Military-Grade Awesome

Wee Willy Welbike

One issue with planning a paratrooper attack is figuring out how to give those troopers equipment and mobility when they jump in behind enemy lines. In World War II, the British Special Operations Executive developed the Welbike, a single seat folding motorcycle that could be dropped along with a paratroop invasion. While only built in small numbers, one has survived to find a home in the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia, where I snapped a few of these images. One of the images, cropped for mysterious effect, was yesterday’s mildly esoteric Q³. Even with such a unique specimen, Toasters commenters do not disappoint, and the answer was quickly submitted by EnsignSlow. As promised, now let’s learn a little more about this bodacious bantam bike!

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Military-Grade Awesome

Expand Your Radar Horizons (Part Deux)

In order to expand the radar early warning picket line out into the Atlantic, the US Air Force undertook a project to mount shore based radar systems on offshore platforms. Because of their similarity to the oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, they were known as the Texas Towers. A week-ish (or so) ago we took a look at the development and systems of these towers in Part 1. By summer of 1955 the first platform, TT-2, was ready for installation, and was towed out to be placed on temporary legs. Once it was jacked up into place, the permanent caisson legs could be installed.

The caissons were at least 160 feet long, with approx 48 feet embedded into the shoal, leaving 55 feet in the water, and the other 60 feet or so lifting the platform high out of the water. In addition to supporting the tower, each leg contained a 140 foot internal fluid storage tube, one filled with sea water to supply the drinking water distillation equipment. The Air Force assumed occupancy of the tower in early December of 1955, and began operation if the radars. They were able to detect targets similar to a B-47 at 50,000 feet, up to 200 nauntical miles away.¹

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Airborne Awesomosity, Go-Fast Technology, Military-Grade Awesome

Sud-Ouest SO.9000 Trident

I knew I was never getting a date in high school when the pretty girl who sat beside me in grade ten math class caught me drawing pictures of the Sud-Ouest SO 9000 Trident. Continue reading Sud-Ouest SO.9000 Trident

Military-Grade Awesome

Abandoned Awesome

In 1984, the US Navy, DARPA and Lockheed teamed up to see if they could apply the lessons of stealth aircraft to surface ships. The result was an eerie black hull seemingly riding on razor’s edge.

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Military-Grade Awesome, Uncategorized

The Labyrinthine History of Secret Swiss Bunkers

Empires rise and fall, alliances swarm and splinter, and for five hundred years, the Swiss have remained armed and neutral, dangerous to any invader. Popular wisdom holds that Switzerland doesn’t have an army or forts, Switzerland is an army, the country itself is a fortress. The Alps in their natural state can be as forbidding as any place on earth, and enormous though invisible military improvements have been built deep in the mountains.

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Military-Grade Awesome

Expand Your Radar Horizons (Part 1)

Upon the conclusion of WWII, the US, and her allies that became NATO, quickly found themselves in an accelerating arms race with the evil superpower nemesis that was the USSR. In the beginning of what became the Cold War, much of the tactics and strategy revolved around expanding the lessons and technology that won the war for the forces of truth, justice, and the American way1. Ballistic missile technology was much in its infancy, as was the atomic bomb. In the interim as these new ideas were being developed, the long-range strategic bomber was the national defense asset of choice.

Building on the lessons learned conducting long range, high altitude campaigns against Japan and Germany, both the US and the Russians began investing heavily in bomber fleets that could reach the other superpower from bases at home. The problem then became knowing that the other guy was coming, so that opposing fleets could be quickly rallied and sent out in response, and so that defense fighters could be scrambled to try and stop the threat. Given the geography of the problem, and the nature of our spherical world, the likely shortest distance attacks would come from the north, and so much effort was made to create and early warning radar picket line, and then quickly expand that line farther and farther as the technologies became available. One such development the increase the capability of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line was the Texas Towers–large search and height finding radars mounted on oil drilling platforms out along the northeastern Atlantic seaboard.

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Military-Grade Awesome

Simulating the Desert During a Michigan Winter

When I’m not playing around on the Space Coast dreaming of better days, I have other projects I work on. One recent project that I worked on was here at the Detroit Arsenal for the US Army designing and building a test chamber for large, multi-axled vehicles.

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Military-Grade Awesome

Better Than Ill-Tempered Sea Bass

Recently, the Ukrainian navy announced they were training dolphins to attack enemy swimmers and detect mines. While a militarized dolphin cruising around Sevastopol may seem a bit odd, it’s actually not the first time.

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Military-Grade Awesome

A Look at the Pratt & Whitney J-58JT11D-20


A J-58 running on a test stand. Image: Wiki

Good morning everyone.

Today I’d like to talk a bit about the engines used on the A-12, YF-12, and SR-71, the Pratt & Whitney J-58JT11D-20 jet engine, more commonly known as the J-58. It was one of the main reasons that the aircraft it was used on could travel faster than a rifle bullet and hold the many speeds records that they still do, and it was all 1950s technology.

 “To experience a J58 in full burner close up and personal is hard to describe. Picture a gigantic blow torch, 40 inches in diameter, putting out a blue-yellow-orange flame over 50 feet long. Imagine standing 30 feet from this, feeling the vibration and heat. You wear both foam plugs and earmuffs. Your ears still ring afterward, because the sound is conducted through your body. The back half of the engine transforms from dull gray to bright orange, seemingly transparent. The flame has little three-dimensional diamond shaped shock patterns about every two feet. I lost count at 13. It is both frightening and beautiful, an amazing demonstration of perfectly controlled power.” From J-58 Last Run

The J-58 established several firsts: it was the first engine to be flight-qualified by the USAF for mach 3, it was the first jet engine (and perhaps the only one) rated for continuous afterburning, it was the first engine to use its fuel as hydraulic fluid, and one of the first engines to make extensive use of exotic high-temperature alloys.

The J-58 is what is called a variable cycle engine, meaning an engine that operates efficiently at different airspeeds, such as subsonic, transonic, and supersonic. The engine functioned as a turbojet and as a fan-assisted ramjet, and was one of the first bypass jet engines (although very atypical) put into service. The engine had a 9-stage, axial flow, single spool compressor, a two-stage axial flow turbine and was rated at ~32,500 lbs. of thrust at full afterburner.

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Military-Grade Awesome, Technostalgia

Loving What You Do


M-21 tail number 940 with D-21 drone mounted, at Boeing Field Air Museum. Image by Will Campbell. Click on the picture for hires image.

Good morning everyone.

Just about everyone has to work for a living, but I’d wager that there aren’t a lot of us that can say that they love their jobs. A great many people, perhaps most of them, do what they have to in order to get by or to get ahead, and tolerate (and sometimes loathe) the necessity of having to do the work that they do. The lucky ones work at jobs that they truly enjoy and look with pride at the fruits of their labours.

Such is the case with the vast majority of people that were associated with the A-12 and SR-71 programs. Rarely, if ever do you hear of someone that worked on the aircraft or programs that complained about how nasty, hard, boring or dangerous their jobs were. Almost universally the people from those programs speak with pride and pleasure about the work they did with the aircraft, and wish that they could do it again.

A case in point is the aircraft pictured above, the last remaining M-21 built by Lockheed and currently on display at the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field. At various times during its time on display, people who worked on or with the aircraft have left messages on the forward landing gear door. Some are just signatures with a brief message, others are remembrances of people no longer in this world that flew or worked on the aircraft. All show a large degree of affection for the birds that they knew and loved.

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