(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, October 26, 1997)
I have some news that is going to cause you taxpayers to want to throw down this newspaper and dance the Funky Chicken of Joy.
Here it is: The B-2 "Stealth" bomber can get wet! Hurrah!
In case you're wondering why this is so exciting, let me give you some background. The B-2 is
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. . . a bomber that is invisible to enemy radar because it is made of high-tech "stealthy" materials such as (to judge from the price) caviar. The original mission of the B-2 was to fly from overseas bases deep into the Soviet Union and drop nuclear bombs. Of course there IS no Soviet Union any more, which means that now the mission of the B-2 bomber is . . . The mission is . . . Hang on, it'll come to me . . .
OK, never mind the pesky detail of what the military mission is. The important thing is, the B-2 has demonstrated a breathtaking capability, unmatched in aviation history, to deliver, with pinpoint accuracy, extremely large payloads of taxpayer dollars into the districts of strategic members of Congress. So far the B-2 project has cost us taxpayers $45 billion, which has purchased us 21 bombers, which works out to around $2 billion per bomber, making it the most expensive airplane ever built (bear in mind, however, that it comes with floor mats).
Now here's the problem: The General Accounting Office did a big study of the B-2 bomber, concluding that -- I will try to put this in layperson's terms -- flying is bad for it. Yes. It turns out that the secret stealthy materials are sensitive to moisture, which as luck would have it (Who could have predicted this?) is plentiful in the atmosphere, so according to the GAO, after the B-2 flies, it tends to need lots of costly repairs.
I can relate to this. I used to own a boat, and whenever I made the stupid mistake of putting it in the actual water, expensive pieces of it would immediately fall off. I wound up deploying my boat permanently on a trailer. Using similar reasoning, the Air Force has decided that, instead of putting the B-2's at bases around the world, it will deploy ALL of them in -- get ready for a strategic location -- Missouri. Really. That's where the Air Force has special climate-controlled maintenance facilities. So let's just recap the B-2 history:
ORIGINAL IDEA: Station overseas; fly deep into Soviet Union; drop nuclear bombs.
CURRENT ACTUAL USE: Station in Missouri; fly deep into Kansas; get repaired.
So, OK, things have not worked out exactly as planned. But how many of us can honestly say that we have never, in a moment of absentmindedness, purchased an unnecessary weapons system for $45 billion? I didn't think so! Nevertheless, when the GAO report came out, there were a lot of snide remarks from the media about the B-2 bomber not being able to fly in the rain. So in September, the Air Force struck back with a bold strategic move: It flew several dozen reporters and photographers from Washington to Missouri, where they witnessed as a team of airmen -- I swear I am not making this bold strategic move up -- washed a B-2 bomber .
"This airplane does not melt in water, " stated an Air Force official in a quote that I am also not making up. "We do this all the time. We just get out here with the brushes and scrub away."
I don't know about the rest of you taxpayers, but when I read those words, I get a proud feeling deep in my stomach, knowing that there is no way that any enemy of this nation could disable our B-2 bomber fleet by having agents sneak into Missouri and wash the planes.
Despite the fact that the B-2 has been shown to be capable, with proper maintenance, of withstanding moisture, the Pentagon has decided that it does not want to buy any more of these planes. In other words, even our top military experts believe that 21 is a sufficient number of extremely expensive bombers with no apparent function. So guess what a bunch of congresspersons recently tried to do? Right! They tried to have the taxpayers buy nine more! For another $27 billion! Guess why they did this? Right! To enhance the National Security! By which I mean, get themselves re-elected! It doesn't even matter if the B-2 can fly! We could make it entirely out of a fragile type of cheese that spoils on contact with air and has to be completely replaced every 45 minutes! As long as the money gets spent in these congresspersons' districts!
Unfortunately for our National Security, Congress decided to cancel the new B-2's and spend the money on other things. (What, you thought they'd give the money back to YOU?) Nevertheless we can all take comfort in the fact that for many years, we will be paying millions and millions of dollars to maintain the original fleet of Stealth bombers stationed strategically in Missouri, scrubbed and ready to fly out and bomb enemy targets. Or maybe it will turn out to be more cost-effective to fly the enemy targets to Missouri, so our B-2's can bomb them without getting too far from the climate-controlled maintenance facilities. So as a taxpayer, I applaud all the congresspersons who helped make this amazing weapon possible. I hope they get rewarded for their efforts by being taken for lengthy VIP flights on the B-2. In the rain. Strapped to a wing.
(c) 1997, Dave Barry
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