The Drones are Coming

MQ-9 Reaper Drone

A MQ-9 Reaper Drone flies above Creech AFB (2008)
Attribution: Paul Ridgeway
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The drones are coming and not just by air either. In the next few years, an explosion of drones is expected to invade the U.S. by air, by water, and even underground. Here’s more from Robert Beckhusen at Wired.com:

It’s been 10 years since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) started up operations. During that decade, DHS has moved to the forefront of funding and deploying the robots and drones that could be coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

DHS funds research and development for surveillance robots. It provides grant money by the hundreds of thousands to police agencies to buy their own. And sometimes it’s bought and deployed robots — for their skies, the ground and the waters — of its own, usually concentrated along the border. It’s not clear how many of those robots police operate, and law enforcement isn’t by any means the only domestic market for the ‘bots. But the trend lines point toward more robotic spy tools for law enforcement in more places — with more DHS cash.

But it’s not going to be simple. The Federal Aviation Administration is cautious about opening the skies to unmanned vehicles — so much so that Congress and the Obama administration ordered it to ease up on restrictions by 2015. But not all spy robots fly. DHS is also developing robots that resemble fish, and deploys tunnel-bots deep into drug-smuggling tunnels along the border…

(See the rest at Wired.com)

The Sound of a Nuclear Bomb?

On March 17, 1953, the U.S. military detonated an experimental nuclear weapons test. This test, part of Operation Upshot-Knothole, was designed to calm public fears about such weapons. The raw footage of this test was recently discovered. What does a nuclear weapons test sound like?

What does a Nuclear Weapons Test sound like?

What does a Nuclear Weapons Test sound like?
Description: Operation Upshot-Knothole, ANNIE EVENT (March 17, 1953)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

What was the Operation Upshot-Knothole Nuclear Weapons Test?

Operation Upshot Knothole was a series of 11 nuclear weapons tests conducted in Nevada during 1953. The March 17, 1953 test was called Annie. It was an “open shot” test, meaning reporters were allowed to view it. The purpose was to “calm public fears about weapon testing.”A secondary purpose was to study the effect of a nuclear blast on houses, cars, and bomb shelters. Researchers concluded people inside a car with open windows could survive if they were at least ten blocks from ground zero. They also decided a basement could protect people at 3,500 feet while the home itself could remain standing at 7,500 feet (assuming no flames).

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

You’ve probably seen videos of nuclear weapons tests in the past. Most of those are dubbed, probably with stock footage, so the detonation and its resulting noise occur at the same time.However, the speed of light travels at 671 million miles per hour. The speed of sound is much slower, just 768 miles per hour. Thus, we would expect to see the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion well before we actually hear it.

The video below comes from the National Archives. It’s the raw footage of the 1953 Annie test and was filmed about 7 miles away from the detonation. The explosion takes place at 2:37. You can see the mushroom cloud starting at 2:42. The sound doesn’t appear until 3:09, a full 32 seconds after the initial white light.

“The audio is what makes this great. Put on some headphones and listen to it all the way through — it’s much more intimate than any other test film I’ve seen. You get a much better sense of what these things must have been like, on the ground, as an observer, than from your standard montage of blasts. Murmurs in anticipation; the slow countdown over a megaphone; the reaction at the flash of the bomb; and finally — a sharp bang, followed by a long, thundering growl. That’s the sound of the bomb.” ~ Alex Wellerstein, The Sound of the Bomb (1953)

The Mysterious Space Plane?

On March 5, 2011, the U.S. Air Force launched the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle into low Earth orbit. After more than a year in space, it’s finally returning to Earth. But what was it doing up there in the first place?

The X-37B Space Plane

The X-37B Space Plane in its encapsulation cell
Attribution: US Air Force
Source: Wikimedia Commons

What is the X-37B Space Plane?

The current X-37B mission is scheduled to end in mid-June. It’s the second of at least three such missions. The first one took flight on April 22, 2010 and landed December 3, 2010. A third mission is expected to launch later this Fall.

We don’t know much about the X-37B. We know it generates power via a solar panel. We also know its payload bay is roughly the size of a pickup truck bed. We know it contains new technologies which are being tested. But its exact purpose and the nature of its payload remain a mystery. In fact, no one outside the Air Force seems to know what it’s doing in space. But hey, at least we know it’s been a success.

“Although I can’t talk about mission specifics, suffice it to say this mission has been a spectacular success.” ~ General William Shelton, Commander of Air Force Space Command

So, there’s that. Anyway, numerous conspiracy theories regarding the X-37B’s true purpose have arisen to fill the void. Here’s just a few of them:

  1. Space Bomber: This would seem like the most logical choice. However, the X-37B is an orbital vehicle, not a suborbital one. And shifting orbital planes apparently requires a great deal of thrust and thus, fuel. Then again, the X-37B has been floating around for over a year so this might not be such a big deal.
  2. Spy Plane: In January, an article in Spaceflight magazine claimed the X-37B was secretly spying on China’s Tiangong 1 space laboratory. However, this has been widely criticized. They only cross orbits in two places. So, if the X-37B is spying on Tiangong, it’s pretty limited. At the same time, some conceptual artwork of the space plane shows a small telescope. And the X-37B’s orbit takes it over numerous countries in the Middle East. So, a spy plane seems like a decent possibility.
  3. Testing Spy Satellites: This is an offshoot of the “Spy Plane” theory. It’s bolstered by the fact that the X-37B passes over the same region every four days, a pattern suggesting “U.S. imaging reconnaissance satellites.”
  4. Anti-Satellite Technology: According to Bill Sweetman, editor-in-chief of Aviation Week’s Defense Technology International, the X-37B might include “more than one way to put an enemy satellite out of orbit.” He specifically mentions the possibility of spraying an enemy satellite with black paint, and thus causing it to overheat.
  5. Space Experiments: Perhaps the X-37B is just an experimental vehicle, testing materials to see how they operate when exposed to space.

Of course, the X-37B could also be something else entirely, something completely outside the realms of our imagination. There’s just no way to be sure. So, for now, all we can do is continue to speculate as to the X-37B’s true purpose…as well as why it requires such intense secrecy.

Did the Nazis Send a Man into Space?

On October 29, 1933, the London Sunday Referee published a report that a man named Otto Fischer had flown a 24-foot long rocket six miles above Earth. Did Space Nazis really exist?

Did Space Nazis Exist?

Did Space Nazis Exist?
Description: Launch of a V2 Rocket (Summer 1943)
Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 141-1880 / CC-BY-SA
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Did Space Nazis Exist?

This story comes to you straight from io9. And it’s a wild one. No, the Nazis didn’t really send someone into space. But there was some truth behind the Space Nazis fiction.

In the early 1930s, the Bank of Magdeburg funded a rocket flight in order to prove something known as the Hollow Earth Doctrine. According to the Hollow Earth Doctrine (of which there are still some adherents today), mankind didn’t live on the outside of the Earth but rather, on the inside. An engineer named Franz Mengering thought he could prove the theory by launching a rocket into the air. If it traveled long enough, it would crash into the other end of the hollow earth, which was believed to be the Pacific Ocean.

The project never gained traction and the loan went to a rocket researcher named Rudolf Nebel instead. He was asked to build a rocket which could carry a man into space. However, the best the rocket could do was a belly-flop about 1,000 feet from the launching pad. The Space Nazis project was eventually abandoned and the rocket was put into storage.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

On a side note, the story was later resurrected in 1935 in a London magazine called Pall Mall. After that, it appeared to vanish from history. So, there you have it. Otto Fischer never reached space (in fact, he probably never existed). Space Nazis never existed. And thus, Yuri Gagarin’s place in history remains secure.

The Hunt for Bin Laden’s Corpse: Part III

Did Osama Bin Laden die in Pakistan? Was his corpse stuffed into a rubber-lined canvas body bag, weighed down with lead, and then buried in the North Arabian Sea? Or was he secretly transported back to the United States?

Osama Bin Laden Propaganda Poster

Does Osama Bin Laden’s corpse lie at the bottom of the North Arabian Sea?
Source: The National Archives via members of a U.S. Navy (USN) Seal Team

Where is Osama Bin Laden’s Corpse?

Back in June 2011, treasure hunter Bill Warren was attempting to raise $400,000 to locate and excavate Bin Laden’s body, which the U.S. government claimed had been buried at sea. We’ve been skeptical about his chances…highly skeptical.

“Warren plans to use side-scanning radar to locate the body bag. The problem with his strategy is obvious. The Arabian Sea is gigantic and side-scanning sonar is a slow, tedious process. Finding a corpse in it is like finding a needle in a haystack…a haystack that measures 1.5 million square miles.

Perhaps even more problematic are the limitations of side-scanning sonar. Even shipwrecks, with their hard edges and solid structures, are difficult to discern from the natural underwater landscape. Distinguishing something as small and with as little acoustic resonance as a corpse is next to impossible, even when taking into account two-hundred pounds of lead in the body bag. And the deeper the corpse lies, the harder it will prove to find.” ~ David Meyer, The Hunt for Bin Laden’s Corpse

Warren recently resurfaced for an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. And he claims to have struck pay dirt.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Unfortunately, we’re still skeptical. Warren has had little luck soliciting donations on his website, apparently raking in just $15 from a single donor. So, it seems probable he’s just trying to drum up some attention to fund his hunt.

We also find it hard to believe Bin Laden was buried at sea in the first place. That story never made much sense. It seems far more likely he was secretly transported back to the United States. But, we’re holding out hope for Warren. Maybe he really will find the body and put an end to all the crazy Bin Laden conspiracy theories…

But we wouldn’t count on it.

The Pigeon…that Saved the Lost Battalion?

On October 2, 1918, 554 U.S. soldiers found themselves trapped behind enemy lines in the Argonne Forest. Targeted by the Germans and under friendly fire from unknowing allies, they seemed marked to death. But six days later, salvation came from a most unlikely source…a carrier pigeon named Cher Ami.

War pigeon Cher Ami

War pigeon Cher Ami
Attribution: United States Signal Corps.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The “Lost Battalion”?

The “Lost Battalion” seemed doomed from the start. Due to a lack of communication, the troops advanced beyond the other allied forces and were quickly cut off by the Germans. They lacked ample food and ammunition. To get water, the soldiers were forced to crawl to a nearby stream, dodging fire along the way.

Major Charles Whittlesey dispatched several runners to alert the allies to his predicament. But none of them broke through the line. As a last ditch effort, he sent several carrier pigeons aloft with messages tied to their ankles.

The first carrier pigeon reached its destination. Now on full alert, the allies struck out to rescue the Lost Battalion. But unfortunately, this backfired in horrendous fashion. The carrier pigeon’s message contained the wrong coordinates and the Lost Battalion found itself under artillery attack from its own allies.

Major Whittlesey desperately sought to correct the mistake. He sent two additional carrier pigeons into the air, but they were shot down. Then, on October 4, he sent out his last carrier pigeon. This pigeon, an American Black Check by the name of Cher Ami, contained a note attached to his left leg.

Cher Ami – The Pigeon that Saved the “Lost Battalion”?

The Germans took aim at Cher Ami and shot him down. But Cher Ami proved up to the challenge. Somehow, he managed to regain flight and flew 25 miles back to division headquarters. By the time he arrived, he was severely wounded and blind in one eye. However, Cher Ami still had his message:

“WE ARE ALONG THE ROAD PARALELL 276.4. OUR ARTILLERY IS DROPPING A BARRAGE DIRECTLY ON US. FOR HEAVENS SAKE STOP IT.”

The allies quickly called off the artillery assault and subsequently, rescued the Lost Battalion. The cost was steep. About 200 men were killed in action. Another 150 were taken prisoner or reported lost.

In the aftermath, Cher Ami became a minor celebrity, especially to the 194 soldiers who managed to survive the incident. They nursed him back to health and eventually awarded him with the Croix de Guerre. Cher Ami died in New Jersey on June 13, 1919. He’s a member of the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame and his stuffed body (pictured above) is currently on display at the American Museum of Natural History.

Telepathic Soldiers?

Not to be outdone by DARPA’s never-ending list of sci-fi projects, the U.S. Army has decided to step up its game. In the next five years, it plans to spend $4 million in taxpayer funds in order to develop real-life telepathy.

Does telepathy exist?

Does telepathy exist?
Description: Subject in a Ganzfeld experiment
Attribution: Nealparr
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Synthetic Telepathy?

The U.S. Army’s version of telepathy is called Synthetic Telepathy. It bears some resemblance to the style of telepathy seen in the popular Metal Gear Solid 4 video game. But where Metal Gear relied on nanotechnology, this real-world telepathy relies on mind-reading.

Here’s how it works. Soldiers wear helmets containing electrodes. The electrodes read electrical activity in the brain and identify code words. Those code words are then relayed back to a central computer before being dished out to other soldiers in the field. Currently, computers are able to identify 45% of the code words. By 2017, the U.S. Army hopes that number will be closer to 100%.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Incidentally, this project first received funding back in 2008. At the time, researchers estimated Synthetic Telepathy would take 15-20 years to develop. It appears they’ve progressed fast enough to shave 6-11 years from that original mark.

At least some soldiers seem pleased by the development. On the other end of the spectrum, civil libertarians are worried about how it could be used by governments against their own citizens. It’s difficult to say exactly how this new telepathy technology will impact our lives. But one thing seems certain. Synthetic Telepathy is coming…and it’s coming quickly.

The Mystery of the Flying Car?

During the 1970s, Williams International built a one-man vertical take-off and landing machine known as “The Flying Pulpit.” This strange flying car stood four feet high and was capable of flying in any direction for as long as 45 minutes. It could speed up, hover in the air, and rotate as well as reach a top speed of 60 mph.

The Flying Pulpit - A Flying Car

The Flying Pulpit
Description: Side view of Williams X-Jet Flying Car on display at the Seattle Museum of Flight
Attribution: Gallimaufry (2006)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Flying Pulpit – The Mystery of the Flying Car?

The Flying Pulpit bore more than a passing resemblance to the Magnetic Air Car, which was featured in the Dick Tracy comic strip during the 1960s. That should come as no surprise. Dick Tracy’s creator, Chester Gould, was somewhat of a futurist and dotted his famous strip with numerous inventions which have since come to pass, including the 2-way wrist radio and the portable surveillance camera.

So, what happened to these strange flying cars? Well, as best as I can determine, they were constructed for military use. However, the U.S. Army found them wanting in the 1980s. Apparently, the flying cars were consigned to the dustbins of history.

While The Flying Pulpit might’ve made for a poor weapon in the face of other aircraft, I’m a little surprised it was never released for civilian use. Who wouldn’t want a personal flying car? Check out this video to see The Flying Pulpit in action.

Nuclear Warheads…on American Streets?

Next time you’re on the highway, look out…you just might find yourself driving next to a truck bearing a nuclear warhead.

Are nuclear weapons being carried on America's interstate highways?

Are nuclear weapons being carried on America’s interstate highways?
Description: Damaged U.S. Mail truck
Attribution: Photo courtesy of National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Nuclear Weapons…on American Streets?

Here’s more on nuclear weapons being carried on American streets from Mother Jones:

“Is that it?” My wife leans forward in the passenger seat of our sensible hatchback and points ahead to an 18-wheeler that’s hauling ass toward us on a low-country stretch of South Carolina’s Highway 125. We’ve been heading west from I-95 toward the Savannah River Site nuclear facility on the Georgia-South Carolina border, in search of nuke truckers. At first the mysterious big rig resembles a commercial gas tanker, but the cab is pristine-looking and there’s a simple blue-on-white license plate: US GOVERNMENT. It blows by too quickly to determine whether it’s part of the little-known US fleet tasked with transporting some of the most sensitive cargo in existence.

As you weave through interstate traffic, you’re unlikely to notice another plain-looking Peterbilt tractor-trailer rolling along in the right-hand lane. The government plates and array of antennas jutting from the cab’s roof would hardly register. You’d have no idea that inside the cab an armed federal agent operates a host of electronic countermeasures to keep outsiders from accessing his heavily armored cargo: a nuclear warhead with enough destructive power to level downtown San Francisco.

(See Mother Jones for more on nuclear weapons being transported over American streets)

Shocking Civil War Photos?

In memory of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, The Atlantic is publishing an astounding collection of Civil War photos taken by war correspondents. They are, in a word, shocking.

Civil War Photos - African Americans collecting bones of soldiers killed near Cold Harbor, Virginia

Civil War Photos – “Cold Harbor, Va. African Americans collecting bones of soldiers killed in the battle.”
Attribution: John Reekie (April 1865)
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Shocking Civil War Photos?

My third great grandfather fought for the Union during the Civil War. He was mustered in during 1862, was captured at the Second Battle of Ream’s Station in 1864, and died three years later, presumably from war-related injuries. Even when looking at these photos, it’s hard to fathom the horrors and destruction he must’ve seen during the Civil War years. For some terrific insights on the war and more Civil War photos, check out my friend Sean McLachlan’s blog at Civil War Horror. And here’s more Civil War photos from the Atlantic. Make sure to click on over to check out the rest of these startling photos:

Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War…Although photography was still in its infancy, war correspondents produced thousands of images, bringing the harsh realities of the frontlines to those on the home front in a new and visceral way. As brother fought brother and the nation’s future grew uncertain, the public appetite for information was fed by these images from the trenches, rivers, farms, and cities that became fields of battle.

(See The Atlantic for more Civil War photos)