Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Bad military idea from the past: Magnetic Plane Destroyer

This futuristic illustration is featured as the back cover of the Spring 1970 issue of Thrilling Science Fiction Adventures, a magazine that was also known as Thrilling Science Fiction and consisted of 42 issues from 1966 through 1975.

This issue features stories by Lee Francis, Rog Phillips, William P. McGivern, Ruppert Carlin, Lester Barclay, Craig Browning (a pen name of Rog Phillips), Manly Wade Wellman and Willy Ley (a German-American whose full name was Willy Otto Oskar Ley).

The illustration of the Magnetic Plane Destroyer is credited to "McCall" and is accompanied by an essay on the about this "invention of future warfare" on the inside back cover.

In the essay, the following "benefits" of the Magnetic Plane Destroyer are cited:

  • This tower, sunk deep in the earth, and surrounded by coils that will pick up the vast electrical energy inherent in the earth itself, will become a gigantic magnet which will be capable of drawing everything with iron in it to its huge sides with inexorable force.
  • When not in use, these towers would be grounded — as are all other metal installations nearby such as buildings, bridges, etc. — and thus made harmless.
  • However, in the case of an air-raid warning, the magnet would be set in action, and its natural force greatly increased by sending through the coils constructed around it all the stored power which has accumulated in storage batteries deep in the ground, perhaps naturally created in lead-lined pits in the rock itself.
  • The first effect would be to cause the compasses of the distant planes to be thrown from their true north, thus destroying their plotted course.
  • Later, coming in range, the planes would be drawn to their destruction against its massive sides. However, it is doubtful if many would reach this smashing end, since motor parts would become magnetized, freeze, and the planes would crash while yet many miles away.
  • Local metal objects not grounded would also be drawn to the tower, thereby causing perhaps more damage than a raid itself, if it were not for the fact that a magnetic beam can be directed, and near the ground, neutralized by compensating currents broadcast from local stations.
  • A third action of the towers would be the formation of electrical storms, which would cause great lightning displays, and raise winds in the upper atmosphere of hurricane force.

This might be the worst military idea since the thermal exhaust port on the Death Star. Or attaching bombs to bats.

I have many questions:
  • 1. How much would this sucker cost?
  • 2. How many of them would be needed? (Multiple Answer 1 by Answer 2.)
  • 3. Wouldn't this be destroyed after a few too many fighter planes crashed into its sides?
  • 4. Does the science even make sense? Sinking deep structures into areas with heavy lead deposits and harvesting the "vast electrical energy inherent in the earth itself" seems dubious.
  • 5. And if #4 was possible, couldn't you just use these towers to power all of civilization, do away with fossil fuels and foster peace among nations?
  • 6. I'm no scientist, but the concept of the magnetic beam being "neutralized by compensating currents broadcast from local stations" doesn't make a lick of sense.
  • 7. And even if it did, what would that cost?
  • 8. It is noted that some of the enemy planes might crash long before they reach the tower. There would be no way to control where they came down or how many casualties those crashes caused.
  • 9. And that's before we even get to the hurricane-force electrical storms noted by the author. With "defensive" weapons like this, who needs enemies?

To see more dubious weapons of war dreamed up by the science-fiction community, check out this forum on Penny Arcade.

Politically-charged P.S. — Here's another thought for this tower. If such a thing actually worked, could it be turned on and used to collect every firearm out there? They would all just cling fast to the sides of the tower and be unavailable for use by anyone. That's a concept I could get behind.

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