Spin Control

Popping in at the Pentagon

Greater Spokane Inc. is on its annual "mission to Washington, D.C." where it will have a first-ever audience with the two top Air Force honchos, AF Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and AF Secretary Michael Donley.

The mission is a yearly opportunity for local government and business types -- many of whom deplore federal spending and the size of the federal deficit -- to lobby members of Congress for some money for programs in the Inland Northwest. One of the things they desperately want is for the Air Force to build a new aerial refueling tanker to replace the KC-135 . . . and stick the first couple dozen of them at Fairchild Air Force base.

They'll get no argument from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who will be escorting them to the Pentagon, her staff reports in a press release. The Eastern Washington Republican notes that Fairchild crews are flying tankers that are more than 50 years old and "we wouldn't get on a passenger plane that old. Our military shouldn't have to rely on planes that old, either."

Or, as GSI President Rich Hadley put it: "We thought about driving a ‘57 Ford to D.C. to make the point that the KC-135 refueling tankers must be replaced and that Fairchild AFB is ready to be the first operational base to accept them.”

Which suggests a number of questions...

First, do the folks from GSI really think the Pentagon -- which has been trying to replace the KC-135 for most of this decade but can't seem to get over it's own incompetence and various political hurdles erected by Congress -- doesn't know how old its planes are? And if the various generals and secretaries and deputy secretaries don't grasp that, what can a delegation from Spokane do to make that clear to them?

Does anyone know how old the commercial plane that he or she gets on is? Or do they assume that if it passes all the inspections the FAA and the airlines require, pulls up to the jetway and takes off, it's a relatively good bet for getting somewhere?

Why a '57 Ford, which is a pretty unspectacular car, unlike, say, a '57 Chevy? But if you owned a '57 Ford and kept a squadron of mechanics in your garage to do constant maintenance, and they had a pipeline to an unlimited supply of parts, and someone else was paying for the gas (which is pretty much the situation with the KC-135) why wouldn't you drive it to Washington?

Argue that the planes are inefficient, that the maintenance schedules increase exponentially, that their air frames are subjected to more stress than the original designers ever imagined . . . all of which the Air Force knows, by the way . . . But just saying they're pushing 50 --doesn't that make McMorris Rodgers and the GSI sound like a Sally O'Malley routine from an old Saturday Night Live episode.

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