Tag Archives: Lockheed Martin

Skunk Works Celebrates 75th Anniversary of Innovation and Secrecy

Lockheed Advanced Development Program Subverted Normal Channels On The Way to Innovation.

The Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star, the F-104 Starfighter, the U-2 spy plane, the SR-71 Blackbird and the D-21 supersonic drone, the F-117 Stealth Jet, the still secretive SR-72. No one outside of its very opaque walls knows how many projects the secretive Lockheed “Skunk Works” have developed, and how many flops they’ve had. But everyone in defense and aerospace knows the Lockheed Skunk Works broke barriers in innovation and defense acquisition that changed the world and toppled superpowers. It likely continues to do so today, behind a thick veil of secrecy.

Founded in the mid 1940s at the height of WWII when defense acquisitions needed to be fast-tracked to remain ahead of Axis adversaries, especially Germany and their secret weapons program headquartered at Peenemunde, Lockheed’s Skunk Works was tasked with developing ground-breaking aerospace technology and weapons systems.

The Skunk Works’ initial projects vaulted the U.S. into the jet age with the first operational, production jet fighter, the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star, first flown on January 8, 1944, too late to effectively influence WWII. Following the P-80 and WWII the U.S. defense industry entered an unprecedented period of innovation and breakthroughs as the Cold War with Russia escalated and China emerged as a growing part of the “Red Menace”.

The Skunk Works’ original founder of record is Kelly Johnson. Johnson, the round-faced, blunt-speaking character who seemed to have aerodynamic engineering in his genetic make-up, went on to make aviation history in more ways than can be able to accurately (and publicly) tabulated. Perhaps more so than the engineers of the early NASA space programs, Kelly Johnson made being an engineer cool. Johnson was awarded an unprecedented two Collier Trophies, an annual award presented by the U.S. National Aeronautic Association for the person who made the most significant contribution to aerospace. He was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Successor to the Skunk Works throne, colleague and later President Ben Rich, said in his book, “Skunk Works” that Kelly Johnson 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 at the Pentagon and among Air Force commanders.”

Lockheed Skunk Works founder Kelly Johnson (left) and successor Ben Rich (right). (Photos: Lockheed Martin)

While the Skunk Works is most famous for the “black projects” that went on to become famous technology breakthroughs like the U-2 spy plane, SR-71 Blackbird and the F-117 stealth fighter, what may have been the single largest innovation with the Skunk Works was their ability to, in some cases, subvert the normal convoluted and lethargic acquisition projects the Department of Defense is infamous for.

The Skunk Works developed the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter in complete secrecy for less money and in less time than it took Ford Motor Company to develop its Ford Taurus line of cars. Observers in the former Soviet Union and in the U.S. defense and intelligence community maintain the F-117 and the breakthrough in “stealth”, or low radar observability, was a significant factor in the demise of the Soviet Union since their massive defensive dependence on an integrated air defense system had been rendered largely ineffective by stealth.

The Lockheed Skunk Works revolutionized aerial combat with the introduction of effective low-observable technology or “stealth” as originally demonstrated on the top secret “Have Blue” prototype. (Photos: Lockheed Martin)

Today the Skunk Works continues as a more recognized, less shadowy organization in brand identity but not in projects. Those remain highly classified.

While no one in the public domain knows what the Skunk Works is working on now, the one thing that is certain is they are working on something. A host of projects has been discussed by the U.S. Air Force and Lockheed that include hypersonic remotely piloted and manned strike and reconnaissance platforms.

Still flying in operational use today, the Lockheed U-2 long-range, high altitude reconnaissance plane developed by the Lockheed Skunk Works. While every corner of the flight envelope is tricky to fly in the U-2, managing the landing is particularly difficult. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

In 2017 Aviation Week magazine wrote that, “One such technology demonstrator, believed to be an unmanned subscale aircraft, was observed flying into the U.S. Air Force’s Plant 42 at Palmdale, where Skunk Works is headquartered. The vehicle, which was noted landing in the early hours at an unspecified date in late July, was seen with two T-38 escorts. Lockheed Martin declined to comment directly on the sighting.”

In a rare and stunning reveal in late 2017 at the Society of Aerospace Engineers Exhibition, Lockheed’s Executive Vice President of Aeronautics, Orlando Carvalho, told media about a new “SR-72 program”: “Although I can’t go into specifics, let us just say the Skunk Works team in Palmdale, California, is doubling down on our commitment to speed.” Carvalho told Aviation Week, “Hypersonics is like stealth. It is a disruptive technology and will enable various platforms to operate at two to three times the speed of the Blackbird… Security classification guidance will only allow us to say the speed is greater than Mach 5.”

Based on their remarkable 75-year history two things we do know about the Skunk Works’ current projects are; they are certainly working on something, and, it will defy our imaginations.

The author’s collection of artifacts from the Lockheed Skunk Works. Lockheed has trademarked the name “Skunk Works” and the attendant skunk logo. (Photos: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

Here’s South Korea’s First F-35A Lightning II Stealth Aircraft During Its Maiden Flight

The first F-35 destined to the ROKAF (Republic Of Korea Air Force) has successfully completed its first flight.

On Mar. 19, 2018, the first F-35A destined to the ROKAF performed its maiden flight at Lockheed Martin Ft. Worth facility, Texas. Piloted by LM F-35 Chief Test Pilot and Test Flight Director Alan Norman, the aircraft flew as “Lightning 41”, taking off at 14.48LT and landing at 16.40LT. The photo in this post was taken by Highbrass Photography’s Clinton White during South Korea’s F-35’s first sortie (designated C01).

Known as AW-1, the aircraft is the first South Korean 5th generation combat aircraft out of 40 F-35A Conventional Take Off and Landing (CTOL) variant jets that the ROKAF with all aircraft slated for delivery by 2021.

The Republic of Korea concluded its F-X III fighter acquisition program with the signing of a Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) between the U.S. and Korean governments on Sept. 30, 2014. In December 2017, South Korea’s Defence Acquisition Program Administration established a process for procuring the 20 additional aircraft, the Joongang Ilbo newspaper reported, citing multiple government sources.

Make sure to visit Clinton White’s Flickr photostream for more cool shots (including many F-35s)!

H/T to Emiliano Guerra for the heads up.

 

Norway’s First Three F-35 Jets Have Just Landed At Orland Air Force Station

The first three 5th Generation stealth aircraft have arrived in Norway.

On Nov. 3, at about 15.57 local time, the first three F-35A jets (AM-8, AM-9 and AM-10) destined to the RNoAF (Royal Norwegian Air Force) and delivered directly to Norway have landed at Ørland Air Force Station, in central Norway.

Norway plans to procure up to 52 F-35A, at an estimated cost of about NOK 70 billion (+7.3B USD), including weapons and support, to replace its fleet of ageing F-16s, that will be replaced in 2021. The first two aircraft were delivered in 2015 followed by another two in 2016 and three more ones earlier in 2017, but these aircraft were based at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, where they are used for Norwegian and partner country pilot training.

The first three RNoAF F-35s on the ground at Orland Air Force Station, Norway. (RNoAF)

The landing of the three F-35 at their new homebase at Ørland Air Force Station marks the first direct delivery from Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth facility to Norway, where all the remaining planes will be delivered, at a rate of six new jets per year from 2018 onward.

The arrival will be officially celebrated on Nov. 10, 2017, on the day of the Royal Norwegian Air Force’s 73rd anniversary.

Top image credit: Lockheed Martin

Salva

First F-35B Assembled Internationally And Destined To The Italian Air Force Has Completed Its First Short Take Off And Vertical Landing

The first Italian F-35B has performed its first STOVL test flight.

On Oct. 30, the first Italian F-35B, the first assembled outside the US, carried out its first flight in short-take and vertical landing mode (STOVL) from Cameri airfield, home of the Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility, in northwestern Italy.

According to an official LM release, during the flight, a Lockheed Martin test pilot performed perfectly all STOVL mode operations, including hovering on the runway, reaching another milestone for the F-35 program in Italy. The test pilots will perform other tests before the official BL-1 aircraft is delivered to the Italian Air Force: this is worth of note since a previous release stated that the first Italian F-35B would be taken on charge by the Italian Navy. Indeed, Italy plans to procure 90 F-35s, 60 F-35As for the Air Force and 30 F-35Bs for both the ItAF and Italian Navy. Therefore, the Italian Air Force will operate a fleet of CTOL (Conventional Take Off and Landing) and STOVL stealth jet with the latter considered to be pivotal to operate in expeditionary scenarios: a decision that has long been debated, with some analysts considering the STOVL variant unnecessary for the ItAF given that the the F-35 CTOL features a longer range and a reduced logistic footprint than the F-35B, especially in the TDY scenarios.

The aircraft, designated BL-1, had successfully completed its maiden flight on Oct. 24.

After delivery to the Italian MoD, scheduled by the end of the year, the Air Force will transfer the aircraft to the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, early 2018, to obtain the Electromagnetic Environmental Effects certification.

Image credit: Sergio Marzorati via LM

First F-35B Assembled Outside Of The U.S. Makes First Flight In Italy

“BL-01” is the first Italian F-35B STOVL jet.

On Oct. 24, the first F-35B, the Short Take-Off Vertical Landing variant of the the F-35 Lightning II, the first assembled internationally, flew its first sortie from Cameri airfield, home of the Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility, in northwestern Italy.

The aircraft, designated BL-1, is the first F-35B assembled internationally. The aircraft should be delivered to the Italian MoD soon. Then, after a series of “confidence flights” from Cameri, an Italian pilot will fly the first F-35B jet to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, to conduct required Electromagnetic Environmental Effects certification. The next Italian F-35B aircraft is scheduled for delivery in November 2018.

Based on the previous LM releases, the aircraft should be destined to the Italian Navy. However, for the moment it was not given any specific unit markings.

The Italian F-35B was escorted by a Eurofighter Typhoon during its first flight on Oct. 24, 2017. (Image credit: Simone Bovi).

The Cameri FACO has the only F-35B production capability outside the United States. It will assemble the 60 Italian F-35As and 30 F-35Bs (for a total of 90 aircraft to be procured by the Italian Air Force and Navy), will build 29 F-35A for the Royal Netherlands Air Force and was selected in December 2014 as the European F-35 airframe Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul and Upgrade center for the entire European region.

In spite of some initial internal criticism and threatened cuts, F-35s will replace the Italian Air Force ageing Tornado and AMX attack planes and the Italian Navy AV-8B aircraft.

Image credit: Simone Bovi