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Stealth bomber crash
June 6, 2008 11:08 AM   Subscribe

Wired: "In February, a B-2 stealth bomber crashed in Guam. Now we know why. And we've got video of the scene." (good stuff starts around 1:20)
posted by stbalbach (124 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Accidents happen, and nobody said protecting us from the Soviets would be easy.
posted by mullingitover at 11:12 AM on June 6, 2008


If a stealth bomber crashes in the forest, does anyone hear it?
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:13 AM on June 6, 2008


Nothing says stealthy like a ball of fire.
posted by djgh at 11:16 AM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nothing good about that much tax payer $$ doing a crash and burn. Just wait for the first A380 to burn in.
I wonder if they have a big red TURN THE COMPUTER OFF button in the cockpit now.
posted by a3matrix at 11:17 AM on June 6, 2008


Water distorted preflight readings in three of the plane's 24 sensors, making the aircraft's control computer force the B-2 to pitch up on takeoff, resulting in a stall and subsequent crash

Damned water. Good job they don't use those things outdoors, eh?
posted by Jakey at 11:17 AM on June 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


The problem is, you turn the computer off and the thing is totally uncontrollable.
posted by anthill at 11:18 AM on June 6, 2008


Question for aviation-knowledge-having people: How can you "punch out" that close to the ground and be alive?
posted by everichon at 11:20 AM on June 6, 2008


Yeah, the B-2 is totally unstable without constant adjustments from the computer, a person alone could not fly it. Also, weren't these the planes that were found to be easily seen on Radar when they got wet? I seem to remember something about that.
posted by Science! at 11:21 AM on June 6, 2008


Yep, poor little guy really hates the rain.
posted by Science! at 11:22 AM on June 6, 2008


Actual cost per plane: more than 2 billion dollars. And its sensors are fooled by a little moisture.
posted by pracowity at 11:24 AM on June 6, 2008


Question for aviation-knowledge-having people: How can you "punch out" that close to the ground and be alive?

They're lucky to be alive. I don't imagine they were uninjured. Hopefully the suggestion that they forgot to calibrate their sensors during pre-flight isn't true. Props to them for apparently trying to save the plane, though.

Also, weren't these the planes that were found to be easily seen on Radar when they got wet? I seem to remember something about that.

The panels have to be replaced constantly -- yet another part of the absurd maintenance costs -- but IIRC they should be able to fly through some rain.
posted by spiderwire at 11:30 AM on June 6, 2008


If building an airplane is anything like building software, having a project that comes in on-time, on-spec and on-budget is possible, but not very probable. I, personally, continue to view projects like the B-2 as normal and the existence of hundreds of 747s as a miracle on Earth.
posted by GuyZero at 11:30 AM on June 6, 2008 [5 favorites]


This kind of complexity leading to entropy is the same thing that seems to be happening to Microsoft.
posted by gallois at 11:32 AM on June 6, 2008


On the B-2: It ''must be sheltered or exposed only to the most benign environments -- low humidity, no precipitation, moderate temperatures,'' said the report by the General Accounting Office.

On Guam: "The climate is characterized as tropical marine. The weather is generally hot and very humid with little seasonal temperature variation. … An average of three tropical storms and one typhoon pass within 180 nautical miles (330 km) of Guam each year."

This place sounds specifically designed to destroy B-2s to me.
posted by public at 11:33 AM on June 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


Well, if they train their pilots as well as they do their camera operators this isn't such a big surprise.
posted by dobbs at 11:35 AM on June 6, 2008 [11 favorites]


Question for aviation-knowledge-having people: How can you "punch out" that close to the ground and be alive?

The ejection seats are rocket-assisted, and right themselves after exiting the plane, so that the crewmember is given a chance to get some elevation before the seat deploys a parachute. Some manufacturer info, and some additional info.
posted by dammitjim at 11:36 AM on June 6, 2008


More software induce crash porn: F22 going haywire. Saab Gripen doing similar.
posted by marvin at 11:38 AM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Spoiler warning: first plane doesn't crash, don't get your hopes up. If you don't care to see a B-2 just take off safely, skip to the middle.

I have a $300 bike and I check from time to time that the thing is shipshape. If I had a $1.4 billion airplane just about every system would be tested before every flight.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:38 AM on June 6, 2008


BTW, check out the "Ejection Tie Club":

"Life membership of the Martin-Baker Tie Club is confined solely to persons who have ejected from an aircraft in an emergency using a Martin-Baker designed ejection seat, and thereby saved their life."
posted by dammitjim at 11:41 AM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


From the report: The Mishap Accident aircraft was destroyed by fire after impact with a total loss of $1,407,006,920.

Holy cow. I have to say it is commendable that the Air Force is being frank with releasing its accident report (pdf) and the videos after losing $1.4 billion of taxpayer assets. Man, $1,407,006,920... even getting down to pocket change it's still in the millions.
posted by tinkertown at 11:42 AM on June 6, 2008


GuyZero: The B-52 is scheduled to be in service 1955-2040, and is generally busy making everyone look bad. Although it's being replaced, the F-15E is still overwhelmingly good at its mission. They're still building the F-16 for export. America expects a higher level of competence in aviation, even if there were a lot of screwups that we like to forget about.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:44 AM on June 6, 2008


If a bike had as many systems as the B-2, the first system would at its maintenance interval by the time you finished testing the last one.
posted by anthill at 11:46 AM on June 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Though the Pentagon says it does not want or need any more B-2 bombers, the plane has always had strong defenders in Congress, including Floyd D. Spence, a South Carolina Republican and chairman of the House National Security Committee. During that first open debate in 1989, Mr. Spence said the plane's cost was irrelevant, given its power to defend the United States from its enemies.

''Cost?'' he asked. ''What price tag do you put on freedom?''
Now that's talking to the level of your target audience. Cost is not the same as price ,asstag. I tell you what's the cost : cuts to infrastructure maintenance (road/bridges/younameit), cuts to education, cuts to healthcare.

If we were to measure the performance of these expensive weapons system by both the quantity and quality of armaments of potential competitors, I would hardly be surprised to discover a slingshot is more efficient.
posted by elpapacito at 11:47 AM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


The entire 20th century was an epic fail.

However, I'm not surprised to see water rear its ugly head again. After bears and maybe raccoons, water is our country's greatest threat.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:51 AM on June 6, 2008


When I worked on general aviation avionics, we (the non-software guys) always marveled at the ridiculous bugs that would creep into our systems.

Then I read about this - all of the computer systems on a squadron of F-22s crashing because they crossed the International Date Line. Made me feel a little less ashamed at our own failings.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:53 AM on June 6, 2008


Second props to the jockeys for staying with the horse so long.

The engineers are responsible for this. Inexcusable for that plane to take such a high angle like that on take-off and stall.

That plane also appears somewhat underpowered. I was waiting for the pilot to kick in the turbo and get himself some lift, but it sort of lumbered forward like a Ford Pinto. That was obviously all Scotty had.

It would also seem that this aircraft a set-up for any first rate fighter. Stealth is no defense against a 20mm cannon.
posted by three blind mice at 11:56 AM on June 6, 2008


The entire 20th century was an epic fail.

More rights for more people than ever before. More people lifted out of poverty than ever before. More education for more people than ever before. More people living longer, healthier lives than ever before. Technology and science advancing to unprecedented levels.

But other than that what have the Romans ever done for us?
posted by Justinian at 12:02 PM on June 6, 2008 [7 favorites]


Assuming that the AF tapes all of their takeoffs/landings, I am amazed how bad the tracking is on this video. Two billion dollar plane, but there's still a person with a joystick trying to control the camera, instead some kind of automated system. It's not like the runway moves or anything.
posted by meowzilla at 12:02 PM on June 6, 2008


So the Air Force spends billions on these things...is that why they can't train a cameraman? It was painful to watch...
posted by nevercalm at 12:04 PM on June 6, 2008


*passes hat* Let's buy the fly boys a new toy.
posted by Cranberry at 12:05 PM on June 6, 2008


Our plane will be named the MetaFlier and have bunny with a pancake painted on it
posted by Cranberry at 12:06 PM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Saab Gripen doing similar.
posted by marvin at 2:38 PM on June 6 [+] [!]


All I can imagine that pilot saying is:

"Ok, comin' in a little wobbly, but I got it... gootttt it... *whoops!* no, OK... still got it... ... goottttt it.... gootttttt it.... DON'T GOT IT DON'T GOT IT!! DON'TGOTITDON'TGOTITDON'TGOTIT!!!!!!"
posted by Debaser626 at 12:08 PM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


If we were to measure the performance of these expensive weapons system by both the quantity and quality of armaments of potential competitors, I would hardly be surprised to discover a slingshot is more efficient.

So you're gonna bomb Russia with a sling shot? Keep in mind that sucker is almost 40 years old and was designed with a different world in mind...

Two billion dollar plane, but there's still a person with a joystick trying to control the camera, instead some kind of automated system. It's not like the runway moves or anything.

It's the Air Force! They're surrounded by cheap labor. Why develop a system when you can throw a cadet at it...
posted by SweetJesus at 12:08 PM on June 6, 2008


TOP SECRET
PLAN B: IN CASE OF RUSSIAN ATTACK
DETAILS: CRASH B2 INTO KREMLIN
NOTE: THIS WILL NEED TO HAPPEN ON A THURSDAY, IT ALWAYS RAINS ON THURSDAY IN MOSCOW


PLAN APPROVED
posted by blue_beetle at 12:11 PM on June 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


I was under the impression that these things never landed anywhere except their home base in Missouri. I believe I read somewhere during the start of the Iraq war that they did their bombing runs there after having taken off from the states and then returning to the same base, something like a 24-hour roundrip flight. Maybe that policy has changed?
posted by MarvinTheCat at 12:12 PM on June 6, 2008


but there's still a person with a joystick trying to control the camera, instead some kind of automated system

Someone in the Wired comments claims that the camera was radar-controlled. The camera does drift well past the site immediately post-crash, which I seriously doubt even the most inept human operator would do.
posted by jamaro at 12:15 PM on June 6, 2008


The fact that these fouled sensors took out the whole airplane is pretty bad, yes. As far as allowing such a high angle of attack or not "punching in the turbo", well, those are design choices.

Of course it's slow on takeoff and looks sluggish. It's a bomber; it weighs over 300,000 pounds on the ramp and it doesn't need to be agile. It's designed to haul massive amounts of munitions halfway across the globe, not get in dogfights. You may as well ask Ford why their minivans can't take corners at 90 miles an hour. Besides, no one uses cannon anymore. Modern air warfare, nonexistent as it is, involves launching missiles at the enemy before you can even see them with your own eyes.

Only 20 B-2s were ever built for combat, plus one test plane. At 1.5 billion a pop, I'm curious how that compares to the cost of the thousands of relatively inexpensive aircraft that were built for World War II. I'm betting the 20 aircraft are still more expensive, but you also require less infrastructure and fewer people to handle them.

Another possible interesting point - everything I read now that comes from the government refers to the B-2's abilities as "low observable". If they use the word "stealth", it's always in quotes.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:15 PM on June 6, 2008


Oh man, after seeing the first takeoff, how it's supposed to go, and seeing the nose come up so fast on the second takeoff ... yeesh. You can kinda see the pilots going, "Aww, fuck. Set her back down? No, can't do that, so throttle up and go around? No, can't do that either? Dammit, let's get out." And it all happens in seconds.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:15 PM on June 6, 2008


You thought the B2 crash was bad? Wait until they finish their new CyberSpace security mission. Now that series of crashes will be just damn amazing. Hooray Air Force.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:18 PM on June 6, 2008


Cameraman blows. But what I really want to know is why, specifically, he/she dozes off AFTER the crash...panning right, away from the fire, as though a streaker were on the scenen or this were some artistic closing shot...only to return back to the crash after a few seconds? I don't understand the nonchalance...it's a B2 on fire and you don't instinctively want that on tape?!?!!
posted by diastematic at 12:19 PM on June 6, 2008


I was under the impression that these things never landed anywhere except their home base in Missouri.

They stock 19 of them at Whiteman in Missouri, and they keep a test craft at Edwards.
posted by SweetJesus at 12:21 PM on June 6, 2008


I'm curious how that compares to the cost of the thousands of relatively inexpensive aircraft that were built for World War II.

The thing that kind of bothers me is that the Soviets in WWII sorta proved that building lots and lots and lots of low cost, low maintenance, interchangeable part vehicles was better than building fewer high cost, high maintenace technologically superior vehicles. Yeah, a Tiger or Panther could kick the shit out of any two T-34s, but the third one shoots you in the side and half the time your Tiger broke down on the way to the battle in the first place.
posted by Justinian at 12:21 PM on June 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Maybe the B-2 was overloaded with drugs?

After all, a Florida-registered Gulfsteam plane full of cocaine that crashed last fall in southern Mexico may have been one that was previously used by the CIA for rendition flights.
posted by ornate insect at 12:27 PM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Actually the Air Force is having a hard time justifying some of it's programs, like the B-2. They're great for fighting conventional wars against other nuclear powers, but when is that ever going to happen? Imagine if rather then 1 two billion dollar bomber, you had 2,000 cheap, pilotless bombers. Throw some radar jammers on it and if you lose one or two who cares?
posted by delmoi at 12:28 PM on June 6, 2008


That plane also appears somewhat underpowered.


The B-2 was designed to be a scary monster. It wasn't designed to run. It wasn't designed to dogfight. It was designed so that the United States could say, "Hey, look! We have an airplane that is impossible to find and can deliver nukes. Oh, and next week we were thinking about having a cookout and maybe a strategic arms limitation talk if you're interested."

If your can spot it and track it you can pretty much count on shooting it down every time. If they gave it things you'd generally want in an airplane, like lots of control surfaces and plenty of power then it might be able to handle your spotting it and tracking it a little bit better, but you'd be able to spot it and track it a whole lot more. And it wouldn't be that cold war scary monster.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:30 PM on June 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Just sayin... IANAPilot, but from the OP video it looks to me like the second B2 was "rotated" (lifted off) sooner than the first one, suggesting that it wasn't at the same airspeed, which would of course mean there's less lift.... and other consequences might thus ensue...

I don't know how a computer could compensate for a pilot pulling the stick early, other than a tiny metallic hand slapping his wrist and straightening out again. If it was a computer-controlled takeoff, then that's something else.

regarding the camera controller panning off of the crash, I can imagine a whole lot else happening in the command centre at the same time, that might have been a bit of a distraction.

I just had two 7 hour rides in 747-400 jets, and the flights were about as eventful as a commuter bus-ride. Amen for that...
posted by Artful Codger at 12:30 PM on June 6, 2008


I totally agree with you there, that's why UAVs have such appeal right now. 20 years ago, though, the technology wasn't really mature enough.

The reason for these expensive aircraft is survivability, I think. Sure, we can fight with cheaper equipment, but it requires more pilots and crew and, ultimately, more casualties. Public sentiment right now basically mandates that as few of "our boys" get killed as possible.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:33 PM on June 6, 2008


That was fucking crazy, are the ejections automated or did one of the pilots have to trigger it?
posted by Divine_Wino at 12:35 PM on June 6, 2008


They stock 19 of them at Whiteman in Missouri, and they keep a test craft at Edwards.

Plus Diego Garcia apparently.

"Overview of "Camp Justice", the 30-acre temporary housing area for personnel supporting Operation Enduring Freedom"

excuse me while I go & throw up now.
posted by tachikaze at 12:37 PM on June 6, 2008


Public sentiment right now basically mandates that as few of "our boys" get killed as possible.

you know what's worse than a killed pilot? A captured pilot.

The only leverage the DRV had on us in 1972 was the several hundred captured airmen being held in their torture facilities.

Nixon had already pulled out substantially all of the combat troops, but without us agreeing to leave the GVN to the tender mercies of PAVN, we weren't going to get our men back.
posted by tachikaze at 12:41 PM on June 6, 2008


*passes hat* Let's buy the fly boys a new toy.

Yeah, sorry, I threw my donation in when the hat was passed on April 15. I'm sure they still have some of my donation around.

the Soviets in WWII sorta proved that building lots and lots and lots of low cost, low maintenance, interchangeable part vehicles was better than building fewer high cost, high maintenace technologically superior vehicles.

This is interesting because apparently the US Army got this message. I was watching some show on HD TV where these guys in England rebuild WW2 tanks from all over the world. They had an American M-1 Abrams (I think that's what it was) and as they were building they were showing the difference between mass produced, interchangeable American tank parts that were easy to change and adapt and British parts that were produced by hand specifically for every tank that rolled off the line. They were saying they loved the American parts because they knew exactly the measurments every single time, whereas the British parts would always be different from one tank to the next.
posted by spicynuts at 12:42 PM on June 6, 2008


That was fucking crazy, are the ejections automated or did one of the pilots have to trigger it?

I haven't gone to look this up for sure, but I am very confident it was triggered. Ejecting is very dangerous in itself - I think I've seen it referred to as something like "committing suicide to save your life."
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:42 PM on June 6, 2008


They need a replacement that's a little more resilient to water.
posted by panboi at 12:56 PM on June 6, 2008


I just remembered something...back when I was a TV cameraman, they brought a Stealth to Stewart Air Force Base in Newburgh, NY. I don't remember what the reason was, but I got sent to cover it. So, I got to see this baby land and I got to get up real close to it. Regardless of its cost, efficacy, whatever, observed from a completely 'used to be a kid who built a lot of airplane models' persepective, it's a freakin AWESOME sight. I wish I still had that tape. I was dying to go inside.
posted by spicynuts at 12:56 PM on June 6, 2008


Inside the airplane that is.
posted by spicynuts at 12:58 PM on June 6, 2008


I don't know how a computer could compensate for a pilot pulling the stick early

There are a couple ways, actually. There's the "stick shaker" which activates if your pitch is too high and airspeed too low - it literally shakes the controls to warn the pilot of impending stall. Some aircraft autopilots will force the nose down despite the pilot trying to pitch the airplane up.

Stalling an airplane on takeoff is bad, but you can definitely recover if you're aware of what's going on. As long as you lower the nose, the engines have enough power to help you recover and continue your climb out. Of course, if your computers won't let you lower the nose... well, then you have a problem.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:00 PM on June 6, 2008


Justinian: "But other than that what have the Romans ever done for us?"

Eponysterical!
posted by symbioid at 1:06 PM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Serves those B-2 pilots right for trying to take off from a moving conveyor belt.
posted by chinston at 1:06 PM on June 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


''Cost?'' he asked. ''What price tag do you put on freedom?''

Excellent.

Then I say we build my new 80 billion dollar (each) B RIS-47 Bomber. It is not stealth. In fact the whole POINT is that is to be as visible and intimidating as possible.

Imagine if you will a mostly cube shaped object approximately 200 meters to a side. The forward "fuselage" is slightly sculpted into a skull shape with prominent canine-fang like protrusions at the main intake vent. Every square surface is covered in six barreled mini-gun turrets (27 in all), missiles, bombs, and diamond tipped spikes. If possible every spike should have the rotting corpse of a defeated enemy impaled upon it.

There are also specially designed claxon horns and sirens that reach an inhuman volume of 600,000 decibels each playing a combination of "The Ride of the Valkyries", Tom Waits' "Earth Died Screaming" and Einsturzende Neubauten to announce, for hundreds of kilometers in all directions, the coming of the B RIS-47

The avionics configuration of the B RIS-47 makes it's radar profile actually larger that it would naturally be. In fact they do not currently make a radar monitor large enough to contain the signature. During flight tests SAM crews did not stay at their controls more than 8 seconds when presented with looming blazing profile of the B RIS-47. The bravest operator stayed exactly 8 seconds before calling his mom to tell her loved her and then shot himself mumbling something about the Fourth Horseman.

The aerodynamics of the B RIS-47 is... well it's laughable. However this is more than compensated for with 14 GE90-115B Jet engines and the main booster thrust of 2 Rocketdyne's J-2 Rocket engines all powered by an atomic core. Still top speed of the B RIS-47 barely tops 400 MPH - which is fine when you are like an unstoppable atomic zombie bent on crushing everything in your path. It must be noted this less than impressive speed was only reached when the design team scrapped the reactor shielding, landing gear, and ejection modules. Not to worry since the bomber is vertically launched into the operation theater by the main boosters of the soon to be retired space shuttle. The B RIS-47 DROPS in most unexpectedly we can assure you.

As for pilots well we have found the crew of monkeys pretty much can get it where it needs to go and by the time all the ammunition an ordinance is exhausted the little bastards have bailed out anyway. Thus freeing us from liability and expensive Returning Hero Ceremonies.

Can it maneuver? If by "maneuver" you mean go in a straight balls-out screaming vector like a god damned mile wide flaming freight train of death — right at your enemy until the shit in his pants becomes too heavy for him to even scream let alone run. Then, yes. The B RIS-47 is fucking maneuverable.

And should the worst happen and the B RIS-47 get shot down? Well most impressive is it's crash profile. Which can take out most major cities in a half mile deep crater of radioactive death.

You can preview the B RIS-47 at next years Paris Air Show. However the training run will take place over the Atlantic becuase those pussy's in France have some rule about contaminated air and the plan always being terminal on the ground crew.

Oh. The name designation? RIS? Sure. It means "Resistance Is Futile."

Thank you Congressmen. Remember our motto at TKChristo-dyne Offesive Systems ...
"Defense is for sissies. Offense is for winners."
posted by tkchrist at 1:08 PM on June 6, 2008 [20 favorites]


GuyZero: The B-52 is scheduled to be in service 1955-2040, and is generally busy making everyone look bad. Although it's being replaced, the F-15E is still overwhelmingly good at its mission. They're still building the F-16 for export. America expects a higher level of competence in aviation, even if there were a lot of screwups that we like to forget about.

So, while I agree that we should have higher standards, the B-52 versus the B-2 is like a 1920's Massey-Ferguson tractor vs a Prius. When systems gets complex, inter-system interactions increase exponentially and so do failure modes. A B-52 is at the end of its respective technology curve - it was hardly the first long-ranger bomber using basic jet engines. The B-2 is on the opposite end of the curve and, as such, it's not really fair to compare their reliability.

Also, the B-2 lacks something the B-52 had in spades: real field trials. WWII was a bombing-fest. There will never be a better bomber than the B-52 in practice because there will never be another bomb-tastic war like WWII. Which is really OK by me. Ultimately there's a limit to how much technology you need to drop a bomb - you could probably build 20 B-52s for the price of a B-2 and just expect 19 of them to get shot down. The point is not to actually drop bombs but to make the other guy (i.e. the Soviets) feel like they have no defense from your bombs.
posted by GuyZero at 1:14 PM on June 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


B RIS-47

WTF? It bombs off foreskins?
posted by GuyZero at 1:15 PM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


the Soviets in WWII sorta proved that building lots and lots and lots of low cost, low maintenance, interchangeable part vehicles was better than building fewer high cost, high maintenace technologically superior vehicles.

Soviet tanks by the end of the war were not only more numerous but of equal or better quality to the Germans. True the Germans had a few really special tanks but they never played a big role as there were so few of them. The Germans started the war with the best technology, but then the Russians geared up new factories and leap frogged, the Germans never kept up with the numbers. That is why they had to win quickly, and the failure to take Moscow in 41' (the escape of factory equipment and workers to the Urals) was so significant. After that it was just a matter of time, every day the Russians grew stronger and the Germans weaker (I'm ignoring the western front, 80% of WWII in Europe was Soviet/German).

On the other hand one could say the Soviet strategy did not serve them well in the Cold War.
posted by stbalbach at 1:17 PM on June 6, 2008


What? Did I bury the punchline too much for you? Work for it Guy. Work for it.
posted by tkchrist at 1:17 PM on June 6, 2008


On the topic of ejection seats, I once visited a neurosurgeon whose entire specialty in life revolved around moving misplaced/broken nerves into relatively safe/soft pockets of fat, rather than muscle or touching bone, etc. I asked him how he had gotten into that line of work, and he said that he had started out in the Air Force -- turns out that when pilots [of that era] ejected, they usually forgot to take their hands off the stick, so the impact of the ejection seat would mangle the hell out of their hands and require significant surgery to relocate/fix all the screwed up nerves.
posted by felix at 1:20 PM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Dihydrogen monoxide (nearly) kills again!
posted by Pollomacho at 1:22 PM on June 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't know how a computer could compensate for a pilot pulling the stick early, other than a tiny metallic hand slapping his wrist and straightening out again. If it was a computer-controlled takeoff, then that's something else.

Based on the crash report (linked from the wired link, and in this thread, I think), it was the computer that caused the plane to pitch up so high. The sensor reported an incorrect pressure, which means an incorrect velocity, causing the plane to rotate earlier than usual. The attitude sensor reported a negative angle, causing the plane to pitch up higher than it should have. After all this, the plane had so little altitude and airspeed that the pilots could no longer recover.
posted by !Jim at 1:22 PM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Soviet tanks by the end of the war were not only more numerous but of equal or better quality to the Germans. True the Germans had a few really special tanks but they never played a big role as there were so few of them. The Germans started the war with the best technology, but then the Russians geared up new factories and leap frogged, the Germans never kept up with the numbers.

This happened for two reasons, IIRC. For one thing, Hitler was suspicious of new technology, believing that his minions would and should be able to accomplish their goals without it. The other problem was the economic depression and lack of resources caused by the war.
posted by !Jim at 1:25 PM on June 6, 2008


...the B-52 versus the B-2 is like a 1920's Massey-Ferguson tractor vs a Prius.
Well...if your mission is to grow crops, I'm guessing it's a good thing to have a few Masseys around, then.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:31 PM on June 6, 2008


"Life membership of the Martin-Baker Tie Club is confined solely to persons who have ejected from an aircraft in an emergency using a Martin-Baker designed ejection seat, and thereby saved their life."

What? People who ejected and died aren't allowed in the club? That doesn't seem very fair.
posted by brundlefly at 1:37 PM on June 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Well...if your mission is to grow crops, I'm guessing it's a good thing to have a few Masseys around, then.

The sensors on my simile just got fouled causing it to crash.
posted by GuyZero at 1:38 PM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


the Germans never kept up with the numbers.

Complicating matters was that the Germans didn't fully mobilize until early 1943, after their catastrophe at Stalingrad. Plus every able-bodied man you send into the Wehrmacht is one less factory worker (the Soviets were able to put their women to work in war plants).

Additionally, after 1942 the Russians had the luxury of being able to concentrate on a single front, while German military power was being diverted to the 4 compass points.

And while the economic analysis of the USAAF bombing campaign is contentional, IMO the strategic bombing campaign had a significant effect in retarding Germany's ability to ramp up production to meet the Soviets.

Hitler was suspicious of new technology, believing that his minions would and should be able to accomplish their goals without it

The war, for the Germans, was supposed to be over in 1940, when it was first won that Spring. Then in 1941, when it was won again that Fall. Then again in the Summer of 1942, when the Wehrmacht made its great leaps towards Cairo, Tehran, and Stalingrad.

Only in 1943 did it become apparent to the Germans that the war wasn't over yet and that things were going to become increasingly difficult.
posted by tachikaze at 1:40 PM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Soviet tanks by the end of the war were not only more numerous but of equal or better quality to the Germans. True the Germans had a few really special tanks but they never played a big role as there were so few of them. The Germans started the war with the best technology

This isn't really true, actually. The Germans did not start the war with the best technology in terms of tanks. Not by a long shot; the T-34 was far superior to the early German tanks. Hell, the French tanks were superior to the early German tanks. It's just that the Germans understood armored doctrine far better. They grouped up their tanks and put radios in them while the French had no radios in the tanks and spread out the tanks among the infantry. Which was proven to be far less effective.

The German reaction to the T-34s was to develop technologically advanced but very expensive high-maintenance tanks like the Tiger and Panther.

It's true that by the end of the war there were Soviet tanks that were of equal or better quality to the Germans, but they weren't available in great numbers any more than the German supertanks like the Tiger II were. The JSIII, for example, was only produced in the 300-400 range during the war as opposed to fifty-seven THOUSAND T-34s. Yeah, 57000. The Russians developed high quality tanks, yes, but they didn't produce them in huge numbers and didn't abandon the mass production of cost-effective "good enough" tanks like the T34/85. The T34/85 wasn't quite a match one-on-one for a Panther but it was good enough considering they didn't have to fight one on one. And they were far easier to maintain and far less prone to mechanical difficulties than, say, a Tiger.

The B2 a hugely expensive, high maintenance, low reliability, massive boondoggle of a bomber. Yeah, yeah, the goal is to scare the Soviets into negotiating. Like they could have afforded not to negotiate even in the complete absence of the B2. And the Cold War ended almost 20 years ago anyway so what the hell are we paying to keep up these things for?

It's just pork. These things are practically worthless in the fights we are facing today. A B52 or an F22 strike variant can do the job better (depending on the job) for less cost and with less chance of smashing itself into the ground because it got wet or sandy or snowy or maybe an insect landed on it funny.
posted by Justinian at 1:44 PM on June 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


The war, for the Germans, was supposed to be over in 1940, when it was first won that Spring

Somebody should photoshop Hitler standing in front of the Eiffel Tower with a huge MISSION ACCOMPLISHED sign behind him.
posted by Justinian at 1:45 PM on June 6, 2008 [10 favorites]


Serves those B-2 pilots right for trying to take off from a moving conveyor belt.

Sorry, it's wrong, but I can't stop laughing.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:48 PM on June 6, 2008


The war, for the Germans, was supposed to be over in 1940..1941..1942</i

Oddly like 2003's "missions accomplished". War, once it starts, takes on a life of its own, it's difficult to steer or predict. A huge gamble no matter the superiority of force.

posted by stbalbach at 1:51 PM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


yikes.. what Justinian said (re: Mission Accomplished) and oops on the italics close.
posted by stbalbach at 1:53 PM on June 6, 2008


tkchrist: Sounds like SLAM.

The use of a nuclear engine in the airframe ... also acted as a secondary weapon for the missile: the stream of fallout left in its wake would poison enemy territory, and when its fuel was spent it would severely contaminate its strategically-selected crash site. In addition, the sonic waves given off by its passage would damage ground installations.

Just as well we came up with ICBM's before they got any in service.
posted by Freaky at 2:01 PM on June 6, 2008




I've often wondered what it would be like to take a lot of money, like say... one and a half billion dollars, stick it out on some big open space, cover it in jet fuel and light it on fire, just to watch it burn.

This is probably as close as I will get to that.
posted by quin at 2:52 PM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Saab Gripen doing similar

And three years later, Gripen made its first public appearance at an airshow in Stockholm, with the same test pilot behind the joystick:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0LBj_8xs_w

After this little incident, they finally realized that if they were going to fly by joystick, it might be a good idea to provide at least a little force feedback for the poor pilot, to avoid oscillation.

And yes, the pilot quit.

All I can imagine that pilot saying

That first video is famous for the original soundtrack, which consists of the cameraman shouting "jävlar! jävlar! jävlar!" ("fuck! fuck! fuck!") at the top of his voice. For some odd reason, I couldn't find any clip with sound on Youtube, but here's a snippet that includes a bit more sound.

http://svt.se/svt/play/video.jsp?a=399477 (silly real player/media player selection dialog in swedish, but I'm sure the interested can figure out how to get by that one).

And for the record, Gripen was for quite some time known as "the flying cultivator" by the snarkier portions of the populace.
posted by effbot at 2:58 PM on June 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


quin, a billion dollars apparently would weigh about 22,000 pounds, so $1.5B would, I assume, be ~33,000 pounds. A B-2 apparently weighs 158,000 pounds empty and 376,000 loaded, so in this case you might actually be getting your money's worth burning the B-2 instead.

Sadly, the B-2 is not quite worth its weight in $100 bills. It is, however, worth its weight in $20 bills, which is somewhat disturbing. Its weapons/fuel load out is also independently worth its weight in $20 bills.

I'd like to know exactly what a B-2's estimated lifetime worth is in terms of cost, maintenance, support, piloting, bombs dropped, fuel burned, and damage caused. I imagine that's a big number.
posted by spiderwire at 3:03 PM on June 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Can just one of you fucking war nerds stop with the wanking over Nebelwerfers and Higgins Boats and tell me if the eject was manual or automatic? I guess manual, in which case good show pilots, wow.
posted by Divine_Wino at 3:05 PM on June 6, 2008


How the heck should I know if the eject was manual or automatic? Do I look like some kind of aviation freak to you?
posted by Justinian at 3:21 PM on June 6, 2008


When I watched the video my own ejection was automatic. HTH.
posted by GuyZero at 3:32 PM on June 6, 2008


From the Summary as Facts, as linked from comments on the Wired page:<>MP2 [Mishap Pilot 2] initiated the ejection sequence at 0031:06Z just after the left wingtip made contact with the group, successfully ejecting MP2 first, followed by MP1."

"Testimony indicates that MP2 verbalized that an eject may be necessary following the aggressive, uncommanded pitch-up. The entire airborne event lasted mere seconds, so when MP2 determined that an ejection was required, he did not recall verbalizing his intention to MP1. MP1 did not recall actuating his ejection handles following his struggle to maintain control of the aircraft although he did testify to feeling his right hand 'hitting' the top of the handle and hearing a voice or thought saying 'get out'. Since both seats had their ejection handles up and locked it is possible that the pilots' ejections were initiated simultaneously."
posted by effbot at 3:35 PM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


1920's Massey-Ferguson

I thought everyone know that Massey-Ferguson was formed by the merger of the Canadian Massy-Harris and the Anglo-American Ferguson companies in 1953. The new company's name, Massey-Harris-Ferguson was shortened to the familiar Massey-Ferguson in 1958. C'mon, folks, let's keep up with your tractor history, here.

(Harry Ferguson was an interesting fellow. On topic, he was the first Irishman to build and fly his own plane, in 1909. I keep meaning to put together an FPP on him...)
posted by maxwelton at 3:43 PM on June 6, 2008 [5 favorites]


Excuse the typos, my pup is trying to ensure my face has an adequate coating of dog spit.
posted by maxwelton at 3:44 PM on June 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


To answer my own question, assuming a loadout of 14.5 JDAMs per sortie at $18K apiece (based on 656 dropped in 45 sorties in Yugoslavia -- which is lower than the number the B-2 can carry, but JDAMs are slightly more expensive now) that's about $262,400 per sortie (1/3 of a cruise missile, IIRC).

The plane that crashed "had logged 5,176 flying hours and flown 1,036 sorties since it was delivered to the Air Force in 1995. All told, B-2s have logged 72,000 flying hours and flown more than 14,000 sorties." That's about $271M in bombs for that B-2, $3.6B in bombs total. Maintenance costs reportedly run at $13,000 per flight hour, or $67M for the crashed B-2 and $936M overall.

Property damage not included.
posted by spiderwire at 3:45 PM on June 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


Can just one of you fucking war nerds stop with the wanking ... and tell me if the eject was manual or automatic?

The B-2 is equipped with fairly standard ACES II ejection seats, which are manually operated and work hand-in-hand with systems that blow out the cockpit pieces when the seats are triggered. Pretty standard stuff.

I'd be mighty surprised if any plane anywhere had an automatic ejection seat/cockpit. Automatically detect what, exactly? Does it blow when you merely stall the plane? Sometimes, you want to stall the plane, like the split-second before you land.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:49 PM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Another possible interesting point - everything I read now that comes from the government refers to the B-2's abilities as "low observable". If they use the word "stealth", it's always in quotes."

One would assume people have got better at spotting it since it's introduction.
posted by Auz at 3:50 PM on June 6, 2008



I'd be mighty surprised if any plane anywhere had an automatic ejection seat/cockpit. Automatically detect what, exactly? Does it blow when you merely stall the plane? Sometimes, you want to stall the plane, like the split-second before you land.


I kinda meant like if the wing was torn off, but yeah I get your point, I was just enjoying their quick reflexes and being a war nerd myself.
posted by Divine_Wino at 5:10 PM on June 6, 2008


C'mon, folks, let's keep up with your tractor history, here.

Shit, you're right, I meant Massey-Harris. You'd think I would know having once lived in their former Toronto factory parking lot.
posted by GuyZero at 5:15 PM on June 6, 2008


Did the computer responsible for tracking the camera also get wet?
posted by sloe at 5:33 PM on June 6, 2008


I'm actually kind of surprised that something like this didn't happen earlier, considering what a twine-and-bailing-wire sort of affair those planes are.

For example, according to this article I read while researching the previous comment, as part of the routine maintenance on the B-2s, they had to replace thousands of feet of tape and caulk on the outer surfaces and let it cure before each flight. Fortunately they fixed that with robots somehow.

Even more absurd is this: "On May 15th 2002 an unidentified B-2 collapsed while workers were carrying out "unscheduled maintenance" on it, injuring five of them. According to the AIB report, one of the maintenance personnel improperly removed a landing gear safety pin, and then pushed the locking assembly into an unsafe position. Without hydraulic power, the aircraft collapsed under its own weight."

They pulled out a pin and the plane fell apart. That's like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
posted by spiderwire at 5:47 PM on June 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


Modern (i.e. since the 1970s) ejection seats are zero/zero certified. I.e. you are supposed to survive an ejection at zero airspeed and zero altitude, assuming you're not completely upside-down. Fact is that peacetime crashes happen almost always during takeoff and landing, and are a close-second during wartime.
posted by randomstriker at 5:49 PM on June 6, 2008


** NB: OK, the plane didn't technically "fall apart," it just fell down. Still.
posted by spiderwire at 5:53 PM on June 6, 2008


They pulled out a pin and the plane fell apart.

Heck, Canadian Naval helicopters require something like 30 hours of maintenance for each hour of fly time. And didn't the SR-71 basically have fuel pouring out of its fuselage until it warmed up? Having a self-destruct pin seems like par for the course.
posted by GuyZero at 5:58 PM on June 6, 2008


The SR-71 was designed such that the friction on the skin would cause it to heat and expand, closing up the gaps at cruise speed. The B-2 was designed such that it had to be caulked up in a oversized, climate-controlled hangar before each mission. It's analogous, but distinct...
posted by spiderwire at 6:01 PM on June 6, 2008


Thank you all for a great thread.
posted by jouke at 6:28 PM on June 6, 2008


But other than that what have the Romans ever done for us?
Concrete, developement of civil engineering (acqueducts, public baths, some of the first sewer and potable water systems, multistory buldings) and one of the first formalizations of positive law.

One could argue that others did even more, take Arabas/Persians and Algebra ( Kitab al-Jabr wa-l-Muqabala).

Yet I concour that the last 100-200 years were astonishing.
posted by elpapacito at 6:38 PM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


tkchrist: Sounds like SLAM.

GOD DAMNIT! Somebody at the TKChristo-Dyne plant has been talking!
I do and do for those damn Umpahloopahs: health plans with dental, Flex-time, free hookers; and this is the thanks I get.

How many times must I tell them? Loose lips you fucking little orange bastards.

Well. when the B Resistance-Is-Futile 48a comes out next fall with our new patented Anti-matter Fusion Strangelet Singularity bomb and the secondary power source that is fueled only by burning stacks of $1000 Treasury notes... heh heh.. yes... then we will see who gets the last laugh! TKChristo-Dyne or those do-gooder hacks at McDonnell Douglas!
posted by tkchrist at 7:02 PM on June 6, 2008


Hopefully the question about automatic vs. manual ejection seats has been put to rest, but JUST IN CASE...

There is no such thing, nor would any aviator want, an automatically activated ejection system. However, on some aircraft (like the no longer in U.S. service F-14) the pilot CAN eject the RIO... but even then the RIO has to have his system toggled correctly. But even in that case, some human interaction was required to initiate the ejection sequence.

To familiarize yourself with how ejection seats work (in general), take a look at this graphic...

Notice the 'Seat Firing Handle' between the pilot's legs. That handle is connected to the firing pin, which basically sets of the rockets and relays the canopy pins to fire.
posted by matty at 7:08 PM on June 6, 2008




There is no such thing, nor would any aviator want, an automatically activated ejection system.

Pilot: OK, pull up a bit.
Co-pilot. OK.
[engine stalls out momentarily]
[enormous rush of air as pilot and co-pilot are ejected, followed by violent decompression]
Passengers: ...
posted by spiderwire at 7:18 PM on June 6, 2008


@everichon
Question for aviation-knowledge-having people: How can you "punch out" that close to the ground and be alive?

Fast reactions, very, very good ejector seats and lots and lots of luck.


@CoolPapaBell
I'd be mighty surprised if any plane anywhere had an automatic ejection seat/cockpit.

The F-35B STOVL variant JSF is equipped with an auto-eject system which can punch the pilot out faster than he/she could react in case of failure. Problem is, you show me a fast-jet pilot who would agree with that assessment... :-)


@spiderwire
They pulled out a pin and the plane fell apart. That's like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Uh, no. They pulled a locking pin and the undercarriage folded back up. It's like removing all the nuts from one of your car's wheels, crawling underneath the car and then being surprised when you rock it and it falls on your chest.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 8:03 PM on June 6, 2008


Thanks, gents, for the answers, those dudes have quick hands.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:15 PM on June 6, 2008


I would never have guessed there were so many military aviation nerds lurking on mefi. I thought it was all Obama and unicorns around here. In other news, clicking on any related links on Youtube will lead you down a dark road of airplane snuff films set to heavy metal tunes from somewhere in Eastern Germany.
posted by mecran01 at 8:36 PM on June 6, 2008


Uh, no. They pulled a locking pin and the undercarriage folded back up.

I did clarify that...

It's like removing all the nuts from one of your car's wheels, crawling underneath the car and then being surprised when you rock it and it falls on your chest.

Um, I suppose that's more or less true, except that it's a $1.4B car designed by aerospace engineers and being serviced by a team of professional technicians.

I'd say it's more like a pit crew forgetting to reattach the wheel to an Indy 500 car, except that the wheel really shouldn't fail because someone pulled out one locking pin -- I dunno, maybe I'm missing something, but that strikes me as questionable design.

-- As does crashing because of instrument failure apparently caused by proximity to a body of water, but, you know, that aside.
posted by spiderwire at 9:31 PM on June 6, 2008


Speaking of ejection seats, there's this crash from an airshow at Mountain Home AFB in 2003 featuring a member of the Thunderbirds.

The pilot ejected something like 0.45 seconds before the plane impacted.

There's a nifty split-screen video somewhere showing the external view along with the in-cockpit camera at the same time, but I can't find it again - so you're stuck with the "show the crash, then show the cockpit video with ejection" version.
posted by mrbill at 9:40 PM on June 6, 2008


The F-35B STOVL variant JSF is equipped with an auto-eject system which can punch the pilot out faster than he/she could react in case of failure.

Interesting ... your link was broken, so I went and looked it up myself, and it's true. The articles I saw did say, however, that it's there in case of lift-fan failure. Since a STOVL aircraft cannot autorotate down to ground, a lift-fan failure while hovering is automatic disaster. So, the decision logic would be something like "If in VTOL mode at altitude X and detect failure, eject pilot." Pretty simple.

Thinking on this more, I wonder if part of it is to idiot-proof the fighter pilot. "If this rare event happens, you cannot possibly do anything to save yourself. What's more, if you do try anything, the odds of you meeting your maker only increase. We're not even going to let you try to make the correct decision."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:50 PM on June 6, 2008


Since a STOVL aircraft cannot autorotate down to ground, a lift-fan failure while hovering is automatic disaster. So, the decision logic would be something like "If in VTOL mode at altitude X and detect failure, eject pilot." Pretty simple.

... Until the plane's on the ground shutting down its engines and the altitude sensors fail. But I'm sure that'll never happen.

... Oh, wait, that's almost exactly what happened to the B-2. Well, whatever, it's a VTOL plane; it's not like it's complex or anything. I'm sure it'll be fine.
posted by spiderwire at 10:01 PM on June 6, 2008


... And it's not like the F-35 STOVL is going to be taking off from a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier or anything. What could go wrong?
posted by spiderwire at 10:08 PM on June 6, 2008


@spiderwire
Um, I suppose that's more or less true, except that it's a $1.4B car designed by aerospace engineers and being serviced by a team of professional technicians.

I'd say it's more like a pit crew forgetting to reattach the wheel to an Indy 500 car,


Which, funnily enough, has happened on more than one occasion to Formula 1 cars - more specifically, failing to correctly secure a wheel - which are extremely expensive (not quite $1.4Bn, I grant you) cars designed by Aerospace Engineers and serviced by a team of professional technicians.

except that the wheel really shouldn't fail because someone pulled out one locking pin -- I dunno, maybe I'm missing something, but that strikes me as questionable design.

Except, as your own post quite clearly stated:
"one of the maintenance personnel improperly removed a landing gear safety pin, and then pushed the locking assembly into an unsafe position."

Note the "pushed the locking assembly into an unsafe position". So, remove the locking pin (critical safety item) then deliberately interfered with aircraft's own undercarriage locking mechanism. Now I may be biased, but that doesn't strike me as questionable design, it strikes me as total fucking stupidity - on behalf of the ground crew - something that you can try to guard against with good design, but you can never entirely eliminate.


@CoolPapaBell
Interesting ... your link was broken, so I went and looked it up myself, and it's true. The articles I saw did say, however, that it's there in case of lift-fan failure. Since a STOVL aircraft cannot autorotate down to ground, a lift-fan failure while hovering is automatic disaster. So, the decision logic would be something like "If in VTOL mode at altitude X and detect failure, eject pilot." Pretty simple.

Sorry about the link, I copy-pasted it from my address bar when I went hunting. The idea of auto-eject is pretty simple, but like many simple ideas, pretty complex to put into practice safely and reliably.

There's some precedent here; the Russian Yak-141 (and possibly the Yak-38) V/STOL aircraft was equipped with autoeject. The problem is the requirement for several pieces of equipment to function flawlessly during jetborne (hovering) and semi-jetborne (mostly hovering, some forward motion, i.e. some wing lift) operations. Failure of the lift engines on a -141 would cause an extremely rapid nose-down pitch caused by a huge thrust at the back of the aircraft without a balance at the front - and all this probably at 100-200ft altitude, with very little forward motion. Autoeject doesn't just need to monitor altitude and failures, it needs to consider what motion the aircraft is undertaking - it needs to get the pilot out of the aircraft before firing him out of the cockpit fires him straight at the ground.


@spiderwire

... Until the plane's on the ground shutting down its engines and the altitude sensors fail. But I'm sure that'll never happen.

... Oh, wait, that's almost exactly what happened to the B-2. Well, whatever, it's a VTOL plane; it's not like it's complex or anything. I'm sure it'll be fine.


You're not an aerospace engineer, are you, spiderwire? Any branch of engineering? No?

... And it's not like the F-35 STOVL is going to be taking off from a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier or anything. What could go wrong?

Actually, it won't - F-35B is primarily designed for operation from US Marine Corps assault ships, Royal Navy Queen Elizabeth class CVFs and the Italian Cavour carrier - all are fossil-fuel powered, not nuclear.

The F-35C CV variant will operate from US Navy nuclear carriers, but the idea of crashing a multi-tonne fighter aircraft onto the deck of a carrier at 150+ mph, in rough seas, at night, doesn't seem to be a problem for you?
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 10:33 PM on June 6, 2008


Now I may be biased, but that doesn't strike me as questionable design, it strikes me as total fucking stupidity - on behalf of the ground crew - something that you can try to guard against with good design, but you can never entirely eliminate.

I'd say it's a little of both, but I don't disagree. (And I've also seen pit crews screw up before, but not so spectacularly that the vehicle collapsed on them like that B-2 did. It's just stupid at a whole number of levels, really.)

Actually, it won't - F-35B is primarily designed for operation from US Marine Corps assault ships, Royal Navy Queen Elizabeth class CVFs and the Italian Cavour carrier - all are fossil-fuel powered, not nuclear.

Actually, I figured that if the nuclear-powered carriers were hardened against, say, submarine attack, they could probably handle a deck crash, but that wasn't exactly the point I was trying to make. I actually do appreciate the FYI, though. :)

The F-35C CV variant will operate from US Navy nuclear carriers, but the idea of crashing a multi-tonne fighter aircraft onto the deck of a carrier at 150+ mph, in rough seas, at night, doesn't seem to be a problem for you?

No, I understand the difficulty of carrier landings. The cheap kinda-joke about nuclear-powered carriers wasn't intended to distract from the point that an automatic ejection seat on a STOVL plane seems to me at least as unwise as it would on most any other plane.

That is, I do accept Cool Papa Bell's point, but on the other hand: (a) the recent mishap with the B-2 should highlight the fact that a trigger based on even the most seemingly reliable sensor can be problematic, despite the designers' best intentions; (b) as you say, carrier operation probably only compounds potential problems, which is all I was trying to get at; (c) the fact that it's a STOVL plane also seems problematic. (That seems to be what you're saying as well, though.)

But regardless, no, I'm not an aerospace engineer -- a fact that should put the minds of pilots and performance car drivers everywhere at ease...
posted by spiderwire at 11:14 PM on June 6, 2008


...However, I do come from a family of Hoosiers (though I'm not one), so as you can imagine I've seen plenty of spectacular, expensive crashes. Sometimes I get gearhead impulses, but I think it's just latent genetic tendencies. I'm trying to move to software.
posted by spiderwire at 11:18 PM on June 6, 2008


everything I read now that comes from the government refers to the B-2's abilities as "low observable". If they use the word "stealth", it's always in quotes.

Probably just sour grapes, but the story I used to hear from people in the industry is that Lockheed refused to give out its stealth secrets (used in the F-117) to Northrop Grumman when Lockheed didn't get a contract for a similar scaled up F-117, and that they considered Northrop's attempts at making it stealthy laughable.
posted by eye of newt at 12:30 AM on June 7, 2008


$1.4 billion

F U C K T H A T
posted by mattoxic at 12:35 AM on June 7, 2008


Now I may be biased, but that doesn't strike me as questionable design, it strikes me as total fucking stupidity - on behalf of the ground crew - something that you can try to guard against with good design, but you can never entirely eliminate.

When designing things like this, they tend to treat the ground crew as a part of the construction. The crew isn't supposed to mess up any more than any mechanical part, and is supposed to have enough training and documentation at their disposal to make it so.

Reminds me of when they dropped the NOAA 18 satellite:

The mishap was caused because 24 bolts were missing from a fixture in the “turn over cart”. Two errors occurred. First, technicians from another satellite program that uses the same type of “turn over cart” removed the 24 bolts from the NOAA cart on September 4 without proper documentation. Second, the NOAA team working today failed to follow the procedure to verify the configuration of the NOAA “turn over cart” since they had used it a few days earlier.

and, at least initially, wasn't sure which team to blame, since neither team followed the proper procedure.

(in my experience, ordinary people tend to blame the first team for removing the bolts that held a $200 million piece of equipment without telling anyone, aerospace engineers tend to agree that it's not easy to tell who's fault it was, and IT people tend to ask "why on earth did they go public with this information"?)
posted by effbot at 1:53 AM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


aerospace engineers tend to agree that it's not easy to tell who's fault it was

Correction: they tend to blame the second team, for assuming that nobody had messed with their stuff when they were not there.
posted by effbot at 1:55 AM on June 7, 2008


img tag.
posted by cavalier at 2:49 AM on June 7, 2008


Ejecting is very dangerous in itself - I think I've seen it referred to as something like "committing suicide to save your life."

I've known two people who ejected, and they both pretty much spent the rest of their lives bent over with their hands reaching around to their backs, going, "OW, OW."
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:03 AM on June 7, 2008


$1.4 billion

F U C K T H A T


Figures like $1.4 billion or $2+ billion are accounting costs.

When we were making them, it cost about $550 million to make another B-2, which is a nice estimate for what a B-2 "actually" costs.

The rest of the cost is amortization of fixed costs -- research, development, design and redesign, production design, setup of the factory, tooling, and so on. People can quibble about what R&D to include as fixed costs, which is why the reported cost of a B-2 can vary from 1 to >2 billion dollars.

Another way of thinking about it is that B-2s cost about $550 million, except for the first one. That one cost about $20 billion.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:43 AM on June 7, 2008


Good riddance. 19 more to go.
I look forward to a lot of stealth plowshares.
posted by jetsetsc at 6:42 AM on June 8, 2008


So, am I the only one who finds it funny and curious that the reportedly ground radar-guided takeoff recording camera was able to get an intermittent lock on the B-2, a stealth bomber? I guess the signature for something that close will still be enough for ground radar, even if it's stealth...
posted by azazello at 10:47 PM on June 8, 2008


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