Milspec Teardown: CP-142 Range Computer

As some of my previous work here at Hackaday will attest to, I’m a big fan of World War II technology. Something about going in with wooden airplanes and leaving with jet fighters and space capable rockets has always captivated me. So when one of my lovingly crafted eBay alerts was triggered by something claiming to be a “Navy WWII Range Computer”, it’s safe to say I was interested.

Not to say I had any idea of what the thing was, mind you. I only knew it looked old and I had to have it. While I eagerly awaited the device to arrive at my doorstep, I tried to do some research on it and came up pretty much empty-handed. As you might imagine, a lot of the technical information for hardware that was developed in the 1940’s hasn’t quite made it to the Internet. Somebody was selling a technical manual that potentially would have covered the function of this device for $100 on another site, but I thought that might be a bit excessive. Besides, where’s the fun in that?

I decided to try to decipher what this device does by a careful examination of the hardware, consultation of what little technical data I could pull up on its individual components, and some modern gear. In the end I think I have a good idea of how it works, but I’d certainly love to hear if there’s anyone out there who might have actually worked with hardware like this and could fill in any blanks.

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Hacking When It Counts: Churchill’s Toy Shop

Nothing brings out the worst in humanity like war. Perversely, war also seems to exert an opposite if not equal force that leads to massive outbursts of creativity, the likes of which are not generally seen during times of peace. With inhibitions relaxed and national goals to meet, or in some cases where the very survival of a people is at stake, we always seem to find new and clever ways to blow each other to smithereens.

The run-up to World War II was a time where almost every nation was caught on its heels, and the rapidity of events unfolding across Europe and in Asia demanded immediate and decisive response. As young men and women mobilized and made ready for war, teams of engineers, scientists, and inventors were pressed into service to develop the weapons that would support them. For the British, these “boffins” would team up under a directorate called Ministry of Defence 1, or MD1. Informally, they’d be known as “Churchill’s Toy Shop,” and the devices they came up with were deviously clever hacks.

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DARPA Enlisting Nemo and Dory to Find You

The ocean is a hostile environment for man-made equipment, no matter its purpose. Whether commercial fishing, scientific research, or military operations, salt water is constantly working to break them all down. The ocean is also home to organisms well-adapted to their environment so DARPA is curious if we can leverage their innate ability to survive. The Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors (yes, our ocean PALS) program is asking for creative ideas on how to use sea life to monitor ocean activity.

Its basic idea is simple: everyday business of life in the ocean are occasionally interrupted by a ship, a submarine, or some other human activity. If this interruption can be inferred from sea life response, getting that data could be much less expensive than building sensors to monitor such activity directly. Everyone who applies to this research program will have the chance to present their own ideas on how to turn this idea into reality.

The program announced it will “study natural and modified organisms” (emphasis ours.) Keeping an open mind to bio-engineering ideas will be interesting, but adding biohacking to the equation also adds to the list of potential problems. While PALS will keep its research within contained facilities, any future military deployment obviously will not. Successful developments in this area will certainly raise eyebrows and face resistance against moving beyond the lab.

But such possibilities are still far away in a future that many never arrive, as is common with DARPA initiatives. Very recently we talked about their interest in brain stimulation and we’ve been fascinated by many DARPA initiatives before that. If PALS takes off, their living sensor nodes might end up face to face with the open-source underwater glider project that won this year’s Hackaday prize.

[via Engadget]

Warhammer 40K Model Rocket Launcher

[Daniel L]’s friend has a passion for Warhammer 40K. [Daniel] himself has a similar zeal for perfection in details. When he remembered a long-forgotten request to build a working rocket launcher for one of his friend’s Warhammer 40K models — well — the result was inevitably awesome.

The MicroMaxx motors — one of the smallest commercial rocket motors on the market — he had on hand seemed to fit the model of the Hyperios Whirlwind anti-air rocket tank. Modeling and 3D printing all the parts proved to be easier than assembling the incredibly detailed model — on top of sanding and filling gaps, a perfect paint job was no simple matter.

The launcher has two main circuit boards: a STM32F407 microcontroller brain, a low-power A20737A Bluetooth module, and a voltage regulator. The second has the constant current source and MOSFET output stages for the rocket igniters. Pitch and yaw handled by a pair of RC servo motors. [Daniel L] has also gone the extra mile by creating an accompanying iPhone app using the Anaren Atmosphere IDE — it’s simple but it works!

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Retrotechtacular: Field Assembling Airplanes Like Wartime “Ikea”

Imagine it’s 1943, and you have to transport 1,000 P-47 fighter planes from your factory in the United States to the front lines in Europe, roughly 5,000 miles over the open ocean. Flying them isn’t an option, the P-47 has a maximum range of only 1,800 miles, and the technology for air-to-air refueling of fighter planes is still a few years off. The Essex class aircraft carriers in use at this time could carry P-47s in a pinch, but the plane isn’t designed for carrier use and realistically you wouldn’t be able to fit many on anyway. So what does that leave?

It turns out, the easiest way is to simply ship them as freight. But you can’t exactly wrap a fighter plane up in brown paper and stick a stamp on it; the planes would need to be specially prepared and packed for their journey across the Atlantic. To get the P-47 inside of a reasonably shaped shipping crate, the wings, propeller, and tail had to come off and be put into a separate crate. But as any reader of Hackaday knows, getting something apart is rarely the problem, it’s getting the thing back together that’s usually the tricky part.

So begins the 1943 film “Uncrating and Assembly of the P-47 Thunderbolt Airplane which has been digitally restored and uploaded to YouTube by [Zeno’s Warbirds]. In this fascinating 40 minute video produced by the “Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics”, the viewer is shown how the two crates containing the P-47 are to be unpacked and assembled into a ready-to-fly airplane with nothing more than manpower and standard mechanic’s tools. No cranes, no welders, not even a hanger: just a well-designed aircraft and wartime ingenuity.

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Military Surplus Repurposed for High Energy Physics

Performing high-energy physics experiments can get very expensive, a fact that attracts debate on public funding for scientific research. But the reality is that scientists often work very hard to stretch their funding as far as they can. This is why we need informative and entertaining stories like Gizmodo’s How Physicists Recycled WWII Ships and Artillery to Unlock the Mysteries of the Universe.

The military have specific demands on components for their equipment. Hackers are well aware MIL-SPEC parts typically command higher prices. That quality is useful beyond their military service, which lead to how CERN obtained large quantities of a specific type of brass from obsolete Russian naval ordnance.

The remainder of the article shared many anecdotes around Fermilab’s use of armor plate from decommissioned US Navy warships. They obtained a mind-boggling amount – thousands of tons – just for the cost of transport. Dropping the cost of high quality steel to “only” $53 per ton (1975 dollars, ~$250 today) and far more economical than buying new. Not all of the steel acquired by Fermilab went to science experiments, though. They also put a little bit towards sculptures on the Fermilab campus. (One of the few contexts where 21 tons of steel can be considered “a little bit”.)

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Turning Saw Blades Into Throwing Stars

The holidays are nearly upon us, and if you haven’t found the perfect gift for the Mall Ninja in your life yet, this latest hack might be just what you’re looking for. On his YouTube channel, [The Nocturnal Alchemist] demonstrates how to make ninja throwing stars (shuriken) out of an old circular saw blade. One could probably argue that a circular saw itself is close enough to throwing star if your only goal is to wreck some stuff in your backyard, but with this method they’ll have that official samurai look.

To start the process, he hits both sides of the circular saw blade with a grinder to smooth out the surface. He then traces the desired star shapes onto the blade, and cuts the blade into pieces so it’s easier to manage. The rough shape of the stars is cut out with an angle grinder, and a belt sander lets him sharpen the edges.

At this point the stars are effectively finished, but if you want something that’s going to look good on the shelf next to the katana you bought online, you need to do some more finish work. He sands both sides of the stars by hand, starting at 80 grit and working all the way up to 1200 grit wet paper. Once sanded, paste wax is rubbed in with a cloth to give it a protective coating.

With the finish work done, all that’s left to do is throw your new shuriken at cans of soda and watermelons as a demonstration of their power. To this end, he has come prepared with a 1,000 FPS camera; so if you’ve ever wanted to see cans of off-brand soda getting exploded with a throwing star, your Mall Ninja friend isn’t the only one about to get a gift.

With circular saw blade shuriken completed, all you’ll need to do to complete your urban samurai transformation is forge yourself a sword, and perfect your run in virtual reality.

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