Secrets in the Sky: The Untold Story of Skunk Works (2019) Movie Script

Blitz: When you have
a super-secretive base
in the middle of the desert,
there is more
than meets the eye.
Jacobsen: These incredibly nerdy
engineers are really James Bond.
Petraeus: Skunk Works
originally started out
as a highly secret bunch
of revolutionary thinkers.
Mullin: Skunk Works
was hidden within
the Lockheed California company.
Justice: The Skunk Works created
these incredible flying machines
that fundamentally
changed history.
Trimble: Area 51 was
created for the U-2.
That was the aircraft
that discovered
the missile sites on Cuba.
That's when the Cuban
Missile Crisis started.
Gilliland Jr.:
The Blackbird is probably
the most popular airplane.
People like the fastest,
the highest,
and it helped end the Cold War.
Law: In the Gulf War,
the Nighthawk changed
combat aircraft permanently.
Justice: The Skunk Works
created airplanes
that changed world history.
These guys are really
at the nexus of
mystery, intrigue.
Secrets are built in
into the American military.
Narrator: For years,
I had to live in the shadows.
See, that's what
we did back then.
I led a top-secret organization
called the Skunk Works.
Funny name, I know.
I'll get to that later.
My men made the airplanes
that kept America safe.
I'm Kelly Johnson,
and for years,
I was more than happy
that very few knew my name.
He's a figure in American
military history
that more people should know,
but the CIA
and the United States government
did not want the public
to know his name.
People weren't supposed to know
about Kelly Johnson.
As head of Skunk Works,
I wrote near daily
in a logbook,
making a record of my thoughts,
plans, and ideas.
It was my personal journal,
hidden from the public
until now.
These mythical logbooks,
I've seen pages out of them.
They're kind of the holy grail
of aerospace historians
because here is a detailed log
of one of the iconic
aircraft designers
of the 20th century.
But I've never seen
a full round of them
because I think a lot of them
are still classified.
Narrator: The Skunk Works
is a concentration
of a few good people solving
problems far in advance
and at a fraction
of the cost of other groups
in the aircraft industry.
Almost all of what we did
was classified.
We designed our first spy plane
during a very different time
in American history, when
America was in the Cold War.
The origins of the Cold War
manifested in the late 1940s,
early 1950s.
The first big blowup
was in 1949.
The Soviets explode
their first atomic bomb.
All of a sudden,
America and the Soviets
have this nuclear capability.
This arms race ensues.
They were boasting and bragging
that they had missiles
being pumped out like sausages.
They had bombers.
And everybody is scared that,
"Oh, my God,
they've got so many bombers.
They're going to fly over
the North Pole,
and they're going to bomb
the United States
into, you know,
Never Never Land."
Lockheed Jr. And it was
simply a fact of life.
There was a possibility that
the threats and the desire
expressed for world domination
by the Soviet Union
could turn into
a nuclear conflict.
It was implicit
in all of the air drills
that we did as children
in grade school.
The American government
was desperate to find out
how strong the Soviets were,
and it was very difficult
to get information
out of the Soviet Union.
They were a closed society.
The CIA could not get
any human spies on the ground
in the Soviet Union.
I mean, it was called
the Iron Curtain
for a real reason, you know?
It was impenetrable.
Cappuccio: What Eisenhower was
impressed with was data.
"I need to see
what they're doing.
I have to see that data.
I have to..."
And it has to be of a quality
that says,
"That is a tank
and not a 2-ton truck.
That is a missile
and not a pipe."
And the President authorized
these incredibly nerdy engineers
to create this spy plane
that can fly high enough
to be out of the line of fire of
Soviet surface-to-air missiles.
Narrator: The year was 1955.
Previously, Skunk Works
had designed
two successful jet fighters
for the government,
the Shooting Star
and the Starfighter.
Planes could soar
to 50,000 feet.
We needed an airplane
that could go 70,000 feet,
out of range of them
Russian missiles.
And from that height,
we needed to capture images
as tiny as my typewriter.
That was the first
reconnaissance aircraft
built from the ground up,
capturing secrets in the sky.
We called it the U-2.
Powers Jr.
Up until the U-2,
there was no
reconnaissance aircraft.
It was a modified bomber
with a camera.
The U-2 was the first plane
to be specifically designed
to fly over foreign countries
to take pictures
to gather intelligence
for review here
by the United States.
With the U-2,
you wanted high altitude.
That was going to be
the way you survived.
Well, if you want high altitude,
then you got to
have light weight,
so you do severe things.
Like, on the U-2,
you have one main landing gear
in the middle of the fuselage
on the bottom.
You don't have two
or more landing gears.
Jacobsen: This was a plane that
had to be so incredibly light
to get up to 70,000 feet.
I mean, the skin on the aircraft
was something like
0.02 inches.
Painter: In the camera system,
they actually had
two 9-inch reels of film,
and they counter-rotated
so that the weight between the
two reels was always the same.
It was that critical
on that aircraft
to keep the weight in balance.
Narrator: Everything we did
had to be secretive,
even within our own
parent company, Lockheed.
During the 1950s,
it was one of the top airplane
manufacturers in the world.
Skunk Works was a subdivision,
yet very few within the company
knew what we were doing.
Mullin: Skunk Works was
physically in Burbank,
and it was hidden within
the Lockheed California company.
I had been with Lockheed
well over 20 years,
and I knew very little
about the Skunk Works.
Justice: The Skunk Works itself
was a secret for a long time.
When I hired in,
I was not allowed to tell people
I worked for the Skunk Works.
When I first went to Lockheed,
I didn't know a thing about it,
and everybody
that was there says,
"If you're a good engineer,
maybe you'll get to go over
to the Skunk Works some day."
As it turned out, when I did
go over to the Skunk Works,
it was a different world.
Number one, you would not talk
about your work to anybody,
including your wife.
They could fire you
if you told somebody
you worked for the Skunk Works.
Cappuccio: The second thing is,
you had to be investigated
to make sure you were an honest,
loyal, trustworthy citizen.
The fact that there was
an organized approach
by the Soviets to have spies
here was a fact of life.
There were, undoubtedly,
hostile agents that were trying
to steal the intellectual
property, as we would say today,
or understand what it is
that was being developed.
Simple things like,
"Watch the guy
on the Xerox machine.
Make sure he only replaces
the cartridge,
not put a camera in it."
Law: Russians and Chinese
had ships out in the water,
and they could tap
your phone calls,
and, you know, everything was
just getting to the point
where you
couldn't trust anybody,
so they started giving
lie-detector tests.
"Has anybody contacted you
on this?
Has anybody asked you this?"
Another thing everyone
was afraid of was a honeypot,
and the honeypot is literally
like a female paramour,
a Russian spy
who would try to seduce
a male worker at the Skunk Works
and try and then,
in pillow talk,
get this information from them.
The environment that created
the U-2, they wanted to truly
protect the fact
that the airplane
was even in development.
Kelly had money delivered
to his house,
the payments for the contract.
They set up front companies
to buy equipment,
anything they could do
to mask the fact
that an airplane
was in development.
Narrator: We needed a place
to build the U-2,
somewhere completely
off the grid,
not the kind of place
you could find on a map.
Jacobsen: They have to find
a base that is so secret
that no one will know
what they're doing,
so Kelly Johnson
and the CIA's Richard Bissell
start flying
over the American west,
and where do they wind up?
Inside the middle
of the Nevada Test Site
where the Atomic
Energy Commission
just so happens to be
setting off nuclear bombs.
I mean, I'm talking
mushroom cloud and all
outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.
It's impossible to imagine now,
but this was going on
in the 1950s,
and they think to themselves,
"No one is going to
follow us here."
So, they partition off a segment
of the Nevada Test Site
specifically for this aircraft,
and the reason it's chosen
in particular
is because it's an old,
dry lake bed,
and it's extraordinarily flat,
and that's what they need
for a sort of natural runway.
And it's called Groom Lake,
and now we know Groom Lake
to be Area 51.
Petraeus: Well, Area 51,
of course, in the 1950s,
this is so isolated.
A lot of activity could be
conducted there
without folks seeing it.
Narrator: Base location has
been decided as Site II,
for which the government
will accept my proposed name
of "Paradise Ranch."
Justice: The Paradise Ranch name
was given to it
to try to make it sound better.
There is just nothing there,
and in the days of the U-2,
it's a few trailers
that are set up,
so you can imagine
there wasn't really a lot of
air-conditioning or anything.
This is rough
working conditions.
Jacobsen: One of the lead
physicists out there told me
one of his most acute memories
was looking across the way
and being like, "What is that?"
and realizing that it was
a coyote chasing a rabbit,
but they were both walking.
Painter: One of the little
not-so-good features was
Yucca Flats was still detonating
nuclear weapons,
so every once in a while,
everybody had to get
out of town,
and they'd have to wait
two or three weeks,
and they'd go back in
with the Geiger counters
and make sure it was safe,
and they'd go back to work.
Jacobsen: You can imagine
how glamorous it must seem,
but if you go back
in time to 1955,
the reality of the situation
was that it was a bunch
of engineers,
test pilots, and CIA officers.
It was an extremely tiny project
in terms of need to know.
There was the President,
and there was only 200 people
working out at Area 51
to get this U-2 aloft.
And then, back in the old days,
we flew up there from Burbank,
and the first time you went up
to the test site,
you had to sit
in a part of the airplane
with the windows blocked
so that you couldn't see
where you were going,
but once you got up there
and filled out your paperwork
to get the badge
that you had to have
when you were on the site,
then you could sit
in any part of the airplane
where there was a window.
It was fun.
I hate to say this, but we got
to fly over the craters
that were in the ground
up in north of Las Vegas
where they were doing
all the atomic tests.
You could see these big cavities
and things.
The U-2 was pushing
the boundaries
of what we knew how to do,
but this was
absolutely critical.
This was at a time where --
And we knew the Soviets
were working
on these nuclear weapons.
There was even reports
that they had
a nuclear-powered bomber,
but we didn't have
any way to verify.
We didn't have satellites then.
We worked night and day
perfecting the U-2 at Area 51.
Sleep -- that was just something
we all dreamt about.
Airplane essentially completed.
Terrifically long hours.
Everybody almost dead.
We did everything we could
to keep the U-2 top-secret,
but there were times
civilians spotted
the plane soaring in the sky.
Luckily, the reports
coming in were sightings
of unidentified flying objects.
Man: I'm getting some reports
from the tower, radio tower,
and several radar sites
about the UFO.
During the testing of the U-2,
people saw these "UFOs,"
and 50% of all sightings
in the '50s and '60s
were because
of Skunk Works aircraft.
The CIA had a whole bureau
to deal with U-2/UFO sightings
because it was such a common
thing to have happen
whereby someone would see
something up in the sky
that was completely
I mean, the U-2 --
the wings are so long in it,
it almost looks like
a flying cross,
and people just
couldn't comprehend
what could fly up that high.
You know, imagine that you're
a commercial airliner pilot
and you're up at about
38,000 or 40,000 feet.
You're pretty high.
You know that military jets
go to about 50,000 feet.
And then you see
something way above you.
It is way above 50,000 feet.
So now you see this
very light-colored thing
at twice your altitude.
What conclusion are you
going to draw?
After one year's investigation,
I believe that the flying
saucers seen by veteran airline
and Air Force pilots
are objects from another planet.
Narrator: At Area 51,
we did have creatures
that seemed more than human,
but they weren't space men.
They were our test pilots.
These men were a different
breed of beings,
and testing our machines
was a test of their own mettle.
If you go back and you say,
when these airplanes
were designed
and you look at the tool sets
to design them,
most of them were done
with simple slide rules,
so there was a fair
amount of uncertainty.
Justice: And we're talking,
you know, the mid-1950s here.
You know, I mean, the technology
was still very crude.
Flying at that altitude, you're
above most of the atmosphere.
The air is extremely thin,
and getting a jet engine
to run up there
is very difficult.
Keeping the pilot alive
is very difficult.
Trimble: The aircraft is flying
at 70,000 feet.
Once you get above
63,000, 64,000 feet,
if your body was exposed
to the air pressure
at that altitude,
the blood inside your body
would begin to boil.
The human body is not
designed to be exposed
to air pressure that low,
so you have to wear
a pressurized space suit
just to survive.
Jacobsen: It took three
flight surgeons to help you
into the suit to make sure
there were no rips,
that the zipper went up
the right way,
and then you sat
and you re-breathed
pure oxygen for two hours.
Man: High flights without free
breathing would result
in nitrogen bubbles
forming in the blood,
the painful and often fatal
bends encountered
by deep-sea divers.
Jacobsen: What these pilots
had to go through
before they even
got into the plane,
it's just extraordinary
to think about.
That's American history.
Petraeus: They're right
on the edge of what their
physical capacity is
and, of course,
what their aircraft's
capacity is.
This is a very rare breed
and a very special
group of Americans.
Painter: You're essentially
flying in what some pilots
refer to as coffin's corner.
You have about
10 knots of air speed
from stall to going Mach 1,
so at either end,
the plane is non-flyable.
Doing a high rate of bank turn
at that altitude,
you can't do that, either,
because the wingspan is so long.
The inside wing is stalling, and
the outside wing is going Mach.
So the pilots who flew
these airplanes
had to be
extremely gifted pilots.
Powers Jr.:
You had to have the aptitude
to fly this type of a mission
and to keep quiet about it.
Pilots were breaking the
high-altitude record every day,
yet they couldn't
tell anybody about it.
Gilliland Jr.: Why does a guy
like that get into a plane
that's never been flown before,
with the possibility of death?
Not everybody
goes to work each day
with a high possibility of being
killed at the end of the day.
I think most of us aren't
quite that emotional about it.
Crashes can be useful
in sort of a perverse way,
in that, "Hey, we just found
out something that's wrong."
Oh, boy, there have been
so many of the guys
that I know that have died.
Hell, I just can't even...
It's hard to talk about
those people that have died.
We did the best we could,
and something
that we couldn't possibly
take into account happened.
And the reason we concentrate
on it so much
is because these people's lives
and their family's lives
are on the line in our hands.
Kelly was beyond devastated.
He would cry.
I mean, these guys
are your friends.
Narrator: Whenever one
of our planes went down,
I'd get a bad stomach ulcer.
If you go into Kelly's logs,
you can tell that he took
his responsibility
very, very hard.
He suffered from stress.
Just a few months before
they delivered the U-2,
he had a complete
physical breakdown
that almost killed him.
Narrator: I just want to help
the U.S., my people, and others.
The sacrifices of these
test pilots can't be in vain.
And they weren't.
Within the first year
of operation, it dispelled
the missile gap
and the bomber gap.
Because of the U-2 flights
and the photographic
reconnaissance imagery
they brought home,
America was able to prove
and show internally
that the Soviets were boasting
about the missiles they had.
They were not as far advanced
as we thought they were
or as they were bragging about.
Narrator: We thought the Red's
radar couldn't detect us,
but we were wrong.
Justice: The very first
overflight of the Soviet Union
was tracked on its full length,
and that surprised the CIA
and it surprised
the American government.
That was a bad thing.
It meant that the Soviet radars
were way better
than we thought they were.
Brown: They could pick the U-2
up, and they couldn't reach it,
and it became obvious almost
as soon as the U-2 was designed
that it was going to become
obsolete as soon as the Soviets
had adequate
surface-to-air weapons.
In 1955, the Soviets only had
one type of a missile, SA1,
Surface-to-Air Missile 1.
It could reach an altitude
of 60,000 feet,
but U-2s were flying
at 70,000 feet,
so for four years,
they were out of harm's way.
May 1st of 1960, my father is
briefed that, upon this mission,
there are certain targets
he should overfly,
that they're trying
to get information.
One of the targets,
over Sverdlovsk,
was to film an SA2 base, a new,
improved missile base
that a previous mission
had uncovered.
The goal of this
particular flight May 1st
was to find out if
the Soviets were getting ready
to put operational the missile
base they had discovered.
And my father
found out firsthand
that it was operational.
Reporter: A United States
Air Force plane shot down
on Russian soil,
reportedly an ultra-secret
reconnaissance craft.
As the Soviet launches
its most belligerent
anti-American propaganda barrage
in recent years.
Jacobsen: And it all went back
to these engineers, you know,
with the pencils
in their pocket.
The Skunk Works are really
at the nexus of history.
At issue was nuclear war.
[ Rumbling ]
Narrator: We lost airplane
flown by Francis G. Powers.
There was an immediate
Russian reaction,
and they claimed they shot
down the airplane by missile.
The political implications of
the flight were extremely major.
Justice: The aftermath of
Powers being shot down
was really interesting
because he didn't report in
or land when he was supposed to,
so now you have
the U.S. decision-makers
wondering what happened.
They picked up some
of the radio reports
that maybe something
had happened to him,
but they didn't have
so now you had this silence
as each other waited
to see what the other one
was going to do.
The Soviets were playing a game.
They were trying
to trap the Americans,
so they intentionally released
this fake photo
to see what
the Americans would do.
This photograph showed a pile
of wreckage, plane wreckage,
in a field with kids
and farmers around it.
Kelly Johnson takes one look
at this photo and says,
"The rivets are not lined up
correctly for a U-2,"
and that, "The fuel intake and
the jet intake isn't correct.
That's not my plane."
Narrator: So I was given the job
of insulting them to the point
where they would show us
what they had,
because we did not know whether
Powers had just defected.
Painter: So, Kelly was brought
in and made some public comments
about what was
being shown on TV,
saying, "That's no U-2.
Soviets are lying."
Powers Jr.:
As a result, all of a sudden,
maybe they didn't shoot it down.
Maybe there's no plane wreckage.
Maybe the pilot died.
They have no evidence.
Release the cover stories.
Then the U.S. announced,
"Well, we lost tck
of a weather plane.
It may have wandered into
Soviet airspace."
And the Soviets go, "Got you."
Powers Jr.: Premier Khrushchev
comes up and says,
"Ah, we do have the pilot.
Here he is.
Ah, we do have the wreckage.
Here it is."
The trial, guy gets stuck
in a Russian prison,
sentenced to 10 years
The first three months
of his captivity
was solitary confinement.
And then he was interrogated --
bright lights,
long days of questioning,
Mutt-and-Jeff type of scenario.
One KGB guy would come in,
rough and gruff,
yelling and screaming,
"You tell us everything,
or we'll shoot you tomorrow."
The next guy would come in,
"Mr. Powers, you help us,
we can help you."
Trying to get information
out of him
by any means necessary,
short of physical abuse.
He would reveal certain things
that he knew
they could find out
in the press.
He'd keep other things secret
that he knew
that they could have
no ways of finding out.
Gilliland Jr.:
Francis Gary Powers was held
for quite a while,
and then eventually, you know,
there was the story
with the "Bridge of Spies,"
you know,
the movie that was done.
Powers Jr.:
February 10, 1962,
you have two spies
on each side of this bridge --
Rudolf Abel on the west side,
my father on the east side.
They are positively ID'd.
They walk home to
their respective freedoms.
My father returns home
to an American public
that doesn't really know
what to make of this ordeal.
There have been misinformation
and rumors in the papers
that he had defected,
that he had landed
the plane intact,
that he had spilled his guts
and told the Soviets
everything he knew
or that he hadn't followed
orders and committed suicide.
Dad is not able to go back
into the Air Force at the time.
He's the known spy.
If they employ him, they will be
accused of employing spies.
In the meantime, Kelly Johnson
offered my dad a job
as a Lockheed test pilot,
flying U-2s.
One of the attributes of Kelly,
while he was a tough guy,
he had a soft spot,
and he always wanted
to take care of his pilots,
and when Francis Gary Powers
came back,
Kelly couldn't stand to see
that guy on the street.
This was a national hero,
even though he wasn't being
treated like one,
so, yeah, Kelly gave him a job.
Narrator: I felt for Powers.
He and I were both now
known to the public.
After the U-2 incident,
everything changed.
It was suggested to me
by security people
that I not go to work
by the same route.
I've been told to avoid certain
traffic intersections
and watch out for big trucks.
I slept with
an automatic pistol close by.
There were concerns,
and the CIA told him
that he needed
to take precautions,
because somebody like him
was somebody who an adversary
might want to kidnap or do
something about to prevent him
from embarrassing them
with new technology again.
It does sound paranoid,
but it wasn't crazy.
The idea behind it is that
they would, like, get them
and torture them and say,
"Tell us how you built the U-2,"
but that was a very real threat
because, as far as we know,
the Soviets never got
a spy plane
over the United States.
Narrator: The U-2 is still busy,
now over Cuba.
This aircraft took the pictures
that were the basis
for our move on Cuba.
The images showed
Soviet missiles just 90 miles
from U.S. soil.
That was the aircraft that
discovered the missile sites
on Cuba that weren't
supposed to be there.
That's when the Cuban
Missile Crisis started.
I have directed the continued
and increased close surveillance
of Cuba and its
military buildup.
A U-2 was shot down over Cuba.
They had 11 radar and missile
sites turned on against him
and repeated their success
with Powers,
except, this time,
Major Rudolf Anderson
was killed.
It is apparent that the U-bird
has just about
reached the end of
its reconnaissance capability.
We knew we needed
a new kind of airplane,
one that was near impossible
to shoot down,
a plane unlike anything man
had ever seen before,
something so fast the human eye
could barely see it in the sky.
yearsbefore the U-2 was shot down,
that we ought to be working on
something that would go higher,
go faster, go further.
We'd be starting from scratch,
just like the Wright brothers.
Powers Jr.: Kelly Johnson and
the Skunk Works team realized
they had to develop
some type of an airplane
that could fly higher and faster
than the U-2
in order
to avoid Soviet missiles.
We have to design
something better.
Jacobsen: It was impossible
to think about,
but Kelly Johnson said,
"We did it with the U-2.
We can do it."
Carpenter: We needed an airplane
that flies not at 70,000 feet
but at 85,000 feet and above.
Instead of an airplane
that flies at 450 miles an hour,
we needed an airplane that flies
at 2,100 miles an hour --
Mach 3-plus.
Mach is a designation for
capturing the speed of airplane
relative to the speed of sound.
Mach 1 is the speed of sound.
Mach 3 means that you're
covering 1 mile
every second and a half.
Mach 3.2, the airplane goes
faster than a .30-06 bullet.
You cannot turn the airplane
in the state of Ohio
it goes so fast.
What made it so special
and so difficult
was that there were
so many things in it
that had never been done before.
You know, for example,
that's the first time
we ever built anything
large out of titanium.
The decision to use titanium
is traceable to
the environment
in which it flew.
When you're traveling
2,000 miles per hour,
the friction of the air
rubbing over the airplane
heats up the airframe
to about 550 degrees Fahrenheit,
which is about as hot
as your oven can get at home.
You could almost immediately
rule out aluminum,
because aluminum above about
370 degrees loses its strength.
So he was driven to titanium
because it's strong as steel
and half the weight of steel,
but we really hadn't used
much of titanium.
Narrator: To get the titanium,
we went to an unlikely source --
our enemy.
Carpenter: We don't have
a titanium source
in the United States,
so the CIA eventually set up
a frontal company in Europe,
and the Russians sold us
all the titanium.
They never knew
who they sold it to.
So you had the CIA buying
the materials
that they needed
for this aircraft
so it could fly over the
Soviet Union and spy on them.
It was an incredibly
ambitious aircraft to design.
The other issue is that jet
engines are really, really good,
even up to Mach 2, Mach 2.5,
but once they go beyond that
speed, it gets very tricky.
Westwick: For a Mach-3 flight,
you have funnel just
an amazing quantity of air
through these jet engines.
The quantity of air is like
as much water
as flows over Niagara Falls.
That's the volume of air
that you're funneling through.
The problem is, when you're
funneling that volume of air in,
you get these shock waves
in the air that prevent the air
from actually
reaching the jet engines,
so the engine stalls,
and the airplane crashes.
Narrator: We needed a special
engineer to solve
the air-flow problem
on our new plane.
His name -- Ben Rich.
Westwick: Ben Rich helped
solve that problem
by designing this cone
in the middle of the jet engine
that moves in and out depending
on how fast you're flying,
and that allows the aircraft
to control shock waves,
one of Ben Rich's early
signature achievements.
You're not talking about
a computer that, you know,
you can just put
a couple lines of code in
to operate the intake.
You know, you're talking
mechanical hydraulic systems
that was very difficult
to operate,
and it was Ben's job to fix it,
and he did.
And he solved that problem
without computer
and without digital,
all analog, which is a --
And that made him famous.
Gilliland Jr.:
I remember walking around,
and I'd see
these big 500-gallon drums,
and they'd catch
the leaking fuel.
The airplane actually expands
because of the heat soak.
They couldn't get a sealant
that would really work tight,
so what happens is,
the plane leaks on the ground,
a lot of fuel,
but once it gets up
to speed at altitude,
the airplane tightens up,
and it's tight as a drum.
Middle of July in 1961,
the airplane was
being assembled,
and from that time, not a very
long period of time from July
to the next February,
a whole airplane was built.
Took them on a truck,
took them up to the test site.
Narrator: At the time, the
Soviets had a new ally, in Cuba.
It seemed at any moment,
we could be on the brink
of nuclear war.
We needed to test
our new recon plane,
and we went back to the place
where we had
our greatest success --
Area 51.
Out a Groom Lake, Area 51,
they worked on doing testing,
which essentially turned that
from a temporary area
into a permanent facility.
That's when they realized
they needed hard,
fast buildings.
Narrator: In testing,
while flying Mach 3.2,
we found we could reduce
the internal temperature
by painting the plane black,
hence the name Blackbird.
There was a great deal of risk
involved for everyone.
We had to make sure the pilots
didn't cook in the cockpit.
Law: The environment
that they were in,
the minimum surface temperature
around the cockpit
was 550 degrees, and some parts
of the cockpit windshield
were up at 640 degrees
Cappuccio: The test pilots knew
the risk they were taking
because of the nuances
with propulsion ramping.
There was always a 5%, 6% chance
you'll get a shock wave
that goes around
the entire vehicle.
And we had one, and it snapped
the vehicle in hal
It literally broke
the vehicle in half.
We lost the pilot.
So Kelly -- he was very nervous
in the beginning.
"Did I get
the calculations right?
Did I use the right
safety factors?"
Petraeus: These are individuals
who voluntarily went into
that world
understanding the risk,
just constantly
pushing the envelope,
knowing the importance
of the tasks
in which they were engaged.
The day of the mission,
you came in about 2 1/2 hours
before the flight.
You had to have a physical
before every flight
that you had to pass.
At that point, they fed you
high-protein food
to give you the energy through
the flight -- steak and eggs.
About an hour 15 prior,
you donned your space suit.
They then took you out
to the airplane.
They gave you time to taxi
out to the runway.
Your greatest sense of speed
is on takeoff.
You release the brakes.
You light those two
powerful afterburners.
Within 20 seconds,
you're going to go 4,500 feet
and lift off
doing 240 miles an hour.
You'll climb through 20,000 feet
less than 2 minutes
from the time
you release the brakes.
Now, once you got up there,
typically around 78,000 feet,
you can see the curvature
of the Earth.
The sky above you
is absolutely black,
because 97% of the atmosphere
is below you.
At night, the sky
is absolutely spectacular.
90% of the stars you can see up
there we can't see on the earth
because the atmosphere
filters them out.
It's very quiet.
You're in an airplane
that's traveling
at three times
the speed of sound,
so most of the sound
is behind you.
You see the Earth
from a different perspective.
Those were 11-hour-and-20-minute
missions, some of them,
so it's like
the long-distance runner.
You're not necessarily
sprinting, but you've got to
keep your energy up,
so you watched your diet.
I remember once on a mission,
the night before,
I'd had a seafood dinner.
And I had an explosive
diarrhea attack,
one of those really interesting
moments in your life.
We had a discussion,
and we kind of said,
"Well, you know, if you don't
change a baby's diapers,
what's the worst thing
that can happen?
Maybe they'll get a rash."
So I told my back-seater --
I said,
"I think we can press on."
I said, "The last thing I want
is a message
sent to the president,
'The pilot pooped in his suit,
so they had to return back.'"
I can't remember
if I got a rash,
but they had to tear out
the liner when we got back,
and I gave our suit-maintenance
people a case of beer
for having to
reconstitute my suit.
[ Chuckles ]
Narrator: The Blackbird made
my men go beyond their limits --
the men who flew
and those who made it possible
to fly, our engineers.
To me, some of the most
remarkable thing of it
is that it was all done
using logarithms
and trig tables
and Friden calculators.
Jacobsen: It's just
so remarkable to think about.
You know, they were
just looking at physics.
They were looking
at basic foundations
of how science works.
They simply used their minds,
their imaginations,
and their willingness
to engineer a system.
They didn't have computers.
How could you possibly come up
with such advanced technology?
So a lot of people came to
believe that the Skunk Works
were actually
some kind of alien technology
Kelly Johnson
brought to Area 51.
e Air Force
in December of 1953.
He had gone home to his ranch
in California, and he looked out
and saw something
he couldn't quite understand.
This was something that was
moving at a very high rate
of speed away from him,
and he drew a little sketch
of what the aircraft
looked like.
Narrator: I have definitely
believed in the possibility
that flying saucers exist.
This is in spite of
a good deal of kidding
from my technical associates.
I am now more firmly
convinced than ever.
Jacobsen: Because of this
extraordinary circumstance,
whatever it may have been,
a lot of people came to believe
that the Skunk Works
were actually
some kind of alien technology
Kelly Johnson
brought to Area 51.
There were some people --
they had come up with this idea
of all these weird things
that had supposedly happened
at the test site
to do with the Blackbirds.
Because how could you
possibly come up with such
advanced technology?
They didn't have computers.
Cappuccio: What about
the conspiracy theories
that the Blackbird was based
on alien technology?
They like to believe it
because they can't envision
a class of people
that can think out of the box.
There was no magic. It didn't
come from anything else.
It just came from somebody
having a dream.
If you look at Kelly's design
book, it's about 20 pages.
I was very, very interested
in understanding
how he managed to envision
something so unique
from the technology
that existed at the time.
I didn't get the magic
until there was one chart
that had a propulsion
curve in it,
and he said, "You know,
I think I can get 20% higher."
And it finally dawned on me --
if you go 20% higher
on every part of the design --
It's easier to go from
1.5 Mach number,
which we knew how to do,
to 3,
and that was how genius works.
Narrator: All it really is,
is the application
of common sense to some
pretty tough problems.
The mental challenge
is entertainment for me.
It's always been, even back
to my first day at Lockheed.
He gets the job at Lockheed as
a tooling engineer, by the way.
He wasn't hired to be
an aerodynamicist.
He was hired to design the tools
to build the airplane.
But he goes to the chief
engineer, Hall Hibbard,
at the time, his first day
on the job and says,
"Your design
for the Model 10 Electra,"
which was the newest plane
that Lockheed is developing,
"is unsafe and unstable,
and you can't
build it that way."
This was a passenger aircraft,
and you don't want that
kind of airplane to be unsafe.
It was all he could do to keep
from firing the kid on the spot.
"Who are you? You know,
where'd you come from?"
But they bring Kelly
in the next day and says,
"Okay, why is it
not going to fly?"
And Kelly is able to answer
every one of his questions
to the satisfaction that Hall
gives this college graduate
the model for the aircraft
and says, "Fix the airplane."
And that's what he did.
Westwick: He said,
"I think the way to solve it --
instead of having one tail,
have two."
And they tested it,
and, sure enough,
the twin-tail solution
solved the problem
and turned out to be
a kind of hallmark
of a lot of that
generation of planes.
Trimble: You don't see too many
split-tail designs until 1933,
and then you see it
with the Model 10,
and then, suddenly, everybody
has got a split-tail design.
It gets copied
by almost everybody,
but, essentially,
he saved the company,
you know,
with that idea in 1933,
because if they had
come out with the airplane
that they had designed
it would have been too unsafe,
and airlines
just wouldn't buy it.
I quickly got promoted,
eventually becoming
chief research engineer.
Over the next decade, I worked
with the likes of Howard Hughes
and Amelia Earhart.
It was in 1943 that I set up
a secret division
within the Lockheed corporation
to build the P-80
during World War II.
Officially, we were called
Advanced Development Research,
but the boys came up
with "Skunk Works"
because we were hidden
next to a plastics factory,
and the fumes
drifting over stunk.
Everyone at Skunk Works
understood our mission.
We had our own set of rules,
my rules.
If there was a Steve Jobs
of the aerospace industry,
it was definitely Kelly Johnson.
And what Kelly did
in his approach
was to simplify everything
and, above all,
keep the momentum going.
The way he put it was,
"I'd rather make
a wrong decision
that keeps things
moving forward
than to stop everything
for several weeks
to make sure that we're
making the right decision."
Narrator: Three times,
I was offered company president
at Lockheed
and three times declined it.
To me, there was no better job
at the corporation
than head of Skunk Works.
We were about
getting things done,
but not everyone
appreciated our methods.
The Skunk Works
did have its enemies.
People didn't like the way
the Skunk Works did things,
believed that they cut corners,
that they were not living
by all the rules and everything.
You know, it was, like,
on the fly, "Go, go, go.
We don't have time
for bureaucracy."
And this became a problem
later in the '60s,
when that was threatening
to the machine
that was the Pentagon,
and, surely, someone like
Secretary of Defense
Robert McNamara,
who loved to control things like
the businessman that he was --
And you could see
Robert McNamara making a move
to take out Kelly Johnson
and the Skunk Works.
Narrator: The Blackbird was
the fastest jet-powered,
manned aircraft ever made,
with speed records
that were never broken.
It was also known as the SR-71.
The "SR" stood for
strategic reconnaissance.
The SR has an unequaled
for accomplishing
what it was set out for.
Carpenter: During
the Arab-Israeli War of 1973,
95% of the imagery
that our president used
to render decisions
came from the SR-71.
And the photography
was spectacular.
When you take a normal
sheet of paper
and you're holding it out
in the parking lot
and I fly over at 85,000 feet,
doing 35 miles a minute,
I will take your picture,
and I will see you standing
beside your car
holding this sheet of paper.
And most of the time,
I could tell you
what kind of a car
you were driving.
But that's the quality
of the imagery we brought back
for the leadership
here in this country.
Six presidents used us
because they knew
they could send us out,
and we'd come back.
Powers Jr.:
I've heard stories from pilots
where they'd be flying missions
during Vietnam,
and they would see
the missiles come up,
and they would see them
fall back down,
because the SR
was going so fast,
the missiles could not
keep up with them.
Gilliland Jr.:
There have been over 5,000
surface-to-air missiles
that have been fired
at the SR-71
by hostile countries.
Not one of them
ever hit an SR-71.
As Dad used to say,
"It helped end
the Cold War with Russia,
because they spent, you know,
a lot of money
shooting surface-to-air missiles
and never getting a hit,
so it helped Russia
go bankrupt a little faster."
With the success of the SR-71,
I wanted to build a new version
of the Blackbird,
more than just a recon plane,
something far greater.
Once they finished
building the SR-71s,
if you go into Kelly's logs,
you can tell that the one
that he wanted to build the most
was a fighter-interceptor
Called the YF-12A,
and it was a missile shooter.
It was being proposed
as an interceptor.
Trimble: There was a lot of fear
about what would happen
if the Soviets decided
to attack us with bombers
rather than missiles,
so the whole idea
of that airplane
was intercepting
an incoming Soviet bomber,
and Kelly wanted to sell that
to the Air Force,
sell hundreds of them, actually.
And this became a problem
later in the '60s,
when, at the Pentagon,
now led by Secretary of Defense
Robert McNamara,
who loved to control things,
and there's a sense of,
"Wait a minute.
That boys club out in California
called Skunk Works
has a little too much power."
And you could see him, you know,
making a move to take out
Kelly Johnson
and the Skunk Works.
And McNamara shut it down,
shut the program down,
said it wasn't needed.
Narrator: McNamara's decision
is almost unbelievable.
The Air Force has gone with us
all the way
supporting the plane,
but McNamara and his band
see it differently.
Cappuccio: Now, what happened
was -- Kelly was
a very influential player
in Washington at the time,
with his contacts in the agency
that had used SR-71
and his contacts
with the Air Force, right?
Well, the Air Force pilots
liked the SR-71,
so he started
going around the system.
And McNamara was furious.
And a decree came back, "You
will cut up the SR-71 tools,
and you will destroy
all the drawings."
And that was an edict.
You know, to kind of get
the point across, they told
Lockheed to destroy the tooling,
which the U.S. government owned.
And when you do that,
you make the cost of
restarting production
astronomically higher,
so that was the decision that
finally killed the Blackbird.
Narrator: The damage has been
done, the tools destroyed.
We were never able to build
the version of the Blackbird
our country needed, the YF-12.
To this point, I have laid off
130 people in engineering,
and it's a sad time for me.
This was a really difficult time
for the Skunk Works
when it happened.
It needed money.
It had a few thousand employees,
and they needed things to do,
and the F-12 was supposed
to be that thing.
Narrator: Yesterday,
I took my yearly physical.
The doctor says
I must have an operation.
My stomach has so many ulcers
that the outlet is down
to the size of a pencil.
Constant pain.
And, at that point,
Kelly's health
was deteriorating to the point
where he had started thinking
about whether he should retire.
But he also didn't like the idea
of retiring, either.
That wasn't really sort of
in his DNA, so he kept going,
but by 1972, 1973,
they decided to pass it on,
and Ben Rich was the guy.
Painter: Ben -- he had
an extremely hard job,
because Kelly
was still a consultant,
so he was still
coming to Lockheed.
He still had that
strong loyalty bond
with so many of the engineers
and people that worked there
that instead
of going to Ben for answers,
they would wait for Kelly
to come in on his day of work.
So Ben had to overcome all that
to establish his leadership,
his fingerprint
on the Skunk Works.
The key job
in running the Skunk Works
is to work on the future.
Ben understood that,
and he worked hard at it,
and he was very good at it.
Once he saw stealth,
he took hold of it
and pursued it with a vengeance.
If I made a plane invisible
to radar, would you buy it?
Kelly was never impressed.
He thought Ben
had the wrong idea,
that Lockheed was just
going to waste money.
He pretty much
put his reputation
and his whole career on the line
when he went after
that stealth technology.
Trimble: After Vietnam,
our losses toimble: A,
surface-to-air missiles
were pretty bad,
and it became pretty clear
that unless you had some way
of defeating these ground-based
radars that could cue these
surface-to-air missiles
that you were going to lose
your entire Air Force if you
ever got into combat again.
So they had to come up
with a way to make aircraft
less visible to those radars.
DARPA, the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency,
sent out a request
to the seven most recent
fighter-building companies
for experimental
stealth technology,
and they had a requirement
to get the radar cross-section
down to certain levels.
Okay. So, think about the radar
cross-section on the SR-71,
that it shows up on enemy radar
the size of a man, okay?
We need an airplane
that's going to show up
the side of a ball bearing.
That was the new challenge.
"We're going to make
an invisible airplane."
Cappuccio: How we came
across stealth was --
the SR-71
and the angles of the tails
were taking the radar section
and bouncing
the radar beam away.
So the radar system was not
picking up that reflection.
And Ben said, "If I can make
a plane with all flat plates,
that radar won't pick up
the signal."
Ben went to the CIA.
The CIA gave him permission
to brief the Air Force
on the stealth technologies
embodied in the Blackbird
and say, "Hey, we deserve
entry into this," and they said,
"Well, we've already
given out all the contracts.
There's no more money
to give out,
so if you want to participate,
you've got to kind of do it
on your own."
And so Ben says,
"We'll participate.
Give us a $1 contract,
which means we have
a formal relationship with you,
but we basically
pay our own way."
Skunk Works is on its knees
at this point in 1975.
It's got to have something new.
Painter: The company needs
to up-front $10 million
as their share
in building a prototype,
so he has to go to the corporate
fathers and say,
"Give me $10 million,
because I got to build
an airplane
for unproven technology."
He pretty much
put his reputation
and his whole career on the line
when he went after that program.
Kelly was never impressed.
He thought that Ben
had the wrong idea,
that Lockheed was just
going to waste money.
To describe the radar
Ben would roll marbles
across the desk.
Ben went to Kelly and said,
"Look at this.
What would a Soviet radar see?
Here's a marble,
and based upon that,
they would not identify that
as a significant threat
but, rather, a radar anomaly."
And Kelly just thought,
"You're not going to be able
to make it,"
and, quite honestly,
broke one of his own rules.
Kelly would just assume
something could be done,
and that's what he expected
his teams to do,
but that's where you see Ben
having that piece of DNA
of the Skunk Works.
You know, let's just assume
it can be done.
Let's make it happen.
Law: Denys Overholser
came up with this idea
that reflects the beams
in all the directions
to where they don't
make a return,
based on a bunch
of Russian calculations.
Narrator: Just like they once
sold us the titanium
for the Blackbird,
the Russians inadvertently
helped Skunk Works again.
Trimble: Denys had come across
a Soviet mathematics journal.
The Soviets had no idea
that that's what those equations
could be used for,
or they would never
have allowed it to be published
in that kind of a publication.
But because they did and
Denys read it and applied it,
the Skunk Works suddenly had
sort of a secret sauce
to breaking this problem
that had affected aircraft
in Vietnam and the U-2 itself,
which is radar detection.
So, Alan Brown comes in,
and he's leading Lockheed's
effort under Ben Rich,
and he doesn't care
about the aerodynamics,
because he's a propulsion guy.
First of all,
we did the calculations.
We built third-scale models,
which we tested on radar ranges.
It was made up of a whole bunch
of flat plates,
and the reason for that was that
we did not have
the technical capability
to calculate
the radar cross-section
from curved surfaces
at that time.
Keep in mind this is why
Kelly Johnson
hated this approach
that Ben Rich took.
There aren't any airplanes
out there that are made flat,
because air doesn't like
flying over corners, right?
You want nice, smooth,
rounded surfaces,
and there wasn't
a rounded surface
anywhere on that airplane.
He called it
the Hopeless Diamond,
and it was a way
of sort of ridiculing
this design that,
to an aerodynamicist, is sinful.
I think some people called it
the Hopeless Diamond
because they thought
it was a hopeless effort.
The shape of it was --
It was actually a geometry
problem pretty much.
You wanted a, you know,
angle of incidence
and angle of reflection.
If a radar hit
comes in this way,
it's going to bounce off,
so what you want to do
is control
the way it bounces off
so that the bounce
doesn't go back to the guy
that shined it on you
in the first place.
When the radar hits it, right,
instead of bouncing
right back to you,
if I can curve it,
I'm bouncing it here.
That radar don't pick up
the signal.
So it's analogous
to playing billiards.
You hit one cushion,
it goes to someplace else.
Narrator: The first phase
of the competition
was to build a scale model
to test its invisibility
to radar.
Ours was easily the best.
But next, we had to build
the actual plane.
Could this Hopeless Diamond
really fly?
To find out,
we needed to test it.
We needed to go back to where
we had our greatest success
and our most guarded secrecy.
We needed to go back to Area 51.
Narrator: At Area 51,
Ben's Hopeless Diamond
was going to be tested.
We were going to find out
if an airplane could really
become invisible on radar,
if it could be become
completely stealth.
The stakes were high.
If the airplane
showed up on radar,
the project could be scrapped,
but Ben and his team
believed they could do it.
I still had my doubts.
You have to remember
that Area 51 has not only
the most interesting new,
top-secret development
that the Air Forces
are coming up with,
but they also had
the top radar people,
so we were going to fly against
the very best radar team
in the country.
So we said, "Okay,
we'll make it easy for you.
Tomorrow afternoon, at 3:00,
we're going to come over
that hill at 500 feet altitude.
You won't even
have to look for us.
You'll be pointing
in the right direction
right at the beginning.
Off we go.
3:00 comes and goes,
and they said,
"Oh, guess you missed
your takeoff time."
I said, "I don't think so."
There's a guy
looking through a telescope,
which is run...
parallel to the radar.
Looking through his telescope,
he said,
"I just picked the airplane up.
It's just 8 miles out."
The radar guys immediately
kicked their radar,
assumed it wasn't
working properly.
We flew over the whole situation
without being seen at all.
As soon as that happened,
immediately, the Air Force said,
"Okay, we got to have
a military version of this."
The damn thing worked.
Didn't happen too often,
but this time, I was wrong,
and I told Ben as much.
Kelly was always quite stubborn
and always quite insistent
that he was right,
and he would do
these bets with people.
He would bet them a quarter,
and, you know,
it was a really big deal
if you won a bet against Kelly,
because he would
pay you the quarter.
You know, he would admit
that he was wrong,
but it would just
very rarely ever happen.
And so he paid Ben Rich
a quarter
and admitted that he was wrong.
Our plane would be called
the F-117 Nighthawk.
The prototype
got off the ground,
but much work still remained.
This would be the first
completely stealth aircraft
and also be
the first jet fighter
Skunk Works built
in over 20 years.
The 117 has a radar signature
less than a BB on a radar.
So you get anything over a BB,
you'll pick it up.
Let me give you an example.
If I accthat would bet a nut
ipicked up by radar.
So, you're sitting there saying,
"Wow. We're making
all these airplanes.
How do I know a manufacturing
guy didn't drop a nut?"
So that's the concern.
Jacobsen: When the F-117
Nighthawk came along,
I mean, it was so secret
and it was so important
to keep it secret,
they gave it its own test-flight
facility out in Tonopah,
which is on the far skirts
of the Nevada test site,
and it became known
as Area 52.
And they built a whole setup
specifically for the F-117.
Feest: I was flying the F-15
at Langley Air Force Base,
and my squadron commander
called me in
and shut the door and said,
"Hey, are you interested
in going to fly
at the 4450th test group?"
None of us knew
what was going on,
but we knew
there was something
highly classified and different.
I decided to go.
After you've checked out,
they put you in a room
and they turn on a projector
and they show you pictures
of the F-117 for the first time.
And, usually, the first comment
is, "That thing flies?"
Because it doesn't look
very aerodynamic.
First test flight was my
first flight in the F-117.
So, what scared me more
than anything isn't so much
that something could happen
physically to hurt me.
It's the fact that we work
very hard on airplanes
to eliminate
single-point failures,
and the airplanes
are very redundant.
And you walk out
to the airplane --
I am a single-point failure.
If I goon it, I've ruined it
for a lot of people,
and it's very much
a team effort.
The idea of a pilot, you know,
first flying an F-117
was pretty scary to me.
I mean, at 4:30 in the morning,
they'd be stuck
into the cockpit.
They open the hangar doors.
There are no lights
anywhere on the airfield.
And they tell the guy,
"Okay, you taxi out there,
turn right, 1/2 mile,
you get to the main runway,
turn right again, take off."
So you're taking off
on a runway in the dark.
"Oh, by the way, don't worry
about the control system.
It's completely disconnected
from all the controls.
It just goes to a computer,
and the computer operates
the controls
because the airplane's
basically unstable.
Good luck. You'll be fine."
Feest: You get acclimated
to totally night-flying.
We had flight surgeons
and doctors
that monitored what we did
and decided that
we had to do certain things
to be able to fly at night
and sleep during the day.
So at Tonopah,
we had room-darkening shades.
They Velcroed black
across our windows.
So when we were in there
during the day,
you couldn't tell
what time of day it was.
They also had a rule
that, at night,
after flying,
we had to be in our rooms
before the sun came up,
because the doctors said,
"If the sun came up,
your mind would go,
'Oh, something's wrong here.'"
All of us are
daytime creatures.
We don't usually live
in the black world.
When you consider
that there were something
like 10,000 people
that worked on the F-117
and they all kept
this secret for 21 years,
that's a remarkable piece
of American history.
On August 6th, in response to
the unprovoked Iraqi invasion
of Kuwait,
I ordered the deployment
of U.S. military forces to Saudi
Arabia and the Persian Gulf.
Iraq's brutality, aggression,
and violations
of international law
cannot be allowed to succeed.
President Bush made the decision
to deploy 42 F-117s
from Tonopah, Nevada,
to Saudi Arabia.
I'd been briefed on the F-117
for a number of years,
and when it was deployed,
you just had
this sick feeling
it was actually
going to be used,
that you're going to go to war.
Mullins: A good friend of mine,
Al Whitley,
who was full colonel --
On the first night of the war,
Whitley and one
of his young pilots
were walking out to get
in their airplanes.
They were both going to Baghdad.
The pilot said to Whitley,
"I hope this [bleep] works."
I had been convinced that
stealth was the technology
that will change the character
of aerial warfare.
If the enemy can't see
the aircraft with radar,
he can't hit it.
The role of the 117
in the Gulf War
was to wipe out the whole
command-and-control system
of Iraq,
flying night missions.
The design of the F-117
was to be the first ones in.
We were told what the F-117
radar cross-section was,
how it would perform,
so we had to trust
the engineers to Skunk Works.
But I can tell you, flying
the first night of Desert Storm,
we're not sure, as pilots,
whether or not the stealth
technology's going to work.
On the first night of the war,
well, I felt an --
Every time I think about this,
I felt an emotional attachment
to these guys.
This was their first-ever
combat mission -- ever.
[ Breathing shakily ]
I used to go spend nights
with them at Tonopah,
so I knew these people
and had become personal friends.
We promised them a lot,
and we'd never proved it.
It's one thing to test
an airplane on a range
where you measure this stuff.
It's another thing to go
to Baghdad at night.
The first night of Desert Storm,
I was chosen to lead
the first attack.
It was 1,000 miles
from our base to Baghdad,
so these were long missions.
We took off that night
the way we practiced --
no lights on the airplanes.
We found our tankers.
We would top off with fuel
and, at a designated time,
stealth up our aircraft,
bringing in the antennas
so that you could no longer
talk to anybody or hear anybody.
Once we did that, we're gone.
I had the first target,
so my only goal right now
was to find that target
and hit it at the time
they wanted me to hit it.
I found the target.
The weapons-bay doors
automatically open.
I pickle off the bomb.
The doors slam shut.
[ Explosion ]
I looked back
over my left shoulder,
and when I looked back,
I always described it as looking
at a giant fireworks display.
This was anti-aircraft
I noticed it was coming at me,
so I thought,
"I'm getting out of here
as fast as I can."
Man: We have to go to Baghdad.
We're going to Bernard Shaw.
Something is happening outside.
People are shooting
towards the sky,
and they are not aware or cannot
see what they're shooting at.
This is extraordinary.
We're being told
to get off this platform
and get inside
into the air-raid sh--
We still have seen no signs
of any airplanes coming in here.
All we're seeing is the
Iraqi response from the ground.
I have a statement by the
President of the United States.
The liberation of Kuwait
has begun.
When they broke in and said that
the first attacks had happened,
I knew that the Skunk Works jets
were in doing their job.
Just prayed that everybody
made it home safe.
Five months ago, Saddam Hussein
started this cruel war
against Kuwait.
Tonight, the battle
has been joined.
The U.S. air strike was almost
certainly designed to begin
with these stealth fighters.
The sky over Baghdad was lit up.
I thought about the guys
that were flying with me
that night and I thought,
"Those going into Baghdad
are going to have it tough."
Cappucio: The pilots on the 117
were very dicey.
"Are they shooting at me?
We know they're shooting."
The question gets to be,
"Why is the pattern so erratic?"
Baghdad air defenses could not
see that aircraft coming.
Why? Because it was stealth.
All hell has broken loose
because they are just firing
stuff up in the air
pretty much regardless,
you know,
not knowing where anybody is.
The only way they knew the 117s
were overhead
was things started blowing up.
It was a harrowing experience,
and I thought it was unique
that I was able
to make it through there.
And now I snapped
the aircraft back
to head back to Saudi Arabia.
I had a list of all 12 pilots
flying in that first go,
and I wanted to hear them
all check in.
I checked in my wingman,
and he answered.
And then as we rejoined,
I heard other pilots
checking in,
and I checked off the names
as their call signs were read.
And right before approaching
my tanker,
I looked down and I had a check
mark next to every call sign,
so I knew everybody was
coming home that first night.
Our 12 aircraft came back.
There was not one single thing
wrong with any of those planes.
We all realized,
"This stealth technology works."
The F-117 made up
approximately 2.5%
of the total Allied Air Force
that was there,
and they would wind up
taking out about 40%
of the high-value targets.
Their value can't be overstated.
Feest: We flew 1,271 sorties
in Desert Storm
and never got touched
by anything.
Statistically, nobody had ever
seen anything like this before.
The F-117 was a really
major factor
in the success
in the First Gulf War.
The accuracy was
just unprecedented.
The airplane did exactly
what it was supposed to do.
Bush: Six weeks since the start
of Operation Desert Storm,
our military objectives are met.
Kuwait is liberated.
Iraq's army is defeated.
The 117 had proved its worth
to the American public,
and after we got home,
one of the stories
we all would tell
is how this aircraft
saved our lives.
We all came home
because of the engineers.
The engineers that built
this aircraft built it right.
Brown: With anything
that you do like that,
you always have it
at the back of your mind,
you know,
did you think of everything?
And we were
very pleasantly surprised
that we didn't have
a single casualty
in either of the Gulf Wars.
You know, you put that much
of your heart and soul
and time away from your family
and everything into something,
it's kind of heartwarming
to see it come to fruition
and that everything you'd done
had a good ending to it.
Mullins: The bottom line is --
it changed the nature
of military combat aircraft
Stealth was the most important
technological change
in military combat aircraft
since the introduction
of the jet engine.
Before stealth technology,
war planners
used to think about,
"How many aircraft do we need
to take out
a certain enemy facility?"
After stealth, it was,
"How many facilities do we want
to take out
with a single aircraft?"
It proved again our axiom.
If you have a good man
and let him go,
he'll really perform.
My own life
has come full circle,
but if God should
call me tonight,
I will have had more
than my share of it all.
In the '90s, because of
the evident success
of stealth aircraft
in the Gulf War,
the Skunk Works really
became famous in a sense.
People started asking, you know,
"Where did these airplanes
come from?"
And then, you know,
the Skunk Works was it.
Then Ben Rich publishes a book
about the development of stealth
and a longer history
of the Skunk Works.
And the book is a real gift
to our family,
because I learned a lot
about his career.
We knew he was an engineer,
and we knew
he worked for Lockheed.
That was, you know --
But details, you know,
I did not know.
And my sister --
I remember her looking at me
and saying, you know,
"Dad worked on that?"
And this book was a best-seller,
and Skunk Works becomes
kind of a buzzword
in corporate-management circles,
and every company has to go out
and form their own Skunk Works,
which is where you do
these kind of secret,
you know,
cutting-edge projects.
Other aerospace companies have
their equivalent of Skunk Works.
Boeing has its Phantom Works,
which is basically
a Skunk Works knock-off.
But they don't have 75 years
of lessons learned
and the continuous record
of technological breakthroughs.
A lot of the future technologies
are being worked on
by the Skunk Works right now.
Crawford: They're constantly
working on other things
that have other missions.
You just don't know about it.
You have no need to know.
Romig: People used to ask me
all the time,
"What's Skunk Works working on?"
And I would --
I kind of stopped
once we got to the F-117,
and people would say,
"What are you doing now?
Oh, you're doing nothing."
And the answer is,
"Of course we're doing a lot.
Ask me in 25 years. I'll
tell you what we were doing."
Jacobsen: What is known to
the public about Skunk Works
is maybe 10% of the actual work
that Skunk Works
has done so far.
But there's also another thing
that I found
so interesting
learning about the Skunk Works.
The U-2 is still flying today.
So when you think about that,
it's remarkable.
It's never been retired.
There's been an effort
to develop
an unmanned aerial vehicle
called the Global Hawk
and others that could
actually replace the U-2,
but each time
it's about to be retired
and finally put to rest,
if you will,
there's a recognition
that what it provides is
still uniquely worth preserving.
In Iraq and in Afghanistan,
there were some specific battles
in which the U-2
was very, very useful, again,
because of the precision
of its optics
and the resolution
of the cameras.
It is still very, very useful.
For me, it was the place to work
because of the legacy
with these incredible
flying machines.
The Skunk Works
created airplanes
that changed world history.
What makes the Blackbird
special to me is --
it is this piece of sculpture
that is sinister-looking,
it is purposeful-looking,
and it draws out an emotion.
For me, it's a blend
of excitement and pride
and awe that such a machine
even exists.
Carpenter: Kelly Johnson --
he always considered
the SR his greatest achievement
of all the airplanes
that he had developed,
starting in the '30s
until he retired.
The retirement of the SR-71
took place just a few months
before he died.
The Air Force, to sort of say
"thank you"
to the people
of the Skunk Works,
took one
of the remaining aircraft
and did a flyby
over the runway at Burbank.
And I know that Ben had gone
to a hospital to get Kelly,
and Ben said he really
didn't talk very much.
Trimble: Ben Rich
picked up Kelly in a car
and drove him out to the runway
at Burbank to see the SR-71.
They kept the windows up.
They didn't let the employees
come to see him,
because they knew he may not
even know who they were.
There was some level of dementia
that he lived with
that got worse
and worse and worse.
But then, when he heard
those engines of the SR-71,
he responded.
And, all of a sudden,
he came alive.
He knew something special
was happening.
Then it wasn't too long
after that he died.
Beard: Aircraft designer
Clarence "Kelly" Johnson died
today at the age of 80
after a long illness.
Johnson helped to design
more than 40 advanced aircraft
during his long career
at Lockheed.
He organized Lockheed's
Skunk Works unit
and worked on
the SR-71 Blackbird, the U-2,
and the F-104 Starfighter.
During his long career
in aviation,
Johnson received
three presidential citations,
including the Medal of Freedom.
I equated the time I was able
to spend with Kelly Johnson
equivalent to the privilege of
being able to fly the airplane
because he was such a giant
in his industry.
He was the Leonardo da Vinci
of aviation.
His designs -- so unique.
The guy's a genius.
He combined really extraordinary
technical knowledge
with equally extraordinary
leadership capacity.
Kelly Johnson never,
in a sense,
got the credit
that he was certainly due
because of the covert nature
of what was being done,
but was not one, I don't think,
who cared about that.
He was devoted to, as we say,
a mission larger than self
that was of enormous importance,
and he and his team
performed near-miracles
with cutting-edge work.
To do something spectacular
required unconventional methods.
It is amazing
what can be accomplished
when no one cares
who gets the credit.
You do what's right by
sticking to your convictions,
and you'll do okay.
Like a lot of 12-year-old kids
in the 1920s,
Clarence "Kelly" Johnson liked
drawing pictures of airplanes.
Unlike those kids, Kelly Johnson
never stopped drawing planes.
I think it'd be
a long, long time
before we have an airplane
that has higher performance
than the SR-71.
So we may be seeing, here, the
highest-speed military airplane
that there will be around
for a long time.
This is Dennis Quaid
with "An American Portrait."