Can Jet Fuel Melt Steel Beams on an Alien Starship?

…or was the ending to the 1996 action-thriller “Independence Day” a work of complete fiction?

ARTISANAL PRESS — Call it the question of the last millennium.

All things being equal: in the event of an attack by an armada of genocidal aliens, could a jet airplane flying on a suicide mission into the heart of one of the invading starships really cause a chain reaction resulting in fires hot enough to engulf, melt the superstructure of, and ultimately destroy said starship?

Of course it could. You watched it happen with your own eyes.

Director Roland Emmerich neatly-concluded two aimlessly-meandering hours of oddly-underwhelming eye candy with exactly this plot device, in the 1996 film “Independence Day.” A character, known as “Russell Casse,” saves the human race by heroically flying his airplane into the underbelly of a massive alien starship. The resulting chain reaction brings the entire ship down, reducing it to a smoldering, burnt-out hull.

It certainly is a contrived bit of storytelling — not to mention fairly unoriginal. But could the pivotal chain reaction of a science-fiction flick like “Independence Day” actually happen in real life?

Skeptics of the official ID4 story point out that entire starships have collided before, without resulting in fires hot enough to melt steel — human or Romulan.

Some analysts say that careful freeze-frame examination of the “Independence Day” suicide-attack scene reveals outward explosions taking place from within the city-sized starship, miles away from the initial impact point, mere seconds after Casse’s plane collides with the ship. Skeptics of the official story say that this suggests that explosives already placed within the starship’s superstructure were triggered seconds after Casse’s suicide attack — and that it was these explosives, and not Casse’s airplane, that actually destroyed the ship. And while the official ID4 wiki alleges that internal deck-by-deck collapse within the alien starship precipitated the ship’s complete destruction, any viewer can clearly see that the ship is still wholly intact — and still hovering in the air — when the entirety of its hull begins to explode, from the inside-out, seemingly all at once.

But scientists counter that we’ve seen this same phenomenon happen before, a long time ago, when the Death Star was destroyed by a comparable chain reaction, which similarly produced a rapidly-moving outward shockwave. And, just as with the giant starship in “Independence Day,” the Death Star did explode shortly after the impact collision of an airplane-sized fighter. However, when pressed by the skeptics, these same scientists are forced to admit that it was a proton torpedoand not Garven Dreis’ fatal starfighter impact with the surface of the Death Star — that had actually caused this chain reaction, thus invalidating this example as an empirical precedent.

We’re talking about the first Death Star, of course. The one that was destroyed at the Battle of Yavin IV. But you already figured that when we referenced good ol’ Red Leader Garven “Dave” Dreis, right?

Regardless of what caused the chain reaction, it’s undeniable that the doomed “Independence Day” starship ultimately fell from the sky at free-fall speed. And yet, scientists dismiss this too, arguing that the ship merely fell at a rate of speed that was nearly that of a free-fall. But skeptics of the official story say that any discrepancy in the rate of speed of the fall can be accounted for by wind resistance, which the decidedly non-aerodynamic flaming carcass of the ship was sure to have encountered as it careened towards the Earth.

The scientific debate about what really happened on “Independence Day” in 1996 has raged for nearly two decades, with no end in sight. Director Roland Emmerich has left us with many questions, and few answers. And like the questions of “who killed JFK?,” or “who shot J.R. Ewing?,” we may simply have to accept that we quite possibly never will have a definitive answer.

“Independence Day” (1996)
And history will have to accept the smug self-assuredness of the editor handling the Wikipedia page on this topic.

Do you have a vehement opinion on which side of this debate is idiotic? Is there an argument you’ve read somewhere that’s way over-your-head that you’d like to regurgitate? Scream science louder than your opponent in the comments, below!