From EMP generators to the top-secret projects, these are seven strange and scary military science projects.
1. The Demon Core
On August 13th, 1945, a third nuclear weapon was scheduled for release over Imperial Japan. We all know about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but did you know that there was a third plutonium core manufactured and ready to go. The core for this bomb was a solid sphere 3.5 inches in diameter with a weight of 14 pounds and it held enough energy to power an average U.S. home for over 2,000 years.
On August 15th, 1945, Imperial Japan surrendered, and the third bomb was no longer needed to attack Japan. When it was built, the scientists at Los Alamos wanted to make sure that it was 5% below critical mass, meaning that with the change of a key factor the core would become critical. For example, compressing the core would cause it to explode.
Scientists also added more nuclear material by using a reflector that would block outbound neutrons from leaving the core. At this point, you might be wondering how this core got its nickname, after all it is called the “Demon Core.”
The first incident occurred on August 21st, 1945. A physicist working at Los Alamos was performing a neutron reflection test to make sure that the core was still close to critical mass by stacking tungsten carbide bricks near the core so he could essentially control how close to the explosion the core was. He accidentally dropped one side on top of the core and the core went into a super critical status; a self-sustaining critical chain reaction but he managed to quickly remove the bricks and stop the process.
Unfortunately, human speed is nothing compared to the power of radiation. He died 25 days later from acute radiation syndrome.
HVRC is officially known as the “Istra High Voltage Research Center.” This facility has the largest known Marks Generator. I know it sounds scary but Marks Generators have been used by many governments and private companies to simulate the effects of lightning on airplanes fighter jets and power lines.
The generator at the Istra facility is powerful enough to generate 500 footlong lightning bolts. The facility was built sometime in the 1970s. It was most likely used to test military fighter jets. Boris Yeltsin, the first president of the Russian Federation, was a construction supervisor for some parts of this research center. Since the 1990s, the location hasn’t been completely shut down. The last known use was in 2014, so don’t think you can just wander around the area without being noticed.
3. Project 112
Between 1962 and 1973, the United States Department of Defense experimented with biological and chemical weapons. Project 112 was part of a bigger operation dedicated to totally reviewing the U.S. military. It wouldn’t be a shady Cold War project without the involvement of the CIA.
The experiments began as soon as John F. Kennedy signed the paperwork. Trials were conducted in the secure Porton Down Facility in the U.K., which has been accused of doing tests on human subjects. There is evidence that some trials were conducted around the town of Ralston in Canada. Perhaps the worst aspect of Project 112 were the shipboard hazard and defense tests.
These tests were meant to expose chemical and biological warfare vulnerabilities of U.S. warships and, yes, there were people on those ships, around 5,500 test subjects to be more exact. If you were riding the New York Subway System between June 7th and 10th, 1966, there is a high probability that you were exposed to BG Bacteria, which is a “harmless” stimulant of its super deadly cousin, anthrax.
The experiments showed that just dropping a few light bulbs filled with real anthrax would have caused a citywide epidemic. The government denied the existence of Project 112 for decades. The sad part is that we may never know the full extent of the project, how many people were affected or if it’s still happening. Considering there is information that the U.S. government conducted testing outside of the U.S. because it was deemed too unethical, I can’t begin to imagine the true nature and effects of Project 112.
4. Leti Ostia
Russian officials wanted to try out something new and a little crazy, a flying atomic lab, meaning a plane that was powered by a nuclear reactor. It all began with the Tupolev TU-95, a Soviet bomber aircraft. It was the perfect candidate for nuclear power. The Russian government managed to fit the bomber with a nuclear reactor and the plane amassed 40 test flights.
At the same time, the United States was also developing a nuclear bomber from the Convair B-36 body. They called it the Convair and, before we go any further, both the Russian and American versions of these planes were fitted with nuclear reactors, both planes had many test flights and both planes were never actually powered by the nuclear reactor.
The test phase was more concerned with shielding the rest of the plane from radiation and minimizing the environmental impact. So what happened? Intercontinental ballistic missiles happened. As it turns out, those were much more effective and destructive than any bomber could ever be.
5. Project Iceworm
The U.S. government took great interest in Greenland. Starting in the 1960s, the U.S. already had a full air base in Greenland, which helped build trust with the Danish government under the guise of an above ground project nicknamed Camp Century. Underground work on Project Iceworm began in 1961.
Project Iceworm was supposed to have over 600 nuclear missiles hidden within 2,500 miles of tunnels. This project was more of a back up plan for the USSR more than anything else. If there were hundreds of nuclear warheads headed towards our known nuclear warhead locations it would be nice to just send another 600 or so flying their way.
How did this all end? Well, it turns out that ice moves slowly but surely. The man-made tunnels and operation rooms would shift over time and could lose structural integrity. In 1966, the project was abandoned completely and the U.S. government that thought that all the work completed at Camp Century would be forever covered by ice, but current trends of ice sheets melting suggest that everything might be exposed within the next century.
6. Operation Fishbowl
At the same time that we were learning how to bury nuclear weapons in Greenland, a massive operation was happening in the Pacific Ocean. Starfish Prime was a test conducted under the umbrella of Operation Fishbowl. Let’s look at the bigger picture. First, Operation Fishbowl was a series of high-altitude nuclear tests and was part of the larger Operation Dominic test program.
The first test conducted in Operation Fishbowl was dubbed “Blue Gill.” The missile was destroyed before detonating. Next up, we had Starfish; after 59 seconds of flight the rocket engine of the Thor missile failed and due to safety concerns the missile and warhead were destroyed before detonation. Then, the Starfish Prime test occurred, otherwise known as the largest nuclear test in outer space.
The Thor missile was launched from the Johnston Atoll on July 9th, 1962, and it flew to an altitude of 250 miles and the 1.4 Megaton TNT explosion was visible from a thousand mile radius. The Aurora covered a vast region of the Pacific Ocean. The after-effects of the blast were serious. About one third of all satellites in low Earth orbit were disabled, reports suggests that the electrons from Starfish Prime could be found five years after the blast.
7. ATLAS I
The Air Force Weapons Lab Transmission Line Aircraft Simulator, more often referred to as Trestle, was the hotbed for EMP generation and testing in the U.S. EMP’s are electromagnetic pulses that can be caused by natural things like lightning and solar bursts from our Sun.
After $60 million was spent, the U.S. Air Force finally had the strongest, baddest and biggest non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse generator. This technology allowed them to test the effects of EMP’s on airplanes and aircraft equipment.