While hackers and makers have a tendency to focus on functionality above all else, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for some visual flair. A device that works well and looks good will always be more impressive than the bare bones approach, but the extra time and money it usually takes to polish up the visual component of a build means it’s often overlooked. Which is exactly what [Jay Doscher] wanted to address with his Mil-Plastic project.
On the surface, the Mil-Plastic is yet another entry in the rapidly growing and often ill-defined world of cyberdecks: custom computing devices that forgo the standard laptop and desktop dichotomy and instead explore the road not taken by mainstream consumer electronics. To that end, it’s a solid build more than worthy of praise. But more than that, it’s also a lesson on how 3D printing and some clever design can create a truly impressive visual for little more than the cost of a spool of PLA.
The Mil-Plastic, as the name implies, looks like it was pulled from a Humvee or an Abrams tank. While the gorgeous olive green PETG filament that [Jay] has stumbled upon certainly helps, his eye for detail and design chops aren’t to be underestimated. He’s given the case a rugged and armored look that simply screams “Your Tax Dollars At Work”, complete with faux cooling fins running along the back and a generous application of low-profile stainless steel fasteners. We’ve taken a close look at the decadence of military engineering in the past, and the Mil-Plastic could hang with the best of them.
Most importantly, [Jay] has given us all the tools and information we need to recreate the look on our own terms. You don’t have to be in the market for yet another Raspberry Pi gadget to appreciate the Mil-Plastic; the design can serve as the backbone for whatever you happen to be building. The printed case not only looks impressive, but can easily be modified and expanded as needed.
When [easyjo] picked up this late ’80s Marconi mil-spec keyboard for cheap, he knew it wouldn’t be easy to convert it to USB — just that it would be worth it. Spoiler alert: those LEDs aren’t a mod, they’re native. They get their interesting shape from the key traces, which are in the four corners.
Despite having way-cool buttons such as WPNS HOLD, and the fact that Control is on the home row where it belongs, this keyboard does not look fun to type on at all for any length of time. Of course, the point of this keyboard is not comfort, but a reliable input device that keeps out dust, sweat, liquids, and the enemy.
This is probably why the controller is embedded into the underside of the key switch PCB instead of living on its own board. [easyjo] tried to analyze the signals from the existing 26-pin connector, but it didn’t work out.
So once he was able to decode the matrix, he removed the controller chip and wired the rows and columns directly to an Arduino Leonardo. Fortunately, the LEDs were just a matter of powering their columns from the front side of the board.
It’s time once again for another installment in “Milspec Teardown”, where we get to see what Uncle Sam spends all those defense dollars on. Battle hardened pieces of kit are always a fascinating look at what can be accomplished if money is truly no object. When engineers are given a list of requirements and effectively a blank check, you know the results are going to be worth taking a closer look.
Today, we have quite a treat indeed. Not only is this ID-2124 Howitzer Deflection-Elevation Data Display unit relatively modern (this particular specimen appears to have been pulled from service in June of 1989), but unlike other military devices we’ve looked at in the past, there’s actually a fair bit of information about it available to us lowly civilians. In a first for this ongoing series of themed teardowns, we’ll be able to compare the genuine article with the extensive documentation afforded by the ever fastidious United States Armed Forces.
For example, rather than speculate wildly as to the purpose of said device, we can read the description directly from Field Manual 6-50 “TACTICS, TECHNIQUES, AND PROCEDURES FOR THE FIELD ARTILLERY CANNON BATTERY”:
The gun assembly provides instant identification of required deflection to the gunner or elevation to the assistant gunner. The display window shows quadrant elevation or deflection information. The tenths digit shows on the QE display only when the special instruction of GUNNER’S QUADRANT is received.
From this description we can surmise that the ID-2124 is used to display critical data to be used during the aiming and firing of the weapon. Further, the small size of the device and the use of binding posts seem to indicate that it would be used remotely or temporarily. Perhaps so the crew can put some distance between themselves and the artillery piece they’re controlling.
Now that we have an idea of what the ID-2124 is and how it would be used, let’s take a closer look at what’s going on inside that olive drab aluminum enclosure.
A B-52 bomber is approaching its primary target: rail yards in the Beloostrov district of Leningrad. Intel reports the area is likely defended by S-25 Berkut and S-75 Dvinia surface to air missiles (SAMs), but this close to the target the gigantic bomber can’t afford to make the evasive maneuvers, known as combat turns, which would help shake off enemy air defenses. From his position behind the co-pilot, the electronic warfare officer (EWO) reaches over and sets the C-1282 for continuous chaff ejection. Hundreds of thin metallic strips are jettisoned from the B-52, confusing tracking radar and allowing the bomber and her crew to slip through the Soviet air defenses and drop 50,000 lbs of ordnance directly onto the target.
Luckily for all of us, this event never actually occurred. But it was a possibility that the United States and Soviet Union had prepared for extensively. Both sides developed ever more capable weapons, and for each new weapon, a new countermeasure was invariably created. The C-1282 is a component of one such countermeasure, a device that allowed the B-52’s EWO to configure and monitor the bomber’s automatic chaff dispenser. With the C-1282 handling the anti-radar countermeasures, the bomber’s crew could focus their attention on completing their mission.
Of course, as is the case with technology (military or otherwise), the C-1282 was eventually phased out for something new. These old units, now largely worthless, were destroyed or sentenced to a lifetime collecting dust on a storeroom shelf. But through the magic of the Internet, one of these devices is now ready to be laid bare for your viewing pleasure. Dust off your Joseph McCarthy Junior Detective badge and come along as we take a look at a state of the art piece of Anti-Ruskie technology, circa 1960.
It’s time once again to see how those tax dollars are spent, this time in the form of a “Data Entry Keyboard” manufactured by Hughes Helicopters. This device was built circa 1986 or so, and was used in the AH-64A Apache. Specifically, this panel would have been located by the gunner’s left knee, and served as a general purpose input device for the Apache’s Fire Control System. Eventually the Apache was upgraded with a so-called “glass cockpit”; consolidating various vehicle functions into a handful of multi-purpose digital displays. As such, this particular device became obsolete and was pulled from the active Apache fleet.
The military vehicle aficionados out there may know that while the Apache is currently a product of Boeing, it was originally designed by Hughes Helicopter. In 1984, McDonnell Douglas purchased Hughes Helicopter and took over production of the Apache, and then McDonnell Douglas themselves were merged with Boeing in 1997.
So it’s somewhat interesting that this device bears the name of Hughes Helicopter, as of the time it was manufactured, they would have been known as McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Systems. Presumably they had to work through existing stock of components that already had Hughes branding on them, leaving some transitional examples such as this one.
But you didn’t come here for a history lesson on the American military-industrial complex, you want to know about the hardware itself. So let’s crack it open to see what we can learn about this piece of aviation history.
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.