Friday, December 05, 2008
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II might well be the most dazzling war machine existent in the history of man.
Hyperbole? Some numbers: At just over 51 feet in length, the F-35 can carry twice its weight in weaponry and fuel into a battle radius of 610 nautical miles at a cruising velocity of Mach 1.6, roughly 1200 miles per hour in straight flight. Its joint-combat maneuverabilty is bolstered by over 20 tons of pure thrust from its after burners.
Furthermore, the F-35 can carry an internal payload of up to four air-to-air missiles, not including two bomb bays adaptable to five different makes of bombs ranging from 1000 to 2000 pounds each, with a maximum capacity of four per bay.
Nor does this account for possible external rigging along its 35-foot wingspan, which includes four armament pylons plus mountings for each wingtip. Also, the F-35 boasts an internal four-barrel cannon with in-flight reserve munitions totaling up to 400 rounds.
In addition to its flexible payload, the plane can also be fitted for stealth flying. Its on-board computer easily handles the extra burdens of stealth navigation; after all, it’s already nailed the (literal) balancing act required for hover flight via its Rolls Royce-manufactured lift fan.
That same computer acts almost as a co-pilot, combining a heads-up display with voice-recognition software that allows the one-man crew to perform the duties of an entire bomber team all by his lonesome. Rumors abound that it can perform a limited range of sorties via remote control akin to a muscled-up Predator drone.
Estimates vary on its total cost of development, but the scuttlebutt number approaches $100 billion dollars, an enormous sum divided up mostly between the United States and Britain, with a number of other partners it is probably best not to mention outside a certain five-sided office building.
Hell, the gizmo is so badass, they put it in a Die Hard movie.
Yet for all its frightening statistics, add one pissed-off deckhand with a sledgehammer and it’s just an overvalued paperweight that never leaves the runway.
From a distance, be it a cockpit or the pit in a Vegas sportsbook, one can become enamoured by the big numbers and the intricate design of these spectacular and horrifying machines of tomorrow. But it’s the ground game that always wins the war.
I sat in on a Kurt Vonnegut lecture once, which he, ever the good infantryman, began with the words “never trust a fucking pilot” and then spent over an hour plotting points of development for the main characters in Hamlet along an ordinate while marking the plot along the abscissa.
The resultant line made by connecting those dots might have been the beautiful thing I’ll ever see. There it all was, madness and love, revenge and absolution, all in one loopy little line.
But it wasn’t the play. It wasn’t the down-and-dirty details or the three-hour long slog of the real thing up on a stage with the whole audience watching.
And, as the young prince says, “the play’s the thing.”