7 War-inspired ideas from back in the day

  • 1. 1943 'Deadliest fighter'
  • 2. 1950 'The Earthquake bomb'
  • 3. 1953 'Submarine warfare'
  • 4. 1955 'Unmanned aerial vehicle'
  • 5. 1957 'Atomic air-plane'
  • 6. 1960 'War siren'
  • 7. 1967 'Starlight Scope'
Date:28 October 2013 Tags:, , , ,

We, as humans, have long harboured an obsession with war and the machines that go with it. When we looked back at the past issues of PM, we saw that although the fascination with weapons has stayed the same, the equipment has definitely improved. Here are some old war-inspired ideas and devices from the PM archives. 

1. 1943

Although this month’s cover featured a heavily armed “sea skimmer” designed to fight submarines, the lead article actually focused on what we termed “the deadliest fighter the world has ever known” – the American soldier, sailor or marine trained for invasion “against a foe that fights dirty” (the United States had been at war with Japan for 14 months). The accompanying illustrations provided some disconcertingly brutal lessons in hand-to-hand combat, including “death blows”.

2. 1950

Five years after the end of World War II, Americans were still focusing strongly on their country’s military prowess. This image, from an article titled “Weapons with a new wallop!”, features the “Earthquake” bomb, an 8,2 m-high, 19 000 kg monster reportedly capable of levelling many city blocks.

3. 1953

Our cover story this month was written by the US Navy’s Rear-Admiral Charles B Momsen, one of America’s most illustrious submariners and inventor of an effective escape lung. He looked forward to a time when cargo could be transported more cheaply underwater than on the surface, pointing out that transport subs could travel under the polar ice to shorten the distance between shipping points.

4. 1955

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) may radiate cutting edge technology, but their development actually dates back more than half a century. This was the year that the Kaman Aircraft Corporation began flight tests of a remote-controlled Karman HTK-1 helicopter. Fitted with an automatic pilot and radio controls, it was successfully flown by an operator on the ground. Just to be safe, a standby safety pilot occupied the aircraft on all its flights.

5. 1957

For this article, devoted to the “atomic airplane”, we assembled a panel of experts in the field of nuclear physics and aircraft design, asking them to share their thoughts on the future of nuclear-powered supersonic planes. Physicist Dr Lyle Borst of New York University figured it would take at least 10 years to put the first atom-powered aircraft in the air, and much longer – perhaps 30 years – to introduce a safe and economical commercial airliner. Sadly, 1987 has come and gone with nary a hint of such a machine.

6. 1960

At the height of the Cold war, with sabre-rattling the order of the day, it seemed entirely appropriate to provide our readers with practical advice on constructing and equipping a fallout shelter for the family. They should prepare for a stay of at least two weeks underground, we advised, appending a stern admonition: “A point to remember is that the best protection is not good enough if you cannot stay in your shelter until told to come out.”

7. 1969

This month’s rather busy cover showcased the Starlight scope, a “super-secret” gun scope than reportedly intensified images up to 50 000 times and equipped American soldiers with daylight vision in pitch darkness. Since our illustrated article described exactly how it worked, we presume the super-secret appellation became null and void.

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