Skunk Works by Rich and Janos

August 7, 2008 at 1:51 pm Leave a comment

Skunk Works Rich and Janos

A very entertaining history of building airplanes during the cold war.  Which was actually pretty hot.  Some of the stories in the book are pretty unbelievable and take us to the brink of war and back.  It’s hard to believe how much the American public didn’t know about some of our black opps.  Even the Russians knew more in many cases.  This book is the true story behind the backplot fiction in Sterling’s Zenith Angle.

P9 Of Kelly Johnson “He was the toughest boss west of the Mississippi, or east of it too, suffered fools for less than seven seconds, and accumulated as many detractors as admirers.”

His motto was “Be quick, be quiet, be on time.”

P19 The key to the stealth breakthrough for the F-117A was a nine year old (then) recently-translated Russian technical paper “Method of Edge Waves in the Physical Theory of Diffraction – Ufimtsev”

P51 the 14 rules of the Skunk Works (cut and pasted from

1. The Skunk Works® manager must be delegated practically complete control of his program in all aspects. He should report to a division president or higher. [in the book – He should have the authority to make quick decisions regarding technical, financial, or operational matters.]

2. Strong but small project offices must be provided both by the military and industry.

3. The number of people having any connection with the project must be restricted in an almost vicious manner. Use a small number of good people. (10% to 25% compared to the so-called normal systems). [the parentheses were added above the book contents]

4. A very simple drawing and drawing release system with great flexibility for making changes must be provided. […in order to make schedule recovery in the face of failures]

5. There must be a minimum number of reports required, but important work must be recorded thoroughly.

6. There must be a monthly cost review covering not only what has been spent and committed but also projected costs to the conclusion of the program. Don’t have the books ninety days late and don’t surprise the customer with sudden overruns. 

7. The contractor must be delegated and must assume more than normal responsibility to get good vendor bids for subcontract on the project. Commercial bid procedures are very often better than military ones.

8. The inspection system as currently used by the Skunk Works®, which has been approved by both the Air Force and Navy, meets the intent of existing military requirements and should be used on new projects. Push more basic inspection responsibility back to subcontractors and vendors. Don’t duplicate so much inspection.

9. The contractor must be delegated the authority to test his final product in flight. He can and must test it in the initial stages. If he doesn’t, he rapidly loses his competency to design other vehicles. [The last line was added over the book contents]

10. The specifications applying to the hardware must be agreed to well in advance of contracting. The Skunk Works® practice of having a specification section stating clearly which important military specification items will not knowingly be complied with and reasons therefore is highly recommended. [The last line was added over the book contents]

11. Funding a program must be timely so that the contractor doesn’t have to keep running to the bank to support government projects.

12. There must be mutual trust between the military project organization and the contractor with very close cooperation and liaison on a day-to-day basis. This cuts down misunderstanding and correspondence to an absolute minimum.

13. Access by outsiders to the project and its personnel must be strictly controlled by appropriate security measures.

14. Because only a few people will be used in engineering and most other areas, ways must be provided to reward good performance by pay not based on the number of personnel supervised.

P116Other basic rules, Kelly’s “Riot act”

“There shall be only one object: to get a good airplane built on time.”

Engineers shall always work within a stone’s throw of the airplane being built”

“Any cause for delay shall be immediately reported to C.L. Johnson in writing by the person anticipating the delay”

“Special parts or materials shall be avoided whenever possible.  Parts from stock shall be used even at the expense of added weight.  Otherwise the chances of delay are too great.”

“Everything possible will be done to save time.

P203 The titanium for building the Stealth bomber was purchase from the Soviet Union. “The Russians never had an inkling of how they were actually contributing to the creating of the airplane being rushed into construction to spy on their homeland.”

P204 Cannibalization had been a house specialty at the skunk works on every warplane we had ever built before this one.  TO save costs and avoid delays, whenever possible we would use engines, avionics, and flight controls from other aircraft and cleverly modify them to fit our own.

P210 We aimed to achieve a Chevrolet’s functional reliability rather than a Mercedes’ supposed perfection.  Eighty percent efficiency would get the job done, so why strain resources and bust deadlines to achieve that extra 20 percent, which would cost as much as 50 percent more in overtime and delays and have little real impact on the overall performance of the aircraft itself?

P272 Unwritten rule number 15 “starve before doing business with the damned Navy.  They don’t know what in the hell they want and will drive you up a wall before they break either your heart or a more exposed part of your anatomy”

P283 More like Zenith angle I’ll teach you everything you need to know about running a company in one afternoon….You will never make the grade unless you are decisive: even a timely wrong decision is better than no decision…. Don’t half-heartedly wound problems – kill them dead…  That’s all there is to it.  Now you can run this goddam place.  Now go one home and pour yourself a drink.

P292 “Ben, if I teach you anything, it’s this: don’t build an airplane you don’t believe in.  Don’t prostitute yourself for bucks.”

P318 Definition of a Skunk Works: a low-overhead, advanced development operation for crash production of hot items – prototypes representing cutting edge technologies that the customer eagerly needs or wants to exploit.

P 328 wasted money – changing blueprints after LBJ misspoke the RS-71 as SR-71 cost thousands of dollars.  Blackbird passing road dust tests in Arizona when it overflew Arizona at 16 miles high.

P333 Procurement should be on a fast track basis with a minimum of meetings, supervision, reviews, and reports.  Whenever possible all parts on a new airplane should be commercially available, not specially made for military specs that are most often overkill and unnecessarily costly.

P336 Leaders are natural born; managers must be trained.  When Noah designed an ark and gathered his family and a pair of male and female animals of all species to avoid the great Flood, he demonstrated his leadership.  But when he turned to his wife and said, “Make certain that the elephants don’t see what the rabbits are doing,” he was being a farsighted, practical manager.



Entry filed under: feed my pet brain.

Instrument software words of wisdom Time Warner/RoadRunner = Tech Support from hell

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