A video for the 80th anniversary of the Skunk Works shows, through renderings and sketches, the past, the present and the future of the secretive division of Lockheed Martin.
To celebrate 80 years of the secretive Skunk Works division, Lockheed Martin released a short video on social media showing the legacy and the innovation brought by Clarence “Kelly” Johnson’s creation. Among the renderings and sketches showing the past, the present and the future of the secretive division, there are a couple of interesting ones about new projects that the company has been teasing recently.
“From our humble beginnings with Kelly Johnson in a circus tent, Skunk Works always has our eyes on the future,” says the caption with the video. “The historic programs featured in this video, such as the P-80 Shooting Star, U-2 Dragon Lady and F-117 Nighthawk, paved a path to where we are today.”
We give thanks to the men and women who have advanced aviation innovation over generations. From our humble beginnings with Kelly Johnson in a circus tent, Skunk Works® always has eyes on the future.
Can you spot all of the historic programs hidden in this video? pic.twitter.com/FFaZ6l2c8D
— Lockheed Martin (@LockheedMartin) November 20, 2023
Opening with Kelly Johnson in front of Lockheed Martin’s facilities, the video goes on showing all the major projects of the Skunk Works: the P-38 Lightning, P-80 Shooting Star, XF-90, F-104 Starfighter, the SR-71 Blackbird and D-21 drone duo, F-117 Nighthawk, F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning II, U-2 Dragon Lady, the still unnamed Next Gen UAS, X-59 QueSST.
Then things get interesting with the first sketch about new projects, which clearly show the same SR-72 design that Lockheed Martin has now been showing for some years. Some recent reports mentioned that test articles of a reconnaissance aircraft much more capable of the ones currently in service, possibly hinting at the SR-72, have been delivered and evaluated by the Air Force, with work continuing on a next block of aircraft.
After the SR-72, the video shows a previously unseen design of a stealth flying wing drone, possibly an Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle which could fit the description for a Collaborative Combat Aircraft. This design might be completely notional, put there as a reference for the work the Skunk Works division is doing for new advanced drone designs, or it could be the first tease of a project about to be announced.
Last but not least, we have another appearance of the next generation aircraft that Lockheed Martin might be working on for the Next Generation Air Dominance program. The shape of the sketch in the video is perfectly in line with the mysterious silhouette of a next generation aircraft that the company featured on social media earlier this year.
The design, which was initially thought to be a twin-engine aircraft, now appears to be a single engine fighter. The sketch confirms it being a tailless design (considered ideal to obtain very low observability) with a diamond-shaped wing planform with straight leading and trailing edges. However, the canopy is much larger than the one in the silhouette published in July.
Let’s keep in mind that this design could be related to NGAD but it might not be NGAD itself, as the program is highly classified. The two possible options are this being just a notional design to give hint about the type of work being done for such an advanced project or it could be related to one of the prototypes of the secret X-planes program that demonstrated technologies later merged in the NGAD demonstrator.