After years of tests, Lockheed engineers finally built a stealth plane. They could fly their prototype without radar picking it up. It was a miracle.
Then one day, it just stopped working.
“You lit up the radar like a Christmas tree” an engineer tells a test pilot in the book Skunkworks. “They saw him coming from 50 miles away.”
No one could figure it out. They hadn’t made any changes to the plane’s design.
A screw hadn’t been secured tightly enough during maintenance, its head extending a few millimeters above the plane’s surface. That was maybe half a drill spin less than ideal. It was more than tight enough for the plane to operate. But on radar, it “appeared as big as a barn door.”
There’s a lot of hidden leverage in the world – tiny things that seem inconsequential but operate in a tightly wound system where one flaw can bring everything down.