In 1943 US Intelligence learned that a fast, maneuverable German jet was being produced in the Messerschmitt factories that would deliver a crushing advantage over allied forces during World War II. Racing against time, Lockheed Martin engineers bunkered down in Burbank, CA to produce the first production jet fighter, the P-80.
Lead by Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, only 33, twenty eight engineers, in make shift tent offices working around the clock under cover of secrecy, often fighting bitterly even violently, took sketches from the drawing board and mounted the engine to the frame in only 143 days. The P-80, or Green Hornet as they called it took to the air January 8, 1944 and erased any advantage the Germans once had. The P-80 advanced America into the jet age.
That legendary effort heralded the renowned Skunk Works and developed the U-2, the F-117 and perhaps most famously the SR-71 Blackbird, a Mach 3 high altitude jet whose wings glow a warm cherry red at velocity. The development of the Green Hornet dubbed the Lulu Belle illustrates what America can do in the face of incredible odds or more importantly what a handful of people can do when they work together toward a common goal.
The Skunk Works story always gives me a thrill and epitomizes everything I have believed America is about. What came out of the Skunk Works and other heroic efforts over our history are so miraculous as to be indistinguishable from magic. They are why I am proud to be an American and so confused that we seem unable to solve the energy problems of our time.
The technology exists now to end our dependence upon foreign and finite resources. The technology exists now to enable us to derive all our energy from renewable sources if we just pay attention to what is being done in other countries and decentralize. Instead we keep talking about building new coal powered plants or nuclear powered plants to ‘bridge’ the gap to independence.
Rather than pitch some tents and hunker down and bring electric vehicle technologies to maturity we are talking about importing LNG and drilling offshore and in delicate national reserves to continue old technology. For unexplained reasons we believe it is easier to build 19,000 miles of high voltage lines than it is to implement microgrids. We seem to think it is easier build the infrastructure necessary to import foreign resources and drill offshore than to advance into the next age.
Archaeologists often attribute the collapse of complex societies to resource depletion. America, a complex society, is certainly suffering from resource depletion right now. However, what leads to collapse is less resource depletion but more a failure of leadership to adapt to changes brought about by resource depletion. America has in its heritage the ability to enter the jet age in only 143 days in order to prevail and now, if we are to prevail, we must dig in not tethered by old thinking and enter a new age of energy production and consumption and we have to do it together.