Answer the following questions to the case study below:
1. Were any moral issues involved in Mr. Vandivier's decision to write up the final qualifying report? Explain.
2. In your judgment, is it morally right or morally wrong for a person in Mr. Vandivier's situation to write up a false report as he did? Formulate the moral standards on which your judgment is based. Do your standards meet the consistency requirement (that is, would you be willing to apply the same standards in other similar situations)?
3. In your opinion, would Mr. Vandivier be morally responsible for any "accidents" that resulted when pilots tested the brake? Explain your answer. Would this responsibility be shared with any others? Explain, with support/justification from the textbook and lectures.
The Air Force Brake Case Study
On June 28, 1967, Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) Aerospace Corporation contracted to
purchase 202 aircraft brakes from B. F. Goodrich for the A7D, a new plane that Ling-
Temco-Vought was constructing for the Air Force. B. F. Goodrich, a tire manufacturer,
agreed to supply the brakes for less than $70,000. According to Mr. Vandivier, a
Goodrich employee who worked on this project, Goodrich had submitted this "absurdly
low" bid to LTV because it badly wanted the contract.1 Even if Goodrich lost money on
this initial contract, the Air Force afterwards would be committed to buying all future
brakes for the A7D from B. F. Goodrich. Besides alow price, the Goodrich bid carried a second attractive feature: The brake described in its bid was small; it contained only four disks (or "rotors") and would weigh only 106 pounds. Weight was of course an important factor for Ling-Temco-Vought, since the lighter the Air Force plane turned out to be, the heavier the payload it could carry.2 The four-rotor brake was designed primarily by John Warren, an engineer who had been with Goodrich for seven years. As senior project engineer, Warren was directly in charge of the brake. Working under him was Searle Lawson, a young man of twenty-six who had graduated from engineering school only one year earlier. Warren made the original computations for the brake and drew up the preliminary design. Using Warren's design, Lawson was to build a prototype of the four-rotor brake and test it in the Goodrich laboratories. By simulating the weight of the A7D plane and its landing speed, Lawson was to ensure that the brake could "stop" the plane fifty-one consecutive times without any changes in the brake lining. If the brake "qualified" under this indoor laboratory test, it would then be mounted on airplanes and tested by pilots in flight. Kermit Vandivier, though not an engineer, was to write up the results of these laboratory qualifying tests and submit them as the laboratory report prior to the test flights. Upon testing the prototype of Warren's four-rotor brake in simulated "landings" in the laboratory, Lawson found that high temperatures built up in the brake and the linings "disintegrated" before they made the required fifty-one consecutive stops.3 Ignoring Warren's original computations, Lawson made his own, and it didn't take him long to discover where the trouble lay--the brake was too small. There simply was not enough surface area on the disks to stop the aircraft without generating the excessive heat that caused the linings to fail. . . . Despite the evidence of the abortive tests and Lawson's careful computations, Warren rejected the suggestion that the four-disk brake was too light for the job. Warren knew that his superior had already told LTV, in rather glowing terms, that the preliminary tests on the A7D brake were very successful. . . . It would [also] have been difficult for Warren to admit not only that he had made a serious error in his calculations and original design but that his mistake had been caught by a green kid, barely out of college. (Statement of Mr. Vandivier)4 Lawson decided to go over Warren's head to Warren's supervisor, Robert Sink. The supervisor, however, deciding to rely on the judgment of Warren who was known to be an experienced engineer, told Lawson to continue with the tests as Warren had directed. Dejected, Lawson returned to the laboratory and over the next few months tried twelve separate times to get the brake to pass the "fifty-one-stop" qualifying tests, using various different lining materials for the brakes. To no avail: The heat inevitably burnt up the linings. By April 1968, Lawson was engaged in a thirteenth attempt to qualify the brakes. On the morning of April 11, Richard Gloor, who was the test engineer assigned to the A7D project, came to me and told me he had discovered that sometime during the previous twenty-four hours instrumentation used to record brake pressure had deliberately been miscalibrated so that while the instrumentation showed that a pressure of 1,000 pounds per square inch had been used to conduct brake stops numbers forty-six and forty-seven . . ., 1,100 pounds per square inch had actually been applied to the brakes. Maximum pressure available on the A7D is 1,000 pounds per square inch. Mr. Gloor further told me he had questioned instrumentation personnel about the miscalibration and had been told they were asked to do so by Searle Lawson. (Statement of Mr. Vandivier)5 The thirteenth series of tests also ended in failure and the results could not be used to qualify the brake. Mr. Vandivier, however, was anxious to ascertain why Lawson had asked to have the instruments miscalibrated:
I subsequently questioned Lawson who admitted he had ordered the instruments
miscalibrated at the direction of a superior. . . . Mr. Lawson told me that he had been
informed by . . . Mr. Robert Sink, project manager at Goodrich, . . . and Mr. Russell Van
Horn, project manager at Goodrich that "Regardless of what the brake does on test, we're going to qualify it." (Statement of Mr. Vandivier)6 Lawson then undertook the fourteenth and final attempt to qualify the brake. To ensure that the four-rotor brake passed the fifty-one-stop tests, Mr. Vandivier later testified, several procedures were used that violated military performance criteria. After each stop, the wheel was removed from the brake, and the accumulated dust was blown out. During each stop, pressure was released when the brake had decelerated to 10 miles per hour [and allowed to coast to a stop]. By these and other irregular procedures, the brake was nursed along. (Statement of Mr. Vandivier)7 When the fourteenth series of test stops was completed, Lawson asked Vandivier to help him write up a report on the brake indicating the brake had been qualified. I explained to Lawson that . . . the only way such a report could be written was to falsify test data. Mr. Lawson said he was well aware of what was required, but that he had been ordered to get a report written regardless of how or what had to be done . . . [He] asked if I would help him gather the test data and draw up the various engineering curves and graphic displays that are normally included in a report. (Statement of Mr. Vandivier)8 Kermit Vandivier had to make up his mind whether to participate in writing up the false report. [My] job paid well, it was pleasant and challenging, and the future looked reasonably bright. My wife and I had bought a home . . . If I refused to take part in the A7D fraud, I would have to either resign or be fired. The report would be written by someone anyway, but I would have the satisfaction of knowing I had had no part in the matter. But bills aren't paid with personal satisfaction, nor house payments with ethical principles. I made my decision. The next morning I telephoned Lawson and told him I was ready to begin the qualification report. (Statement of Mr. Vandivier)9 Mr. Lawson and Mr. Vandivier worked on the curves, charts, and logs for the report for about a month, "tailoring" the pressures, values, distances, and times "to fit the occasion." During that time, Mr. Vandivier frequently discussed the tests with Mr. Russell Line, the senior executive for his section, a respected and well-liked individual. Mr. Line . . . advised me that it would be wise to just do my work and keep quiet. I told him of the extensive irregularities during testing and suggested that the brake was actually dangerous and if allowed to be installed on an aircraft, might cause an accident. Mr. Line said he thought I was worrying too much about things which did not really concern me. . . . I asked Mr. Line if his conscience would hurt him if such a thing caused the death of a pilot, and this is when he replied I was worrying about too many things that did not concern me and advised me to "do what you're told." (Statement of Mr. Vandivier)10 Eventually, Mr. Vandivier's superiors also insisted that he write up the entire report and not just the graphs and charts. Mr. Vandivier complied and on June 5, 1968 the qualifying report was finally issued.
1Kermit Vandivier, "Why Should My Conscience Bother Me?" In the Name of Profit
(Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1972), p. 4.
4Ibid., pp. 8-9.
5U.S., Congress, Air Force A-7D Brake Problem: Hearing before the Subcommittee on
Economy in Government of the Joint Economic Committee, 91st Congress, 1st session,
13 August 1969, p. 2. Hereafter cited as "Brake Hearing."
6Ibid., p. 3.
7Ibid., p. 4.
1 Answer | Add Yours
I approach this particular question with more than a little academic interest. For twelve years, I was a military affairs advisor to members of Congress, and was frequently exposed to the kinds of issues discussed in the article on the conspiracy on the part of employees of B.F. Goodrich to falsify data so as to secure a potentially lucrative contract with the Department of the Air Force. In fact, while this particular case preceded my career on Capitol Hill, it does remind me of a particularly contentious issue also involving the Air Force and morally dubious officials in both that department and in the large defense contractor with which the Air Force was working. It is with this background in mind that I can easily conclude that there were most definitely moral issues involved In Kermit Vandivier’s decision to produce a fraudulent report, and that, irrespective of the very understandable concerns Mr. Vandivier had about losing his job, his conduct was both morally and legally wrong. He was correct, and courageous, to point out to his exceedingly immoral superior, Russell Line, that the test results had been fraudulently reported and that the consequences of qualifying the faulty brake design would likely result in the death of a military pilot. Vandivier, however, acted immorally in deciding to conspire with his superiors, and with the engineers who designed a faulty brake and who manipulated the testing process, to falsify his report. As noted, such conduct is a violation of the law, and represents a very serious moral lapse. The integrity of the process by which hardware the viability of which is essential both for the successful performance of a mission and for the safety of the personnel using it must be protected precisely because the stakes are so high. Soldiers in combat and pilots flying military aircraft have, in fact, been killed due to criminal negligence on the part of defense contractors operating under circumstances very similar to that described in the report on the brakes.
Yes, one should apply this standard of morality or ethics across the board. I lived with the same risk that Vandivier and Lawson did, and suffered the consequences. When the stakes are life-and-death, you do the right thing, period. Even when the stakes don’t rise to that level of importance, and they often don’t, choosing the moral path – which often overlaps with legal considerations anyway – is always the right thing to do. Massacres in wars – for example, the soldiers who participated in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and those that have occurred in more contemporary conflicts such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan – often occur precisely because the path of least resistance was taken with regard to confronting superior officers. Of course these are not easy decisions when one’s livelihood is at stake. A family to support and a mortgage to pay are powerful motivators for individuals walking that sometimes thin line between right and wrong, but the case described in the report on the aircraft brakes easily crosses that line into just plain wrong.
Mr. Vandivier would be morally responsible for any accidents associated with faulty brakes the certification of which hinged on his agreement to engage in a conspiracy to defraud the government. This is not a difficult case. Landing an aircraft with faulty brakes is inherently dangerous, and Vandivier, Lawson, Russell Line, Robert Sink, and John Warren all knew that. Warren was a victim of a very common psychological phenomenon that usually does result in disaster. The emotional inability to admit that one is wrong when so much effort, time, and money have been invested in a project has been the cause of more flawed data, reports, projects, etc., than can possibly be listed. Especially in an environment in which officials at B.F. Goodrich had been reporting to the prime contractor, LTV, that all was on track when no data supported such a finding certainly contributed to the pressure Warren felt to send positive reports up his chain of command. Lawson, the junior engineer, was similarly under tremendous pressure to report success to his superiors, and Vandivier’s conduct was discussed above. One can sympathize with the pressures these gentlemen were under, but that absolutely does not excuse their conduct when, once again, the stakes involved were so high. While Vandivier’s conduct was morally wrong, ultimate responsibility resided with his superiors who were as wrong as can be, would have been guilty of manslaughter had deaths resulted from their actions.
[As a side note, the integrity of the military procurement process is constantly under review by both offices within the Departments of Defense, the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, and by the Committees on Armed Services of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Within the Department of Defense, the office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, exists for the purpose of ensuring that tests of military equipment are conducted properly. The dynamics involved in the case described in the article attached, however, remain dangerously common within federal agencies and the contractors they hire to design and build advanced weapon systems.]
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