Skunk Works excerpts
Date: Mon, 1 Apr 96 19:13:41 -0800
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: Skunk Works excerpts
Forwarded-by: Keith Bostic <email@example.com>
Forwarded-by: Mike Olson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Forwarded-by: email@example.com (Jim Frew)
I read "Skunk Works", recently out in paperback, on my last couple of
airline flights. It's a sort of professional autobiography of Ben Rich
(leader of the F-117A project), mixed with an informal history of the
Lockheed Skunk Works (the wizard's cave responsible for the U-2, SR-71,
"stealth" technology, etc.), mixed with (the best part) first person
"testimony" from former spooks and pilots. Highly recommended. A couple
of the more amusing quotes:
[Skunk Works founder] Kelly [Johnson] was now so desperate to save
weight [on the SR-71] that he upped the ante to one hundred and
fifty bucks to anyone who could save him a measly ten pounds. I
suggested we inflate the Blackbird's tires with helium and give
each pilot a preflight enema.
I remember when a new pilot flying the SR-71 for the first time
out of Beale [AFB, near Sacramento] began shouting "Mayday,
Mayday" over Salt Lake City. "My nose is coming off!" My God,
we all panicked and cranked out all the emergency vehicles. The
guy aborted, staggered back to Beale. All that really happened
was that the airplane's nose wrinkled from the heat. The skin
always did that. The crew smoothed it out using a blowtorch. It
was just like ironing a shirt.
When [President] Kennedy was shown the [U-2 photos of Cuban
missile] site constructions, he asked, "How do we know these sites
are being manned?" They showed Kennedy a picture taken from
72,000 feet, showing a worker taking a dump in an outdoor latrine.
The picture was so clear you could see that guy reading a
I flew out of Alaska in what was officially called the High
Altitude Sampling Program. That meant flying into drifting
radioactive clouds following Soviet and Chinese nuclear tests.
Up there on polar flights when the sky was clear and you could
see the curvature of the earth, you'd be able to spot the
nasty-looking iodine cloud drifting from god knows how many miles
off. And we'd fly right into it.
[Carmen] Vito had a *close* call. The ground crew had put his
poison cyanide pill in the wrong pocket. We were issued the pill
in case of capture and torture and all that good stuff, but given
the option whether to use it or not. But Carmen didn't know the
cyanide was in the right breast pocket of his coveralls when he
dropped in a fistful of lemon-flavored cough drops. The cyanide
pill was supposed to be in an inside pocket. Vito felt his throat
go dry as he approached Moscow [in a U-2] for the first time --
who could blame him? So he fished in his pocket for a cough drop
and grabbed the cyanide pill instead and popped it into his mouth.
He started to suck on it. Luckily he realized his mistake in a
split second and spit it out in horror before it could take
effect. Had he bit down he would have died instantly and crashed
right into Red Square.
© 1996 Peter Langston