A long evening for your loyal TriSec. I've got a moderate case of neuropathy right now, that massive B-vitamin doses have yet to affect....but on the other hand the crushing fatigue I've had the last month is finally starting to recede. I'm confident that at least that part of my side effects is done for good.
Let's talk aviation today. Since it's the one in the news, we'll table the Nightmareliner for now, although we'll be back. Instead we'll take a look at the far less well known teething problems of the vaunted F-22 "Raptor" and the not so vaunted F-35 "Joint Strike Fighter".
Despite all the modern bells and whistles, the Raptor was designed to a 1981
defense department requirement to take on the expected next generation of Soviet fighter jet, the SU-27 Flanker. It took the better part of the decade to design the plane, and the more dorky among you may vaguely remember the fly-off between the YF-22 and the Northrop YF-23
about 1986 or so.
Well, the F-22 won (after a five-year competition), and it went on a painfully long development into a production fighter. It took well over a decade to make that leap, finally reaching active duty squadrons in January 2003. Of course, being the "latest and greatest", none of these planes defend the United States. The bulk of the air fleet is deployed overseas in order to "project force" to our perceived enemies.
But a curious thing happened...the plane had a lot of problems. In 2005, a vexing problem with the pilot's oxygen system started happening - pilots began blacking out during flight. This problem occurred for literally years, and after a fatal crash from the pilot being incapacitated, the entire fleet was grounded for months.
There have been software problems, including one event where a flight of a dozen or so Raptors headed to Hawaii had to turn back when the navigation software crashed on all twelve planes mid-flight.
Finally, some of the polymers used in construction of the plane are literally toxic - ground crews need to use special precautions when performing routine maintenence and those that don't have come down with a peculiar affliction known as "Raptor Cough".
But all of that pales in comparison to the F-35 "JSF". This plane is truly a piece of junk. Designed to replace the vaunted and much-loved Harrier Jump Jet, the highly succesful F-16 Falcon, and the almost unbeatable A-10 Warthog, this plane is supposed to be a multi-role aircraft...a lightweight day superiority fighter, a STOL attack aircraft for the Marines, and a ground-attack fighter for the Army.
With all multi-role aircraft, it does none of these jobs well, as the design requirements for each type of aircraft are vastly different.
Nay, the F-35's problem lies with it's Pretty Worthless engine, built by Pratt & Whitney. Much was made over the last year politically whether or not there needed to be a backup engine for this aircraft. But the hell of it is, the P&W is actually the backup engine. The aircraft was originally designed around a variant of the long-proven GE F-404 turbojet...the one that powers the vastly superior (and undefeated in any combat) F-15 Eagle. During the development, GE was ordered to turn over the design to P & W for political reasons. The result was an underpowered and unreliable piece of junk. Our ally Canada doesn't want to buy the plane, as their experience with single-engine P&W jets isn't a happy one. (look up the problems with the "Starfighter"). And the US military isn't happy either, since the day-fighter version is so underpowered that it can't carry more than a handful of Air to Air missiles, which of course reduces the effectiveness of such a jet.
And to the best of my knowledge, there has been but a single full-cycle VTOL flight with this aircraft that barely achieved 1,000 feet of altitude before it had to land heavily.
But on the plus side...the F-22 program has already been shut down, and despite all the hopes of the Pentagon being pinned on the F-35, there's enough noise being generated that that program is in jeopardy now, too.
But all of this leads back to the Dreamliner. Fortunately, nobody has been killed on Boeing's latest and greatest....but do we remember the old DC10-30? Back in the 1970s, "trikes" were the latest technology. While Boeing built the iconic medium-haul 727, Lockheed and Douglas concentrated on wide-bodied jets. Lockheed won that competition with the elegant and much-loved 'Tristar", while Douglas went on to infamy with a series of fatal crashes of their DC-10 during the mid-to-late 70s, including what was at the time the highest amount of fatalities in a plane crash
. The Unfortunate US record is also still held by a DC-10, the well-known Chicago incident.
Naturally, this led to a worldwide grounding of the DC-10 fleet...and the aircraft's reputation was so damaged that Douglas re-designed it and gave it a new name after their merger with McDonnell. But these days it's mostly out of passenger service, and only FedEx flies a significant fleet of MD-11s in a cargo role these days.
Boeing's got a long road ahead of it. I used to deride the "dreamliner" as a re-engined 767, but there's so many new and different things in that bird that it is a completely new aviation concept. And there will be growing pains. The hope, of course, is that Boeing can fix it before a hull-loss accident happens and 250 people die in the ensuing carnage.