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April 05, 2005

Problems With Last Night's 24

i'm only willing to suspend disbelief so far. One of the things i have liked about 24 is its plausibility, but last night's episode was not a good example.

As my sophisticated visitors no doubt are aware, it's a common misconception that the F-117 is "invisible" to radar. Not true. The stealth fighter is not invisible, but its radar cross-section is very small - about 10 to 100 square centimeters according to one website i checked. That's pretty small, but not undetectable if you're looking for it, as i'm sure every radar in Southern California would have been after CTU had discerned the threat to Air Force One. Also, detection should have been easier since the F-117 was flying at a higher altitude to intercept the president's plane.

Next, the show's writers appear to have been confused by the nomenclature. "Fighter" is a broad and pretty misleading term. The F-117 is not designed for air combat. It is more properly called a ground attack aircraft. Last night, Bauer was told that the F-117 was carrying "standard non-nuclear ordnance." According to this site, that would include the following ground attack weapons: "BLU-109B low-level laser-guided bomb, GBU-10 and GBU-27 laser-guided bomb units, Raytheon AGM-65 Maverick and Raytheon AGM-88 HARM air-to-surface missiles."

Since the terrorist pilot stole the aircraft, i doubt it had been modified to carry the type of air-to-air missiles that would be needed to shoot down Air Force One. The HARM is an anti-radar missile, and i would guess it's not capable of hitting a plane in flight. i don't know if it's possible to lock the Maverick onto a plane, but i would guess that it's not a very agile missile even if you could. But the biggest problem i see would be the warhead.

The warhead is in the missile's center section. Either a 125-pound shaped-charge warhead or a 300-pound penetrator warhead can be used. A contact fuse in the nose fires the shaped-charge warhead. The penetrator uses a delayed-fuse, allowing the warhead to penetrate the target with its kinetic energy before firing. The latter is very effective against large, hard targets.
See the problem? The missile has to actually hit something before it will go off. That's easy when it's aimed at a building. Not so easy in air-to-air situations. And a shaped charge is designed to penetrate armor, so it's not as effective if it explodes out in the open

Also, a stealth fighter is not invisible to radar if it's emitting its own radar beam. Once the F-117 had locked onto the president's plane, everybody would have known where it was. There should have been a shitload of flares and chaff ejected from Air Force One and all the escorts to decoy the missile. Actually, i think once the bomb doors were opened, they would have detected it.

Of course this is all nit-picking. i still love 24. And we won't know what happened for sure until next week's episode.

Posted by annika, Apr. 5, 2005 |
Rubric: Science & Technology


The last episode did not get to me as much as Jack's new girl friend acting all flakey because Jack had to put a little current to him, whats up with that?

Posted by: Dex on Apr. 5, 2005

The current issue pertains to Jacks girl friend husband.

Posted by: Dex on Apr. 5, 2005

No fucking way you are a chick!

I'll have to agree with your analysis, and take it another step. The shape charge isn't going to detonate without contact. So, write off the mav, and the HARM is a beam rider that recognizes AAA freqs and follows them to the emitter. Neither of these is going to hit an aircraft in flight, and even if they did, they'd just punch holes in it which won't bring it down.

As for Jack's new fucktoy being squeamish, well it is the first day, and she is the boss' daughter. I'd be fucking the pouty little bitch who's always in the fat boy's shit.

Posted by: Casca on Apr. 5, 2005

I don't watch 24 -- not sure why, really -- but that sounds really dumb. A Maverick warhead -- either kind -- would do plenty of damage to a 747, but you're right: Hitting it would be the problem. I checked, and it doesn't even look like the F-117 can carry Sidewinders. (There are some websites that claim it can, but nothing official. And I very much doubt it: They'd have to be external, and they'd screw up the radar signature.)

Posted by: Matt on Apr. 5, 2005

Nicely done. In a world of fiction, though, I'd imagine getting around the problem by having the F-117 get close enough that a missile strike would be possible with a straight shot, no guidance necessary. Yes, a stretch, but better IMHO than having an aircraft which explicitly doesn't have radar turn on its radar. And the F-117 hasn't got radar because 1) the emitter is a wonderful reflector of radar energy and 2) turning it on would have the precise effect you describe, making our stealthy little wonder stand out like a flare in a cave. Oh, and 3) not a weapon the F-117 can carry uses radar anyway.

Posted by: bob on Apr. 5, 2005

Matt, the HARM looks an awful lot like the AIM sparrow, which is a radar guided air-to-air missile that would have been perfect for the job. the HARM is actually a little bigger, so a sparrow could concievably fit in the same space on an F-117, which would be inside the plane. Still, there would have to be some modification to the F-117, which didn't happen in last night's episode.

Posted by: annie on Apr. 5, 2005


Yes, a Sparrow could probably fit. But there's the radar problem; unlike Sidewinder, you can't just strap an AIM-7 on and point it at something hot. It might be made to work. More research later.

Posted by: Matt on Apr. 6, 2005

I agree. The major problems (radar sig, the airforce one defences) where what everyone else brought up also (everyone being the group i watch it with). We were also disappointed with 24.

Also, the missle hit a fighter escort then hit Air force one, because they were trying to ground the plane to get the football.

Posted by: cubicle on Apr. 6, 2005

I revise my earlier comment. I don't think it could be made to work. Not without a great deal of work, anyway. (Shit, with enough work my car could be made to fire a Sparrow.)

Posted by: Matt on Apr. 6, 2005

It's a good thing you are on the Left Coast. If you were anywhere near NYC, I'd be madly in love after reading you analysis.

Posted by: ccs178 (Chris) on Apr. 6, 2005

I agree with all of the commets on the stealth fighter...and while annoying it isn't the reason I don't watch 24. Don't get me wrong, I was part of the "crowd", I watched the first season, and even the second...but then I realized that it was the same show. I mean, when will Jack die? If we are debating the reality of the show, we should discuss Jack's relation to cats. The man has so many lives that I grew bored with the show before it ended. I honestly think that I could get behind it if they put someone else in there and killed him off. Besides, he gives orders to the "directors" which annoys me...no "director" of any federal agency I am familiar with would take orders from a subordinate...even in California.

Posted by: Courtney on Apr. 6, 2005

Re: radars in california :looking for the F117" The FAA radars are meant to work with transponders in the aircraft. Every time the radat paints the target, the transponder sends out a radio burst with its ID code and usually altitude info. They're not real great skin tracking aircraft, even airliners. Military airdefense radars, HAWK batteries, so forth are made to do just that, track small aircraft which aren't emmitting. Fort Irwin, the electronic warfare range at China Lake, Fallon NV are probably the only places around that have assets to do that.

Posted by: Wayne on Apr. 6, 2005

Yeah...but it sure was cool when the big rocket bomb hit and there was a bunch of fire!

Posted by: Billy on Apr. 7, 2005

This isn't nit picking. 24 is run in an era when everyone has access to that website - including the writers of the script. And they could have done a better job at staying true to the technology.

Dare I say it? Hollywood writers don't have much confidence in the common man - we will believe whatever they say...

Posted by: Zendo Deb on Apr. 10, 2005

I work for a major aviation museum and was griping about these apparent errors myself. They would have been better having the guy steal an F-22 fighter; I'm sure the USAF would have preferred the publicity for the newer jet, and it would cover all our nitpicks. But its not black and doesn't have the same place in the public's consciousness as the Nighthawk.

That said, the F-117 *can* carry Sidewinders(though I remember this missile looking a lot like a semi-active radar missile), and the facility he took off from might well have them available (who loaded them for him though?!). How he located AF1 without the benefit of a radar is a bigger nitpick.

Posted by: Jonathan on Jun. 20, 2005