Stealth Helicopter Engine Failure Is Not An Indicator of the Failure of American Products

Posted on May 7, 2011

In the Pharmaceutical as well as in other industries, failure cannot be thoroughly researched out of a product.  There will never be a clinical trial that can fully prepare for a product launch and its end results.  The final clinical trial IS the release into the general public where there are many more variables that will make or break the product.  That is the reality.  And possible failure is part of the paradigm.  Yet patients sue the companies for their failure to protect them by releasing a defective drug.  In this scenario, failure is expected as an outcome – a reality.

And what of the failure of that stealth helicopter engine at the Bin Laden compound this week?  Again, an operational use of a piece of equipment is an important test. Testing at the production site or even under circumstances that could approximate a mission will never provide all of the variables needed to ensure that the device will perform perfectly in the field.

Americans do not deal well with failure.  As a nation, we have been so successful at so much for so long that we can no longer tolerate failed missions and defective products.  We have been down on ourselves since Korea ended in two countries.  What it means is that the heady experience of the US as a super power was shorter lived than we will admit.  We’ve suffered lots of downed helicopters on military missions.  Any helicopter pilot will explain how difficult they are to fly.  But America is in decline if they are the presumed reason for the failure to release our people from Iran under Carter or later in the black hawk down episode.  The success of the Bin Laden mission happened despite the failure of a helicopter.  Why can’t Americans view this as a success from the standpoint that:

  • The other helicopters performed to expectations.
  • the mission was planned to account for failure.

We live in a society that cannot see failure as part of an overall movement toward learning to enable the eventual success.  Individuals are not allowed by society to fail overly much or they are outcasts.  Think of all the things Leonardo da Vinci tried but did not end up completing successfully?  Thomas Jefferson had many interests.  He and Einstein both played the violin – it helped the ideas to flow.  But they did not become concert violinists.  They allowed themselves to be mediocre in this area.  They reserved trial and error for their primary goals and ambitions. []

Let’s put acceptable amounts  experimentation and room for failure back in our schools.  It may be expedient and fiscally sound policy to insist that students focus on a major early but not uniformly.  We will be killing creativity – that process that has kept us in the forefront of invention. ” American ingenuity” will be a phrase heard again if we do.