PATUXENT NAVAL AIR TEST STATION, MD – The hard-bitten aeronautical engineers who filled the windowless Lockheed Martin flight control center sobbed en masse, nearly shaking the soundproofed building to the ground, as Thursday’s test flight of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter went down in flames.
The program is twenty years in development, at a cost in the stratosphere hundreds of billions of dollars over original projection. Once heralded as America’s “Fighter of the Future,” the F-35 was shot out of the sky in a dogfight with a World War Two-era P-47 Thunderbolt.
“Gull-dangit, it wasn’t a fair fight,” declared F-35 test pilot Major Dirk Dunkin after being pulled from the Chesapeake Bay, having ejected from his burning aircraft before it plowed into a St. Marys City neighborhood, leveling a dozen homes and killing at least fifty-three residents and an untold number of family pets. “That Thunderbolt sneaked up on me from below and behind,” whined Major Dunkin. “How am I supposed to see something behind me? That pilot, he cheated!”
It’s not the first failure for the F-35 in a dogfight. Two months ago in tests an F-35 was shot down on a Monday by an F-14 Tomcat, then on Tuesday by an F-4 Phantom, both test pilots ditching their disintegrating, flaming F-35s into the Chesapeake.
Further lowering the test threshold, Lockheed Martin two weeks ago pitted an F-35 in a dogfight against an F-4U Corsair, and within four minutes the Korean War-era Corsair surprised the F-35 from twelve o’clock and shot it down with a lethal spit of 30mm Gatling fire.
As a result of these disappointing dogfights, Air Force Inspector General Colonel Maxwell Hatfield flatly stated that the aircraft’s performance standards are sub-par at best and shoddy at worst. Pressed to put his findings in layman’s terms, he admitted, “This airframe can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run.”
“That’s not a lot of bang for the buck,” says Pentagon watchdog and celebrity restaurateur Sinclair Watson, who’s been following the boondoggle for years. “It started out, each plane was supposed to cost around thirty-five million dollars. That’s ballooned up to anywhere from a hundred-eighty million to two-hundred-thirty million. Each.”
The Pentagon itself admitted in secret Senate testimony last month that for one billion dollars it can procure, cash on delivery, five F-35s or about 1,500 land-based MRAPs.
Which makes chef Sinclair bonkers. “At $200 million per plane, you’d think you’d get gourmet food service, along with free unlimited drinks, first-run movies and no excess-baggage fees!”
Determined to pass with flying colors the next test flight dogfight as a way of preventing the $1.4 trillion program from being deep-sixed by Congress, Lockheed Martin is preparing its last-available F-35 for next week’s head-to-head battle against a modified Goodyear Blimp.
Paul Avallone spent three-plus years in Afghanistan as a Green Beret then an embedded civilian journalist. His novel of the Afghan War, Tattoo Zoo, is available in trade paperback on Amazon.com, where you’ll find his just-released collection, The Greatest Screenplays Never Made.