November 1944 Radio-Craft[Table of Contents]
People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about and learning some of the history of early electronics. Radio-Craft was published from 1929 through 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged. See all articles from Radio-Craft.
Usually, when I read about yet another launching of rockets from Gaza into Israel, what comes to mind is the barrage of V1 Buzz Bombs and ultimately the V2 rockets that German terrorized London with during World War II. Although overall not very effective individually, they did cause brief spells of horror for the localized group of people that were affected through maiming, killing, or property destruction. The difference between the Nazi's weapons and Hamas' weapons is that the Germans didn't depend on other terrorist entities to supply them with their weapons of destruction; they were brilliant people who had evil intentions of world domination. Hugo Gernsback writes here that the initial plan for the V2 was to deliver an electromagnetic impulse that would disable all electrical and electronic systems within 8,000 feet of its detonation point - what we nowadays call an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapon. BTW, the 'V#' designation stood for 'vergeltungswaffe' (vengeance weapon) - quite telling. Also, in case you care, the Buzz Bomb got its nickname due to the sound its pulse jet engine made.
.... Many new and secret weapons are on the horizon. Fantastic and incredible today, they will be realized tomorrow ....
A dispatch from Sweden late last September brought the news that the Nazis are experimenting with another new and secret weapon - their much publicized V-2. The V-1, which turned out to be the robot-bomb, was at first pooh-poohed and made sport of in allied countries; but, nevertheless, it proved to be a real weapon, even if it was not a military one. While it did not help the Germans win the war, or even have any effect upon, it, the flying bomb, as launched from the European mainland against England (and particularly London), proved to be a weapon of greater magnitude than was at first believed possible. It destroyed some sixty thousand London buildings and killed thousands of persons. The Germans are understood to be experimenting with a larger type of flying bomb - this one to be radio controlled.
The V-2, however, according to the Swedish dispatches, is an entirely different weapon. Its purpose is to stop any gasoline-operated engine - whether in an automobile, tank or airplane - at a distance. The dispatch, according to the New York Times, states that so far the weapon's range is only about 8,000 feet.
This electronic type of weapon must be taken seriously, because sooner or later it will be realized. There is nothing particularly new in the thought of an electric or radio ray, or wave, with an action at a distance. It is the old death-ray in a new dress. Nor is it as impossible as it sounds. Nikola Tesla in 1892, in his Colorado experiments, was able to burn out armatures of electric motors and generators at a distance of over seven miles. This he did by means of his high frequency generator which was popularly known under the name of "Tesla's Lightning Factory." Indeed, Tesla succeeded in lighting electric lamps without any intervening wires at a distance of several miles. These are actual facts and well attested. The catch was that the amount of energy he used was prodigious. Several thousand horsepower was used to obtain a small effect at a distance.
Present day electrical and radio engineers also can burn out armatures in cars and airplanes and disrupt their ignition systems, if they have sufficient power at their disposal. But it is most likely that such a weapon will not be of much use after it has been tried out in practice. As a surprise weapon it may stop some cars and tanks and maybe bring down a few airplanes, but it is also true that quick counter measures can be taken which will make this type of secret weapon useless.
This long-heralded weapon has been in the news for over a generation, and many scientists and experimenters have had a hand in it, but no efficient model has been evolved so far. That does not mean that sooner or later a real weapon of this type will not be produced.
We still know little of some electro-magnetic radiations: one of the latest, the cosmic ray, for instance, is still an unknown quantity, but it may hold some terrifying secrets for war purposes for the future. We are also getting closer to propagating powerful radio waves which may have destructive qualities and which can be directed over a very narrow beam, much as a searchlight can be beamed towards an airplane. It is conceivable that in the future such radio beams of great power could even be used to detonate the bombs carried by an airplane, blow up ammunition dumps, explode ammunition magazines of battleships, etc. But all this still lies in the future. It is not as yet right around the corner. Then, too, we have the old n. G. Wells' Martian heat ray. This also is no longer as fantastic as it sounded almost a generation ago. By electronic means, combined with some still unknown adjunct, it may well be possible to project a powerful heat ray over a distance where it may melt metals and burn human beings to a crisp.
Several thousand years ago Archimedes at Syracuse, Sicily, was supposed to have rigged up huge burning glasses which collected the sunlight and set afire the Roman galleys on which the rays were directed. But, simple as such a procedure is, we still do not know much about the propagation of light and heat. You have only to consider our sun 93 million miles distant from the earth. Once you get above the earth's atmosphere and into the vacuum of free space, there is no heat but intense cold, almost approaching the absolute zero. The vacuum is quite heatless and only where the sun's rays strike matter is there a heat effect.
In order to make use of the solar heat, you must have a solid or gaseous body to hold and entrap it. There are other considerations, too, such as the ultra-violet rays in the Solar spectrum. But ultra-violet rays also are a conductor of electricity, and if you have a sufficiently dense beam of ultra-violet radiation, you can make air conductive over a distance. Therefore, a powerful high tension current can be sent over an ultra-violet beam provided it has sufficient density. This is particularly true once you get out of the lower atmosphere and into the upper regions above the stratosphere. It is possible even today to equip planes with ultra-violet radiators which could hurl electrical destructive charges over such a beam and destroy other airplanes flying at equal height.
These are just a few considerations of many proposals, and many others will no doubt be evolved as time goes on. While the ones discussed are not on the "immediate" list, they should be taken seriously because they are all future weapons that will surely come about some day.
Posted September 5, 2014