Skunk Works

quiet supersonic concept

Skunk Works is an official alias for Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs. Skunk Works is responsible for a number of famous aircraft designs, including the U-2, the SR-71 Blackbird, the F-117 Nighthawk, and the F-22 Raptor. Its largest current project is the F-35 Lightning II, which will be used in the air forces of several countries around the world. Production is expected to last for up to four decades. The designation ‘skunk works’ is widely used in business, engineering, and technical fields to describe a group within an organization given a high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy, tasked with working on advanced or secret projects.

The term came from Al Capp’s satirical, hillbilly comic strip Li’l Abner, which was immensely popular in the 1940s and ’50s. The ‘Skonk Works’ was a dilapidated factory in the backwoods of Kentucky. According to the strip, scores of people were done in yearly by the toxic fumes of the concentrated ‘skonk oil,’ which was brewed and barreled daily for some mysterious, never specified purpose. The original Lockheed facility was located adjacent to a malodorous plastics factory. Engineer, Irving Culver, first referred to the facility as ‘Skonk Works.’ The name stuck, and at the request of the comic strip copyright holders, Lockheed changed the name of the advanced development company to ‘Skunk Works’ in the 1960s.

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