Scope and Content
Title: Ben R. Rich Papers
Collection Number: Consult repository.
Rich, Ben R.
Appromimately 1,000 items
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
The Huntington Library
1151 Oxford Road
San Marino, California 91108
Phone: (626) 405-2203
Fax: (626) 449-5720
Language of Material: The records are in English.
In order to quote from, publish, or reproduce any of the manuscripts or visual materials, researchers must obtain formal permission
from the office of the Library Director. In most instances, permission is given by the Huntington as owner of the physical
property rights only, and researchers must also obtain permission from the holder of the literary rights. In some instances,
the Huntington owns the literary rights, as well as the physical property rights. Researchers may contact the appropriate
curator for further information.
[Identification of item], Ben R. Rich Papers, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
The collection was a gift from Michael and Karen Rich, July 15, 2008.
Ben Robert Rich (1925-1995) was born as Ben Reich in Manila, in the Philippines, on June 18, 1925. He was the second youngest
of six children of Jewish middle-class parents. His British father was born in India, his French mother in Egypt. He came
to the U.S. in May 1941 with his family and changed his last name to Rich when he was naturalized as a US citizen, in 1947.
His father lost his Manila lumber mill to the Japanese invasion, and the family struggled financially through the war in the
Rich worked as a machinist during the war and started college at war’s end at UCLA before transferring his senior year to
Berkeley. He received a B.S. in mechanical engineering from UC Berkeley in 1949 and an M.S. in mechanical engineering from
UCLA in 1950. On June 25, 1950 he married Faye Mayer; they had two children, Michael (b. 1953) and Karen (b. 1956).
Rich joined Lockheed in 1950 as a design specialist in thermodynamics, aerodynamics, and propulsion, working on the F-94,
F-90, C-130, and F-104 aircraft. In 1955 he joined Lockheed’s Advanced Development Projects, also known as the Skunk Works,
a group formed by Clarence “Kelly” Johnson in the 1940s. As a senior design specialist he worked on the U-2 aircraft and,
from 1956 to 1958, helped design the CL-400, a reconnaissance plane for the secret Air Force program known as Project Suntan,
to develop liquid hydrogen as aircraft fuel. He then worked on what became known as the SR-71 aircraft, a Mach 3 high-altitude
reconnaissance plane; in particular he helped solve difficult aerodynamic and thermodynamic problems on the SR-71 engine inlets.
Rich earned promotion to more senior engineering and managing positions, and upon Johnson’s retirement in 1975 Rich became
head of the Skunk Works. His most notable achievement was supervising the development of Stealth technology, for low radar
signatures, incorporated on the F-117A aircraft. He was known for his genial management style and his enthusiastic salesmanship,
leavening briefings with mischievous jokes and anecdotes. He retired on December 31, 1990. Much of his career at the Skunk
Works involved highly classified projects, but as these projects were declassified Rich gained public notice and acclaim.
He published his memoirs, Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed, co-authored with Leo Janos, in 1994.
Rich died January 5, 1995 of cancer. His first wife Faye died in 1980; in 1982 he married Hilda Herman. His son Michael received
a law degree and became a senior executive at the RAND Corporation; his daughter Karen is a botanist at the San Diego Natural
Scope and Content
The collection contains approximately 1,000 items and has been organized by subject, although some subjects can be found throughout
the collection. Chronological coverage is from the 1950s to 1990s; much material is from the 1980s and early 1990s, save for
selected documents and the Technical Notes and Data series from the 1950s. The files contain many clippings and speeches;
there is relatively little daily correspondence, except for scattered letters in the Personal and Projects series.
The Technical Notes and Data series contains binders of detailed lecture notes, handwritten calculations, technical articles,
data tables, and graphs. This material is from the mid to late 1950s, when Rich was working on the U-2, SR-71, and other reconnaissance
aircraft. Much of the collection otherwise involves few technical details, except for a few technical articles under Publications
and a few blueprints under Projects.
There is a separate series for Rich’s memoir, Skunk Works. This includes research material, draft chapters, published reviews
and private feedback, discussion of potential co-authors, and classification issues. Talks are filed by subject and date in
the Speeches series. Photos have been organized in a separate series; these include images of various aircraft, Lockheed events,
and portraits of Rich at various phases of his career. Many photos are unlabeled. An Oversize series includes large photos
and binders of notes from his retirement events.
Articles on particular aircraft are filed under the Projects series instead of Publications. For Projects, note that aircraft
often had different designations at different times. The D-21 drone was also known as Q-12 and Tagboard. The A-12 was also
called Oxcart, A-11, F-12, R-12, and SR-71. The CL-400 started under Project Suntan. Project names mentioned for Stealth aircraft,
what became the F-117A, include XST (Experimental Stealth Testbed), Harvey, Have Blue, Tacit Gold, Girlfriend, and Boyfriend.
A Stealth cruise missile program was known as Senior High and Senior Prom (the Kelly Johnson folder includes a small card
with the note, “I bet Ben on Prom launch, my $5.00 vs this quarter May 17 ‘80—I won”). The Sea Shadow project, for Stealth
ships, is referred to elsewhere in the files by the name of Ugo Coty, who was Lockheed manager for Navy programs.
Similarly, initial plans for a Trans Atmospheric Vehicle in the early 1980s referred to a single-stage-to-orbit reconnaissance
aircraft designed to make a couple orbits and then land on an airstrip. This concept then shifted to the National Aerospace
Plane, or NASP, which was sometimes conflated with, sometimes differentiated from the Orient Express. The SR-71 folder includes
material linking SR-71 design concepts to NASP (and its predecessor, the SST); since some NASP designs contemplated liquid-hydrogen
fuel they also drew on CL-400 experience. Also, in addition to the “Projects—Cost” file, there is cost information in the
files for particular projects.
There are a few items of particular interest. The F-117 file includes an “XST log” by Rich, with brief entries describing
the development of Stealth on an almost daily basis from March 1975 through December 1977. Similar logs or handwritten histories
are in the folders for the D-21 drone and Senior Prom cruise missile. The Kelly Johnson file includes the document “Sighting
of a flying saucer by certain Lockheed Aircraft Corporation personnel on 16 December 1953.” “Lockheed in 1951,” in Speeches,
describes the increase of women in the workforce owing to the Korean War buildup; there is also some discussion of women in
the military in the Sheila Widnall speeches in the file for Projects-Defense Planning.
The collection included cassette tapes of several interviews and two DVDs: “Blackbird: the Movie,” and “Ben Rich: Father of
the Stealth Fighter.” The interviews will be transcribed and listed in the Huntington catalog. The collection also includes
ephemera, such as trophies and plaques, which have been omitted. The technical notes also included a well-worn copy of Ralph
G. Hudson, The engineers’ manual, 2nd edition (New York, 1945), likewise omitted.
A detailed container list is available through the Manuscripts Department.
Lockheed Aircraft Corporation
A-12 Blackbird (Jet reconnaissance plane)
Aeronautical engineers—United States
Aerospace engineering—United States
Aerospace engineering—United States
Aerospace engineers—United States
Aerospace industries—United States
Aircraft industry—United States
Airplanes—Design and construction
F-117 (Jet attack plane)
High speed aeronautics
Jet planes, Military
SR-71 Blackbird (Jet reconnaissance plane)
U-2 (Reconnaissance aircraft)
Videodiscs (video recording disks)