During World War II, the US military sought to obtain advanced Nazi technology to gain an advantage over Japan. Operation Overcast and the Field Information Agency Technical (FIAT) were established to capture technical data and important members of the Nazi scientific establishment.
The Americans realized that the true prize was the people who conceived the technology, which led to the Operation Paperclip bringing over 1,600 German scientists and engineers to work for the US, including Wernher Von Braun who developed the Saturn rockets that brought astronauts to the moon. Meanwhile, the US Air Force was interested in aerial reconnaissance capabilities and turned to Lockheed’s Skunk Works, an organization designed by and for engineers with the passion of building the fastest and highest-flying military aircraft. The Skunk Works developed a track record of delivering planes ahead of their time on short deadlines, including the F-104 Starfighter, SR-71 Blackbird, U-2 Spy plane, and F-117 Nighthawk. The atmosphere at the Skunk Works was intense and informal, with a self-selecting group of engineers who were passionate about their job. Kelly Johnson, the boss of Skunk Works, had a systematic approach to managing projects, which included having engineers located as close as possible to where their planes were being built.