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Basic Operating Rules of the Skunkworks


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The following are from Kelly Johnson of Lockheed's SkunkWorks:

  1. The Skunk Works manager must be delegated practically complete control of his program in all aspects. They should report to a division president or higher.
  2. Strong but small project offices must be provided both by the military and industry.
  3. The number of people having any connection with the project must be restricted in an almost vicious manner. Use a small number of good people (10% to 25% compared to the so-called normal systems).
  4. A very simple drawing and drawing release system with great flexibility for making changes must be provided.
  5. There must be a minimum number of reports required, but important work must be recorded thoroughly.
  6. There must be a monthly cost review covering not only what has been spent and committed but also projected costs to the conclusion of the program. Don't have the books ninety days late and don't surprise the customer with sudden overruns.
  7. The contractor must be delegated and must assume more than normal responsibility to get good vendor bids for subcontracts on the project. Commercial bid procedures are very often better than military ones.
  8. The inspection system as currently used by ADP, which has been approved by both the Air Force and Navy, meets the intent of existing military requirements and should be used on new projects. Push more basic inspection responsibility back to subcontractors and vendors. Don't duplicate so much inspection.
  9. The contractor must be delegated the authority to test their final product in flight. They can and must test it in the initial stages. If they don't, they rapidly lose their competency to design other vehicles.
  10. The specifications applying to the hardware and software must be agreed to in advance of contracting. A specification section stating clearly which important military specification items will not knowingly be complied with and reasons is highly recommended.
  11. Funding a program must be timely so that the contractor doesn't have to keep running to the bank to support government projects.
  12. There must be mutual trust between the military project organization and the contractor with very close cooperation and liaison on a day-to-day basis. This cuts down misunderstanding and correspondence to an absolute minimum.
  13. Access by outsiders to the project and its personnel must be strictly controlled by appropriate security measures.
  14. Because only a few people will be used in engineering and most other areas, ways must be provided to reward good performance by pay not based on the number of personnel supervised.
"Reducing the time to evaluation of a system almost always leads to lower costs, greater flexibility for change, improved overall performance, and less risk."

"When the prototype approach for system development is used, ultimate production of the system must be considered throughout the design and evaluation phase."


For more information on how ASTECH Engineering may be able to help you, please contact Jeff Wilson at astech@cox.net or call 316-304-6157.

© Copyright 1996 ASTECH Engineering. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced in any form without the expressed written consent of the author.

Keywords: Concept Research Development Integration Integrated Aviation Avionics Aircraft Flight Controls
Autopilots Navigation Guidance Analysis Simulation Software Algorithms Hardware Interfaces
Requirements Engineers HITL FCS GPS FMS UAV Systems