Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene Texas, there we go to see this group, the United States Air Force Thunderbirds , now if you've heard of the Blue Angels or the RAF red arro If it's the same sort of thing, they're a demo team, they fly in tight formations, they blow smoke out of their hind legs, feet crossed, away from the wings of the others and they don't hit each other, it's amazing to see it, but as amazing as that was.
the original skunk works nickolas means the lead developer uk 2017

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the original skunk works nickolas means the lead developer uk 2017...

It really wasn't what captured my imagination that day, but that I was standing face to face with this amazing machine, the SR-71 Blackbird. I don't mean it from this angle but the engines are almost as big as the fuselage and there are two of them on this plane looking at it looking at the beauty this machine represented started a lifelong obsession with aviation for me. I went back to my elementary school librarian and had her check out every book I could find in the school library on sr-71 and spent weeks devouring that information, well my career has taken a decidedly non-aeronautical path, like Mary mentioned.
the original skunk works nickolas means the lead developer uk 2017
I'm vice president of engineering. at move health and I work with an amazing team to change the way we care for total joint replacement patients, which is amazing and fun work, but I'm still fascinated by airplanes and stories from the world of aviation, Sometimes I even find wisdom in these stories about how we practice our craft and how I


my teams. The story of United 232 is definitely one of those stories for me and this story today is another in a series of amazing planes built by an even bigger organization. amazing now if you look at the tail of an sr-71 on display and i checked there is one in the uk it's the Imperial War Museum and Duxford if you look at the tail of this plane once in a while you'll see this cute little sr-71 logo


and the reason


is the sr-71 was built by lockheed martin advanced development programs division better known as skunk now the companies release the The phrase skunk


all the time, usually used to refer to a small group of cordoned off the bureaucracy from the rest of the organization to do something really disruptive in a hurry, but Lockheed Martin was the first.
the original skunk works nickolas means the lead developer uk 2017
The reason we call it skunk jobs is because of Lockheed Martin and today I want to tell you the story of some of their most iconic plane jobs and the engineers who built them and I'll tell you that story. I have to start with this guy, Clarence Kelly Johnson, without him, there would be no skunk jobs. Now kelley as he liked to be called graduated from the university of michigan in 1932 with a degree in aeronautical engineering if you think about the history of manned aviation we hadn't been flying very long in 1932 this was a program brand new at the University of Michigan at the time until we graduated in 1932 and applied for his dream job at Lockheed which at the time was a company of about 12 people and they told Kelly thanks but no thanks we really don't have the space for a junior engineer on staff at this time, so Kelly went back to the University o f mission to get his master's in aeronautical engineering now because the pioneering nature of his program also had one of the first wind tunnels in the United States and It just so happened that while Kelly was there working on her master's degree, they were under contract to Lockheed to test the Model 10 Electra plane now Kelly's professor had finished d e read


ing this investigation but Kelly helped with that the plane was really unstable, in other words, it would wobble up and down if it was in the right flying conditions, but he couldn't convince this professor of that case, for so the investigation went back to Lockheed, all was well and Shortly thereafter, Kelly graduated and reapplied for a job at Lockheed.
This time they hired him, but not as an aeronautical engineer. He was hired as a tool designer and earned 83 buc. ks a month, but he put his foot in the door of his dream organization, so we went for it. He hadn't been there long when he found an opportunity to speak with Hall Hibbert, Lockheed's chief engineer, and presented his case to Hall. Hibbard that the Electra was unstable in certain flight conditions, well, Paul Hibbert thought of firing him on the spot for insubordination. Who was this young wuss fresh out of school? Hall's plane, which was this young wuss to tell him that this plane was unstable, especially when they were betting on the future of the company, but Kelly showed him that the wind tunnel research showed him what he had seen and sure enough, Hall Hibbard saw exactly what Kelly saw. and he agreed and as penance he had Kelly go and get the scale model out of storage put it in the back of the truck and take it to the University of Michigan put it back in the wind tunnel it and find out what was wrong, so take a close look at the tail of this plane.
Here's a picture of the production run of the Model 10 Electra. Notice that he changed from a T-tail to an H-tail in the back so you can see. again, the H tail is the result of 73 Windtunnel iterations that Kelly took through Moulton. Electra became a huge commercial success for Lockheed. It was one of the iconic aircraft of early commercial aviation. The problem was after this plane. Lockheed didn't have much luck in the commercial aviation market, they couldn't find any other success and there were so many planes that came out of World War I that became passenger service that there wasn't much of a market for Lockheed to ruin.
Had it not been for the rise of WWII, Kelly Johnson designed one of the most iconic aircraft of WWII, the P-38 Lightning, if it has ever been in an aviation museum that has any WWII aircraft World, probably have one of t This is one of the most exhibited aircraft in the world. He is a great fighting dog. It was the fastest in the skies. It was one of the workhorses of the United States Air Force Arsenal during World War II. It dominated the skies of Europe in the World War. two until the appearance of this aircraft the german messerschmitt me-262 now this aircraft has the distinction of being the first jet fighter to be put into active service by any air force in the world it was the only thing in the sky that was faster that the p38 turned out the germans had invested in jet propulsion long before anyone else and had a huge head start the americans hadn't even started work on a jet engine but luckily for the americans you brits were ahead of us and you kindly offered to license our air force the goblin de Havilland h1b engine the Army Air Force had a meeting with Lockheed and asked if they would be interested in designing an aircraft around this engine the air force specifically proposed that Lockheed built a single prototype, the reason for this is because Havilland literally hand-assembled these jet engines off the assembly line. heh and they only had one engine to give and not only that but the Air Force wanted it in a hundred and eighty days well most lockheed factories at this point looked like this stuffed to the gills building p-38 lightning , so the Lockheed locky Executive Board didn't have much interest in making a single prototype aircraft and what a great investment for the company so far. as far as they were concerned, but Kelly Johnson and Hal Hibbert were very into jet propulsion, they were both eager to build a jet plane, and what's more, Kelly had been pestering his superiors at Lockheed for It was a long time for them to create an experimental aircraft division where he could take designers, manufacturers and mechanics and have them work together without having to deal with all the Lockheed bureaucracy on the theory that if he could do this, they would be able to innovate.
Go faster, so partly to make one of their chief engineers happy and partly to shut him up, Lockheed dropped this project on his lap and said here you go, Kelly, this is what you've been asking for, you've got six months to do it. . after that, the first problem Kelly had to solve was where to work, it's like I said, Mosul wok, EADS factories looked like this, so the first thing that came to mind was probably what you would do too. He went out and rented a circus. tent and set it up next to an existing factory on the grounds of the Lockheed factory set up telephones air conditioning desks everything you would need to make this a real office this 10 the building next door it set up was a plastics factory and apparently those plastics the factory smelled terrible so they had called this plane the code name xp-80 and everyone on the project was under strict orders not to talk about what they were doing they couldn't tell their spouses about it and , especially, they could not say anything.
Project-Related G When I Answered the Phone Answer Irv Culver, one of Kelly's staff engineers on the project, references a comic he was populating the day he answered the phone. he did and started answering the phone the same way and the rest is lost to history so if you've ever called the division of your company skunk


you called it that because kelly jonathan put up a tent next to a factory The contract for the XP-80 was signed on June 24, 1943 starting on the 180-day clock. The only concrete information they had was the dimensions of this engine, as I said, they were assembling it by hand and the engine was going to be ready for it at the same time as the plane, so they built a mockup and then started building a plane. around the mockup of this engine, normally instead of going directly to the plane, they would have built a plywood mockup of the entire plane first. or make sure all the parts fit together and they've done everything right, but Kelly said "you know we're in a rush here, we're only building one of these, so treat the plane like you're a model." free to fabricate it apart on site and put it on the plane not only that but it cut down on the formality of the drawing approval process normally at Lockheed as you would expect from any physical engineering company they would do a lot of documentation before set up a single rivet but Kelly said we don't need that here we're just building a plane we have a small group of people we can all communicate about this so if you can draw something that communicates the meaning of what you need to build that It's not all the documentation we need and it worked on November 13.
They finished only one hundred and forty-three days after they started. They had a complete plane. The engine turned up on the other side of the Atlantic. platform and drove it 70 miles to Muroc Air Force Base in the middle of the Mojave desert. Now why did they get it right? They didn't exactly have a lot of faith and how this experiment was going to go down and shortly after New Years. the xp80 took flight for the first time and flew like a dream the prototype you see here would actually become the first american built plane to fly over five hundred miles per hour and level the flight not only that but this plane that runs like a skunk assembled in 143 days put the thing into production built a ton of them would be the first aircraft deployed by the United States Air Force and would be in service well into the 1980s had over 40 years of life span per plane they slapped together in 143 days pretty impressive but military spending went down again after the war we can have money for new planes at that point we had spent all our money on WWII and the Pentagon thought their current arsenal was well for everything they needed to do they had no particular niches they needed to fill in their hangars but in the end this picture is Winston C hurchill on the left, Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the middle and Joseph Stalin at the end, this is part of the Alta conference, which was the post war negotiations where they essentially decided the future of the European continent and you could say there were some differences ofopinion in this group, so it wasn't long after the series of three conferences concluded that the US and the Soviet Union started increasing military spending like crazy, we had entered the Cold War and it wasn't just military spending that skyrocketed, reconnaissance activity skyrocketed as well, good reason that about 55% of the American population at the time thought they were more likely to die in thermonuclear war than in old age, fear not it was a long way from the core of the guiding principle of the Cold War. s mutually assured disgust and destruction, making sure their weapons were just as lethal to the other side so that if someone decided to attack they could strike back with equal force and to keep that very delicate balance that each The side needed to know what the other side was doing and they spent a lot of money trying to find out that the CIA was particularly desperate for information about this place kapustin yar now if you've heard of area 51 in the US He claims this is more or less the Russian analogue of area 51, it is their main missile defense or missile research and development facility, the CIA had been hitting the Air Force to fly over Kapusta and take pictures, but the Air Force felt this flyby was too much dangerous with their existing arsenal due to how much they defended it.
They directly refused to do so. Finally the CIA pushed hard enough and they used this Martin B57 Canberra plane. This plane is actually designed like a bomber and they basically went. across and they stripped this thing out as far as they could and widened it out as much as they could and they were able to lift it up to around 50,000 feet which was a really impressive feat to get a plane that high in t these days and it's what they used to the reconnaissance because they had no better answers right now, so they tried to fly this thing over Kapusta.
New thread. They got their pictures but this plane limped back to base with over 12 bullet holes in it I didn't do that again the CIA the CIA needed a different answer okay I'm going to take a breath that was great intelligence so the intelligence indicated that the Russian radar was essentially blind at about 65,000 feet, it couldn't see anything and so the CIA decided that what they needed was a plane that would logically fly 70,000 feet above the Russian radar and they solicited bids and given They had no


of reconnaissance over Russia and were in a great hurry to get hold of this aircraft so the Kelly Johnson Company proposed a rework of an existing design.
This plane, the f-104 starfighter, up to that point. This was the fastest plane ever built in the US it wasn't what they needed here they needed two planes that could go relatively slow as long as they could climb high so the plan was to get rid of all the weight so they could stretch the wings and changing the engine to something that would actually work at 70,000 feet because no one had ever built an air-breathing plane that could fly that high because their proposal was based on an existing design and because skunkworks had demonstrated its ability to build planes quickly with the p80 , they outbid other manufacturers of the plane that were building if you look closely you can see it the u2 the team began work on the project in november 1954 the project was so secret that the initial funding for the u2 was actually a paycheck $1.1 million sent to Kelly Johnson's home address made out to see Jay Engineering and C&J being the initials of Clarence Johnson, to They marred the f-104 airframe and made it thinner, they made it wafer-thin aluminum, so thin in fact that when a workman accidentally ran into this thing with his toolbox and left a four-inch-long dent in the side of the fuselage.
Now, if you collide with a normal plane, that won't happen. old dent and there were a lot of people around the skunk jobs that were really concerned that this plane was really going to be strong enough to fly sustained when it did, however eight months later in July of 1955 they created it and it they loaded into the belly of the sea 124 cargo plane this time they took it to a purpose-built airbase in the middle of the nevada desert why the nevada desert because there are a lot of dry lake beds there so plenty of places to land this something thing goes sideways this photo taken by kelly johnson himself is of the actual first flight on august 4th just a hair over eight months since the first metal was cut they hit their deadline a month after this first flight pilots us breaking altitude records almost daily in this plane by the time testing was over the plane had climbed to 70 4,500 ft and is 5,000 miles in a 10h time span Now with a single tank of gas exactly what they set out to build if I show both planes at the same time you can clearly see the family resemblance especially from the wing forward.
The big difference is that the f-104 has a wingspan of about 22ft and the u2 has a wingspan of about 80ft so there is about 60ft of extra wing on the u2 even though these two planes weigh exactly the same Right at 14,000 pounds, they took significant weight off the already lightweight F-104 to get it as high as they needed to, but despite the ability to fly three miles higher than any aircraft ever built up to that point. , you pick the weight remarkably simple was all they figured out early on each pound cost them about a foot of altitude so every design decision they made spoke to how much altitude it was going to cost them this wing weighs about four pounds per square foot typical for a jet engine of this era would be twelve pounds per square foot so it's super light weight the problem is that it's not very rigid and so if you find turbulence enters the u2 the wings of the plane literally flap like a seagull not exactly the most reassuring thing for a pilot but the wings have never drooped another way they reduced weight was the u2 was designed with bicycle landing gear tandem there's no wing gear on this now it's pretty common on a glider to see this and the reason they do it on the glider is the same reason we did it here is to reduce weight but normally you wouldn't do that on a plane jet the combined weight of that landing gear mechanism is 200 pounds from what I've read it's the lightest landing you've ever deployed in a jet plane and I can tell you how it works but it's much easier to show you, so here we are. throughout the chase car behind the u2 now the reason there is a chase car is because the pilot is in a bulky pressure suit and literally can't see the ground as they land so the chase car chase is sitting or yelling altitudes to the pilot three feet two feet one foot contact and now the pilot is literally flying the plane down the runway he is trying to keep it balanced until he gets low enough to finally lose enough airspeed once he that happens it'll gently tilt it under the wing and then this crew jumps out of a van and starts hanging off the wing of the plane trying to lift it off the ground what they're trying to do they have landing gear that fits into a gap under the right wing they're trying to install that landing gear and if you look at the way you can see how much it flexes as they do this they finally lift it off the ground and put the pogo landing gear below and then you can see it rolling with the pogo gear in place where it actually comes off in the same way as the ones where the els just fall off when it takes off and someone runs out onto the runway and picks them up , what a great trick, so every part of you, had only one purpose and that purpose was to get this payload 70,000 feet over Russia safely, this payload is currently housed at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, is a high resolution camera with a 36 inch focal length lens and can resolve objects as small as two and a half feet across from 70,000 feet now at this point this is the highest resolution camera ever built never because that's what they cared about they worked their way around the rest here's a modern variant of the u2 has bigger wings has more cargo capacity could have made the wings stiffer so it wouldn't flap n that bad but it didn't matter the pilots love to say this plane is the easiest thing in the world to fly between 60,000 feet six inches well with all the overhaul cycles they've had on this plane it would have been easy . add landing gear didn't matter the pilot landed fine they learned how to do it and have never had a landing accident right after the u2 went into service they found a problem almost the first flyby over russia the pilot looked down and noticed a mig a about 15,000 feet below on a few flights later there was a squadron of MiGs flying below trying to block the view and they fire endless missiles because there's no way the missiles we're going to get as high as the u2 was, but the CIA knew it was only a matter of time.
They knew that Russia would figure out how to match their move in the arms race and how to shoot down this plane. They found out they were between 18 months old. and two years of mission feasibility on this thing so as soon as they put it in service they put in four bids for the replacement the Air Force and the CIA needed that replacement about 22 months when they thought mission feasibility for t they two would end up they wanted a plane that would fly to a hundred thousand feet and hit Mach two and in response skunkworks had no idea if they could do this or not but they started a design study this is the first plane in the archangel design study series as we get to revision 11 it's starting to look a little more familiar you probably know where i'm going but you're wrong this isn't the sr-71 this is the lockheed a12 and the technological leap it represents this plane is almost impossible to comprehend it is designed to fly five miles higher than the u2 at ninety thousand feet around 27,000 meters it is designed to fly four times as fast at Mach 3.25 exceeding the IC specification Go for a point at five times the speed of sound now this is faster than the f-104's capability remember it could go Mach 2 in so a couple of minutes the a12 was designed to cruise at Mach three point two five to go at that speed four hours at a time the problem is that acting if those extremes meant that almost everything the skunkworks team knew about aircraft design didn't apply like i said the CIA generously gave them 22 months to figure out how to build a plane like this from scratch now typically if you wanted to build a plane that could go as high as possible you would build it out of aluminum because it has a really high strength to weight ratio it's very light but it's very strong the only problem is that aluminum loses its tensile strength around 300 degrees fahrenheit 50 celsius The a12 was expected to get 800 degrees fahrenheit on the nose around 425 celsius and on the engine covers it was expected to be 800 degrees fahrenheit e outside 1,200 Fahrenheit, that's 650 Celsius, so if you build this airplane out of aluminum when you accelerate it, it will literally start. melting and folding in on itself they figured stainless steel would have held up well to the heat and the problem is stainless steel is very heavy and there's no way they would have taken it to the opposite, they needed to source that too so Henry combs, the project's lead structural engineer, suggested they consider titanium. he knew it would hold up to the mission requirements of this plane it's as strong as stainless steel but half the weight and can withstand higher temperatures and pressures the problem was no one had worked with titanium on the full scale of the plane before anyone else Any I once built something this big with titanium.
Still, the initial reaction from Kelley's John Kelly Johnson was favorable. He said that any material that can cut our gross weight in half is very tempting, even if it drives us crazy in the process and that's what my friends portend. so Skunkworks ordered a test batch of titanium and when it turned up they realized they had no idea how to extrude it, they didn't know how to weld it. I didn't know how to rivet it and they didn't know how to drill it. The bits they used on aluminum would literally break as soon as they tried to drill through titanium.
The cytanium supplier in those days didn't have the capacity or the ability to produce the quality they needed to build a complete aircraft out of titanium, so the Skunk Works folks went to the CIA and said we'd really like to build this. cytanium plane but we weren't going to get it, you're going to have to help us find a supply chain for this and through a series of shell companies and third parties, the CIA set up a supply chain from the leading titanium exporter at the time in the Soviet Union, so the extreme operating environment of the SR-71 required adaptation in allairplane parts.
Early calculations indicated that at Mach 3, the plane would actually stretch two to three inches due to frictional heating of the air and so forth. of the systems on the plane had to withstand heat and stretch they built the control cables out of a material called L joy now L Jewell is commonly used at Watch Springs because it can be stretched and doesn't lose its ability to r They bounce after hundreds of thousands of stretching, the engine nozzles they built with a rare rare alloy called hastelloy X and the reason they use it is because it could withstand the 3400 degrees Fahrenheit around 1900 Celsius that the afterburners would produce when burned for hours on a Commercial electronics weren't working at the time due to the extreme temperatures and neither were commercial oils, hydraulic fluids, greases, you name it, they came up with a custom fuel for this plane because when you build a plane that flies Mach 3 and it gets hot, fuel gets hot too and the last thing you want is for a fuel to explode when you are flying at 90,000ft the problem was that that the fuel they found had such a low flash point that it literally could not light things up and so they use this to light it up that green flash you see there's triethyl boring Boring travel is a really nasty thing to do when you expose it to Earth's atmosphere it burns spontaneously with this bright green flame, so using a chemical that will spontaneously burn, try to get this fuel to ignite, that's how hard it is to lie, propulsion was actually the biggest challenge they faced in building this plane, I mean, nothing had ever gone that fast and certainly that fast, that high, so Kelly Johnson turned the project over to her lead propulsion engineer, a 32-year-old man named Ben Rich.
Ben had also designed propulsion at the u2, so he knew a thing or two about designing high-altitude propulsion systems for jets. They took the J58 turbofan engine that Pratt Whitney had designed for a supersonic fighter project that had been cancelled. and they started revising it to make it work on this plane pratt & whitney was willing to go to any lengths to make this engine work because they really wanted to recoup some of the investment they had made on this engine before the project was canceled and that was good because it took a lot of overhauls that they had to overhaul the compressors on the inside to work in the super thin air at ninety thousand feet and to withstand the heat produced by the afterburners, but despite the work they did on the compressor itself, the real innovation is the cone you see there now this plane is cruising about Mach 3 that cone actually moves 26 inches inside the engine nozzle and the c The massive compression that that cone produces is actually responsible for about 70 percent of the thrust this engine produces at altitude and speed. a giant ball of air at the front and compresses it through a series of fan blades into a small stream that comes out very fast out the back if you think about what happens when you put your finger on the end of a water hose, that's exactly how a jet works. the engine runs you're accelerating the material coming in the end of that opening and making it go faster and further up altitude like I said the cone contributes 70% of the thrust that the afterburners contribute the other 25% the The engine itself, the turbine that spins inside, only contributes about 5% of the thrust when this plane is at altitude and speed, and they were happy to get it there, which was really efficient for an engine operating at 9,000 feet. but as much innovation as there was in the Splane the things they chose not to solve or just as interestingly there was no fuel system sealant that could work in the full range of temperatures that this plane operated in so the engineers had to take your pick and what you see on the runway under the a12 there's no water that's fuel leaking from the plane it would sit on the runway and leak fuel because it didn't matter it didn't affect anything it just They would take off with a fuel leak and then when I got to altitude and speed the plane would heat up and stretch and everything would seal up and everything would be fine.
Another problem they faced was how to start the engines that I already talked about. t triethyl brain but that's only half the equation to start a jet engine and to make it self-sufficient you have to get it spinning first before you ignite the fuel they had to get the mass of the j58 turbofan spinning at 4500rpm . it takes a lot of power to do that on a commercial plane you would have a starter that would spin the turbine before igniting the fuel but on this plane as big as these turbines where that was an option it would cost you a ton of altitude to put a starter big enough to spin that turbine so this is the answer they came up with instead this is the AG 330 starter car better known to ground crews like Buick and the reason why they called it Buick is because actually, it's two Buick Wildcat v8 engines coupled together, they physically coupled it to the j58 turbofan kick-off shaft, they go full throttle, they spin the turbine and then they fire up the test borane and then they have an engine from cover the crews said it sounded like a stock car race in the hangar every time they started this plane but it cost nothing altitude the plane didn't produce a huge amount of lift either , so it turns out that you can't actually fuel it on the ground because it won't be able to take off, it's that close to not being able to fly at ground level, so anytime an sr-71 would take off immediately after takeoff, it would have than hit a tanker truck and get a tank. of gasoline because they just put enough fuel in the ground to get it off the ground in the tanker, that's it, I mean, it would have leaked the rest anyway, so why bother?
There are only two things that mattered in building the a12 it needed to go very fast and it needed to go very high five miles higher and four times faster than the youtube 30 april 1962 one year and 100% over budget skunkworks le gave the CIA what it wanted those first flight photos a12 leaking fuel couldn't start its own engines without crazy chemicals in a pair of v8 race car engines, but it didn't matter that the team had spent their time and money on the things that did matter: titanium construction, radical new propulsion, I beat my way around the rest because of that relentless focus, this thing was Mach three at ninety thousand feet over some of the most hostile territory in the world after building 15 of the a12 for the CIA the Air Force took over CIA airborne reconnaissance operations and the Air Force requested a two seat version of this aircraft they wanted a dedicated reconnaissance systems operator so they could sit in the back seat and operate all the spy gear and they wanted double the payload capacity so they could get more sensors up to altitude take more photos that plane is a 12 mast more famous The SR-71's little brother flew for 30 years and has the distinction of being the only U.S. military aircraft that has never been shot down despite more than 3500 sorties over hostile territory and hundreds of missiles fired at it and holds nearly every speed and altitude record in existence so for the alpha tube it flew at 85,000 69 feet which is only a hair shy of 26,000 meters we know the plane almost certainly flew higher than this this is before the program was fully declassified and it was on a known course set in advance for people who they may be interested they may be watching the flight pattern so we know it almost certainly didn't take it to the extremes of its operating environment but that's the official speed record 2190 3.2 miles per hour now that's about Mach 3 3 we know for sure which will go faster than that because Brian shul and his book-lending driver tell how they escaped a missile in Libya by crossing the border and looking down and realizing there was em bid this plane just a hair above Mach 3 5 so we know it will go f More than that but it's still a ridiculously high number let me give you some context for that speed the muzzle velocity of a caliber rifle bullet 22 is 2046 miles per hour so at cruising speed the sr-71 was literally faster than a speeding bullet.
In practical terms, the SR-71 could make the one-hour run from New York to London in 55 minutes on a good day with a tailwind. The Concorde took 2 hours and 52 minutes to make that run from Los Angeles to Washington in one hour and four. minutes, that's about a four and a half hour commercial flight, but my favorite is the easiest to understand how ridiculously fast this is in the middle of that run from los angeles to washington they tracked his speed from st. Louis to Cincinnati the Blackbird could do that in eight minutes in 32 seconds according to Google Maps if you do that in your car it's 5 hours and 16 minutes that's as fast as we go it will probably hold these records forever with the advent of satellite photography and drones we just don't need a plane that can perform at this extreme anymore well the sr-71 was Kelly Johnson's crowning achievement in 1975 Fiat Lockheed Martin's mandatory retirement age of 65 and he passed the reins. for this man, his protégé Ben Rich, the same Ben Rich who had designed the A12 powertrain at 32 years of age and Ben took over skunk jobs that are truly tumultuous. commercial aviation market this plane the l-1011 tristar was a massive flop costing the company about two billion dollars and that's 1975 dollars that's a lot of money and so rich he had to find significant new work and quickly or he was going to have to start dumping his most expensive and most experienced people, but the Cold War continued Leonid Brezhnev, the Russian prime minister for much of the Cold War would still be in power in Russia for another eight years , the USSR had invested around 300 billion rubles in developing radar and surface-to-air missiles like this battery sa v, which were far more advanced than any of the us missiles. strike capabilities to maintain the mutually assured destruction that had maintained the tender balance of the Cold War for so many years, the US needed to develop something that could pierce these defenses and that was the only thing the Department of Defense was on. willing to spend money right now, but ideas were scarce until Dennis ol Overholser, a 36-year-old radar and math expert. skunk work staff came in and threw this document under his desk now pat quad spoke this morning about the principle of hiding information and this is a fantastic example of that in this document the edge wave method had been published in the physical theory of diffraction by Cutter Yo of 7th ist's of the Moscow Institute of Radio Engineering about 10 years before he brought attention to the sleeves, the reason for this is that it had been several years before the military even got bothered translating it, they read the title on the tab which is useless However, Overholser, once he read this thick document, he got to the bottom and saw formulas on the last page that had some substance, he saw a method for calculating the cross section from both the edge and wing surface radar and thought you could use those formulas to come up with a pretty accurate number now to understand why this is so important you need know how it was normally about trying to minimize the radar signature of a plane that they would stick it upside down on a pole at radar range and shoot the radar and see what it looked like on radar now someone who knew the math and science could make some reasonable inferences about what might affect radar observability, but it was largely black magic, there wasn't a lot of science to do it, it just developed out of instinct, stealth technology had been discussed for a long time, it's the grail Boldin's take on military aviation technology, but it was always written off as too difficult and too expensive to do effectively in another side article.
Overholser was convinced that he had the formulas that would allow them to predict observability ahead of time and empirically designed for him, he convinced Bin Rich to allow him to spend some time creating software to do that. A couple of weeks later, Dennis Overholser walked into Bin Rins' office and handed him a sketch of this plane that quickly became known around the Skunkworks offices as the Hopeless Plane. diamond the reason they called it that is because they've all come forward to know there was no way in the world they were ever going to get this off the ground yet they've been rich just to see if Denisova royal sword actually figured something out about radar technology or not went ahead and made agreen line to radar range test to see what it looked like so they put it on the pole and then Rich is sitting in the booth with the radar operator and the radar operator starts the tests and asks Ben to put his go out and make sure they have finished installing the plane on the pole they can't see planes there and as ben rich has his head sticking out of the operator's cabin looking looking at this plane a crow l ands right on the nose of the plane and the operator radar says oh never mind i got it ben rich didn't have the heart to tell him he was a crow not the plane and he knew in that moment that they ran into something really big at that moment the Advanced Research Projects Agency of Defense, the same DARPA that invested in the early days of the Internet, held a design competition for stealth aircraft, five companies entered and selected two first round winners Lockheed and Northrop and gave them $1.5 million to build a 38 foot scale replica of their design and they were going to test it on the Army's most sensitive radar range in White Sands New Mexico and that's what you see in this picture the 38 foot Lockheed model is the only one the problem is that the model is so good that all they were seeing on the radar was the pole now the Air Force had always assumed that this pole was invisible because the way radar works is that the brightest is what you see or on the screen and they had never seen the pole before, but that's because they had always picked up more than one signature of the aircraft on the pole itself, and so for accurate testing, Dennis Overholser has just designed a new survey for them that the survey it cost about five hundred thousand dollars, but it was no longer visible on radar, so at this point they could faintly see the signature of the plane, hardly these are the most powerful and advanced radars in the US military. the radar signature of this plane was So they came up with a really unique way to do it.
They knew what a ball bearing looked like on radar, so they started sticking smaller and smaller ball bearings to the front of this plane. They started with a 3 inch ball bearing which is a little bit bigger than this this is a 2 inch bearing so it went 3 inches 2 inches kept going down and I kept seeing ball bearings eventually they all got away from me finally when he took down a 1/8 inch ball bearing which most of you probably won't be able to see it's smaller than a BB you finally got to see the plane and not the ball bearing plz what the radar observability of this model is a little bigger than this ball bearing I hold in my hand over sleeves.
The math worked so obviously Lockheed won the competition and the next step was to build an actual prototype to fly against a radar facility and see if it could actually do what the model did once they added things to the model. it had no engines, air intakes, landing gear and a pilot's head on the windshield, things that could be seen on radar, potentially, the Air Force wanted two prototypes in 14 months. The Air Force is always in a hurry about things and Skunkworks agreed. i'm sure just in time they had a plane ready to fly now this is a bucket of spare parts the flight control computer came out of the f-16 then the inertial navigation system from the b-52 the seat also from the f-16t The head -up display of the f-18 engines of the t2b buckeye trainer the only thing new is the skin you see on the outside the biggest thing they had to work out was aerodynamics they chose the s16 flight controller for a very specific reason and that is This is because the F-16 is actually unstable in the pitch axis of flight, so while the F-16 is flying, the flight computer is constantly calculating what it needs to do to keep the plane flying straight and level and you take that and you add it up with the inputs from the pilots to the plane and that's how you decide what went down from the control surfaces, so you're doing a lot of corrections on the subsecond scale. all three axes of flight dynamics this plane is unstable so they took the code that the f-16 used for pitch correction and used it on all three axes of flight because early test pilots nicknamed it the wobbly goblin because you didn't watch them for a while to dial it in and you would literally wobble while flying it since you didn't do the correct fixes, but true to form, they did fly it.
This is actually the only photo I've been able to find of this. thing in the air because most of the test flights were done at night they didn't want prying eyes to see this thing flying before they actually got it up and running now they had it in the air they needed to see if it could live. to the eNOS car promise and they took it to the Nevada desert and flew it against one of these the target acquisition radar of a hot missile battery this was the most advanced missile battery in the US at this point normally what would you expect to happen if this plane flew over you would you expect the missiles in the missile battery to track the plane as it flew in case you wanted to shoot it down tracking so they have blue p the rototype flew right above the missiles never got moved radar battery never saw this plane less than five years later the first f-117 stealth fighter detachment was in operation a lot of tonopah airport proving ground part of the famous area 51 complex pilots were initially skeptical to fly it because I mean, just look at it, but once I got airborne they actually found a lot of fun flying it.
It was a really responsive aircraft on the first night of Desert Storm. A total of 22 of these were flown to Baghdad and privately to the Air Force. expected to lose about 30% of them they actually didn't lose a single one of these the whole Operation Desert Storm never shot one down this whole plane is a big gimmick they need it to be invisible on radar and they got really close. Basically not caring about the laws of aerodynamics at all and just getting around the instability with the computer system, the reason this plane is only flat surfaces is because the computers in that day weren't strong enough. to calculate the radar observability of a curved surface, so instead of thinking too much, the assault on the holes is designed to point to flat surfaces and call it a day.
Kelly Johnson liked to say beautiful planes fly beautifully this plane with all its flat surfaces and the weird tail and the weird diamond shape it's certainly not beautiful in the conventional sense of the word but it didn't matter it did what it had to to do, so how the hell did they do it? All these incredible aircraft, each of which was groundbreaking. in some significant way and many others we haven't even talked about these are just the greatest hits well our story ends in the same place it began with Kelly Johnson and the p80 a feisty team of 23 designers and 105 in their Maximum point. the makers built the PA around a dummy engine in 143 days and that plane flew for 40 years not much about kelly's philosophy how skunkworks built planes changed over the years even as he passed the reins to ben rich and the The reason for this is because he codified this into what is still held in Lockheed Martin culture as the Kelly Rules.
You can look them up on the Lockheed site later if you want to read them, but I'll just share a few. of my favorites, the first is to use a small number of good people. Kelly's actual quote on this is that the number of people who have any connection to the project needs to be restricted in an almost vicious way. use a small number of good people then 25 percent compared to so called normal systems now to give some context for that quote at its peak there were 75 engineers working on the design of the a12 Boeing used over 10,000 engineers to design the triple 7 and that was with the help of CAD software Kelly and his team still draw all their diagrams by hand.
Kelly hired smart people in this organization and trusted them to do a good job. One of my favorite illustration illustrations is Peter Drucker, who tells the story of a young infantry captain. in vietnam a reporter asked this infantry captain how in the fog of war he kept command of his troops and this young infantry commander said around here i'm only responsible if these men don't know what to do when they run into an enemy in the jungle i am too far gone to tell them my job is to make sure they know that what they do depends on the situation that only they can judge this is how all of our teams operate whether we recognize it or not your team are constantly making decisions to As they assess problems and write code you can trust your team to make good decisions or you can try to stifle them with processes and micromanagement try to have a hand in every decision they make but good leaders hire people wisely and trust them so that they make good decisions on code where trust cannot be direct Good leaders must also focus on enabling r help your team make good decisions by making sure you have a good context and understand the overall goals of both your job and the business as a whole your team will make decisions your job as a leader is to make sure they have the context and information they need to make the right decisions so one of the things Kelly did so well is another folks rules A very simple draw and release system should be provided with great flexibility to make changes Sound familiar I mentioned above the light draw system that Kelly put into march for the p80 This actually became one of those rules on an ongoing basis Skunkworks never used the same Rigorous documentation practices were used at the rest of Lockheed.
He kept the process to the minimum necessary for his team to have the required context. These teams made light drawings because they didn't need anything more than they collaborated closely. Now this lightweight process wasn't in the main Lockheed plant, they produced a much higher volume of aircraft with less skilled workers, they needed the context and documentation for the job is correct, but in a small team like most of us, you don't need all that context in all that structure. Sara Mae is one of my favorite voices on this kind of thing and she had a great tweet for a while.
Back team pathology always depends on processes suitable for a smaller team or adopts processes suitable for a larger team. he said what to do the process is there to serve you not for you to serve the process and this is what Kelly understood so well there is no way all this innovation could have come from one man's brain Kelly didn't have all of that in his head no matter how smart he was but the processes he put in place allowed his teams to set the right priorities and make the right compromises when making decisions one of my favorite rules there will only be one goal to get a good plane built on time what m a good aircraft delivered the value the customer needed met key specifications and compromised on the things that weren't so essential to do it Kelly was a pragmatist every decision he made was about how to deliver the most value in the least amount of time for his client while bringing out the best in his people and thanks to the freedom and confidence he gave his teams and the clarity with which he established He set the goals for each project, they were able to deliver some of the most amazing aircraft. ever built the u2 landed on terrible landing gear because they arrived the team decided it was worth saving weight in favor of altitude its a good goals driven compromise on this plane the sr-71 is the plane fastest ever built.
It didn't even start its own engines, it sat on the runway leaking fuel because those things just didn't matter in the scope of this plane's mission. The team spent all their time trying to figure out how to build a plane out of titanium. and then make it go to Mach 3 at 90 thousand feet and I didn't care about the rest of the stuff the f-117 violates almost all the laws of aerodynamic design but they worked around that to make it invisible on radar it contradicts the conventional wisdom in almost every way possible because of the trust that has been read and the teams of Dennis Overholser Kelly and later Ben had unprecedented input into what they were building they had incredible freedom and trust from their leaders you have You have to find ways to give your team that trust and that freedom, you have to impose as many decisions and as many responsibilities on them as possible because they have the information that they are going to make better decisions than you almost always, as long as you have done your job of giving them the business. larger. context in which you need to make sure that you have clearly and consistently identified and communicate that business context the two or three most important things your team needs to work on so that your team can make good decisions and, if they doyou do, you have to remember that sometimes the good decisions turn out to be the wrong ones, so you have to build a healthy learning culture and not point fingers for this to work, you have to take the time to build and refine a process that works for you. team and give them enough context but give them a lot of freedom to do their best work and if you do these things there is no telling what you and your team will be able to do together thank you

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