Those who fail to learn from history…

From Phyllis Schlafly’s Safe-Not Sorry

For the privilege of building 1,700 TFX fighter planes, bids were submitted in January 1962 by two manufacturers: the Boeing Company and General Dynamics Corporation. Much suspense and anticipation built up during the many months the decision was pending, because whoever won the contract would get the choicest plum in the history of US Federal spending.

Several hundred top technical Air Force and Navy experts spent 275,000 man-hours studying the competing designs. As a result, the Pentagon Source Selection Board, composed of the most experience military experts, unanimously recommended the Boeing plane as better and cheaper. No evaluation group at any level ever recommended the General Dynamics plane….

On the basis of past performance Boeing had a better record of producing military planes within its bids than General Dynamics. Boeing had built  the C-97, B-47, KC-135, and B-52 at an average of 1.1% under it’s bids. General Dynamics had built the F-102, F-106, and B-58 at an average of 4.8% over its bids….

The Pentagon had asked for four separate design submissions from the two companies. [Albert W. Blackburn of the Office of Defense Research and Engineering] proved that after each of the four design submissions (January, May, June and September, 1962), Boeing was unanimously rated both better and cheaper. He made clear that the Pentagon request for the fourth submission was to give general Dynamics additional time to try to match the superior Boeing design. Blackburn wrote:

"All the imaginative aerodynamic fixes devised by Boeing in their third submission to satisfy the very difficult Navy maneuver requirements somehow found their way into the final General Dynamics design to a degree of similarity that would hardly be coincidental"

In other words the Pentagon gave General Dynamics every advantage, and someone even leaked "the superior design features submitted in a rival bid by the Boeing Company."

But some factors other than quality, design and national security were at play…

The General Dynamics bid said that TFX would be built in Fort Worth, Texas, home state of Vice president Lyndon Johnson (24 electoral votes), with the Navy version built in New York (45 electoral votes). Additionally, what is not generally known, General Dynamics was controlled by the chairman of its Executive Committee and largest single stockholder, Henry Crown of Chicago, one of the most powerful financial figures in the Democrat machine in Illinois (27 electoral votes). The Boeing Company, on the other hand, is headquartered in Seattle, Washington (only 9 electoral votes), and if Boeing had received the TFX contract, the plane would have been built in Wichita, Kansas (only 8 electoral votes)

In the very close presidential election of 1960, Washington and Kansas had gone for Richard Nixon–so obviously they were not eligible for federal favors….

Texas, Illinois and New York, however, presented quite a different picture. In 1960, all three had voted for the Kennedy-Johnson ticket. Even more important, Texas and Illinois were the locations of shocking election frauds which put those states in the Kennedy-Johnson column by the narrowest of margins….

In a contract the size of TFX, there was enough money to take care of everyone who needed to be taken care of. Nowhere in the United States could political money be used as effectively as through the Texas and Illinois machines….

Secretary McNamara knew that the reelection of the Kennedy-Johnson Administration was crucial to keeping his job as Secretary of defense. having enjoyed the second most powerful office in our country, he wasn’t about to give it up….

The TFX award to general Dynamics was the political payoff to the machines which delivered the vote to the Kennedy-Johnson ticket in 1960. More than that, it was the guarantee that Texas, Illinois and New York would deliver again in 1964.

Obviously the bid went to general Dynamics. Blackburn, a former Marine combat pilot, a former North American Aviation test pilot, and had at the time a Master’s Degree in aeronautical engineering from M.I.T.,  actually resigned, rather than agree with McNamara about the choice of GD over Boeing. 

My dad worked for Boeing at the time, and he tells me they were pretty ticked off. He laughed, remembering that some Boeing employee started spelling Texas, "TFXas" in their mail, and laughed even more when the Post Office delivered it that way. In spite of their sterling performance, Boeing refused to bid on any military projects for quite some time, which, of course, robbed the nation of a valuable asset during a time that it was much needed–during the Vietnam War.

As of the writing of Schlafly’s book (1967) the TFX was two year behind schedule and the cost per plane had risen from $2.9 million per plane to over $8 million per plane.

Interesting, you’re probably saying, but what does this have to do with anything today?

Reuters reported Wednesday…

The United States begins its next step in human space flight with the announcement by NASA on Thursday of a contractor to design and build spaceships to fly to the moon.

Lockheed Martin Corp and a partnership of Northrop Grumman Corp. and Boeing Co are vying for the work, estimated to be worth more than $18 billion over the next decade.

…critics and government advisors have raised questions, particularly over the multibillion award to build spaceships before technical and financial risks are fully understood.

In a U.S. Government Accountability Office report released last month, investigators suggested NASA limit the Orion contract to “activities needed to successfully complete the preliminary design review.”

“NASA should lessen the government’s obligation to the project at such an early stage when realistic cost estimates have yet to be established and requirements are not fully defined,” GAO official Allen Li said to the heads of a congressional oversight committee.

Thursday, NASA announced that it chose Lockheed (yes this Lockheed) for the initial phase. The story of the space contract seems to be getting very little overall coverage, but given what we now know of what happened 44 years ago, perhaps it deserves much more scrutiny.

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