Aviation: The Angel from the Skunk Works

On a sunny December afternoon in 1954, a small group of Air Force officers and agents of the Central Intelligence Agency drove up to the Lockheed Aircraft Corp. offices in Burbank, Calif., to confer with Company President Robert Gross and Engineer Clarence ("Kelly") Johnson.

The Government people wanted to discuss a secret airplane project, so secret that not even General Curtis LeMay, then boss of the Strategic Air Command, knew about it. That night, Kelly Johnson, head of the "Skunk Works"—Lockheed's supersecret project-development division—began clearing out a hangar. "I got 23 fellows,"...

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