His Majesty’s Scary Steam Subs
This story first appeared on Nov. 6, 2015. Like the airplane, the submarine evolved in the early 20th century into a real weapon. But for the British Royal Navy, this posed a dilemma. The Admiralty’s battle plan for its revolutionary new dreadnoughts foresaw high-speed clashes between rival fleets armed with very-long-range... Read more
This Nuclear Outboard Motor Was a Really Terrible Idea
This story originally appeared on Aug. 6, 2013. In the early 1960s the U.S. Navy could have gotten a disposable, atomic-powered outboard motor that would have made America’s warships a Hell of a lot more efficient. But there was the little problem of all that noise and radiation. File... Read more
How to Find a Missing H-Bomb
This story originally appeared on April 20, 2015. When a routine Cold War operation went terribly wrong, two planes and seven men died, a village got contaminated and a hydrogen bomb disappeared. The search and cleanup required 1,400 American and Spanish personnel, a dozen aircraft, 27 U.S. Navy ships... Read more
War and Forgiveness
This story first appeared on Dec. 24, 2013. With war rumbling across the planet, it’s good to remember that even sworn enemies can, in time, find deep and lasting peace. Spring 1942. The Allies were reeling from the ferociously successful Japanese assault upon East Asia and the Western Pacific.... Read more
In the 1940s, the U.S. Navy Launched Planes From Trapezes
This story originally appeared on Jan. 25, 2015. Today’s small drones launch off catapults and land in big nets. Large drones require runways, whether on land or at sea. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way, as a wacky—and successful—World War II technique proved. During the Pacific... Read more
The U.S. Navy’s Secret Undersea Lair
This story originally appeared on June 24, 2013. Point Sur is 600 feet of tough rock facing Pacific rollers that come 6,000 miles to pound the central California coast. Like the 19th-century lighthouse that marks the Point, the now-derelict compound of the former Naval Facility Point Sur evokes another... Read more
America Had a Problem With Its Nuclear Warheads Freezing
This story originally appeared on Nov. 5, 2015. The U.S. Air Force is once again pushing for a nuclear-armed cruise missile to “fill the gap” between heavy bombers and ballistic missiles. The W-80 warhead will be the missile’s business end. The flying branch’s push comes during the largest planned overhaul... Read more
Here Come the Hypersonic Attack Planes!
Like a bolt out of the blue, Lockheed Martin’s renown Skunk Works publicly teased one of aviation’s great snark hunts—revealing plans for a successor to the SR-71, the legendary Mach-3 reconnaissance plane designed with slide rules and retired when the millenials were born. That 59-year old aircraft, originally developed... Read more
U.S. Marines’ Portable Helicopters Were Too Crazy to Survive
This story originally appeared on Feb. 15, 2015. During the Korean War, quite a few American pilots went down behind enemy lines. Some got lucky and escaped with the help of daring airborne-search-and-rescue crews, while others never made it home alive. The U.S. Marine Corps looked to helicopters to... Read more
Her Majesty’s Nuclear Seaplane
Originally published on Oct. 22, 2013. She was a dazzling aircraft, a great winged hope of postwar Britain, the largest all-metal flying boat ever built. Her design incorporated brand-new technologies: a pressurized cabin, all-hydraulic controls and turboprop power. Yet even as she took to the skies over the 1953... Read more
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