Archive | April, 2011

Shakespeare once said, “I love the P-51.” True story.

29 Apr

Designed and built in just 117 days

Armament: Six .50-cal. machine guns and 10 5-in. rockets or 2,000 lbs. of bombs
Engine: Packard-built Rolls-Royce Merlin V-1650 of 1,695 hp
Maximum speed: 437 mph
Cruising speed: 275 mph
Range: 1,000 miles
Ceiling: 41,900 ft.
Span: 37 ft.
Length: 32 ft. 3 in.
Height: 13 ft. 8 in.
Weight: 12,100 lbs. maximum

How about some flybys?

http://www.aviationspectator.com/resources/aircraft-profiles/north-american-p-51-mustang-aircraft-profile

New addiction? I think I might really enjoy being on dirt… uh oh.

24 Apr

So I started life with a ’71 Chevelle. Years later, and with a much lighter wallet, I sold it. Then I turned to the old school hot rod world… the ’28 Model A coupe. Well, I moved on from that also.

For the past two years I’ve had my ’60 Watson Indy Roadster dream. Copies of AJ Watson’s blueprints are in the safe.

But there’s the light wallet problem. I think that one’s going to have to wait ’til a little later in life where there’s more time and money floating around. In the mean time, I was introduced the to the world of offroading this weekend… all the way down to the broken parts.

It is wrong to start window shopping for a toy to wheel around in? And is it even more wrong that I would love to hack up an early Bronco 😀

Solo speed climbing record on The Eiger – insane, beautifiul, scary all at once video

20 Apr

Ueli Steck setting a new record.

The Eiger is a 13,025 ft peak in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland.

+5 pts for having Radical Face for the soundtrack.

At the limit: Speed climbing

Scaling the treacherous north face of the Eiger in less than three hours is the pinnacle of the extreme sport of speed climbing

Tom Whipple
The Traverse of the Gods is still a desperate climb. Its approach is scored by a thousand scratches, each the scramble of an alpinist looking for purchase on the icy rock. If climbers fall here they will have 14 seconds to ponder their mistake before they reach the bottom.

Many have been defeated by this, the most exposed section of the north face of the Eiger, itself one of the most infamous climbs in Europe. The mountain was first conquered in 1858, but its near-vertical northern flank, with unpredictable weather and snow and ice fields rarely touched by the sun, held out until 1938.

Generations of mountaineers have been inspired to try, but few have made it. It is a climb that has claimed more than 50 souls. Yet Ueli Steck, a Swiss climber, has just shattered all past records by shinning up the north face in 2hr 47min 33sec. His previous best in 2007 was just under four hours, which itself had slashed half an hour off the four-year old record held by Christoph Hainz, an Italian climber.

Steck’s feat is the latest example of the growing phenomenon of “speed climbing”. For adherents it is no longer enough to climb a mountain “because it’s there”; they also want to scale it in record time.

To understand the magnitude of his achievement, we need to go back to when the north face was first conquered. For three days in the summer of 1938, excited tourists manned the observation telescopes of the Kleine Scheidegg hotel in Switzerland. High above them, four alpinists were hacking their way up the north face – a vertical mile of ice, rock and snow– to the summit 13,025ft above sea level. On past form, the assembled crowd must have expected to witness the climbers’ deaths.

Instead, they were present for a pivotal event in mountaineering history: it was the last great unclimbed Alpine wall, and the Austrian-German team who scaled it received personal congratulations from Adolf Hitler. They also inspired such greats as Chris Bonington, who made the first British ascent 24 years later.

Steck’s phenomenal climb began on the morning of Februay 13. The weather was fine, and he was acclimatised to the altitude.

He stood at the base of the cliff and looked up at the huge wall of rock towering above him. If he was to climb it in less than three hours, he would need to cover 35 vertical feet a minute. To do that, he needed to be as light as possible.

An ordinary climbing pair on the Eiger’s north face carry two 200ft ropes, a sleeping bag each, a stove, gas, food for three days, ice axes, and safety gear for attaching equipment to ice and to rock.

Everything Steck had could fit in a small rucksack. He had just the essentials: a thin 100ft rope (which he didn’t use), a single ice screw, four karabiners and a pair of ice axes. Most ramblers on Ben Nevis carry more weight. Because of his training regime, he had also lost 11lb in body weight. Compared with his last record breaking ascent, he was lighter, quicker and stronger. His attempt followed the most popular line, the 1938 route. “On the lower part of the wall there was quite a lot of snow, which cost me a lot of energy,” he says. In every other respect, though, the “conditions were simply perfect: very dry rock and the ice fields were covered with hard snow”.

His first major obstacle was the Hinterstoisser Traverse. A thin band of vertical rock, 100ft wide, it separates the lower portion of the climb from a steep snow slope beyond. At this point, any climber who looks down between their legs will see 2,000ft of clear air.

In a celebrated feat of rock climbing, Andreas Hinterstoisser proved in 1936 that it was climbable, but in doing so sealed his fate. When his party was forced to retreat, they discovered they could not cross back – the traverse was possible from right to left, but from left to right there were simply not enough holds. All four climbers died: the last frozen to death dangling helplessly from a rope, within earshot of rescuers.

After the Hinterstoisser Traverse comes a series of snow fields. This is where most parties pause after a day’s climbing to set up camp for the night before trekking across to the next rocky section. Steck, however, was still a little over an hour into his ascent.

By this stage it was critical that he moved fast. He needed to cross the upper sections before the temperature rose too high – even in winter, loose rocks come unfrozen from the crumbling face, hurtling down at deadly speeds.

At the end of the snow fields, Steck reached Death Bivouac – named for an unfortunate early climbing party who froze to death, huddled in the snow. Only now, for a climber of Steck’s ability, did the serious climbing begin.

The route takes alpinists directly up a steep groove known as the Ramp. A thin ice-filled crack, flanked by angled rock, it is perhaps the most technically difficult section of the whole face. Here, Steck’s experience showed. Delicately placing his crampons on thin ledges, and wedging his axes in cracks, he pulled himself elegantly up – to be rewarded with the Traverse of the Gods. If there was anywhere where Steck would have succumbed to fear, it was here. But his concessions to safety were small.

“I carried my rope on my back and had a daisy chain on my harness, which allowed me to clip on the fixed gear on the route,” he says, describing the looped sling he used to attached himself to equipment left by other climbers. “Other than that, I did not use the rope at all.”

As he entered the third hour of his climb, laterising tourists in Kleine Scheidegg would have still been taking breakfast. Some might have been looking through one of the many telescopes trained on the mountain. If they had been, they would have seen Steck facing his last obstacles: the White Spider, a snow slope where the first of the day’s rocks would be plummeting to earth; and the Exit Cracks – thin grooves leading to the summit ridge.

Finally, his thighs burning, soaked in sweat, but otherwise unharmed, Steck hauled himself the last few feet to the summit and stopped his watch. He had climbed 6,000ft; the display read 2hr, 47min 33sec.

Some have criticised Steck’s achievement, and the new obsession with speed, as demeaning to the efforts of other climbers, but Sir Chris Bonington believes it to be an inevitable progression. “The real thing is, as in all sports, each generation is trying to surpass the previous generation,” he says.

“In areas that have been developed for a long time – the Alps, Yosemite, Everest – because you can’t do new routes, the top climbers need to measure themselves against something. So there is a definite trend to go in for speed climbing. It is the game we play – it is just a natural development.”

Steck is not alone in taking on previously hallowed peaks with a nonchalance bordering on disrespect. Last year Christian Stangl, an Austrian climber, completed the seven summits – the highest mountains in each continent – in a combined time of 58hr 45min. He went up Everest in less than 17 hours. And in September climbers will converge on Mount Elbrus, Europe’s highest mountain, for the fourth annual speed climbing competition where competitors discard much of the equipment previously thought essential in an effort to shed weight and increase speed.

So has the daunting reputation of the north face of the Eiger, the mother of all peaks, been lessened now that Steck has shown he can reach the top in less time than most people take to summit Snowdon? “It’s still a very special mountain to me,” he says. “It’s my home mountain and I have spent so many days of my life and climbed so many routes.

“The fact that I am the first human to climb the north face in under three hours will stay with me for ever.”

Conquerers of the north face

1938 First successful ascent of the north face, led by Anderl Heckmair; it took three days

1947 Lionel Terray and Louis Lachenal, a French team, follow Heckmair’s route for the second ascent. On completion, Terray vows never to repeat it

1962 Chris Bonington and Ian Clough complete the first British ascent, spending one night on the mountain

1963 First solo ascent, by Michel Darbellay, taking 18 hours

1981 Ueli Bühler, a Swiss guide, climbs the face solo in 8½ hours

2003 Christoph Hainz reaches the top of the north face in a little more than 4½ hours

2007 Ueli Steck stuns the climbing world by conquering the north face in a time of 3hr 54min

2008 Steck beats his own record, reaching the summit in 2hr 47min 33sec

Ferraris tearing ass up Mulholland Dr.

20 Apr

GTO Impressions
Article about the Ferrari 250 GTO
By: Stephen Mitchell

The 250GTO #3987 was the third car I’d ever owned. The first was a 3.8 E-Type Jaguar. It was a beautiful car, but featured a low-revving six cylinder with an unsynchronized first gear that was like a granny gear off a truck. The car was more at home on the open road than negotiating the beach canyons of Los Angeles. The second was a Ferrari Berlinetta Lusso. It was very different from the Jaguar with its V12 redlined at 7000 rpm. The Lusso loved the canyons as much as it did the highway. Just as the Lusso was a world apart from the E-Type, so was the GTO an advance over the Lusso. It was a high-revving V12 with six Webers and the gearbox was a 5 speed compared to the Lusso’s 4 speed. I don’t recall which final drive ratio it had, but upon entering a freeway, I would be passing the fastest traffic before needing to shift to second gear. This was worlds apart from the E-Type that would barely get you to 25 mph before requiring a shift to second. Seen in the context of its time, there was nothing quite like the GTO. From 1967-70, 3987 was my principal form of transportation, though I also had an Alfa-Romeo Giulia Veloce spider and the family Cadillac as back up.

When entering the cockpit, I never got used to the fact that the pedals were so close. I’m 5’10” and my knees were splayed around the steering wheel in an effort to fit into the car. Anyone who has ever made this complaint about a Lusso or GTE never sat in a GTO! This lack of legroom was probably a result of the rearward placement of the engine for better weight distribution. The bulkhead behind the seat limited aft seat travel, so there was no way to adjust for comfort. I always had it in mind to have the pedals moved forward, but never did. I once had a conversation with Mark Slotkin, a former owner of 3987, and he also had a list of things he wanted to do with the car that were never done. You adapt to the GTO, it doesn’t adapt to you. I‘ve heard similar remarks made about the Old Man. Headroom was fine and the seat was comfortably wide. One of my favorite things about the car was the position of the gear lever in relation to the steering wheel. Visually, that marvelous aluminum gear knob looked as though it would be too high for comfort. One is accustomed to having to reach down for the lever to shift. With the GTO, the knob was only inches away from the wheel, so shifts could be made very quickly with a short lateral move of the hand. In front of you, the tachometer had a telltale that would move to–and remain at– the highest revs attained. I rarely exceeded 7500 rpm. The view forward was defined by the two dramatic fender bulges and the ‘power bulge’ in the center of the hood that made room for the twelve velocity stacks above the six Webers. It was a very exciting place to be!

When turning and pushing the ignition key, one was treated to a peculiarity common to Ferraris of the time. The starter motor made a constant whine instead of the more cyclical sound of most starters. To me, it was reminiscent of an aircraft starter. The engine always fired easily and suddenly you would feel the nervous tension of twelve cylinders turning over at 1000 rpm. It took awhile to warm up thanks to the dry-sump and large oil tank. First gear was to the left and back in the slotted gate and the clutch would engage directly without the care required by the Lusso.

For the first 3000 miles that I drove 3987, I kept it to 5000 rpm, as I recall. I did this on the advice of my mechanic, Sal DiNatale, who had just rebuilt the engine. The day I got the car out of the garage (the engine was in pieces when I bought the car) I drove it to Phoenix, Arizona as a break-in trip. A friend of the family was directing an episode of the television series “Then Came Bronson” on location in Tempe and I thought it would be a good opportunity to get to know the car. I left Los Angeles about 9pm and drove all night. Apart from the yoga position my legs had to adopt, the car was very peasant to drive. The sound of it was louder than the Lusso and the suspension was clearly race-tuned. Even at the conservative revs I was using, the car was delightful to drive and must have been a sight to other drivers on the road with its two orange ‘Le Mans’ lights lit up on the roof. That night I became accustomed to hearing a car breath for the first time. It is the interesting sound of air being sucked through the twelve velocity stacks as you increase pressure on the accelerator pedal. I might have heard this on the Lusso were it not for the air filter masking the sound. But, this was new to me and re-enforced the fact that this was a race car. I also had the impression of the timing chains being noisier than those on the Lusso. This may have been owing to the lack of insulation, but it was thrilling to hear all the noises that are usually subdued. It made every drive an adventure. Sometimes, believe it or not, the Lusso was just transportation. The GTO never let you forget it was a star!

The day came when I was given the go-ahead by Sal to let it out and see what the car could do. I did. Up to that time, I had only taken it to 5000 rpm and was already in love with the car. Imagine what happened the first time I took it to 7500! At about 6-6500 rpm, the sound of the engine changes entirely from a low pitched growl to a high pitched banshee scream. It was a transcending experience and it felt like the car was thanking you for giving it release. It was an adrenaline rush every time I experienced it. Fortunately, the people in my neighborhood appreciated this sound and would often stop me in public to convey their amazement about the car. I was often stopped in public by members of the California Highway Patrol who also seemed to appreciate the sound.

The racing history of the GTO speaks for itself. My time with the car was subsequent to its time on the track, but prior to the organization of historic races that feature these cars today. However, I did instigate or take part in a great many informal gathering during which other cars of its kind were present. One very memorable event was staged at Willow Springs Raceway. My acquaintance and fellow GTO owner Mario Tosi wanted to have a farewell party for his GTO, so a bunch of us went with him and spent the day racing our cars on the track. Present that day were three GTOs (Cord/Tosi/Mitchell), a California spider (Peter Helm) and at least a half-dozen other cars. It was a great afternoon. For at least half the day, I was letting different people ride as passengers and it is interesting how this affects the handling dynamics when near the limit. The oil sump tank is located behind the passenger seat and probably provides some natural balance to offset the driver’s weight. The car was fairly neutral—though not in the way that a mid-engined car is neutral—and would oversteer on command. I liked the handling and it was a very forgiving car in my experience. On many occasions, the car would be seen in tandem with the famous Breadvan, which then belonged to my friend Matthew Ettinger. He, too, used his car as personal transportation and many are the times that we jointly recorded “Fastest Time of the Day” on one or more of southern California’s highways and byways.

The GTO was well-suited for sustained high-speed runs, as one would expect. Very often, I would get in the car and drive it from my home in Los Angeles to Las Vegas, Nevada. On these occasions, the car performed without any complaint and I would maintain a cruising speed in the 140 mph range, slowing to about 80 mph when approaching other cars that I would be passing. It never overheated or displayed any temperament. The only concessions to street driving were the installation of an electric fan for the radiator and the use of cooler spark plugs. If the GTO had any agenda of its own, it wanted to go faster. No matter how fast one was traveling, it was always the easiest thing in the world to make it go faster. After driving at 145 mph for a time, the slightest input took the car to 150 and above.

If one were to compare the GTO’s performance figures to those of more recent cars, one might begin to wonder what the fuss was all about. Even Porsche 911s that came not too long after could match it dynamically. The GTO was the dominant GT of its time and though that time has passed, what hasn’t is the manner in which the GTO delivers its performance. It had a personality as defined and characteristic as the man whose name it bore. It is a genuine icon with all of the history, myth, legend and chicanery attached to it that one would expect of a car now valued in the millions of dollars. The memory of the engine screaming as it came on the cam and the snick-snick of that excellent gear change makes almost any other car irrelevant to me. I was able to enjoy the car in a way that current owners wouldn’t dream of. That wouldn’t stop me for a minute, however, if the opportunity to have it back again ever presented itself.

http://www.ferrarilife.com/models/view_model.php?modelid=65

5.56

19 Apr

Haven’t been shooting in a while. Scratching the itch today with some pics.

Enjoy some SPR Mk12 Mod0 / Mod1 goodness.

GM Tonawanda engine plant, c.1959

18 Apr

EDIT: It appears some of the pics are at the Tarrytown assembly facility. The engine plant did not install carburetors, transmissions and other accessories. That happened in the vehicle assembly plant in preparation for installing the engine in the frame.

Alone on the Wall : Free-solo climbing with Alex Honnold

16 Apr

No words really. The dude’s an animal. There’s an article about him in this month’s issue of Outside… I read it on the plane yesterday and it blew my mind.

Article here: No Strings Attached
“At 25, climber Alex Honnold is already the undisputed master of the most dangerous sport around—scaling iconic rock walls without any ropes. Is he the next great thing in modern climbing? Or a suicide mission in sticky shoes?”

Alex Honnold makes the first free solos of the largest walls in North America. He scales 2,000 feet with only shoes and chalk bag—no rope, no safety, and no room for error. Though he’s a superhero on the walls, off the rock Alex is a shy, self-effacing young guy living in his van. He’s sort of a Clark Kent-Superman character.

This first link won’t embed, but you NEED to click it:

http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/player/adventure/featured-videos-adventure/adv-beyond-the-edge-honnold.html

In the realm of free solo climbing – climbing peaks without ropes – Alex Honnold is the best in the world. Honnold, a bumbling and slightly geeky kid becomes a poised, graceful and calculated climber able to complete the hardest free solos. With his sights set on Yosemite’s iconic 600-metre Half Dome wall, Alex first travels to Utah to conquer the 370-metre Moonlight Buttress. It takes all of his mental efforts to focus on the climb, with 300-metres of air – and no rope – beneath him. Honnold has developed his own mental armour to protect him from thinking too much while climbing, but when he’s standing on a sliver of a ledge 550 metres above Yosemite’s Half Dome wall, his armour runs thin. To Honnold, doubt is the biggest danger and he experiences a feeling of dread like never before. Pulling himself together, Alex completes the 600-metre climb – something that can take other climbers days to complete – in under 3 hours cementing his place in free soloing history.

http://natgeoadventure.tv/int/post.aspx?id=24672
http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/player/adventure/adventure-featured/adv-beyond-the-edge-honnold.html

20 Things You Didn’t Know About Eclipses

15 Apr

20110415-020758.jpg

1 The longest total solar eclipse of the century occurred on July 22 over India, Nepal, Bhutan, and China. It peaked over the Pacific Ocean, but even there the darkness lasted a mere 6 minutes and 29 seconds.

2 Fast and furious: The moon’s shadow zooms across Earth’s surface at up to 5,000 miles per hour.

3 Canadian astronomer and renowned eclipse chaser J. W. Campbell traveled the world for 50 years trying to see 12 different eclipses. He ran into overcast skies every time.

4 Don’t repeat J. W.’s mistakes: Monsoon season throughout south Asia means that there is a good chance the eclipse this July will be clouded out too.

5 Just before full eclipse, dazzling “Baily’s beads” appear where sunlight shines through valleys on the moon. The last bead creates the impression of a diamond ring in the sky.

6 On eclipse-viewing expeditions, this phenomenon is frequently accompanied by a marriage proposal.

7 The beautiful symmetry of a total solar eclipse happens because—by pure chance—the sun is 400 times larger than the moon but is also 400 times farther from Earth, making the two bodies appear the exact same size in the sky.

8 In case you were thinking about relocating: Earth is the only place in the solar system where that happens.

9 Other planets get other kinds of fun, though. Jupiter can have a triple eclipse, in which three moons cast shadows on the planet simultaneously. The event is easily visible through a backyard telescope.

10 The Chinese word for solar eclipse is shih, meaning “to eat.” In ancient China people traditionally beat drums and banged on pots to scare off the “heavenly dog” believed to be devouring the sun.

11 Then again, China also produced the first known astronomical recordings of solar eclipses, inscribed in pieces of bone and shell called “oracle bones,” from around 1050 B.C. or earlier.

12 By comparing those ancient records with modern calculations of eclipse patterns, scientists have determined that the day is 0.047 second longer today than it was back then.

13 Tidal friction, which causes that lengthening of the day, is also making the moon drift away. In about 600 million years it will appear too small to cover the sun, and there will be no more total solar eclipses.

14 In any given location, a total solar eclipse happens just once every 360 years on average.

15 Luckiest place on Earth Carbondale, Illinois, will beat the odds: Folks there will see an eclipse on August 21, 2017, and again on April 8, 2024.

16 In contrast, everyone on the night side of the world can see a lunar eclipse, where the moon slips into Earth’s shadow.

17 During a total lunar eclipse, the moon takes on a deep reddish hue due to the sunlight filtering through our atmosphere—the cumulative glow of all the world’s sunsets.

18 While stranded in Jamaica, Christopher Columbus was famously saved by the lunar eclipse of February 29, 1504, which he had read about in his almanac. After a fracas with the locals, Columbus warned that the moon would disappear if they did not start supplying his men with food.

19 When the moon vanished, the locals promptly complied, and Columbus breathed a huge sigh of relief: His almanac was calibrated for Germany, and he was not sure that he had adjusted correctly for local time.

20 Who knows—it might be useful to you, too. The next lunar eclipse visible from the United States will take place on December 21, 2010.

http://m.discovermagazine.com/2009/jul-aug/30-20-things-you-didnt-know-about-eclipses

Stellar Dichotomy

14 Apr

From PopSci:

Today in Pretty Space Pics: Stellar Birth and Death Captured in the Same Image

20110414-113450.jpg

The cosmic fireworks above capture both stellar birth and stellar death in one sweeping view. With eyes pointed at nebula NGC 3582, part of a larger star factory here in the Milky Way, the Wide Field Imager at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile managed to capture a nebula shaped by supernova glowing with the intense light of baby stars.
Some of the stars that form in the region are huge, far more massive than the one anchoring our solar system. These stars have shorter lifespans during which they dump huge amounts of energy into their surroundings. Then, like any good massive star, they collapse in on themselves in explosive supernovae.
Those supernovae create the corona effect you see above in the wispy loops of gas. At least, that’s what astronomers think causes the bubble-like features around the fringes. The hot spots are definitely lit by stars fresh out of the nursery, but the important thing to know about this image is that you can get a wallpaper-res version here.

http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1113a/

The Flying Crowbar

13 Apr

excerpts from  Air & Space Magazine, April/May 1990, Volume 5 No. 1, page 28. Written by Gregg Herken, illustrations by Paul DiMar

 

Full Article here (definitely worth the read): http://www.merkle.com/pluto/pluto.html

 

 At the dawn of the atomic age, scientists began work on what might have been the nastiest weapon ever conceived.

Once it switched from booster rockets to nuclear power, Pluto would have been a danger to friend and foe alike

“Pluto’s namesake was Roman mythology’s ruler of the underworld — seemingly an apt inspiration for a locomotive-size missile that would travel at near-treetop level at three times the speed of sound, tossing out hydrogen bombs as it roared overhead. Pluto’s designers calculated that its shock wave alone might kill people on the ground. Then there was the problem of fallout. In addition to gamma and neutron radiation from the unshielded reactor, Pluto’s nuclear ramjet would spew fission fragments out in its exhaust as it flew by. (One enterprising weaponeer had a plan to turn an obvious peace-time liability into a wartime asset: he suggested flying the radioactive rocket back and forth over the Soviet Union after it had dropped its bombs.)”

“The idea behind any ramjet is relatively simple: air is drawn in at the front of the vehicle under ram pressure, heated to make it expand, and then exhausted out the back, providing thrust. But the notion of using a nuclear reactor to heat the air was something fundamentally new. Unlike commercial reactors, which are surrounded by hundreds of tons of concrete, Pluto’s reactor had to be small and compact enough to fly, but durable enough to survive the several thousand-mile trip to targets in the Soviet Union.

The success of Project Pluto depended upon a whole series of technological advances in metallurgy and materials science. Pneumatic motors necessary to control the reactor in flight had to operate while red-hot and in the presence of intense radioactivity. The need to maintain supersonic speed at low altitude and in all kinds of weather meant that Pluto’s reactor had to survive conditions that would melt or disintegrate the metals used in most jet and rocket engines. Engineers calculated that the aerodynamic pressures upon the missile might be five times those the hypersonic X-15 had to endure. Pluto was “pretty close to the limits in all respects,” says Ethan Platt, an engineer who worked on the project. “We were tickling the dragon’s tail all the way,” says Blake Myers, head of Livermore’s propulsion engineering division.”

“so many unknowns surrounded Pluto that Merkle decided that it would take a static test of the full-scale ramjet reactor to resolve them all. To carry out the tests, Livermore built a special facility in a desolate stretch of Nevada desert close to where the lab had exploded many of its nuclear weapons. Designated Site 401, the facility — built on eight square miles of Jackass Flats — rivaled Project Pluto itself in ambition and cost.”

“Just to supply the concrete for the six- to eight-foot-thick walls of the disassembly building, the U.S. government had to buy an aggregate mine. It took 25 miles of oil well casing to store the million pounds of pressurized air used to simulate ramjet flight conditions for Pluto. To supply the high-pressure air, the lab borrowed giant compressors from the Navy’s submarine base in Groton, Connecticut. For a five-minute, full power test, as much as a ton of air a second had to be forced over 14 million one-inch steel balls in four huge steel tanks raised to 1,350 degrees Fahrenheit by oil-burning heaters.”

The 25 miles of oil well casing needed to store air for ramject simulations dominated Pluto's test site at Jackass Flats.

“Meanwhile, at the Pentagon, Pluto’s sponsors were having second thoughts about the project. Since the missile would be launched from U.S. territory and had to fly low over America’s allies in order to avoid detection on its way to the Soviet Union, some military planners began to wonder if it might not be almost as much a threat to the allies. Even before it began dropping bombs on our enemies Pluto would have deafened, flattened, and irradiated our friends. (The noise level on the ground as Pluto went by overhead was expected to be about 150 decibels; by comparison, the Saturn V rocket, which sent astronauts to the moon, produced 200 decibels at full thrust.) Ruptured eardrums, of course, would have been the least of your problems if you were unlucky enough to be underneath the unshielded reactor when it went by, literally roasting chickens in the barnyard. Pluto had begun to look like something only Goofy could love.”

“The Navy, which had originally expressed an interest in firing the missile from ships or submarines, also began to back away from the project after successful tests of its Polaris missile. Finally, at $50 million apiece, there were doubts that SLAM was worth the price. Pluto was suddenly a technology without an application, a weapon without a mission.”

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