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Skunk Works is an official alias for Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs (ADP), formerly called Lockheed Advanced Development Projects. Skunk Works is responsible for a number of famous aircraft designs, including the U-2, the SR-71 Blackbird, SPR-3 Aurora.
There are conflicting observations about the birth of Skunk Works.
Ben Rich and "Kelly" Johnson set the origin as June 1943 in Burbank, California; they relate essentially the same chronology in their autobiographies. Theirs is the official Lockheed Skunk Works story: The Air Tactical Service Command (ATSC) of the Army Air Force met with Lockheed Aircraft Corporation to express its need for a jet fighter. A rapidly growing German jet threat gave Lockheed an opportunity to develop an airframe around the most powerful jet engine that the allied forces had access to, the British Goblin. Lockheed was chosen to develop the jet because of its past interest in jet development and its previous contracts with the Air Force. One month after the ATSC and Lockheed meeting, the young engineer Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson and other associate engineers hand delivered the initial XP-80 proposal to the ATSC. Two days later the go-ahead was given to Lockheed to start development and the Skunk Works was born, with Kelly Johnson at the helm. The formal contract for the XP-80 did not arrive at Lockheed until October 16, 1943; some four months after work had already begun. This would prove to be a common practice within the Skunk Works. Many times a customer would come to the Skunk Works with a request and on a handshake the project would begin, no contracts in place, no official submittal process. Kelly Johnson and his Skunk Works team designed and built the XP-80 in only 143 days, seven less than was required.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s numerous aircraft were worked on including the U-2 and SR-71. However in the early 1970s many projects started to support the space program with the expertise of the teams helping to advance spacecraft design. By the late 70s the Pentagon was calling on them for a new spy plane that could operate both in the atmosphere and low orbit. This project lead to the development of the SPR-3, space reconnaissance plane, Aurora.