Benjamin Robert Rich (June 18, 1925 – January 5, 1995) was the second director of Lockheed's Skunk Works from 1975 to 1991, succeeding its founder, Kelly Johnson. Regarded as the "father of stealth," Ben Rich was responsible for leading the development of the F-117, the first production stealth aircraft. He also worked on the F-104, U-2, SR-71, A-12, and F-22 among others, many of which are still classified.
Rich was born in Manila in the Philippines, one of the five children of British lumber mill superintendent Isidore Rich and his French wife, Annie, the daughter of one of his paternal grandfather's Jewish customers who resided in Alexandria, Egypt. The Rich family was one of the first Jewish families to settle in Manila. Having fled the Philippines just weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, they moved to the United States in 1942, where Ben Rich became a naturalized US citizen. He worked (with his father) in a Los Angeles, California machine shop during World War II, and studied at the city's Hamilton High School. After the war he started his college education when he was 21, majoring in mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley, followed by a master's degree in aeronautical engineering at UCLA, instead of in the medical field as he originally planned.
Upon graduation Rich was hired by Lockheed as a theromodynamicist. There he worked on a variety of projects - he was awarded a patent for designing a nichrome heating system which prevented Navy patrol plane crew's penises from freezing to their urine elimination pipes. He designed inlet ducts for the F-104 Starfighter, the C-130 transport aircraft, and the F-90 fighter.
In December 1954 Rich was seconded to the Skunk Works, the secret research and development section run by Lockheed's chief engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson. There he designed the inlet ducts for the U-2 spy plane. Then he led the effort to build large-scale hydrogen liquefaction plant for a proposed hydrogen-powered supersonic aircraft, codenamed Suntan. After this was canceled when hydrogen proved to be impractical, Rich was program manager for the propulsion systems for the U-2's successor, the SR-71 Blackbird. The idea to paint the high-speed aircraft's skin black, to help dissipate the tremendous frictional heat, was Rich's. He designed the engine inlet cones, the air conditioning system, and was the chief thermodynamicist for the project.
In 1950, he married the former Faye Mayer, a fashion model, who died in 1980. In 1982, he married Hilda Elliot. He died of cancer in Ventura, California, on January 5, 1995. His son, Michael, is an executive with the RAND Corporation and his daughter, Karen, is a botanist.