Skunk works in Aerospace parlance refers to a special team organized in 1943. The U.S. Army met with Lockheed Aircraft Corporation to express its dire need for a jet fighter to counter a rapidly growing German jet threat.
One month later, a young engineer by the name of Clarence "Kelly" L. Johnson and his team of young engineers hand delivered the XP-80 Shooting Star jet fighter proposal to the ATSC. Quickly the go-ahead was given for Lockheed to start development on the United States' first jet fighter effort. It was June of 1943 and this project marked the birth of what would become the Skunk Works® with Kelly Johnson at its helm.
The formal contract for the XP-80 did not arrive at Lockheed until October 16, 1943; four months after work had already begun. This would prove to be a common practice within the Skunk Works. Many times a customer would come to the Skunk Works with a request, and on a handshake the project would begin, no contracts in place, no official submittal process.
Kelly Johnson and his team designed and built the XP-80 in only 143 days, seven less than was required.
What allowed Kelly to operate the Skunk Works so effectively and efficiently was his unconventional organizational approach. He broke the rules, challenging the current bureaucratic system that stifled innovation and hindered progress. (from Lockheed Martin's website) This commission was from a client who wanted their own skunk works!