The Way the Defense Industry Really Operates

Culture Watch

Mr. Fleming is the author of more than forty books including, The New Dealer's War. He is a member of the board of directors of History News Network.

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Following is an excerpt from Thomas Fleming's latest work of historical fiction, Conquerors of the Sky (Forge), the story of the"men and women who make America's planes." In the course of the book, which focuses on the creation of the fictional airline company, Buchanan Aircraft, Mr. Fleming reveals the frustration of airline designers who wanted government contracts but could not get them.

"I'm allergic to using military funds to develop a commercial plane," Ike said.

The astonishment on most faces was unforgettable. For a moment Cliff was sure Frank Buchanan was going to ask Ike where he thought Boeing got the 707 jetliner. All you had to do was glance at their military planes to see the connection. Anyone in the room could have told this man, who was supposed to have access to every piece of pertinent information on any subject under the sun, that leapfrogging from military to commercial models and back again was what the American aircraft business had done since its foundation. But the power of the presidency silenced everyone, even Frank.

"Mr. President," said Air Force Chief of Staff General Thomas White, "We need this plane because we think a flexible defense is basic to the nation's security. A bomber is under the control of a man, not a computer, like a missile. It can be recalled. It can take evasive actions, improvise avenues of attack. It can force the enemy to deploy defenses that absorb a lot of his energy and attention. "

"You've got Boeing's B-Fifty-twos for that job," Eisenhower said.

"They're subsonic, Mr. President. Their highest speed is six-twenty miles an hour. This plane can go three times that speed! We've got a plane that represents the greatest breakthrough in aerodynamics, in the whole science of flight, in two decades. We can't dismiss it. We can't afford to do that. The morale of the
Air Force is at stake here!"

"It's your job to worry about the morale of the Air Force," Ike growled, his ground soldier's animus showing. "Mine is to worry about the economy, the morale of the whole country. It may be a great plane but a missile can do its job as well or better. That's all there is to it."

Cliff found himself thinking about Sarah's moral outrage at bribing half of South America to sell the Starduster and half of Europe to sell the Scorpion. Didn't this justify it? There sat the president of the United States, dismissing the greatest plane ever designed by an American. Consigning it to the junkyard. Where did that leave Boy Scout ideas like patriotism, loyalty, integrity? Adrian's attitude was the only one that made sense. You had to survive in this business
by making your own rules. '

Dr. Kistiakowski, Eisenhower's science advisor, now waded in. He dismissed General White's argument about the virtues of a plane versus a missile. If any- thing, the plane was more vulnerable. The CIA had recendy reported alarming improvements in Soviet radar and antiaircraft missilery. They now had weapons capable of destroying a plane at 70,000 feet, no matter how fast it was going.

Cliff turned expectantly to his hero, General LeMay and his cohorts, expecting a furious counterattack. Instead, the generals and the colonels looked dumbfounded. The CIA had not said a word to them about such developments. It was Cliff's first glimpse of the way the American defense establishment operated, not as a team but as a collection of warring tribes. The meeting broke up with the Air Force and Buchanan Aircraft in disarray.

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VJ - 3/5/2003

Very amusing, considering we still have yet to develop a successful strategic bomber that can do 1,800 MPH in a sustained cruise. And given the time frame, I imagine we might be talking about the B-58 'Hustler', which had some problems as well. But hell, we've never stopped developing bombers though. We might have kept more of the old BUF '52's around if we knew what trouble and limitations all the newer models would have.