Recently the [Periscope Film] channel on YouTube published a 1960 color documentary featuring the 1958 launch of the Atlas B (SM-65B) ICBM, in its second, Missile 4B iteration. This was the second model of the second prototype, which earned the distinction of being the first truly intercontinental ballistic missile upon its successful test completion, which saw the payload plummeting into its designated part of the Atlantic Ocean. This was a much better result than the previous test of the 3B, which suffered a yaw gyro issue that caused the missile to disintegrate partway into the flight.
In this historic documentary, the Atlas B’s manufacturer – Convair – takes us through all the elements of the test range, including all the downrange stations, their functions and how all the data from the test is captured, recorded (on reel to reel tape) and integrated into one coherent data set. This includes radar data, telemetry received from the missile, as well as the data tape that the ICBM ejects from the payload section shortly before impact.
Although it’s also a promotion piece for Convair Astronautics, this does little to mar the documentary aspect, which is narrated by William Conrad, who manages to both instill a sense of technological wonder and grim foreboding against the scenery of 1950s military high-tech in the midst of a heating up Cold War.
Donald Reid had a passion for applying himself to challenging problems, and in many ways his life’s work was that of developing a prototype submersible aircraft — or flying submarine — for which his son Bruce was a test pilot. [Jesse Moody] brought to our attention a fantastic documentary he created (with a short teaser trailer here) in which he interviews Bruce, and in the process teaches us all about a story that spanned decades and formed an important part of aviation history. Bruce experienced his share of hair-raising moments while testing the craft, but still has all of his fingers and limbs. Still, in his own words, “you wouldn’t be doing that kind of testing today!”
In many ways, the story revolves around defying assumptions. Without context, a “flying submarine” project might sound like a lone kook’s obsession, but Donald Reid was nothing of the sort. He was a brilliant engineer who was able solve problems by applying his skill and intellect with a laser-like focus. And it turns out that getting a submerged vehicle to successfully transition from waterbound craft to airborne is a source of numerous and novel problems that were not trivial to solve. In fact, these problems needed to be solved in order to develop the Tomahawk cruise missile, which is launched by submarine. And that brings us to the lawsuit that bookended it all.
In today’s world, it is hard to realize how frightened Americans were at the news of Sputnik orbiting the Earth. Part of it was a fear of what a rival nation could do if they could fly over your country with impunity. Part of it was simply fear generated by propaganda. While America won the race to the moon, that wasn’t clear in the 1950s. The Soviet Union was ahead in the ability to deliver bombs using planes and missiles. They launched Sputnik on a modified ICBM, while American attempts to do the same failed spectacularly. The Air Force wanted ideas about how to respond to Sputnik, and one of the most disturbing ones was project A119, a project we were reminded of recently by a BBC post.
In all fairness, the Soviets had an almost identical plan, code-named E4. Fortunately, both sides eventually realized these plans weren’t a good idea. Oh, did we forget to mention that A119 and E4 were plans to detonate a nuclear device on the moon?
Mark it on your calendars, folks — this is the week that the term RUD has entered the public lexicon. Sure, most of our community already knows the acronym for “rapid unscheduled disassembly,” and realizes its tongue-in-cheek nature. But given that the term has been used by Elon Musk and others to describe the ignominious end of the recent Starship test flight, it seems like RUD will catch on in the popular press. But while everyone’s attention was focused on the spectacular results of manually activating Starship’s flight termination system to end its by-then uncontrolled flight at a mere 39 km, perhaps the more interesting results of the launch were being seen in and around the launch pad on Boca Chica. That’s where a couple of hundred tons of pulverized reinforced concrete rained down, turned to slag and dust by the 33 Raptor engines on the booster. A hapless Dodge Caravan seemed to catch the worst of the collateral damage, but the real wrath of those engines was focused on the Orbital Launch Mount, which now has a huge crater under it.
The TA-1042 is the most badass looking telephone you’ll ever see. It’s a digital military telephone from the 1980s, but sadly non-functional unless it’s hooked up to the military phone switches it was designed to work with. These days, they’re really only useful as a heavy object to throw at somebody… that is, unless you had the suitable supporting hardware. As it turns out, [Nick] and [Rob] were able to whip up exactly that.
Their project involved implementing the TA-1042’s proprietary switching protocol on a Raspberry Pi Pico. The microcontroller’s unique Programmable I/O subsystem proved perfect for the task. With a little programming and a hat for the Pico to interface with the hardware, they were able to get the TA-1042 working as intended. It involved learning how to encode and decode the Manchester encoded data used by the Digital Non-secure Voice Terminal equipment. Notably, the TA-1042 isn’t the only phone you can use with this setup. You can also hook up other US military DNVT phones, like the TA-954 or TA-1035.
If you want this hardware for yourself, you can simply buy one of [Nick] and [Rob]’s DNVT switches from Tindie. Alternatively, you can roll your own with the source code provided on GitHub.
With a UHF antenna, it is easy to rotate a directional antenna to find the bearing to a transmitter. But at HF, it is more common to use an array of antennas that you can electrically switch as well as analyze the phase information between the elements. [Ringway Manchester] has a look at the “elephant cage” antenna used by the US Iron Horse listening network from the 1950s. You can see a video about the giant antenna system, the AN/FLR-9.
Technically, the ring of concentric antenna elements forms a Wullenweber antenna. The whole thing consists of three rings built on a ground screen nearly 1,500 feet across. The outer ring covers from 1.5 to 6 MHz or band A. The band B ring in the center covers 6 to 18 MHz. The inner ring covers band C which was from 18 to 30 MHz. Band A was made up of 48 monopoles while band B used 96 elements. The much smaller band C elements were 48 pairs of horizontally polarized dipoles. Continue reading “Cold War Listening Post Antennas”→
One of the global news stories this week has been the passing of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Since she had recently celebrated 70 years on the throne, the changing of a monarch is not something that the majority of those alive in 2022 will have seen. But it’s well known that there are a whole suite of “London Bridge has fallen” protocols in place for that eventuality which the various arms of the British government would have put in motion immediately upon news from Balmoral Castle. When it became obvious that the Queen’s health was declining, [Hackerfantastic] took to the airwaves to spot any radio signature of these plans. [Update 2022-09-11] See the comments below and a fresh Tweet to clarify, it appears these were not the signals they were at first suspected to be.
What he found in a waterfall view of the 4 MHz military band was an unusual transmission, a set of strong QPSK packets that started around 13:40pm on the 8th of September, and continued on for 12 hours before disappearing. The interesting thing about these transmissions is not that they were a special system for announcing the death of a monarch, but that they present a rare chance to see one of the country’s Cold War era military alert systems in action.
It’s likely that overseas embassies and naval ships would have been the intended recipients and the contents would have been official orders to enact those protocols, though we’d be curious to know whether 2022-era Internet and broadcast media had tipped them off beforehand that something was about to happen. It serves as a reminder: next time world news stories happen in your part of the world, look at the airwaves!