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The Trillion-Dollar Stealth Jet the Government Can’t Seem to Finish

Looking back at the F-35 Lighting II, the most expensive military project ever.

The F-35 Lightning II jet was slated to become the future of stealth aircraft for the US military and its allies. But since its start in 2001, the project has faced a relentless stream of technical glitches, from software issues to reports that the plane's engine cannot withstand the high-tech threat of Canadian birds.

There's also the ever-looming issue of cost. By the time it's completed, the government's spending on the F-35 project is set to exceed $1 trillion, more than any other military project in history. Helmets for the jet alone reportedly cost $400,000.


A new video from The New York Times Retro Report traces the history of the more than decade-old project and America's rocky path toward a truly stealth fighter jet.

The plane, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, was meant to appease critics worried about cost by appealing to three military branches at once. The aircraft meets the requirements of the Air Force, Navy, and Marines, each of which have traditionally made their own planes. The problem is, making one plane that can handle each branch's needs has proved more than difficult.

Most of the planes will be the same no matter what sect of the military is using them, but each branch's jets are outfitted with custom features, including different takeoff and landing capabilities. To say the least, it's been complicated and costly to give each part of the military what it needs.

A number of US allies who have put orders in for the planes have cut down the number they will eventually receive in recent years, citing too much variation in cost projections. One of eight partners, Canada, is still debating whether or not to pull out of the program all together.

"The reality is that there is no such thing as absolute stealth," said Gen. Norton A Schwarts, former US Air Force Chief of Staff. So far, that reality hasn't stopped the US from trying to manufacture the most costly and ambitious plane in military history.