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 U.S. 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. His first wife Faye died in 1980; in 1982 he married Hilda Herman. Rich died January 5, 1995 of cancer.
Scope and Content
The collection has been organized by subject, although some subjects can be found throughout the collection. Inclusive dates are 1940 to 1955; 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. 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. 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 also contains ephemera and videodiscs.
The collection is arranged in several series including: Personal (Box 1); Projects (Boxes 2-3); Speeches (Box 4); Lockheed (Box 5); Publications (Box 5); Memoirs (Box 6); Technical notes and data (Boxes 7-10); Photographs (Box 11); and Oversize/Ephemera (Boxes 12-13).