Last week, Lockheed Martin announced that its profits were up a hefty 60 percent in the first quarter. The company earned $591 million in profit on revenues of $9.2 billion. Now, if the company could just figure out how to put a door handle on its new $361 million F-22 fighter, its prospects would really soar.
On April 10, at Langley Air Force Base, an F-22 pilot, Capt. Brad Spears, was locked inside the cockpit of his aircraft for five hours. No one in the U.S. Air Force or from Lockheed Martin could figure out how to open the aircraft’s canopy. At about 1:15 pm, chainsaw-wielding firefighters from the 1st Fighter Wing finally extracted Spears after they cut through the F-22’s three-quarter inch-thick polycarbonate canopy.
Total damage to the airplane, according to sources inside the Pentagon: $1.28 million. Not only did the firefighters ruin the canopy, which cost $286,000, they also scuffed the coating on the airplane’s skin which will cost about $1 million to replace.
Here are more photos of the incident.
The Pentagon currently plans to buy 181 copies of the F-22 from Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest weapons vendor. The total price tag: $65.4 billion.
The incident at Langley has many Pentagon watchers shaking their heads. Tom Christie, the former director of testing and evaluation for the DOD, calls the F-22 incident at Langley “incredible.” “God knows what’ll happen next,” said Christie, who points out that the F-22 has about two million lines of code in its software system. “This thing is so software intensive. You can’t check out every line of code.”
Now, just for the sake of comparison, Windows XP, one of the most common computer operating systems, contains about 45 million lines of code. But if any of that code fails, then the computer that’s running it simply stops working. It won’t cause that computer to fall out of the sky. If any of the F-22’s two million lines of computer code go bad, then the pilot can die, or, perhaps, just get trapped in the cockpit.
One analyst inside the Pentagon who has followed the F-22 for years said that “Everyone’s incredulous. They’re asking can this really have happened?” As for Lockheed Martin, the source said, “Whatever the problem was, the people who built it should know how to open the canopy.”
Given that the U.S. military is Lockheed Martin’s biggest client, perhaps the company could provide the Air Force with a supply of slim jims or coat hangars, just in case another F-22 pilot gets stuck at the controls.
As if the latest canopy shenanigans weren’t bad enough, on May 1, Defense News reported that there are serious structural problems with the F-22. Seems the titanium hull of the aircraft isn’t meshing as well as it should. Naturally, taxpayers have to foot the bill for the mistake (improper heat-treating of the titanium) which is found on 90 aircraft. The cost of repairing those wrinkles? Another $1 billion or so.
Lockheed Martin’s F-22 spokesman, Joe Quimby, did not return telephone calls.
ROBERT BRYCE lives in Austin, Texas. He is the author of Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America’s Superstate. He can be reached at: email@example.com