Lockheed Martin is one of the Big Four defense contractors whose existence largely depends on the contracts given to it by the Federal government. It rakes in the most money of the four, exceeding $35 billion a year. It employs more than 140,000 people and has a presence in 46 of the nation’s 50 states.
But because of its long history, there are a number of facts and stories that can get buries under its immense size and political influence. For example, did you know that before the term “active shooter” was common in the culture a Lockheed Martin plant was once the scene of an active shooter? You can read the short version of it below. That and 19 other fun facts you probably didn’t know about Lockheed follow.
1. Lockheed Martin may be as patriotic as they come
In the late 90’s the company was directly involved in the building of the Mars Climate Orbiter, whose goal was to get to Mars and send back climatic data, among other things. But it is the little things that come back to haunt you. At a cost of $125 million, the orbiter got lost because of a difference in measuring units. The guidance system software got confused because the Jet Propulsion Laboratory used metric units but the engineers at Lockheed Martin used feet and pounds. The result was a crash and burn, or a burn and crash. Same difference, and both can be blamed.
2. In the last defense budget, the company got an order for 90 F-35s
The reason this is on the list is because the F-35 is one of those futuristic combat planes that has been fraught with controversy for some time. Military pilots have said that the plane still has technical problems that make flying it dangerous, and the cost per plane is, as expected, over budget. Add to that that each branch of the military has its own customized version of the F35, and it compounds the existing problems. The question is whether the military can put progress on hold before ordering more planes. The answer is obviously – no.
3. Lockheed Martin is working on a commercial airplane
Lockheed Martin is in the aircraft building business, so what is the big deal? The commercial airplane the company is working on is intended to be the world’s first supersonic business jet, flying at 3 times the speed of sound. At that speed a plane could cross the country in about 90 minutes versus the current 5 -6 hour flight time. But the practical problem of flight is what was once a polar cultural term – the sonic boom. Back in the 1970’s sonic booms were a common occurrence around airports that resulted in broken house windows and other unsightly side effects.
4. The company has already reached the Mach 3 speed on one of its military models
The SR-71 spy plane has been used for reconnaissance missions for a number of years, but this simple reality opens the door to an apparent contradiction. How can a spy plane go into airspace and return unnoticed when it leaves behind such an obvious sound signature? The actual method is very likely classified as Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) which requires weeks of investigation before one can even become eligible to obtain. Obviously, Lockheed Martin cannot apply the technology to its commercial venture, so is probably looking for a way to apply the technology without compromising national security.
5. Lockheed Martin was once seriously involved in IT
In 2015, the conglomerate decided to divorce itself from its extremely powerful and influential Information Systems and Global Solutions business that at one time could be compared to the NSA. There were five major parts of the IT division: air traffic management, technical services, government and enterprise IT systems, commercial cyber security, and government health care. Add these services to its military contracts and you don’t have to discuss the military-industrial complex. Lockheed Martin would actually be both in a single company.
6. Iron Man is no stranger to Lockheed Martin
The Iron Man suit in the movie franchise is said to have the ability to lift 175 tons. While that limit has yet to be reached, development is underway to build what is technically called an untethered exoskeleton. Lockheed Martin’s version is called the Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC) and currently has the capacity to assist soldiers in carrying up to 200 pounds of equipment traveling at 10 miles per hour. The important difference is that the HULC is intended to do this for long periods of time uninterrupted. Though the suits are being designed for commercial use, some experts say that an individual could purchase a HULC if they have the estimated $70,00o to spend. Not exactly something you would put under your kid’s Christmas tree.
7. It is maximizing the use of older technologies
Since the company is already heavily invested in aircraft, bringing back the dirigible is an avenue worth exploring. There is a 120 foot long, 21 foot tall model that is being developed and tested to transport cargo to remote locations. The idea behind its development is to scale up to a larger version that will be able to deliver heavy cargo and people where needed. There are three air-filled pontoons that allow the craft to land virtually anywhere, including the open seas. It is being created with the idea of fuel efficiency in mind, as it will be filled with helium to keep it aloft and be powered by fuel efficient engines.
8. It is a corporate version of a survivor
In the early 1990’s, the defense industry had gone through a serious downsizing as a result of a cut in national defense spending. A large number of defense contractors found themselves either being taken over by larger ones or simply closing its doors. Lockheed Martin was one of the few survivors and has earned the position of being one of the Big Four defense contractors. The other three are Boeing, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman. As was noted earlier, it has streamlined its business and now focuses primarily on aircraft and related industries.
9. In 2014, Lockheed Martin began designing a nuclear power source
In order to stay current and remain competitive as a company, it began working on a form of nuclear power that has the potential to significantly reduce the expenditures and reliance on fossil fuels. To do this, the company has built a prototype of a Compact Fusion Reactor which uses fusion technology instead of the reaction technology found in today’s nuclear power plants. The issues of nuclear waste and safety will no longer have to be addressed, while supply entire cities with enough electrical power to meet the growing demands of technology. The fusion reactor has a great deal of promise, and may become a reality within the next decade.
10. Skunk Works is where the future is
Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Projects (ADP) are developed and tested at various sites, but the biggest and most advanced of the locations is affectionately called Skunk Works. The employees of the facility are known as Skunks. The group prides itself on collaboratively working in a team structured environment, where the company believes the best and brightest talents can really shine. Kelly Johnson, the creator of Skunk Works, defined the overriding philosophy behind the mission - "We are defined not by the technologies we create but the process in which we create them.” That philosophy has guided Skunk Works for the last 75 years.
11. Lockheed Martin’s hiring process is very efficient
Getting a job at Lockheed Martin may seem to be a huge bureaucratic process, but the experience of a number of job applicants and hires at Glassdoor.com seem to indicate the exact opposite is the case. Your resume is key to getting an interview, which may take a month or so to happen. Once you have been notified, you will be scheduled for a phone interview that can last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. If you are invited for a face-to-face interview, you can expect the usual interview questions, but the gist of the process is that they want to see if you are a reasonably normal person. You will then be notified of their decision. Depending on where you are working you can expect some serious background checking, but the overall hiring process is very efficient. This says a lot about what you can expect as an employee, and what they expect of you on the job.
12. Lockheed Martin is heavily involved in cybersecurity
You would expect that from a company that is heavily involved in the nation’s defense, but remember that the company had a serious corporate and financial investment in the IT arena. Though it divested virtually its entire IT division a few years ago, it continues to work very closely with the companies it sold its business to so that there can be a collaboration and communication of information between the various businesses to address the cybersecurity needs of today. From a forward perspective, Lockheed Martin’s current investment in the energy sector makes its involvement in cybersecurity almost essential. There is obviously a financial interest for the company, but having the profit connection to the nation’s cybersecurity is not necessarily a bad thing.
13. Weird real story #1
The company does not only manufacture and develop aircraft technologies to sell to the United States. It also sells its products to foreign countries, and that leads to some rather interesting or bizarre stores depending on how you want to label them. The first story is when the company was in a bidding war with the Russians over selling military aircraft to Thailand. The Thai government did not have the necessary money to pay for the aircraft, so in order to attempt to close the deal Thailand offered Lockheed Martin 80,000 frozen chickens as an alternative form of payment. Wanting to keep the Russian’s from winning the bid, Lockheed Martin agreed to the substitution. Unfortunately, before everything could be worked out the current regime was over thrown and the deal fell through.
14. Weird real story #2
This second story shows how being a massive industrial complex with significant international influence can cloud your judgment, leading you to some morally ambiguous situations. Lockheed Martin had the opportunity to sell several C-130 transport planes to the African country of Chad. Chad was ruled by tyrants and was actively working to suppress pro-Democracy movements that were spreading throughout the country. There were two problems with the deal that were unknown to the U. S. ambassador and Lockheed Martin at the time. The purchase was intended to largely eliminate the pro-Democracy movements and Chad didn’t have the money to pay for the planes. Even when these facts became known to the company, it went forward and promoted the deal because, “like it or not, our interests line up in favor of allowing the sale in some form to go forward." There is a case that can be made both for a policy of non-interference and one for aiding and abetting.
15. Their company philosophy is both simple and effective
In 1997, a former CEO of Lockheed Martin was interviewed and he stated what he called his 13 words that established how he ran a company with more than 140,000 people: “Find good people. Tell them what you want and then leave them alone.” He said he believed in delegation above all management practices. This approach parallels the Skunk Works team centered approach that is designed to get the most out of the best. This very likely is the result of having to regularly work with a federal government who is bogged down with inefficiencies because of the mountains of red tape required to buy a box of paperclips. You can make the argument that collaboration often leads to inefficiency, and you would get no argument from the managers at Lockheed Martin.
16. In 2004, Lockheed was perceived as the Big Brother of its time
A decade before Lockheed ridded itself of its IT ventures, it was rightfully seen as Big Brother due to its massive technology and information system development that included top layers of government including the Pentagon, and the everyday functions of the United States Post Office. Its tentacles included the sorting of the average person’s mail, the printing and delivery of Social Security checks, and the details of the census. If you were flying anywhere, it would be monitoring the air traffic routes. (For conspiracy theorists, that includes September 11, 2001.) Many of these functions have returned to the federal government, but the military-industrial complex had merged with the government more than 10 years ago.
17. Skunk Works projects may be scarier than the Big Brother label
Earlier the secret development site known as Skunk Works was mentioned, but the reality of what goes on there in Palmdale, California is probably scarier than most people can imagine. It’s not apocalyptic kind of scary, but what scientists and engineers have decided on what is possible and what is not. James Goodall, an aerospace journalist, has said to have had an interview with Ben Rich, one of the engineers who worked at the facility before his death. In a phone call, Rich is reported to have said to Goodall, “Jim, we have things out in the desert that are fifty years beyond what you can comprehend. If you have seen it on Star Wars or Star Trek, we’ve been there, done that, or decided it wasn’t worth the effort.” That must include phasers, photon torpedoes, beaming around, and even the creation of the Death Star. That last part, “decided it wasn’t worth the effort” can be interpreted as there wasn’t enough money in it. Maybe.
18. 2003 Lockheed Martin Shooting
We finally get to the true story of the active shooter that is directly connected to Lockheed Martin. Back in 2003, an employee named Douglas Williams would murder 6 employees, wound 8, and then turn the gun on himself. Back in 2003 these were classified as “workplace shootings” but it fits the modern usage of the term “mass shooting.” The underlying motive appears to be racism, but this is not certain. If it was, then there is an irony that exists as he was scheduled to attend a mandatory ethics and diversity class the morning of the shooting. There were 13 people present at the meeting, which Williams left after only a few minutes where he then proceeded out to his truck to get the guns needed to carry out the slaughter. Armed with a Winchester 1200 shotgun and Ruger Mini-14 .223-caliber rifle, he walked throughout the facility shooting people at random. Police would later find a .22 Magnum Derringer, a .45-caliber Ruger P90 pistol, and a .22-caliber rifle in his truck.
19. The company stock would drop by more than 2 percent after a single Twitter comment
Shortly after winning the presidential election in 2016, President Trump singlehandedly caused the stock of Lockheed Martin to tumble after publicly complaining about the cost overruns of the F-35 fighter jets. He said he would work to significantly reduce the cost of the jets, as costs were out of control. The estimated cost of each jet had exceeded $1 billion. The newly elected president would later work with Lockheed to better manage costs and ensure on time deliveries of the jets.
20. Lockheed Martin helped train TSA agents
Though the TSA is a government program, the reach of Lockheed Martin back in the early 21st century was considerable. Their triad of connections to the national security, military defense, and its vast databases of information made it the ideal company to work with to train the people who would be insuring the nation’s air traffic security.
You likely noticed there are a number of points that connect these 20 factoids. It is a reflection of both how the company operates and how influential it is after surviving the federal government’s early 1990’s anti-defense stance. Given the scope of its Skunk Works facility, it is likely it saw some of these changes coming, one of the reasons it managed to survive to become one of today’s Big Four defense contractors. Back then, the Internet was brand new and broadband was only a concept in the days when 56k modems were the norm for business and personal use.
The company appears to know how to dodge bad public relations bullets. It avoided significant publicity and backlash over the active shooter fiasco (which was quickly referenced in the movie Up in the Air). The issue with Chad was hidden because not many people concern themselves with an African country that has little meaning to Americans. And it managed to shift the focus of attention from it being Big Brother by giving up its IT empire and making the federal government the privacy violator.
As a defense contractor, Lockheed Martin has an interesting place in the eye of the media. While it can be applauded for its technological prowess for the development of combat jets such as the F-35, it is also open to criticism when there are significant problems with the technology. Yet unlike biotechnology failures that are just as important, it has managed to sidestep any real media scrutiny because of the critical role it plays in national defense. With the lion’s share of the defense contracts, none of the other Big Four defense contractors could hope to pick up Lockheed’s projects and bring them into production on time.
The simple reason the company has managed to remain successful and continue to be a survivor is because its bottom line is the bottom line. Employing 140,000 people makes it a major private employer, and whether people like it or not, it is clearly in the business of making money as a growing business concern. Its venture into cost-effective energy is partly for profit and partly to provide a solution for creating a safer and more environmentally friendly energy source. But the underlying philosophy of the company to allow people to do their best work with a minimum of red tape may be what allows the company to keep its employers and customers happy.
Written by Garrett Parker
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