Watching the “60 Minutes” report on Sunday about the F-35 fighter being developed by Lockheed-Martin reminded me of a somewhat similar issue close to home.
The report dealt with the difficulties that the contractor is having getting the aircraft ready for deployment. The F-35 is supposed to replace virtually all tactical fighter aircraft used by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. The Air Force version is being developed for landing strip takeoffs and landings; the Navy version will be launched by catapult off aircraft carriers; the Marine Corps version will be a vertical takeoff and landing bird.
It’s years behind schedule and more than $150 billion over budget.
I couldn’t help but think of the troubles that accompanied the development of the V-22 Osprey, the state-of-the-art tiltrotor aircraft that’s being assembled in Amarillo and deployed in combat zones in Afghanistan; the Osprey also saw duty in Iraq.
Bell/Textron built the assembly plant here in the late 1990s, it hired a skilled work force and began assembling the aircraft. It met with difficulty. It crashed on occasion — and in one horrific accident, it crashed with 19 Marines on board, all of whom were killed.
The Marine Corps grounded the aircraft and began examining what went so horribly wrong. It turned out to be an issue with the rotor, which lifts the aircraft off the ground like a helicopter and then rotates forward to fly the bird like a conventional fixed-wing airplane.
Engineers resolved the issue and the Osprey has been performing well on the battlefield.
When the tragedy occurred, then-Amarillo Mayor Kel Seliger noted that all state-of-the-art, leading-edge aircraft have endured problems, controversy, glitches in design and performance. The loss of so many lives in one horrific accident, of course, made the Osprey a larger target than usual.
All this to suggest that it is my hope they fix what’s ailing the F-35 and that it gets into the air. Pilots from all the services set to use the airplane say it will outperform any fighter in use by any nation in the world and will be superior to the super jets being developed by Russia and China.
If only the costs weren’t so overbearing.