Within a few months, the Skunk Works was ready to face its only remaining competitor, Northrop, in a set of field tests.
The winner would receive the award to build two full-size prototype stealth jets. That contract would be worth upwards of $28 million, as Ben Rich confided to his management team at a meeting.
Paul had almost no time to work on Condor IV, but he'd made Pete a promise. With Steve's understanding and permission, he drafted up a design one morning and handed it to a senior technician in the models shop. Paul provided three brand-new midsize model propellers. They turned out a delightful three engine saucer with a safety grill on the bottom so Pete wouldn't get his fingers mangled. A lid in the top opened so the operator could refill the three fuel cells. The shop got some delight out of the model, which Paul flew for them. One of them, an avid model airplaner, professionally spray painted the saucer in Air Force olive drab matte, and added a few catchy decals, including the words U.S. Air Force and an official looking star, all in miniature.
Steve's comment as he saw Paul going out for lunch was: "Maybe we should send another one of those to Moscow."
Paul wrapped the saucer in a plain bag to avoid attention. He wrote a small note to Pete and Marsha, pleasant but avoiding any signs of emotion. He bought a sturdy kit including a box and packing straw at a stationer's. He packed the saucer and the note and realized at the last minute he didn't know her address. Instead, he mailed it to her at her former address next doorit would be forwarded by the Postal Service, and he was done.
During the afternoon, Paul met with Baldy to take a preliminary look at some of the issues that would involve making the new design airworthy.
"This is the first aircraft designed by mathematicians," Baldy told him. "Couldn't you have started with the airframe and worked your way back to stealth?"
Paul shook his head. "No. This technology is stealthy on its own terms. We can predict from any point of view what a radar signal is going to return, and that's a signal the size of a ball bearing, no matter how big the plane is."
Baldy whistled appreciatively. "That would save pilots' lives, wouldn't it."
"I'm gonna work on it as hard as I can."
Ben stopped by just then, and looked over their shoulders.
"Look here." Baldy sifted through a layered topographic mound of blueprints. "The beauty of this is that we're not going to design a new plane from scratch. Since we've got the configuration handed to us on a platter, we might as well go out and see what we can take off the shelf. I'm looking at maybe putting this together here..." he flipped from one design to another, all blueprints that he was acquiring from various programs in Lockheed's inventory or anywhere else for that matter...like we can use those General Electric J-85-GE-4A engines from the T-2B Buckeye Trainer."
Ben interrupted: "Baldy, remember that all openings and surfaces have to withstand the radar test. No flat surface or straight line must ever be perpendicular to the sender of the radar signal."
"I gotcha covered, Ben. Look here." Baldy pulled out a sketch he'd made of two crazily zigzagging lines. "That's what I'm gonna try for the fit on the cockpit shell edges. We don't want any straight lines, so we break them up like I've done here."
"What do you think, Paul?" Ben asked.
"Looks good to me. Let's be sure and test all these concepts as early as possible."
"Great point," Ben said. "That's the purpose of gradually staged mockupsso we can design the problems out while the mockup is small. Good work, guys!" Ben left.
Baldy continued his recitation. "On those J-85's we've got to eliminate exhaust heat that could show up on radar or even infrared and get the pilot a heat-seeking missile up his tailpipe. The good thing here is that we can go subsonic, which makes a lot of things easier. She'll be painted a good mix of VLO (very low observable) colors. She'd fly only at night. The engines have got to be fairly quiet."
"What about stability?" Paul asked. "Aren't the engineers going nuts over the fact that this plane is liable to start doing curly-cues in the air and then crash?"
"Lucky thing computer technology is that far along," Baldy said. "We're going to design in an FBW, or Fly By Wire system, quadruple redundant to make sure there's backup. It's called a Relaxed Static Stability design, in which there are computer directed wires that lead to all the control surfaces. The computer figures out the wind factorsresistance, temp, and so forthand keeps adjusting each point in the control system from second to second to keep her flying steady."
As he continued, Baldy pulled out one drawing after another, from various manufacturers and for various aircraft.
"We're shooting for a simple designa modified delta with a tight sweep of about 72.5 degrees. No flaps, speed brakes, or high lift devices. We'll borrow a side-stick controller from the F-16. There is an interesting Lear-Seigler FBW command and stability augmentation system in the F-16 that I have my eye on. We'll use elevon nose-down pitch control inboard on the wings, and we'll put two moveable fins on top of the wingroot, kind of canted inboard a bit. I don't now how sharply yet. We'll add a two-position flap that pulls it back in line when she goes beyond 12 per cent out of horizontal."
Paul said: "Everything has to be broken up so that nothing shows on radar."
"Got you. This plane is going to look like a spaceship."
"We'll have to continue working with Dick Scherrer on the models, and we'll have to test every line and surface to make sure it's optimized."
Baldy made a dour face. "Young fella, let me tell you something. More than one time over the past 30 years, I've seen a good clean design come from some young genius's drafting table, like yours here, and by the time the Air Force or the Navy are done telling us they need more bomb carrying capabilities, or more range, or more of this or more of that, the design was so fouled up it could make a grown man cry."
Paul felt puzzled by this line of comment.
"What I'm telling you, Paul, is that it's a long way from here to a successful working plane. And that's assuming we get the contract. Northrop is a big powerful company, and we're just this little pimple on Lockheed's butt. You see here that I'm knocking myself out to think all these little parts into it, but no design is going to be as perfect as your mathematical model. In the end, she may not be as stealthy as we thought. Or we may not even get the contract."
Paul had a wry feeling about that. "Baldy, life itself is unpredictable. I'm just focused on this from one step to the next."
Inwardly, all the self-doubts about the risks involved in this unorthodox concept began to nag at him. Ben seemed unflappable, but what was going on underneath the surface?
For over two months, Paul worked 14 and 16 hours, dragging himself home just to sleep exhaustedly and then return not long after dawn to start a new day.