WASHINGTON: Diplomatic shockwaves rebound after a haywire F-35 flown by the French air force crashed into the Eiffel Tower on Tuesday.
The pilot was on a routine NATO exercise southwest of Paris when the plane spontaneously ejected him and darted off “like a crazed June bug,” according to one witness, before toppling the entire upper half of the iconic monument. French president Macron insists that the U.S. must either repair the damage or return the Statue of Liberty, with angry street demonstrations in Paris and throughout France backing him up.
Congress convened an emergency hearing this afternoon, with Lockheed-Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson in the hot seat, grilled by Senator Patrick Leahy:
SEN. LEAHY: Ms. Hewson, the F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in all of human history. Yet the GAO identified no less than 996 “open deficiencies” earlier this year. You’re calling this the “smartest plane in the world.” After destroying one of the world’s most beloved architectural wonders, I submit to you that it is rather the drooling village idiot of aviation.
MS. HEWSON: I think that’s a prejudicial assessment, but let me explain, although we’re still reviewing the black box data. We think the planes computer, fed biometric data from the pilot, sensed that he was on the verge of passing out from apoxia — we’re still working out that oxygen supply problem — and the plane was stalling, and took over. Unfortunately, the computer’s algorithms then calculated that the unconscious pilot was mere dead weight hampering stability in an emergency flight maneuver— and ejected him. From a purely engineering point of view, it was a good decision to go full autopilot, although we would have preferred that the pilot remain on board.
SEN. LEAHY: The 997th defiency. Why then did it slam into the Eiffel Tower?
MS. HEWSON: Unfortunately, without a pilot on board — it works like the passenger airbag sensor in your car — the plane determined that mission viability had been compromised, and decided to kamikaze itself, so to speak, on the nearest target of opportunity. Which appears to have been the Eiffel Tower.
SEN. LEAHY: You programmed it to do that?
MS. HEWSON: Yes, but only over enemy territory. We think France may have been improperly defined as enemy territory in the mapping module. As we all know, they’ve been monkeywrenching our plans ever since de Gaulle. The good news is that this problem can be fixed with a single line of code. And more good news — the plane did far more kinetic damage to the Tower than we would have anticipated. We think this demonstrates the very high robustness of the airframe.
SEN. LEAHY: Ms. Hewson, I react the same as if I had bought a new Lambourghini, the steering wheel came off in my hands, and I destroyed the Lincoln Memorial. I’m invoking the warranty — we want our money back!
That line sparked raucous applause in the gallery, raising hopes that a mercy killing would end the F-35’s troubled life — until Sen. Tom Cotton came galloping to the rescue.
SEN. COTTON: I am a combat veteran. I’ve seen the blood in harm’s way. I’ve heard the hot shrapnel whizzing by. And I’m here to tell you that what that aircraft did was actually heroic. It knew it was going to die and prolonged its agony by flying all the way to Paris to take out what it thought was an enemy installation. The F-35 is really the Seabiscuit of our day — an awkward, slightly hobbled dark horse with a lot of true grit that never gives up until the finish line. Despite the glitches, it’s 100-percent American spirit and ingenuity in that plane’s brain. How can we not honor this gallant sacrifice with more funding?
With the stirring memory of Seabiscuit evoked, leaving not a dry eye in the house, the umpteenth budget increase for the F-35 is — with apologies and a possible indemnity to France — expected to enjoy clear sailing.