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The predator, page 4

By Barney Gimbel, writer
October 31, 2008: 6:44 AM ET

From takeoff to landing, the Predator can be controlled with a joystick by a pilot sitting in a trailer thousands of miles away. But the original Predator "cockpit" looked more like a computer console than the deck of a fighter jet.

The new prototype Blue was here to inspect aimed to fix that. Indeed, it looked like a cross between a high-end videogame and the multimillion-dollar simulator airlines use to train pilots. But the system was buggy, and the video was so jittery that it hurt your eyes to look at it.

Blue's face dropped. "This shouldn't be like this," he snapped at a young programmer who was demonstrating the machine. His voice rose. "This is totally unacceptable. Wouldn't you agree? What is your problem? Why can't you get this stuff right?"

The pressure of GA's success - and the challenges Blue is facing in his other operations - may be taking a toll. The aeronautics business has grown so fast that it has apparently experienced production problems.

Northrop Grumman (NOC, Fortune 500) recently beat it out for a $1.6 billion contract to produce drones for the Navy. According to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office, the Navy had "substantial doubt" that the company would deliver the drones as promised. The Predator maker says the GAO report references "select instances of past performances," and it has since increased resources and staffing.

"That's just part of the capitalist world, which has provided so much to so many," Blue says. "But I suppose the fundamental essence of our portfolio, aside from some measure of economic balance, is 'Okay, how do you make a difference?' And in my case, it is in developing transformational technologies that could change the world. The rest of all this doesn't really matter."

It is a prime example of Blue-speak - a measured but completely unremorseful response that belies the sharp elbows and strong-arm tactics Blue often uses to achieve his goals. And it is perfectly in keeping with his stubbornly old-fashioned brand of doing business.

As Howard Hughes said, "Once you do consent to some such concession, you can never cancel it and put things back the way they were." He didn't have an heir, but Neal Blue sure comes close.  To top of page

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