BY BILL BRANYON
Thanks to a recent vote by our Board of Commissioners, Buncombe County will soon have a new mascot: the fantastic F-35 Lightning II family of fighter planes. The unanimous vote awarded $27 million worth of economic development incentives to Pratt & Whitney to ensure that they’d site an aircraft engine component factory here. That bundle of money comes on top of the $15 million in incentives already promised by the state and the 100 acres of land deeded to the company for $1 by Biltmore Farms CEO Jack Cecil.
And while P&W rep Dan Field told the commissioners that 80% of the local facility’s output will be for commercial aircraft, the airfoils made here will also power the F-35, ensuring that county taxpayers will be getting a lot of bang for our millions of incentive bucks. For, according to The National Interest website, our plane is intended to “rule the skies until 2070.”
The jet’s own website, f35.com, claims, “Missions traditionally performed by specialized aircraft — air-to-air combat, air-to-ground strikes, electronic attack, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance — can now all be executed by a squadron of F-35s.” In other words, the manufacturer believes the plane will make many other jets and weapons systems redundant at best.
What’s more, according to Field, our new factory will pay salaries averaging about $68,000: great news for the roughly 800 Buncombe residents lucky enough to snare jobs there.
The jet’s website provides dramatic videos and detailed descriptions of the plane’s capabilities: For instance, one version, the F-35B, can speed to a battlefield at 1,200 mph, stop in midair and fire 55 nearly beer-bottle-size rounds a second at enemy planes or ground troops, and then descend like a helicopter onto an aircraft carrier deck — or into Asheville’s City/County Plaza.
The jet can also sneak up on other aircraft, thanks to radar and radar-jamming systems immensely more powerful than those of previous-generation planes, and thus will fight most of its battles beyond visual range. It can launch a superintelligent, $1 million AMRAAM missile and be speeding back to base while the fire-and-forget projectile finds and obliterates, say, Russian MiGs or Chinese Vigorous Dragons before they even know the Lightning is in their vicinity.
In addition to carrying Sidewinder missiles and two guided bombs, the Lightning may soon be able discharge a devastating fiber laser.
Of course, the F-35 is also the most expensive weapons system ever built, according to numerous sources. The Nation pegged the program’s lifetime cost at $1.5 trillion. Thus, the jet is where a significant chunk of our federal tax dollars will be going for a long, long time.
Real virtual reality
Part of what makes the plane’s stealth technology so effective is its confoundingly, aerodynamically elegant shape: If the F-35 even registers on enemy radar, Wikipedia says it might look like “a metal golf ball.” Its potentially radar-alerting weapons are hidden inside the aircraft till they’re needed; its supersmooth shape scatters and deflects radar, while its high-tech skin absorbs it. Thus, the Lightning can literally “hide in the skies,” rendering both the enemy’s radar and their human eyes obsolete.
Meanwhile, the eyes of a Lightning pilot are dazzlingly up to date, because they’re following the enemy’s movements on their $400,000 helmet’s visor. The smart device displays information provided by the plane’s core processor, which can complete 400 billion operations per second, f35.com reports.
This means the pilot doesn’t even need to look at the instrument panel, as they have to do in every other plane ever made. It’s similar to looking through a virtual reality headset, except that what you’re seeing is a real-time display that factors in the radar that’s tracking the enemy planes as well as any bullets, missiles or radar coming either from them or from ground sources. What’s more, the visor instantly coordinates its info with data coming from every other American or allied plane, ship, ground vehicle or command center within range.
According to Aviation Week, Asheville’s contribution to this spectacular plane will be part of a Pratt & Whitney F135 engine that generates roughly one-quarter the thrust of Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket.
Knowing that we have such brilliant skin in the game could boost Buncombe residents’ interest in and unquestioning support for any future wars America might fight — and perhaps also our contempt for those pesky peaceniks who clog Asheville’s streets whenever their thin skin gets rankled. And if a Lightning ever is shot down, we’ll have the satisfaction of knowing we’re helping make replacements, while generating additional income for some county residents.
Hopefully the mere possession of such an awesome fighting machine will deter other countries from doing things that might impel America to bomb or invade them. If they persist in impelling us, however, the hate and violence could escalate till we find ourselves embroiled in yet another no-holds-barred conflict: World War III. Yet even then, our Lightning would not have to bow before the majesty of the intercontinental ballistic missiles that would be used in such a war, for this stunning jet can also deliver B61 nuclear bombs.
The “primary thermonuclear gravity bomb” in the American arsenal, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, this formidable ordnance costs $28 million apiece to produce and offers “dial-a-yield” options ranging from 0.3 to 340 kilotons. Theoretically, a 340-kiloton setting could annihilate about 22 times the approximately 200,000 people killed by Little Boy, the roughly 15-kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima. That estimated death toll includes both the corpses left behind by the initial explosion and the subsequent fatalities from radiation poisoning.
Projections like these should always be taken with a grain of SALT. Still, a B61 dialed to 340 kilotons could conceivably eliminate 4.4 million people, at a cost of only about $6.36 per corpse! And that incomprehensible devastation would stem from just one bomb dropped by a single plane, proudly powered by the engine our factory helped produce. By that logic, the planned U.S. fleet of 2,456 Lightnings, each carrying one nuclear bomb, could collectively kill about 10.8 billion people. But since there are only about 7.8 billion people worldwide, the F-35s could theoretically, without the help of land-, submarine- or other bomber-based nuclear weapons, kill everyone on Earth — and 3 billion of them twice!
Knowing that, should nuclear holocaust ever become necessary, county residents will help provide the power to deliver those Armageddon bombs is simply mind-boggling. We could play a vital role in ending history! And in the meantime, we’ll get 800 well-paying factory jobs.
Buncombe is already home to two other arms manufacturers, Kearfott and General Electric. The county seat also sponsors the USS Asheville, a nuclear attack submarine. Isn’t it time we jettisoned effete epithets like Paris of the South, San Fran of the East and Beer City USA in favor of such macho monikers as Land of the Sky Rulers, World War III City — or, with a nod to a term that was widely used in connection with the U.S. Senate’s 1930s-era Nye Committee, The Merchants of Death Metropolis?
Books by freelance historian Bill Branyon are available on Amazon or branyonsultimatefreethinking.com.