Retrotechtacular: Stateside Assembly and Launch of V-2 Rockets

At the end of World War II, the United States engaged in Operation Paperclip to round up German V-2 rockets and their engineers. The destination for these rockets? White Sands Proving Grounds in the New Mexico desert, where they would be launched 100 miles above the Earth for the purpose of high altitude research.

This 1947 War Department Film Bulletin takes a look inside the activities at White Sands. Here, V-2 rockets are assembled from 98% German-made parts constructed before V-E day. The hull of each rocket is lined with glass wool insulation by men without masks. The alcohol and liquid oxygen tanks are connected together, and skins are fitted around them to keep fuel from leaking out. Once the hull is in place around the fuel tanks, the ends are packed with more glass wool. Now the rocket is ready for its propulsion unit.

In the course of operation, alcohol and liquid oxygen are pumped through a series of eighteen jets to the combustion chamber. The centrifugal fuel pump is powered by steam, which is generated separately by the reaction between hydrogen peroxide and sodium permanganate.

A series of antennas are affixed to the rocket’s fins. Instead of explosives, the warhead is packed with instruments to report on high altitude conditions. Prior to launch, the rocket’s tare weight is roughly five tons. It will be filled with nine tons of fuel once it is erected and unclamped.

At the launch site, a gantry crane is used to add the alcohol, the liquid oxygen, and the steam turbine fuels after the controls are wired up. The launch crew assembles in a blockhouse with a 27-foot-thick roof of reinforced concrete and runs through the protocol. Once the rocket has returned to Earth, they track down the pieces using radar, scouting planes, and jeeps to recover the instruments.

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Retrotechtacular: Using the Jet Stream for Aerial Warfare

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are all the rage these days. But while today’s combative UAV technology is as modern as possible, the idea itself is not a new one. Austria floated bomb-laden balloons at Venice in the middle 1800s. About a hundred years later during WWII, the Japanese used their new-found knowledge of the jet stream to send balloons to the US and Canada.

Each balloon took about four days to reach the western coast of North America. They carried both incendiary and anti-personnel devices as a payload, and included a self-destruct. On the “business end” of the balloons was the battery, the demolition block, and a box containing four aneroid barometers to monitor altitude. In order to keep the balloons within the 8,000 ft. vertical range of the jet stream, they were designed to drop ballast sandbags beginning one day into flight using a system of blow plugs and fuses. In theory, the balloon has made it to North American air space on day four with nothing left hanging but the incendiaries and the central anti-personnel payload.

Although the program was short-lived, the Japanese launched some 9,300 of these fire balloons between November 1944 and April 1945. Several of them didn’t make it to land. Others were shot down or landed in remote areas. Several made the journey just fine, and two even floated all the way to Michigan. Not bad for a rice paper gas bag.

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Retrotechtacular: WWII Paraset Spy Radio Used by French Resistance


[Robert Sumption] a.k.a [W9RAS] takes on the daunting challenge of building a WWII spy radio called the Paraset as the topic of this week’s Retrotechtacular. It was originally a tube based CW (Morse code) transmitter/receiver used by the French underground to communicate with the Allies. Many of these radios were dropped behind enemy lines and could run on European AC or 6 V DC with the added advantage of being able to use most anything for an antenna, including fence wire. These small, low power and highly mobile radios tuned in the 3 to 8 MHz range were instrumental in the resistance. But they still make for a really fun scratch-built radio project.

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Elder Robots

It’s always nice to show our appreciation for our elders. Today’s young robots may be whippier, snappier, and go-gettier than their forbears but you have to admit that few of them have the moxie to dust themselves off after 45 years and have a walk around town (although it still wouldn’t qualify for a senior’s discount). George, a British humanoid robot made out of a WWII bomber, was resurrected by his inventor after decades in the garage–and all it took was a little bit of oil and some new batteries. Respect.

George is very impressive, but he’s not the oldest robot by any means. Ever-popular Buddha inspired a Japanese robot some 80 years ago that has recently been updated (pics here)–do robots meditate in solid state?

In a similar aesthetic vein to George, Chinese farmer Wu Yulu made a robotic rickshaw driver, one of his many eccentric projects since the 80s.

Here on hackaday we see a lot of modern robotics, but what about a return to the old school? Next time you have a scrap airplane on hand why not weld together a classic robot, and while you’re at it give your regards to old George.

TEMPEST: A Signal Problem


TEMPEST is the covername used by the NSA and other agencies to talk about emissions from computing machinery that can divulge what the equipment is processing. We’ve covered a few projects in the past that specifically intercept EM radiation. TEMPEST for Eliza can transmit via AM using a CRT monitor, and just last Fall a group showed how to monitor USB keyboards remotely. Through the Freedom of Information Act, an interesting article from 1972 has been released. TEMPEST: A Signal Problem (PDF) covers the early history of how this phenomenon was discovered. Uncovered by Bell Labs in WWII, it affected a piece of encryption gear they were supplying to the military. The plaintext could be read over that air and also by monitoring spikes on the powerlines. Their new, heavily shielded and line filtered version of the device was rejected by the military who simply told commanders to monitor a 100 feet around their post to prevent eavesdropping. It’s an interesting read and also covers acoustic monitoring. This is just the US history of TEMPEST though, but from the anecdotes it sounds like their enemies were not just keeping pace but were also better informed.

[via Schneier]