1957 ... stuff of nightmares!

... DoD illustration (Gordon Phillips) of 'Project Pluto' nuclear powered ramjet. This was an idea for an unmanned  'SLAM' ( Supersonic Low Altitude Missile). After disposable booster rockets got it aloft and up to supersonic speeds an unshielded light-weight atomic reactor became the heat source for the Mach 3 ramjet. No conventional fuel was needed. Range and time aloft was virtually unlimited.

The design called for a payload of multiple atomic weapons which could be ejected at given points on various targets along the flight plan. Just the shockwave of the vehicle passing over at tree-top level at Mach 3 could kill you. Then there was the matter of that unshielded reactor  irradiating and poisoning large swaths of land as it criss-crossed across the USSR. Nicknamed 'the flying crowbar' a swarm of these death birds could continue operating weeks after anyone was left to kill or care. The Pentagon abandoned plans for the locomotive sized missile after analysis concluded it was just too ... crazy!

Recently Russia has been looking into cheap and scary new ways to intimidate US and Nato; their SSC-X-9 Skyfall is a rebirth of the basic concept. Dr. Strangelove would approve!

In 1958 a science-fiction movie was made with a suspiciously similar 'monster' LINK

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is a lot of hyperbole around Project Pluto. It is not hyperbole to say it was a bat-shit crazy idea for a very nutty time in history. But in the context of it's time, it wasn't that nuts to explore the idea. What really put it to rest was less that it was considered "too crazy", and more that it was rendered unnecessary by ballistic missiles.

It is pure hyperbole to say that the "vehicle passing over at tree-top level at Mach 3 could kill you". It could not. Unless it was dropping bombs on you. And it's low-level flight would be more like 1000 ft.

It's also over-the-top hyperbole to say that it would "literally roast chickens in the barnyard." It absolutely would not do that. Radiation dose is based on the radiation level and exposure time. While the radiation coming off the SLAM would be high, exposure time for anything or anyone one the ground would be minimal due to that same "killer" Mach 3 flight speed. I haven't done the math myself, but I recall reading an evaluation from a more-credible source than the breathless Free Republic article that the total dose from a low pass would be very low. The Wikipedia article you link to says as much.