(Last) Weekly Roundup: The Fate Of The Flying Wing Edition

I have trouble shaking the feeling that our distant posterity will look back at the America of 1945-1968 as the apex of human existence. It was an era of nearly full employment, remarkable public morality, and tremendous creativity across pretty much every industry or discipline one could imagine, from jazz to jet planes. Which is not to say that everything was hunky-dory, of course. Invisible Man was published in 1952; Last Exit To Brooklyn in 1964. Still, it was an era of exceptional safety and certitude for the vast majority of Americans. It was also a world where something like COVID-19 would have been swiftly handled, assuming that it somehow managed to make it across the Pacific Ocean in the first place. Most people behaved like grownups back then. It was expected of them. If Eisenhower had gone on television and asked people to wear a mask, then the masks would have been worn. If he’d asked people to stop burning down Rolex stores, the media would have reported this as a singular and outstanding idea rather than as incipient fascism on the hoof, and perhaps the store-burning would have stopped. Who knows? We had not yet acquired enough stupidity, as a nation, to create our current conditions.

It was the kind of era in which flying wings could happen, and did. As with so much else of our postwar tech Renaissance, the science behind the flying wing had been proven by Germans — in this case, a few Germans who managed to get a 55-foot-span jet-powered flying wing built more or less underground, with ersatz materials, during 1944.

Things were moving so fast in Germany during the prolonged suicide of the Reich that the 607-mph flying wing got prototyped, built, tested, and crashed without much agreement on what it was meant to be called. There were so many brilliant scientists working in German aviation at the time that the Hortens, who created the plane known as the Ho 229, the Go 229, and the Ho IX V2, weren’t even considered to be professionals. They made a variety of rookie mistakes designing and building the weapon, one of which eventually led to its destruction during testing. Given a couple of years, however, they’d have made it work pretty well. It’s a good thing the Allies managed to complete their murderous daylight bombing campaigns, including the scourging of Dresden which killed tens of thousands of civilians for no particular reason other than to intimidate the general populace, by 1945 — because by late 1947 the Horten wings might have been swatting the B-29s or B-36es out of the sky with little effective opposition from the relatively feckless Lockheed P-80s that would have been sent to escort them.

The Allies knew this, of course, which is why they launched Operation Paperclip to kidnap and/or cajole the German scientists who would eventually put America on the moon and help create much of the Cold War’s iconic weaponry. From Alexander Lippisch and his infamous M3 163 “Komet”, as an example, we got the mighty B-58 Hustler. The Hortens were made available to Jack Northrop, who was in the process of building a “flying wing” bomber. He scorned their help, considering them to be little more than shade-tree mechanics. Was he right? Who knows — but in any event, Northrop didn’t need German help to make the XB-35 flying wing bomber a reality.

The XB-35 worked just fine, which is fairly amazing given how radical it was by the standards of that (or any other) era. Yet it had one fatal flaw: it was propeller-driven, which wouldn’t cut the mustard for the Fifties. So Northrop reworked it as the jet-powered XB-49, and that worked just fine too. There were a few bugs to work out, but in general this was a functional and useful aircraft. And then the government got involved. The Wikipedia page on the subject is pretty well-supported and it tells a horrifying tale:

During early 1950, the remaining YB-35Bs airframes, which were being converted to YRB-49As, were ordered scrapped. Flight testing of the sole remaining YB-49 prototype ended 14 March 1950. On 15 March 1950, that program was canceled. Coincidentally, the sole remaining YB-49 prototype suffered a high-speed taxiing accident and, as previously noted, was totally destroyed in the ensuing fire.
.
Only two months later, all Flying Wing contracts were canceled abruptly without explanation by order of Stuart Symington, Secretary of the Air Force. Shortly thereafter, also without explanation, Symington turned down a request from the Smithsonian for the Air Force to donate one of these big wings to its collection of pioneering Northrop aircraft.[7]
.
All remaining Flying Wing bomber airframes, except for the sole YRB-49A reconnaissance version, were ordered chopped up by Symington, the materials smelted down using portable smelters brought to Northrop’s facility, in plain sight of its employees. Jack Northrop retired from both the company he founded and aviation shortly after he saw his dream of a pure, all-wing aircraft destroyed.[8] His son, John Northrop Jr., later recounted during an interview his father’s devastation and lifelong suspicion that his Flying Wing project had been sabotaged by political influence and back room wheeling-and-dealing between Convair and the Air Force.[9]
.
The sole prototype reconnaissance platform, the YRB-49A, first flew on 4 May 1950. After only 13 flights, testing ended abruptly on 26 April 1951. It was then flown back to Northrop’s headquarters from Edwards Air Force Base (formally Muroc) on what would be its last flight. There, this remaining flying wing sat abandoned at the edge of Northrop’s Ontario airport for more than two years. It was finally ordered scrapped on 1 December 1953.[10]
.
In a 1979 videotaped news interview, Jack Northrop broke his long silence and said publicly that all Flying Wing contracts had been canceled because Northrop Aircraft Corporation refused to merge with competitor Convair at Air Force Secretary Stuart Symington’s strong suggestion, because, according to Jack Northrop, Convair’s merger demands were “grossly unfair to Northrop.”[11] Shortly thereafter, Symington became president of Convair upon leaving his post as Secretary of the Air Force.[7] Allegations of political influences in the cancellation of the Flying Wing were investigated by the House Armed Services Committee, where Symington publicly denied exerting pressure on Northrop to merge.[7]

Here’s the video:

Ah, but there’s a happy postscript to this:

Thirty years later, in April 1980, Jack Northrop, then quite elderly and using a wheelchair, was taken back to the company he founded. There, he was ushered into a classified area and shown a scale model of the Air Force’s forthcoming, but still highly classified Advanced Technology Bomber, which would eventually become known as the B-2; it was a sleek, all-wing design. Looking over its familiar lines, Northrop, unable to speak due to various illnesses, was reported to have written on a pad: “I know why God has kept me alive for the past 25 years.” Jack Northrop died ten months later, in February 1981, eight years before the first B-2 entered Air Force service.[15]

This comes from a book on the B-2, by the way. The B-2, which apparently has the same radar signature as a large insect — perhaps the “murder hornets” of which so much has been written — is the same size as an XB-49 and uses the same landing-gear arrangement. In the metal (there’s one in the Dayton museum) the B-2 is quite reasonably-sized. The B-36 in the same hangar dwarfs it. Given our Fifties-era national enthusiasm for size, maybe that’s why the “Peacemaker” got the nod. It’s worth nothing that the B-2 is not significantly faster than a 1944 Horten flying wing.

The B-2 has been been in service now for thirty-one years and is still considered to be state-of-the-art. Surely Jack Northrop would have laughed at the idea of the XB-49 still flying in, say, 1980, let alone still occupying pride of place among the world’s heavy bombers. So what happened? What caused the world to put the brakes on so many forms of technological progress? Was it our collective decision to disappear into our own navels via the Internet? I have a theory, and it is this: Today’s society just doesn’t work in any significant sense. We are like wastrel children who inherited a mansion built by our grandparents and used it to hold Ecstasy-fueled raves until the windows were all broken, the toilets were overflowing, and the marble floors were slick with vomit.

We won’t be building any more flying wings. We can’t even build more copies of our best fighter plane, which is decades old itself. The entire United States of America, in all of its polyglot and self-aware glory, can’t do what a couple of German amateurs did in a cave that was literally being bombed day and night. With the exception of Elon Musk, there’s nobody left in the country who thinks we can accomplish anything of any genuine significance — and the mob is working overtime to destroy him for sins against The Current Year. There is a new supersonic passenger jet coming — but, predictably, it’s for one-percenter consumption. And it’s only going to be able to do Mach 1.4 anyway. About forty percent faster than the Horten brothers managed in 1944. That’s progress for you. William Gibson foresaw this when he wrote The Gernsback Continuum. He called it “the architecture of broken dreams”. Alternately, you could just call it a reminder that 1955 was a long time ago, in more ways than one.

* * *

For Hagerty, I wrote about the autonomous grift.

66 Replies to “(Last) Weekly Roundup: The Fate Of The Flying Wing Edition”

  1. Avatartoly arutunoff

    McNamara was the guy I heard was behind the ‘scrap ’em all’ order. also the b-58 was loved by pilots–I know one. why did it go away? an official reason for the ‘wing’s ‘failure’ was minor hard-to-control pitch. there was a proposed retractable spar to project out the rear to stabilize it but it was of course never built.

    Reply
  2. AvatarLynnG

    One Percenters need for speed, although it is odd how the Aerion Supersonic has more then a passing resemblence to the Avro Vulcan that was in operation status in the mid 1950’s. Is there anything new or just a rediscovery of the old….

    PS: Jack love your choice of the drawing of the future of personnel transporation in AC#66, the gentleman is lighting the cigarette of his companion in a bubble top car of the future, Hope the car has adaquate ventilation or the bubble top could haze over quickly. 🙂

    Reply
  3. Avatarjcain

    Agree on the points in the autonomy article. “[O]perating with a broad set of rules in unpredictable circumstances” is not really software’s core competency to say the least.

    I don’t know if this is original to Matt Farah but I think I remember him saying something like “people think driving is easy and humans are bad at it, but actually driving is hard and humans are pretty good at it.”

    Reply
    • Avatarstingray65

      One thing I have never heard discussed with regards to autonomous driving is what happens to two-wheeled transport that shares the roads (i.e. motorcycles, scooters, and bicycles)? The Tesla Autopilot seems to have trouble dealing with parked police cars and fire trucks, and can’t even see semi-trucks under certain conditions, so how are they going to handle (or see) a 8 year old on his bike moving somewhat erratically or the 20 year old on his crotch rocket doing double the speed limit? Furthermore, will anyone want to ride an autonomous motorcycle?

      Of course given how so many young of today seem to be adverse to exercise, outdoor activities, and the dangers of motorcycles, perhaps such problems will largely disappear once the Boomers and Gen X shuffle off to the nursing home, which will probably happen before autonomous driving becomes truly viable.

      Reply
      • AvatarJames

        “Autopilot” (as it’s still known in the USA) is a car-driving AI–an AI that can drive a car, just not very well.

        Relying on edge-finding from an optical camera has a pretty big flaw, when the thing you’re spending toward is sufficiently large!

        Reply
        • Avatarrpn453

          ““Autopilot” (as it’s still known in the USA) is a car-driving AI–an AI that can drive a car, just not very well.”

          Maybe “Toonces” would be a better name for it.

          Reply
      • AvatarNewbie Jeff

        “One thing I have never heard discussed with regards to autonomous driving is what happens to two-wheeled transport that shares the roads”

        Jack’s prediction is that most likely they’ll simply be banned… if something doesn’t serve the corporate/political interests, it’s just regulated out of existence. Unfortunately, it’s hard to definitively state Jack will be proven wrong…

        …on the other hand, I can, at this very moment, climb into a 1940 Stearman and fly right through Atlanta Hartsfield’s airspace – IF it has the required two-way radio and a transponder with ADS-B “out” capability, and I should note that many classic aircraft do. Why can anyone do this if it serves almost no purpose other than to allow a couple of citizens the fun of flying right over the world’s busiest* airport in a biplane?

        The answer is probably too long and complicated to write out here… but it does exist at the moment. How much longer will it exist? Who knows… I should also note that for the past few decades the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association fought tirelessly to preserve “little guy” access to the national airspace system, but now AOPA seems more concerned with diversity initiatives and trying to push women/minorities into cockpits to “get the numbers up”…

        (*possibly not currently the world’s busiest airport)

        Reply
      • Avatarstinkray69

        “Of course given how so many young of today seem to be adverse to exercise, outdoor activities, and the dangers of motorcycles, ”

        Keep yelling at that cloud, old man. Far as I have seen, kids are still into the freedom that bikes (motorized and pedal) provide. Especially within the cities. My nephew is a “Zoomer” and is into skateboarding. Posts up vids on his instagram all the time. My niece would rather spend time zipping around the cul de sac on her bicycle than looking at her iPad.

        Reply
        • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

          I think your kids might be the exception that prove the rule. My son will often ride his bike around his mom’s neighborhood of 1200 homes for an hour and not see a single other kid outside. Of course, the neighborhood is mostly H1-Bs for Chase and Nationwide.

          Reply
          • Avatar-Nate

            It depends on the ‘hood ~

            Down in Westmont I see folks walking all the time, young and old, students from the college down the block and locals too .

            In the SGV I notice many many more folks out and about on bicycles and afoot, lots of young folks even in this damned heat wave .

            Yesterday afternoon a white kid maybe 14 Y.O. came zooming up the block on an old mini bike, ran the stop sign and flew past the front of my truck blind ~ no helmet of course .

            I hope he learns before he gets killed .

            Twenty five + years ago in my same neighborhood before the rich white folks (re)discovered it there were lots of black kids riding mini bikes around , bicycles too .

            Last Christmas we bought our skinny Foster boy an electric Razor scooter, it’s been sitting unused sine, this week our fat Foster boy asked me to use it, he went out for a while and came back when the battery died ~ I asked didn’t he like going ’round, he said ‘yes but the battery went dead’ ~ when I mentioned that scooters were propelled only by one foot when I was a broke assed kid and wanted one he looked at me like I’d suggested eating broken glass…

            Cure Paul Lynde singing ‘kids ~ what’s the matter with kids these days ?!’ .

            I thought stingray65 was a kid by his endless & bottomless igronance and pride in same .

            -Nate

    • Avatarstingray65

      Which is why we need higher taxes to fund bigger government to fight such corruption. We won’t be safe from corruption until we have even more Jim Comeys and John Brennans running more law enforcement and intelligence operations.

      Reply
    • AvatarNick D

      “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

      We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

      I just finished Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean E Smith. Worthwhile read about a paradoxical but fundamentally decent person. Making things look easy took a lot of work, and after Korea, no American serviceman died from enemy action during his administration, despite a number of crises where he was strongly lobbied to employ nuclear weapons.

      Due to a lack of a better idea, I’m now in charge of HR for my company – guess that racing experience pays strange dividends. First order of business was to jettison a ridiculous consultant-promoted performance management system for a 1-pager with an explanation borrowing heavily from Eisenhower. My roll-out slide deck contained 5 short operative slides and ended with Kelly Johnson’s 3 principles: (1) it’s more important to listen than to talk; (2) even a timely wrong decision is better than no decision; and (3) don’t halfheartedly wound problems–kill them dead.

      There’s a counter-narrative to impending self destruction (Eisenhower never bothered to understand Columbia’s academic fiefdoms when he ran the place after WWII and ruffled many feathers). I’m glad to be a part of it and try to keep in mind that history is closer than we think. A recently deceased (f**k cancer) family friend worked with Paperclip ex-pat Hans von Ohain at WPAFB on advanced propulsion at WPAFB and ultimately took over Ohain’s job.

      Reply
  4. Avatarstingray65

    Back in the golden age of aviation and space travel, nearly 100% of all entrepreneurs, managers, engineers, test pilots, and manufacturing personnel were white males (and probably heterosexual). During much of that time we were also trying to win a hot war against the white male aviation/space personnel of Germany and then a cold war against the white male aviation/space personnel of USSR. As a consequence, in less than 30 years we went from fabric covered biplanes that barely hit triple digit speeds to the titanium SR-71 that could surpass triple mach, and the Saturn 5 that could fly to the moon and back. But today, most of our efforts are put into promoting “diversity is our strength” as tech fields desperately search for women, non-Asian people of color, transgenders, and homosexuals to design and build future of aviation and space travel and we have gone from the SR-71 and Saturn 5 to…having a more diverse workforce.

    Of course many would argue that our best and brightest no longer work in aviation, but instead in IT, and indeed there have been quantum jumps in computing power and speed that rival the progress made during the golden age of aviation, but instead of the SR-71 and Saturn 5 we have gotten Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and digital porn. Most of this progress has also come from white (and white Asian) males, and today the IT industry is under constant pressure to diversify, but unfortunately the diversity being promoted is again based on skin color, gender, and sexual orientation rather than political viewpoints that might allow Conservatives and Libertarians to be hired and promoted in the industry, and keep them from being demonetized or banned from social media.

    It will be interesting to see if the lack of political diversity in IT leads to another cold war that spurs innovation that actually promotes and protects free-speech or whether the innovation will lead to a police state that protects its citizens against hate speech and the white male privilege that brought the world flying wings, SR-71s, Saturn 5, and Twitter.

    Reply
    • Avatardanio3834

      Pretty much this. The end of the Cold War signified the end of the existential threat of seemingly equally destructive world powers. Cold War Fear justified the massive investment into military R&D that Middle East conflicts in the ensuing decades could not justify.

      A case could be made that there is now a new superpower contender that could assure mutual destruction, but as a society I think Jack has a point that we’ve made the case that the war we’ve chosen is on ourselves.

      Reply
    • AvatarCarmine

      About 10 years ago I got to tour the very impressive Boeing plant at Everett Field in Washington, the hallowed building that the 747 rolled out of and was still being made and friend of mine looked down at the shop floor and we joked that 40 years ago that would have been filled with guys with shirtsleeve shirts and skinny ties black ties, smoking, drinking coffee and crunching engineering numbers where today there would be a guy playing with his iPhone wondering if the decaf was fair trade…..

      Reply
  5. AvatarJohn C.

    Not sure a flying wing B49 would have been the answer in service. No doubt it could deliver a nuclear bomb but that was probably about it. In the 1950s the air force was buying a lot of fast century series fighters with ineffective missiles that had no ability whatever to dog fight. Buying a no payload wing instead of irreplaceable B52s that can carpet bomb cities or troop concentrations conventionally would have left them even more out of the fight in the wars we actually fight.

    Reply
  6. AvatarNoID

    Here’s my theory: In 1964 we let the kid out of the basement, and it turns out running a utopia is difficult when you try to enfranchise everybody. It’s even harder when you pretend to enfranchise everybody (when you tell that kid not to mess with the utopia zhe’d been excluded from to that point. Look, but don’t touch!)

    We’d have a much smaller movement of “wokeness” if we’d done right by these people back in the 60s and 70s instead of building roadblocks for 20 years and resentment for 50. There wouldn’t be a machine to rage against, at least not this particular machine.

    I’m absolutely with you on the house party model of failure. I look at all the things my father is upset about, looking back at the America he loved and lamenting its demise, and I ust don’t have the heart to tell him that it’s HIS generation that kcuffed it all up. The boomers came of age in this time period of excellence, and what they’re handing over is a debt-ridden powder keg that does not offer much hope. At this point I think a serious tearing down might be the only solution to eliminate the problems, but I have no confidence that the current generation has the tools or the wisdom in sufficient concentration to build anything superior.

    Reply
    • AvatarCJinSD

      The problem is evil people manipulating demoralized stupid people. What does tearing down look like, and what do you think it is going to accomplish?

      Reply
    • AvatarDan

      Wokeness may be, and probably is, supported by the people we left out in the 60s and 70s but that’s incidental. We did a good enough job at leaving them out then, and their own rap and bastardy have done a good enough job since, that they’re just along for the ride.

      The people driving this weren’t left out of anything.

      Reply
      • AvatarOne Leg at a Time

        Wokeness has been built by the Marx-loving academics of the 60’s and 70’s, who realized that society was to smart to fall for their crap.

        They then graduated to building the K-12 curriculum for (almost) every child in the country (assisted by the Department of Education). That curriculum had the express desire (and result) of creating two (and maybe a half?) generations of nominal adults with no capability for logic.

        Now that the teens and young adult are sufficiently stupid (or at the very least, easily distracted, and incapable of building rational, fact-based arguments), they have “Woke” reasoning to foist these idiotic systems upon us – using this generation of brownshirts (currently clad in antifa black and red)

        Reply
        • AvatarDan

          Sheltered academics have come up with a long list of mostly execrable ideas, and have for decades, but the ones that make it off the campuses to poison the greater world do so only with the consent of the elite.

          You’ve noticed of course that all of the radical campus ideas that fall on normal people – unlimited immigration, the war on whites, contempt for religion, drugs and every imaginable permutation of fecal sex, shrill barren feminism, ad nauseum – were already being pushed by HR and the media machine long before they had any popularity in the public at large.

          Meanwhile the radical campus ideas that would fall on the elite, like dismantling the military, breaking the banks, stiffing the landlords, and of course the rampant antisemitism aren’t given so much as lip service anywhere else.

          Reply
  7. Avatarhank chinaski

    An incendiary theory for ‘you guys’ to pick apart: effort is disproportionately expended on the past (and not only dwelling over centuries past sins, as is the current fad https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/washington-secrets/mayors-back-reparations-could-cost-6-2-quadrillion-151m-per-descendant ). Where is effort is going? Follow the money, at least on a federal budget level. (feel free to quibble on a %age or five) About 10% is spent on generic ‘governing’….EPA, Labor, Education, DOT, Interior, etc. Around 20-25% is for the military, at a time without officially declared wars. Peacetime, if you will. Mostly pork in blood and treasure. Thanklessly babysitting/policing the rest of the world, making it safe enough for global commerce and delay the power vacuum filled by ChiCom hegemony.

    The rest is split fairly evenly for the welfare state between Medicare and Social Security. Literally, the past. No aqueducts, Hoover dams, national highway systems, space travel or cold fusion. Meanwhile, the pandas freeze their eggs and play vidya, in an ephemeral FIRE based economy. The population and labor vacuum is filled by third world teeming masses for the cloud people to rule over.

    re. imaginary flying wings, first search hit: https://www.airspacemag.com/daily-planet/raiders-lost-arks-fake-flying-wing-180953339/

    Reply
  8. AvatarJohn Van Stry

    I used to work in QA & Test. I have an engineering degree and did a lot of systems examination to find out why things weren’t working as they should and helped develop policies (some of which got picked up by everyone else in the industry) to help programmers write better code.

    The thing is, doing this kind of thing -looks- expensive. The costs front load. Not doing it is even MORE expensive, but the costs are at the end where no one sees or plans for them. So to all those harvard and yale business types, who really don’t know shit about business, it looks cheaper to them, to not do it. Because they never see the backend costs.

    And then we get crap like ‘Agile’ which is the biggest scam in the history of SW development (It doesn’t work, it’s never worked, it can’t work).

    So because of short-sightedness all of the test and QA programs have gone away (737 Maxx anyone? Boeing’s SLS?) It’s all become a cargo-cult. Everyone thinks that if the ‘just do it like they used to’ everything will be okay. Software is only words on a page so paying Indians $20 an hour will get you code just as good as the $60 an hour guys. After all, look at how many lines of code they write! And runs!!

    No one understands just how involved QA & Test were in the creation and building of every program out there (Hint: We got involved when the Requirements were being considered). It was always a secondary chain that paralleled the developers, riding herd on them, because most developers really aren’t aware of the rest of the program and don’t give a damn. Or, even worse, decide they have a better way of doing things and go and do it without telling anyone else (seen this more times than you can believe). And software developers are the worst at all this, because they’re never ever ever taught how to actually develop stuff (like engineers are). How many T-square designs are there? How many new circuit elements (resistors, capacitors, et al) have been invented in the last 40 years? Now how many coding languages? Ten thousand? Fifty thousand? – See the problem?

    When I was working Flight Test for Grumman Aerospace, I once found a bit of code in the autopilot that would have crashed the airplane. A commonly used piece of code. But i found it before the plane ever flew, because QA & Test oversaw -everything- and our word was LAW. We actually even read the assembler code for the programs and checked it line by line. The software developers didn’t know shit about flying, bombing, airplanes, missiles, none of that. And they had no desire to learn either. They just wrote their code and as long as it compiled, they went home happy.

    The only people who ever saw the entire scope of the program was QA & Test. And now they’re all going away or already long gone.

    Like I said. It’s all a cargo cult. People got put in charge who are only interested in chasing the dollar and not building the best product. Microsoft got away with it (because they’ve always effectively been a monopoly) so everyone else thinks they can do it too.

    This is why I quit engineering and became a best selling author.

    Reply
    • AvatarNick D

      I hear a lot of complaints about Agile on this blog – what specifically makes it a scam? Asking only in the event it becomes a flavor of the month where I work.

      Reply
      • AvatarJohn Van Stry

        It’s a scam because it does nothing but waste time.

        First you have these ‘5 minute standups’ every morning. Look, if the people in charge have no idea what’s going on FIRE them. Also, that 5 minutes ALWAYS turns into an hour or two. It’s just wasted time.

        Next you have the developers picking what they’re going to work on. That’s wrong for two reasons: 1st, they always pick the easiest shit first – thus postponing until the end of the program the risk and the problems. You know, those things you want to know up front so you can get people working on them so you hit your deadline. 2nd you’ll have no control over who does what. Some guys you want to work on certain problems, others you -don’t- want. Some folks will grab all the easy stuff and look like champs, even though they’re not, and get the raises and the promotions, so your good people quit.

        After that you have QA&test. There isn’t any QA in Agile. Agile does some testing at the back end, but guess what? You can’t test quality into a product. You NEED to start ‘Testing’ at the start. Your requirements docs need to be reviewed by Test and QA, to find out if they’re even valid. The design docs… oh wait, Agile doesn’t waste any time with design (another fail) anyway, if you did do them, they also need to be reviewed and Test & QA run that process.

        It goes on and on. Agile was written by some programmer who believed that if you threw enough shit against the wall, eventually some of it would stick. It really is the stupidest thing in the world. If bridges were built using it, there wouldn’t be a single one standing in the world today.

        Reply
        • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

          Some of the Agile principles work very well if you have a bunch of the mythical “10x programmers” on staff. I was on a project in 2012 where we accomplished a $50M project in six months that way, but that team was filled with people who would have succeeded with any system up to and including just sending everyone a description of the desired product.

          Today’s coders are resume fakirs who have next to no understanding of computers or computer science. Agile allows you to take a project which in 1995 would have had one player-coach managing coder and five old hacks — and use ten H1Bs, forty-five Bangalore resources, and three white managers who have no idea how to turn on a laptop, at about the same total cost and only ten times the number of Severity Zero bugs. In my experience, today’s programmers spend fully half their time vigorously doing nothing in the unholy trinity of Jira, Zoom, and Github.

          Reply
          • AvatarNick D

            Appreciate the information. At least in manufacturing, a morning stand-up meeting still lasts under 10 minutes – not due to any conscious choice, but simply because something will need attention by then. System control logic also must be fully tested and validated prior to implementation lest equipment get damaged, permits violated, or God forbid, someone gets hurt.

          • AvatarOne Leg at a Time

            There are a lot of “management” and “education” theories that ask “How do the high performing (3sigma+) groups perform their magic?” They then apply those concepts to the middle of the bell curve – and all hell breaks loose.

            Common core math is a great example. A bunch of Ed PhDs asked the question “how to really smart kids do math in their head?” – and they picked the answer that best fit their preconceived notions. They then ‘translated’ that thought process into something they could put in a textbook and lesson plan, and convinced a bunch of Dept Ed drones that Common Core was the best way to learn math. (This happened with the “New Math” in the 1970’s).

            Dept Ed forced those textbooks and lesson plans onto the states, and tied federal funding to the execution thereof. Conveniently, teachers no longer teach their passion – their classes are now selected for them. As a result, the teachers “teaching” math, had little aptitude for their own subject (this was why “New Math” failed – math teachers actually knew their subject, and wrote their own lesson plans that ignored the idiocy)

            Since Common Core math is confusing – even to those with STEM degrees, or who work in technical fields. To parents with minimal math experience, it is complete gibberish. For the students, it makes math something to be avoided.

            This is why the vast majority of the population is easily swayed by “sciencey” arguments – they do not have any real science or math knowledge to fall back on. Case in point – the raging moronathon regarding Covid charts.

        • AvatarDaniel J

          I’ll disagree about Test involvement with design.. I’ll even disagee with you on involvement on requirements unless the requirements were written by someone who has no business in writing requirements, which in my experience is most of the time. In which case the Testers have at least a clue of how the product, software, and hardware is supposed to work. Most people I’ve dealt with in Test and QA have very little experience in software or hardware design.

          We’ve got a tester right now telling us how we should design a module. We purposefully designed it his way and the module fell flat on it’s face. if software engineers are treated in such a way that they are only involved in small part of some larger design then that’s more of the problem of the management than the engineers.

          If someone is working in the culture where the Test and QA are better designers than the programmers or software engineers, the folks in Test and QA should be writing the software and the design team should be gone. I suppose I’ve been lucky enough to work with some good engineers. Not that I haven’t worked with my fair share of bad ones. Also note my experience is from working for a small baseband video company for years and then moving on into government work, where Agile is the new hotness and I will agree, it doesn’t seem to accomplish anything.

          Reply
          • AvatarJohn Van Stry

            That’s because you obviously hired people who really shouldn’t be working in test.

            I have an engineering degree. I have extensive experience with writing code, even assembler code. Now I never said that the Test and QA team should be designing anything, but they should be part of the review on ALL designs, just as they should be part of the review on the requirements.

            Why? Because requirements are often written by people who have no idea what can be developed and what you can prove to have actually done.

            Many designs of modules are done by people who have no idea what everyone else is doing. They don’t know exactly what they’re going to get and they don’t know exactly what they’re expected to supply.

            Test and QA are the people who keep track of all that stuff – or at least they used to. That’s why they ran the code reviews and document reviews. Not to tell people how to do it right, but to make sure everyone knew what was expected. Understanding how things worked was necessary so you knew what was going on.

            They used to be people with a view across all the product lines and who were THE customer advocates. Yes, it was a lot different world when I was in it, and why as a consultant I was making the big bucks until I just got tired of the BS and walked.

            Oh, and all those places handing out testing certs and the like? Totally useless. Money machines and not really much else.

        • AvatarEric H

          Agile works very well for a certain class of problem.

          I’ve been programming professionally since the late 80s, most of it in the entertainment industry.
          A well run agile project is an excellent way to develop a game, mainly because most game designers aren’t worth the oxygen they consume. Even good design team cannot fully spec a modern AAA game. Spending a month carefully designing a gameplay feature and testing plan is wasted effort when half an hour after you’re done coding it the designer says “It’s not fun like I thought it would be. It’s not going to work, rip it all out.”

          Iteration speed is everything for game development.

          Your complaints about agile are mainly problems of piss-poor management. Meetings are too long? Piss-poor management of the meeting. Stand-ups are only for reporting status, not hashing out problems. It’s on the scrum master to police the meeting content. Critical problems not being worked on? Piss-poor management of tasks for that sprint. Critical path stuff is for early sprints so you can manage the risk, which is what agile is supposed to be all about.

          Agile isn’t for everything, much to the chagrin of the faithful. I’m not sure I’d want to get into a auto-piloted vehicle built under the “Fail fast, fail often” mantra.

          Reply
      • AvatarTyler

        Experiencing it only secondhand as I’m not in that world, my observation about Agile is that it treats resources like end user testing and server time and customer goodwill as essentially free. In that sense it’s always felt like a managerial accounting fail. And possibly this is my imagination but the software implemented through Agile always seems to Hoover up data that was perfectly intelligible to my layman eyes before and turn it into some kind of proprietary cuneiform. But. Your boss bought the package. Better to just quietly keep running the same macros you’d already built than to have the outside project manager blame you when they blow their budget.

        Reply
    • AvatarRobert

      I have a theory that the seriousness of a technical problem is inversely proportional to the number of programming languages/frameworks/whatever that have ben created to solve it. Compare web development and the unclean horde of JavaScript derivatives to the financial sector and COBOL.

      Reply
      • AvatarDaniel J

        I’m not quite sure what you are getting at. While I do believe languages are getting out of hand, I do believe many have their specific uses. I’ve got projects going right now that are using C#, C, and C++. All of these have their uses, and while I’m sure one could be used for all, there are problems and situations that each are better suited.

        Reply
        • AvatarRobert

          C and C++ require no explanation for being in any stack, they are known good bedrock solutions. They do not suffer from fads that come and go in 18 months or less like web development is prone to. C# is a great language, but Microsoft’s recent lunacy of fragmenting the .Net framework underneath it into different tracks between Framework and Core, and then trying to merge it all back again in Standard, breaking functionality and leaving working code behind in every iteration, is the kind of foolishness I’m talking about. What good does that do for the customers of working software, or even the creators of it? 99% of it is useless refactoring on an enterprise scale, a safe diversion that makes engineers feel busy but doesn’t really accomplish anything of value that you couldn’t do before with the existing tools.

          Reply
          • AvatarDaniel J

            I’m actually O.K. with some of that. Languages stagnate too much when companies worry about who’s going to get left behind. If moving to the latest an greatest breaks someone’s code, the the engineer can either fix it or not move forward with the framework. I see this all too often in general with software is the reluctance to make drastic changes worrying about who or what is going to be left behind.

            Core was really needed and really helped us out because we do some server side stuff and now it can be ran on multiple platforms.

  9. AvatarCliffG

    One thing about most of the great engineering triumphs of the 20th Century is that they involved people smoking, either cigars or cigarettes. And then in the 1980s we decided to ban all of that. Coincidence, correlation, cause and effect? Legalizing smoking something that harms brain cells and banning smoking things that don’t seems to be going in the wrong direction. Anyway.

    Reply
    • Avatarsnorlax

      So then we could probably get even better results by giving everyone an Adderall prescription.

      Also takes care of the obesity problem.

      Reply
  10. AvatarPete Zaitcev

    The upcoming B-21 is a flying wing. If course it’s not yet made the first flight, but the program is open.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I think the question is how much it differs from the B-2, and the answer appears to be “not that much”.

      Reply
      • AvatarJeano

        I don’t know about the differences between B2 and B21, but flying wings only became safe and practical with the advent of digital flight computers to keep them stable.
        This was not possible until the 70s and Is not a problem now.
        Earlier flying wings were death traps.

        Reply
        • AvatarOne Leg at a Time

          Flying wings are actually quite stable – think of every paper airplane that you have ever made – it is a flying wing (well, a gliding wing, anyway).

          Flight computers made stealth possible – the best shape for a stealthy airplane is not one that flies easily

          The Air Force let people believe that little lie about instability because it let them choose an inferior product. They (and the Navy) then went on to purchase many delta winged aircraft – which are far closer to flying wings, in form and function, than they are to a B-36.

          Reply
          • AvatarJohn C.

            The payload of the flying wing was 20% of the B36. That of course is fine if you are trying to deliver 1 nuclear, (not hydrogen) bomb, but worse than worthless if you are trying to conventionally detour North Vietnam.

          • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

            Not true; the prop version carried 52,200 against the 82,000 of the B36 and 70,000 of the eventual B52.

          • AvatarJohn C.

            Wikipedia as the B49, a much lighter plane than the B35, jet at 16,000 pound payload, more like a B17 or a F4. It could be so early in development they had not approved trying a big load?

            The B52D conventional bomb carrier version carried a load of 105 750 pound bombs.

  11. Avatar-Nate

    I remember most of the incidents mentioned here, very glad to see some still consider critical thinking worthwhile .

    -Nate

    Reply
  12. AvatarJan Stryvant

    It’s a scam because it does nothing but waste time.

    First you have these ‘5 minute standups’ every morning. Look, if the people in charge have no idea what’s going on FIRE them. Also, that 5 minutes ALWAYS turns into an hour or two. It’s just wasted time.

    Next you have the developers picking what they’re going to work on. That’s wrong for two reasons: 1st, they always pick the easiest shit first – thus postponing until the end of the program the risk and the problems. You know, those things you want to know up front so you can get people working on them so you hit your deadline. 2nd you’ll have no control over who does what. Some guys you want to work on certain problems, others you -don’t- want. Some folks will grab all the easy stuff and look like champs, even though they’re not, and get the raises and the promotions, so your good people quit.

    After that you have QA&test. There isn’t any QA in Agile. Agile does some testing at the back end, but guess what? You can’t test quality into a product. You NEED to start ‘Testing’ at the start. Your requirements docs need to be reviewed by Test and QA, to find out if they’re even valid. The design docs… oh wait, Agile doesn’t waste any time with design (another fail) anyway, if you did do them, they also need to be reviewed and Test & QA run that process.

    It goes on and on. Agile was written by some programmer who believed that if you threw enough shit against the wall, eventually some of it would stick. It really is the stupidest thing in the world. If bridges were built using it, there wouldn’t be a single one standing in the world today.

    Reply
  13. AvatarTyler

    The gap in the logic of blaming HR and education et al for America’s decline in productivity generally and the physical sciences specifically is the same gap that constitutes the plot hole in Atlas Shrugged. How did this race of genius master builders fail to notice and respond to a class of persons with hostile intentions assuming roles of influence so unsubtle as the ones that make decisions about hiring firing training and compensation? To quote TLP out of context, really, a woman did that to you? Noting here that out and out graft as highlighted in the essay probably looms larger in the American postwar narrative than we prefer to discuss in polite company.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      If you read about the men of that era, its easy to understand: our productive class was a bunch of what the kids call “beta cucks”. Raised to work hard, be unfailingly polite, and to treat women like princesses. They wore short sleeve shirts and clip on ties and they focused on their work, expecting that if they could accomplish the atomic bomb or the catalytic converter or the Green Revolution that the minor stuff would be handled by the remora classes in academia and HR.

      They didn’t consider the fact that a new group in our society saw them as nothing but prey creatures to be slaughtered kosher and bled to death.

      In my experience, the Venn diagram of “can design jet plane” and “can stand up to a woman” looks like a pair of binoculars.

      Reply
      • AvatarRonnie Schreiber

        Just to clarify, kosher slaughtering doesn’t kill by bleeding out the animal. That would probably be considered cruelty. As I understand it, both major blood vessels to the brain must be severed with a single stroke of the shochet’s exceedingly sharp messer. The brain quickly dies long before the body bleeds out.

        Reply
      • AvatarTyler

        With none of these questions intended as snark… If I read what books about men of that era? Who did all the administration / overhead / *handwave* hr work (presumably with competence) before The Thing That Happened? Who decreed that those administrators should be replaced by seekers of political vengeance, and in turn who put THAT GUY in charge of THAT DECISION?

        Reply
        • Avatarstingray65

          Tyler – “genius master builders” are by their very nature a small portion of the public, thus it is very easy for the majority in a Democracy to vote themselves the confiscation of power and wealth that the small groups of elites have earned, which is the underpinning of some but not all populist movements (the more legitimate populist movements are about taking power away from elites who have not earned them). The current situation is also about generational change, as the builders of the flying wings and supersonic aircraft were from the greatest generation, while the downfall was the product of the rebellious boomer generation, which was fueled in part by the sheer success of the greatest generation is creating tremendous wealth to spoil and indulge their kids with. Unlike the greatest generation, which went through the calamities of Great Depression and WWII and had fresh memories of the Spanish Flu and WWI, boomers and later generations had things much easier, and women in particular were freed from household duties by the invention of labor saving home appliances (invented by men), effective birth control (invented by men), and fears of over-population (partly invented by men) that made it almost sinful to have more than 2 kids, plus they had the vote and power to push for not only equal rights legislation, but also environmental regulations, and expansion of the welfare state. These feminist agenda priorities have all proven to be productivity killers, and reduce capital available for investment because of the higher taxes and deficit spending required to fund them. Thus we are living through another iteration of the old saying: hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men (and feminists), weak men create hard times…

          Reply
      • AvatarDaniel J

        I guess because I’ve never lived in a large engineering democrat ran city, that has not been my experience. Not that there aren’t some men like that, but not mostly. I live in a Red city and a Red state which builds some really cool shit. And the shit has to work or people die. (Maybe a slight clue of where I live) Family values are still important here.

        Reply
      • AvatarDaniel J

        Interesting that the news just broke about the “culture” at the Washington Redskins.

        This is exactly why many young males in the workforce are pushovers. They don’t want to have to deal with a sexual harassment charge just for standing up for themselves or their work.

        Now I have no idea if what is going on there is really harassment or not, and it may well be legit, but many young men in the engineering field would rather just not deal with being called out for harassment when they are just standing up for their work.

        Reply
      • AvatarPanzer

        The only other thing to add as well is that this was not just a failure to resist the shrew, it was also an infiltration.
        The boomer left finally grew up in the 80’s and realised that they too had to get a proper job and that lo and behold they didn’t like paying taxes either.
        So what did they do? They infiltrated the institutions as their communist heroes of the past intended, by getting the job at the corporation and rewriting the rules from within. And that’s also how we got this diabolical ‘third way’ left that is fiscally conservative and socially liberal, i.e, the worst of both worlds, unless, that is you happen to be one of those boomer liberals at the top who rewrote all the rules and has a home whose value has gone up 2000% in the last 25 years.

        Reply
    • AvatarJohn Van Stry

      tunnel vision.

      Also they didn’t know how to react when women were introduced into the workplace.
      And of course the downright Draconian rules for how to behave with women in the workplace.
      Trust me, you wouldn’t recognize what the workplace was like before the entry of women if all you’ve ever worked in, is today’s workplace. I watched it all happened and I saw a LOT of careers destroyed. All it took was the word of one woman (no proof) and you were history. I saw it happen. Many times.
      Then there were the bosses who were screwing the hot young ‘engineer’ or whatever, and those gals got away with murder, because the boss liked having a piece at work. And trust me, most of them were as dumb as a post, but they screwed their way up to positions of power and boy did they use them!

      Jack’s comment is also very much spot on.

      I mean I couldn’t write a story about this that you’d believe. But I watched it all unfold.

      Reply
  14. AvatarJoe

    Jack,
    Good news! I know a designer of mach 10 aircraft. The designs are ready to go. He’s got quite a background heavily in the “dark.” Passenger, business, military and more. He is accumulating funding through a device I was offered participation in but couldn’t raise the funds. You’ll hear something in 2-5 years. Anywhere in the world in 1.5 hours. Flight at 100,000 + feet takes care of the sonic boom. Runway to space and back also. Yes, mach 10.

    Reply
  15. AvatarOne Leg at a Time

    Unrelated to other comment threads – I somehow had missed the Bronco column at Hagerty. Great think piece, but I was surprised that you allowed that the vehicle will be a success.

    If I have learned anything from the brothers Baruth, it is that there is no vehicle so good that the Dealers can’t ruin it. What are the odds that markup on Broncos is high enough to push people out of the market?

    This is the first new vehicle that I have considered in ten years, but I will rapidly stop considering if I am expected to pay over sticker where there are three or four sitting on the lot.

    Reply
  16. AvatarRj

    One issue the Northrop flying wings had was their extended development time. By the time the first Northrop jet wing first flew, the first B 47 prototypes were in the air, and the B47 was a game changer. It was much faster than either the B36 or the Northrop wings , which made the plane more likely to reach its target.The B 47also had mid air refueling, which made it feasible to use it as a strategic bomber.
    My dad was a SAC pilot in those years, and thought highly of the B47. As I recall, he was critical of the occasional wing failure problem, and the fact that the bombardier’s ejection seat fired downwards. This led to the loss of a close friend ,who had taken my dad’s place on a flight where my dad was supposed to fly in that seat.

    Reply
  17. Avatartrollson

    The problem statement usually revolves around safety. The obvious answer is better than nonexistent driver education, and stricter driver’s license testing.

    I’ve long suspected that the reason we have neither is due to the car companies lobbying to get rid of both.

    The “autonomous car” projects of the tech companies are just a disruption of that twisted business model.

    I think ultimately they will ship something that outsources the driver to a cubical in India and call it a day.

    Reply
  18. AvatarJames

    Well the men who designed these flying wings did not find themselves millionaires in their twenties. The evolution from the past to the present passed through Microsoft, where men in their short sleeves found themselves, one day and through no fault of their own, possessed of more money than they could use. Having no experience with or use for money, they were easy targets.

    IBM avoided the whole problem, for years, by paying their suits well and providing their engineers with steady, unexciting work. Profit sharing, together with the insane profits generated by successful software, upset the balance.

    By my count the process has repeated itself at least four times now: Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon. The surplus previously captured by the suits came up for grabs; the men in their short sleeves realized they might become filthy rich by just doing their jobs; and a new class of remoras followed them into the workplace.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.