By Juan Fernandez
My fascination with weapons technology has grown over the years. Sometimes I can’t believe, my own fascination with planes and the military technology. Where it began? Probably when I was a kid, living in Upland, California, near Mt. Baldy just South of the airport. It was a fun time to be growing up. Occasionally, we would bike on up to the airport to see the planes take off and land. Some planes were just parked so we could really take in the views. It was really fun. I’m sure I had a better than average childhood because of it.
Over a period of about 45 years though, as you can imagine, the technology has changed much for the better. Last year I attended the Aviation Convention held at The Las Vegas Convention Center along with some 80, 000 or more others…it was a blast. They had both planes and helicopters at the show. Some were brand new technology too. Even some private planes. Really fun to see. I strongly recommend it. I became more of a fan than ever.
One of the private jets, left the scene by road, probably directly to McCarran airport from there. Though there was news that private jet flights had gone down somewhat, in general, in Las Vegas, they soon picked up again along with our economy. I guess that’s a good indicator that our economy did actually pick up during 2011-2012. There was the fact that private plane flights had a definable increase in business activity during this time. Travel to Las Vegas in general (hence, flights)…increased dramatically, along with other types of income activity.
I’ve since learned that such planes. as the trusty Lockheed C-130 Hercules, those of you who know, would remember – a powerful, large propeller driven craft, who has seen action in WWII as well as, the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are still, the workhorses of airplanes out there doing many things, such as, arms transport and amazingly; take off and landings on ocean going carriers. Much of their work is of providing necessary supplies. Sometimes, used in troops support and in very remote, desolate areas.
Also known for Arctic endeavors, (utilizing built in skis instead of wheels) they obliterate isolation in remote mountain areas, as well as they can perform beach landings. For those in the know, they also have been used in the hurricane hunter operations for years, such as, Katrina – giving folks some idea of how well those planes are built – “proven” phenomenal – since they can withstand, even those type of weather conditions.
Not to be confused with the new player in the game, the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, which is used for getting troops and equipment to the various locations as well but utilizing jet engine technology and are often outfitted w JATOs (rocket assisted takeoff), driving the planes up and out, in a very big hurry (although, C-130’s can also be outfitted with JATO’s).
As one can imagine, for the US military industrial complex, secrecy is a high priority in the development of it’s craft. The creation of the next X-generation plane for example, would entail contests between Boeing engineers vs. Lockheed engineers as to who would win out those lucrative contracts. X standing for Experimental, which would basically amount to necessary improvements being made to existing craft toward a final completion.
So then, what started out as a contest between the Boeing X-32 JSF and the Lockheed Martin X-35 JSF – both very beautiful and adept, nimble (to quote Clint Eastwood) “supple” planes – yet their baby would eventually yield the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, as the ultimate plane. What can’t this plane do. This plane can fly very, very high at supersonic speeds but can take off and hover like a Harrier. Refuels mid-air but of course!
I suppose, sometimes when building a plane, it’s not always going to be a great all around plane. Most have very specific applications but the F-35 Lighting II is just one of those planes. Not only does it fly fast and far, takes off and lands like a helicopter etc. but – surprise! It’s cheap to build by comparison to the all time favorite, super safe, super fast, F-22 Raptor and consumes much less fuel (which means, we’ll be able to build a lot more of them, to share with friendly countries).
Amazing as that was, now it’s already about a new plane, Nasa’s X-56 and there’s even a mockup photo. As I understand it, new body and flexible wing scenario has bold new development possibilities. Namely, travel forever using practically no fuel (probably, the loftiest of dreams in the early days of Howard Hughes). Basically, it will be a very high flying glider (which no enemy fire will be able to hit) with a very powerful yet lightweight rocket attached to it’s back. These guys are really on the ball.
Someday they’ll put an airfield in the sky, you watch. And then, realize just how irrelevant all of that work actually was! But enough about the future.
It’s just that, I believe that we should be extremely careful about who we end up sharing this technology with, especially in this day and age and with the looming atomic threats. Even back then, during the last Afghan war (remember the Soviets were there for awhile, in Afghanistan)? There were a lot of complaints about this sharing of our military hardware, by qualified personnel in the Skunk Works industry (even if, “sharing” does inspire long term friendships and financing for our future projects).
As then, US engineers pointed out that we didn’t need to worry if they suddenly changed sides or if weapons “fell into the wrong hands” on account of, that’s already been thought out in advance, and the fact is: we are the only providers of the spare parts whereas, some cautious critics point out, that the Soviets are perfectly capable of designing those parts. And this, I do believe, since seeing the Antonov 225 plane, which is only, the largest operational aircraft in the world. Although, I think, militarily, we still own that largest plane title, as Antonov is not technically, a “military” plane.
The point is, one could argue that the Soviets know a thing or two about planes (and maybe even helicopters) – if you don’t believe it, look up, Igor Sikorsky – Sikorsky Aircraft. He actually, invented the first helos and they are still widely in use today.
So, apparently, even today, it’s something to think about especially if we plan to make such technology available to countries that are friendly enough toward the US and yet fall within territories of the Soviet Union (such as, Pakistan). Maybe we have decided that sharing cuts both ways and we simple have to learn to live with it, despite the foibles of living in the nuclear age and the potential for misuse. Amazing when you think about it. Our military stealth, always has been – still is, an effective bargaining chip, in the sphere of international politics and as such, will continue to be utilized – for the all around, better.
No matter what happens, the presidential limo, will still get shipped around by a Lockheed C-130H while traveling. Just another feather in it’s cap. Now that’s service!