Chair Force Engineer

Friday, September 29, 2006

Patently False

Bill Sweetman is barking up the Aurora/Blackstar tree again, claiming that the Air Force is secretly flying exotic aircraft. How does he know this? From the patent applications filed by aerospace firms, of course!

The harsh truth is that people don't need to have any clue what they're doing in order to get a patent. All that's necessary is patience, a slick drawing, and a sizeable amount of money. Nobody ever said that the thing you're patenting has to work.

Case in point: several years ago, some stupid-ass pilot with no engineering background came up with an idea for a seaplane. He hired an artist to draw it, then obtained a patent. He showed the patent to a professor at my university, who immediately recognized the unfeasibility of the design. Sensing a unique challenge, the professor tasked his senior design students with redesigning the concept plane into something that could work.

At the end of the semester, four teams of college students had created a workable, practical seaplane. But it didn't look a thing like what the dip-shit pilot had in mind.

If Boeing, LockMart and NorthGrum have built exotic aircraft in secret, there's no way we'd learn about them from publicly-accessible patents. They might try patenting the general concept that makes the airplane in question so exotic, but the sketch and technical description would probably not bear much similarity to the real thing.