29 September 2010

A-model woes

There's an old saying in the aviation community:  "Never fly the A-model of anything".

Certainly, many military aircraft--even some of the best--have had poor debuts, with bugs not worked out during prototype testing making their way into full production.  The P-51 Mustang, designed and built in less than four months, suffered from poor performance at high altitudes during its initial run.  Only with the development of the P-51D Mustang--complete with a new engine, six .50-caliber machine guns, and a bubble-canopy (OODA Loop, anyone?)--did the P-51 come into its own, racking up an impressive kill ratio against even the formidable German Me-262 jet fighter.  

The UH-60 also had a somewhat lackluster debut, with its automatic stabilator--a variable-geometry airfoil on the tail section of the aircraft--frequently failing, causing sudden and violent nose-dives.  In fact, concerns over the stabilator's all-too-frequent uncommanded slewing caused pilots from the 82nd Airborne Division to fly with the stabilator slewed all the way up during their raid on Calivigny Barracks during the invasion of Grenada.  

This, unfortunately, only complicated their problems, as the aircraft came in for landing with a far too nose-high attitude, leading to a crash of three Black Hawks in a landing zone surrounded by hundreds of Cuban and Grenadian troops.

Yet, the P-51 went on to become arguably one of the best propeller-driven fighter aircraft ever built; and the UH-60 has gone on to become one of the most successful military helicopter designs in the world.  Which is why I hope that the recent troubles with the US Navy's new nuclear attack submarine, the Virginia-class, are just typical A-model woes:

Of all the complicated gadgets in the Pentagon's arsenal, a nuclear submarine is one that probably shouldn't be built on the cheap. Yet according to military analysts, that's precisely what the Navy and two defense contractors did with a series of $2 billion attack subs, and now they're literally dropping chunks of their protective skins into the briny deep.
The problem afflicts the Navy's growing fleet of Virginia-class subs, high-tech boats longer than a football field and armed with a dozen Tomahawk cruise missles. The subs are coated with a "special hull treatment," urethane tiles that are supposed to make them super-stealthy, reducing their noise underwater and absorbing sonar impulses. As these photographs show, and as the Pentagon's top weapons inspector has reported, the tiles have been peeling off of the subs while they're at sea, often in large sections. So far, missing tiles have been documented on four of the Navy's seven Virginia-class subs, the first of which launched in 2003.
The disappearing tiles won't sink the subs, but they could seriously impede their primary mission—to run silent and run deep without being detected. "When pieces of the hull coating fall off, the sub gets noisier because it interrupts the water flow over the hull," Norman Polmar, a defense analyst who literally wrote the book on Navy subs, explained to the Newport News, Virginia, Daily Press. "When you put more noise in the water, you're easier to detect." A blogger at Halibut Hangar, which discusses submarine systems, puts it more bluntly: "The submarine platform may purr like a kitten when delivered and roar like a lion after a subsystem failure."
Maybe we should staff these subs with a crew of IDF Death Babe submariners.  It may just happen, according to some reports.

And in other naval news, let's hope that the debut of Iran's latest "flying boat" turns out to be little more than A-model nonsense.  According to the DEW Line, this is the most ridiculous naval design since the Soviet Union's ekranoplan, better known as the "Caspian Sea Monster".


Boss Mongo said...

Don't know squat about submarines; I'd imagine that after they lose their super-cool stealth tiles, they'll have to go old-school and use classic submarine TTP (again, I have no friggin' idea, just speculatin' on a hypothesis).
On the old saying, it's good but not complete. It should read: Never fly the A-model of anything...or any airframe that ends in -22

Fly To Your Dreams said...

Iran's new flying boat looks (and sounds) amusingly similar to the SeaRey, a 2-seat kitplane that qualifies as a light-sport aircraft here.

Which gives me a brilliant idea for a faux warbird paint scheme.