What Disruption Really Looks Like

I was addressing this particular aircraft (The Killer Sky Tractor) with my students who are all selected for naval aviation, and depart for flight school in under 6 months. Each one has an engineering background and many are mechanical, electrical, or aeronautical engineers. I showed them the above picture and asked “Give me the reasons you think the U.S. wouldn’t or shouldn’t buy that?” I got a myriad of responses that ranged from “it is low-tech” to “the thing is ugly” (yes indeed, many times the coolest looking platform is the one chosen by the defense world.) Then we walked through the reasons the U.S., or an adversary, might find one useful: Ease of maintenance (no ejection seat), the ability to ACTUALLY operate from unimproved airfields (sorry AT-6 fans), the cost, the flexibility, its on-station time, even the fact that low, slow, stable crop dusting is a sort of analogue for CAS. We have a tendency, as a military, to think that all innovation means higher-tech, faster, sexier, etc. I have been a vocal critic of that type of “cult of innovators unchained”. This, right here, is innovation, grounded in utility and reality, with concise, even limited, purpose of design. In essence, to my pilot brain, it is a near perfect weapon system. But of-course, it wasn’t innovated by the military, but by an organization who does not have the luxury of dulling their fangs to please defense-contractors and policymakers. I have previously written about my love for these types of rugged, no-nonsense platforms, and the utility they maintain, despite the innovation and high-tech obsession. Sadly, I still think that I am in the minority. Hopefully, one, or maybe a few, of my students will have heeded my inquisitiveness on matters “ugly” and will be in a position to do the same when it counts.

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