Dec, 2011

It’s a cold evening in University Place. No rain in the immediate forecast, so it might be a nice night for a walk.

Back in the 1980’s, the US Defense Department embarked on the development of a “stealth” aircraft that would be invisible to enemy radar. This would be accomplished by making the surfaces of the fuselage, wings, and control surfaces flat, but faceted at varying angles. The engine intakes and exhaust ports would also be shaped to minimize the radar signature. So here’s what the DoD braintrust came up with.

F-117 Nighthawk

Pretty cool, huh? Intimidating at the very least. This is the F-117 Nighthawk and was in service from the late 1980’s and was retired in 2008. The design and development of this aircraft was a pure engineering effort. Very little money, if any, went into aesthetic design. I’m sure the dark color wasn’t chosen because it looks cool, rather I’m sure there was some really good tactical reason for it.

Here’s a view of the back of another version of the plane, clearly showing the exhaust blended into the faceted fuselage.

F-117 Nighthawk


F-117 Night...er...Cadillac CTS

Here’s a close up of one of the exhaust ports. Again, you can see how the radar evading shape of the exhaust shroud is blended into the faceted fusel… hey, wait a minute. That’s not the exhaust port from the F-117. If I’m not mistaken, it’s from the 2011 Cadillac CTS-V.

2011 Cadillac CTS-V

By golly, it’s the Cadillac CTS-V alright. I’d recognize it anywhere. It’s interesting that body of the car is composed of facets like the F-117, although much more subtle. Even the taillights are stealthy. The radar signature on this car has to be tiny. Surely the stealthy resemblance to the F-117 is a coincidence. I mean, even though GM accepted a bailout from the US Government, they surely wouldn’t steal ideas from a project that cost billions of taxpayer dollars.

Cadillac CTS-V ad with subversive slogan

Of course they wouldn’t. They even say their car is “On Every Radar. Under None”, which is the opposite of stealth. So, Cadillac is denying in print and web advertising that they stole their design from a taxpayer funded project.
Well, I don’t want to be too hard on Cadillac, as they certainly aren’t the only organization borrowing design ideas from Department of Defense projects. Take the batmobile, for instance:

Batmobile ("Holy circa 1966, Batman!)

No, not that one…

Batmobile (modern day version, for now)

…this one. The designers of this one clearly were inspired by stealth technology.

This is hardly the first time in history that something that was 100% practical inspired the creation of something with aesthetic appeal. True artists seek inspiration wherever they can find it. Some find it in nature in the delicate petals of a rose or in the awesome power of the ocean. Others find it in the human form. I consider those relatively obvious sources of inspiration, though. I admire artists and designers that can find inspiration from unusual sources, like a stealth fighter for example.