A STORY BY
The story you are about to read is true. Some of the names have been changed to protect the incorrigible.
It’s May 1957. Giant Rock Airport is in Southern California near Landers not far from Twenty-nine Palms and the military bases there. George Van Tassel and his wife live at the Giant Rock airport and operate the Giant Rock Cafe. Giant Rock is famous for two things, Mary Van Tassel’s superb pies and their annual flying saucer conventions.
Every May, George, his wife, and some unusual friends host a convention devoted to the study of flying saucers, alien visitations, extraterrestrial technology, pyramid power and similar wonderful things. This year the gathering promised to be especially successful with over ten thousand people expected to show up to participate in the festivities.
George’s publication “The Proceedings of the College of Universal Wisdom” is printed more or less monthly and is sent to subscribers all over the world. It contains descriptions of flying saucer technology, interviews with members of flying saucer crews and letters from subscribers, many of whom have been given flying saucer rides. It’s a marvelous read.
I had been to several of the previous conventions and was looking forward to this one. I had finished with college and gotten a Job at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. The place was filled with flying saucer enthusiasts so it took little prodding to arrange a delegation to the convention.
About twenty of us finally went. Some of us were actively working, designing nuclear tipped missiles that would save the world from atomic holocaust while others were still in school, mostly at Cal Tech, learning to do the same thing.
We decided to make a three day weekend of it. It was easy to get off work, the cold war could wait for at least one day, and we were convinced that something of great value might be learned at a convention devoted to space drives and other such magical concepts.
We turned off the pavement onto a well-traveled dirt road that led to the airport. The road led past the “Integritron” which was under construction. It was a large dome shaped building that was supposed to house some sort of time machine when completed. George had been given the plans by the Captain of one of the “Crystal Ships” that visited Giant Rock on a regular basis. The Captain assured George that the machine would perform some very useful functions so George secured the finances from some of his more well healed supporters and started to build it.
We joined a long train of vehicles. Sports cars, trucks, sedans, even a bus or two. We were all pilgrims headed to the holy shrine of UFOdom and George Van Tassel was its high prophet.
We arrived at the convention from the south end of the airport. There were probably over two thousand cars parked along side the runway and at least twice as many people. Something short of the promised ten thousand but impressive none the less. Well, the weekend was young and the crowd was still gathering they might meet the goal of ten thousand acolytes yet.
Some people had set up booths next to their cars and trucks. One man had a dog that he had picked up on Venus. It looked like an ordinary dog but the man said that was deceptive and that Venus dogs and Earth dogs look a lot alike. This dog was unusual in a number of different ways. Its hair for example was hollow! This remarkable fact was made all the more astonishing when he informed us that the hole down the center of each hair was so small that it was invisible to any human instrument. To prove this, he had set up a moderately powerful laboratory microscope with a dog hair in its slide. We all looked and sure enough, we could not see the hole. The microscope simply was not powerful enough. Having proved the remarkable nature of the dog hair by rigorous scientific methods he offered to sell sample hairs for a dollar each. I bought one. I also paid twenty five cents for the privilege of taking a picture of the dog. It seemed like a bargain at the time. The dog hair came in a small glass tube with a cork in the end. You could look through the glass and see a hair from another planet! The tube came with a mimeographed certificate of authenticity. The certificate was written in both English and Venusian. It’s interesting that Venusian looks a lot like Egyptian hieroglyphics. The man said this was no accident. The people from Venus had visited Earth years ago and had taught the Egyptians how to read and write, build pyramids and how to embalm people.
While talking to the man with the dog I discovered that one of the other people in his audience was a young woman that was actually from Venus! She said she was really four hundred and seventy six years old but she didn’t look a day over twenty five. She verified the dog hair story and then explained that she had been sent here as part of an experiment that had been arranged by some scientists back at her home on Venus. It seemed that the people of Venus wanted to know if mating between Venusians and Humans would be possible and she had been sent here to find out. We all thought this was a wonderful idea and volunteered, to the man, to help her with her experiment. She thanked us for our generosity of spirit and said she would think about it and get back to us later in the day. I don’t know how it worked out for the others but, sadly, I never saw her again.
Then we went to the Giant Rock. It is a huge rock at the north end of the runway and a large space has been hollowed out beneath it where meetings are held. The space is big enough to hold seventy five to one hundred people.
George was explaining that the rock had been placed in its particular place by people from Urgana. Urgana is a planet that orbits a star millions of light years away and is not visible from earth. For reasons understood best by the Urganans the rock focused rays of “eloptic radiation” and this made the space under the rock and ideal location for communications by means of telepathy. I later looked up eloptic radiation and found some obscure references to something called a Heyronomous machine. It was all gibberish to me. I was beginning to be very concerned about the things we were not taught at Caltech.
For three days we listened to lectures on how to live in an advanced society, talked to many people that had been given rides in flying saucers and looked with amazement at demonstrations in antigravity and magnetic propulsion.
One of these demonstrations consisted of a glass tube with two cylindrical permanent magnets in it. The magnets were arranged so that like poles were facing each other and magnetic repulsion caused the upper magnet to float above the lower one. This, we were assured, is how flying saucers do what they do. One pole is the flying saucer and the other is the Earth’s magnetic field. We had either gone to Caltech or were still students there. We were amazed that we weren’t taught these things. It seemed that Caltech wasn’t as advanced as we thought.
After three days of getting an education in off world science we were disappointed in one thing. No flying saucers had made an appearance. A flying saucer convention without flying saucers seemed somehow incomplete.
Caltech students and JPL engineers and technicians are nothing if not innovative. It was clear that something had to be done. We could tell that George van Tassel was disappointed so we began to think of ways that next year’s convention could be made more exciting.
We entered into the project with all the enthusiasm that we put into building atomic missiles. Saving George’s flying saucer convention was at least as important as saving the world.
We needed something unmistakably alien. Our resources couldn’t provide a flying saucer landing that would pass scrutiny but we probably could have a flying saucer crash that would leave a lasting impression. One thing was certain, it had to be impressive. We figured that the most impressive thing would be a crash followed by a large explosion.
We began designing our project and rounding up the materials necessary for its completion. One of us, Bob Withers, offered to make some black powder. He figured four or five hundred pounds of the stuff ought to do the trick. He set to the task with a gas powered concrete mixer in his back yard in El Monte. As he mixed charcoal, sulfur and saltpeter in the cement mixer the rest of us maintained a respectful distance, about five miles. We figured that if something went wrong there was little point in being at ground zero of an explosion that would probably level half the town.
Vic Masters, grad student, worked at Caltech in a biology lab. He was able to get some Rhesus monkeys that had given their lives to science. They were stored in large drums of formaldehyde and were really quite disgusting. Ordinary monkeys wouldn’t do so we dyed them bright green and set them aside for future use.
Phil Gizo was another grad student and did a lot of work carbon dating soil samples. He was able to get several pounds of mildly radioactive dirt, presumably the tailing from a uranium mine, which we added to our collection.
We added metal filings and shavings of magnesium, aluminum, cobalt, chromium, beryllium, and even some molybdenum. We had several drums of this stuff that had been scavenged from various machine shops at JPL and Caltech.
Finally I was able to acquire some dynamite. I owned a mining claim near Big Bear and had a license to purchase the stuff. I began accumulating cases at the rate of about two a month. By the time May rolled around again I had twenty five cases of 60-40 Hercules.
A week before the Convention our advance survey team went out to find the best location for the crash site. There was a low hill between the airstrip and the place they picked. The ground showed no indication of foot or vehicle traffic, it was perfect.
The rest of us showed up a couple of days later having made various excuses allowing us to put a temporary halt to the lords work of making atomic missiles.
We dug a pit several feet deep and about ten feet on a side. My twenty five cases of 60-40 fit in nicely. I wasn’t sure how much we might need so I brought it all just in case. Good thing I did. We used every bit of it.
Next we put fuses into the dynamite and laid them out on the ground around the pit. On top of the dynamite we put about a foot of dirt with the radioactive soil mixed in. We topped all this with the black powder, and the metal shavings. Finally and with great reverence, we removed our alien crew from their canisters and placed them on top of the powder. The fuses leading to the dynamite were then raked into the powder so that when it began to burn they would be lit.
We were now ready for our spacecraft. Bob Fuller brought out several large tanks of hydrogen and a large weather balloon that he had picked up at a surplus store in Pasadena. Mike Fisk produced his pride and joy, a framework with several red and green flares attached to it all connected together with fuse.
It was now dark and time for the great event. Bob and his flight crew inflated the balloon and attached the flare frame to it. They then released the balloon after lighting a thirty minute time delay fuse. The balloon was connected to a thousand feet of wire that was on a spool located in the center of the pile of gunpowder. After we assured ourselves of a safe liftoff we returned to the convention site. We came dribbling in by two’s and three’s so as not to attract attention. That was unnecessary as everyone was watching “The Day The Earth Stood Still” on a large outdoor screen. Nobody paid any attention to us. George had told his audience that the folks that made the movie had inside information.
Suddenly, a number of red lights appeared above the screen they were arranged in a pentagon, and then a green light became visible at the center. The whole thing was rotating slowly. It was magnificent!
Everyone forgot about the movie so the projectionist shut it off. People were crying, some were praying, some were trying to contact the space ship by mental telepathy, a
Favorite communications technique among space people, according to George. George, on the other hand, looked scared to death.
Suddenly the ship seemed to break apart. The pentagon of red lights began to descend while the green light remained aloft. The star of red lights slowly rotated as it came down. Everyone went crazy. Men and women were screaming, crying, praying, and a few were scoffing but not very convincingly.
What had really happen was that the cord holding the framework to the balloon had been burned through by one of the flares and the whole thing began to slide down the wire to the waiting pile of gun powder below.
As the ship approached the ground it became apparent that it wasn’t slowing down but was going faster and faster. Finally it went behind the little hill and disappeared. Nothing happened for a few seconds then there was a red glow followed a series of bright yellow, green and red flashes. Finally the whole landing site was ablaze.
“Oh my God, It crashed! It crashed. This is terrible.” As with one voice the faithful reacted to the tragedy. Here these kindly aliens were coming to the aid of mankind and they suffered some sort of calamity.
As the fire grew in intensity we could see the gunpowder begin to burn. The dynamite couldn’t be long now.
Not having an education in industrial explosives, none of us had any idea what to expect. The biggest dynamite explosion I had ever seen was a couple of sticks and that was impressive enough. I began to wonder if maybe we had gone to far when the dynamite went off.
It was like the end of the world! The explosion started as a brilliant flash followed by a huge fireball that expanded to a diameter of a couple thousand feet! Bits of flaming debris were flying everywhere. We could see the magnesium burning brightly as chunks of it tumbled through the air. Then the shock wave hit! The ground heaved, cars rocked violently from side to side all, we heard several windows shatter. Everything was illuminated by the inferno in the sky. Then we saw the mushroom cloud, the ultimate symbol of the atomic age. It was lit by the fires below and rose at least five thousand feet into the sky above the “crash site”.
Pandemonium! Everyone was screaming, crying, and praying with renewed conviction. The most terrible thing imaginable had happened.
Oh Shit! I said, not alone. At that moment, I knew we were in serious trouble.
During the night, a number of the convention goers packed their things and left hurriedly. Some of us stayed to see what would happen next.
By morning, the crash site was crawling with marines and soldiers from the bases at Twenty-nine Palms. They arrived in jeeps, trucks and even a couple of helicopters. The soldiers had put up a cordon of ropes all around the site and wouldn’t let anyone within a thousand feet. Men with hazardous materials suits were collecting things from the ground. A couple of by standers saw small green bodies being quickly stuffed into black body bags. Others with Geiger counters clicking were surveying the area looking for hot spots. Men with long metal tongs were picking up bits of debris and putting it into metal canisters. The explosion left a crater about one hundred feet in diameter and over thirty feet deep at its center. Several people in protective suits were down inside the hole.
The soldiers and marines wouldn’t say anything except “Keep Away” By noon they had picked the area completely clean and except for a couple of jeep loads of officers, had left taking everything they found with them.
Rumors began immediately. “Did you see the green bodies?”, “How about the radio activity?”, “Why is the military hushing all this up?”, “You know the government knows what’s going on!”, “The marines took the spaceship parts away!”
We packed up all our things and left as quietly and as unobtrusively as possible, all the while expecting some marine or soldier to “put the cuffs” on us. But for some reason, nothing ever happened.
As time went by, the story of the flying saucer crash in the desert made local, national and even international news. Life magazine ran an article on the event and left it up to the reader to decide if it was a real space ship or an elaborate hoax by some college students.
I suspect the statute of limitations has run out long ago on things like this. Some of the original group has died, many have retired, and a few have simply disappeared. I am one of the surviving members of the “Great Flying Saucer Hoax of ‘58”. There may be a few others but we have pretty much lost track of each other. But no matter where they may be I suspect that, when they think about it and hear rumors of “Hangar 18” and “Area 51” they, like me, wonder.
A SHORT STORY BY
PART OF THE
It is said that more stories are told about Albert Einstein than of any other famous scientist. Some of them actually happened and others… well who knows.
Albert Einstein's most famous visits to Cal Tech in Pasadena California were in the winters of 1931, 32, and 33 where he discussed his predictions of gravitational waves and postulated what became known as the "Einstein-Rosen Bridge" now more popularly known as a "Wormhole". Less well known were his visits to Henry Richter, inventor of the "Richter Scale" of earthquake magnitude and his final visits in the early '50's where he was hoping to encourage young scientists to pursue the "Holy Grail" of theoretical physics the "Unified Field Theory".
When electrical and magnetic fields were found to be two different aspects of the same thing in the late 19'th century it was realized that other forces, such as gravity, might be part of the grand unification of the natural cosmos. With the discovery of the weak and strong forces that operate within the atom two more forces were added to the list making a total of four. It has been suggested that there are more such forces but they remain to be discovered and, if they exist at all, their properties described.
Einstein was convinced that all of these forces, both discovered and those yet to be found, were different aspects of the same thing. The ultimate goal of theoretical physics would be the discovery of a Grand Unification Theory or GUT that might also be called the TOE or Theory Of Everything. It was Einstein's final wish that someone would pick up the torch and follow this pursuit. It was with this in mind that he made a final series of visits to some of the most famous universities in the world.
* * *
Getting accepted to Richard Feynman's undergraduate physics class was almost as difficult as getting accepted to the undergraduate school at Cal Tech in the first place. Feynman was a legend in his own time. He had worked on the atomic bomb project and was a personal friend of Albert Einstein. He was generally recognized as one of the most important physicists since Einstein and he was an amazingly good teacher. And he was willing to teach one class in introductory physics to undergraduate students per year. Victor Holly felt very privileged to be selected to attend this class. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience and opportunity.
After another day of experiencing the "Feynman Effect", a condition where every thing Richard said was crystal clear during the lecture only to fade into misty shadows when one was no longer in his presence, the professor said that he had an important announcement. It seemed that a person of some note was paying a visit to the school and that the presence of a few young physics students was invited.
"Mr. Holly, could you see me after class for a few moments?"
The realization that Feynman even knew Victors name was startling and to be asked to remain after the class was over was more than a bit disturbing.
"I read your paper on Einstein's search for the Unified Field Theory, I understand you think he missed the point the that the answer is actually staring him in the face." It was a statement of fact not a question.
"Well, yes, I guess you could describe it that way, I think that the solution is geometric and not algebraic if that's what you mean."
"I see, well, anyway, would you like the opportunity to explain your ideas to Professor Einstein? He will be here next week and would like to talk to several students including you."
Victor was thunderstruck. "Einstein here and he wants to talk to me? I don't know what to say, I am amazed."
"Well, you can either say yes or no, but I would suggest that you say yes but regardless, don't say anything about his visit, as it is supposed to remain confidential."
In his later years Einstein was phobic about personal appearances especially those that might attract the attention of the press. As a result, his visit to Cal Tech in December of 1953 was kept as confidential as possible. The effort worked as no mention of his appearance at CIT showed up in the papers until long after he returned to Princeton.
So it was set up, Einstein was coming to give a talk and one of the people he wanted to see was Victor Holly to discuss his ideas on the UFT. What the most famous scientist in history could possibly find interesting in anything a freshman had to say was completely baffling.
The lecture and Q&A session was set for two O Clock in the afternoon on Friday and was scheduled to run for two hours. Victor was seated in the lecture hall at eleven thirty. He had his notes with him and a camera just in case there was an opportunity to be photographed with the great man. He nervously paced around the room, a medium size auditorium cum lecture hall able to seat about one hundred. Frequent glances at his watch reminded him of how slowly time passes when you are waiting for something. Finally, a few minutes before one he heard a door open behind him. He assumed that it was either another student or a faculty member hoping to get a good seat by being early.
Suddenly the silence was broken, "How does von get a cup of coffee arroundt here?" It was spoken in a German accent.
Victor spun around, standing not five feet away was Albert Einstein, alone and looking classically disheveled.
Victor tried to speak but couldn't say anything but "Uh. Uh". He studied the face, the man was old, much older than his pictures but there was something about the eyes. They shown with an inner light almost like that of a child.
"There is a large coffee pot in the anteroom, I was going to make some a little later for the meeting."
"Ah, dat's good, ve make some now? No?"
"Yes, Yes, of course." Victor stammered.
As Holly filled the large coffee maker with water the professor was rummaging around in a cupboard. Finally he held up his hand in triumph. He had located the packets of creamer and sugar. "In my youth I vould drink it black but now my stomach objects. I must soften with this." He made a disgusted face.
As the coffee maker gurgled and rumbled Einstein studied Victor's face. "You are a student here or are you von of the teachers?"
Holly flushed, "Just a freshman sir, first year."
"Ah, every von is so young it is difficult to tell von from the other."
Victor held out his hand, "Victor Holly, I am studying physics."
Einstein took Victors hand then reached into his jacket pocket, retrieved a small notebook and began to thumb through it. "Holly, Holly, yes here you are. Victor Holly, Richard told me about you. You are the von that thinks I am all vet on the Unification Theory, no?"
Victor gulped, "Hardly that, I just told Dr. Feynman that I thought you were closer to the solution than you realized." At that moment the coffee maker gave out a series of thumps and a final gurgle, the coffee was ready.
"So you think I have missed something, I genuinely hope you are right. Tell me about your ideas." He smiled, held a cup under the valve of the coffee pot and pressed the lever. "Show me". He gestured toward a large chalkboard at the front of the auditorium.
So the dream of a lifetime came true for Victor Holly. He was discussing advanced theoretical physics with the most famous scientist in the world and the man was actually taking him seriously, or at least so it seemed.
As the chalkboard filled with energy stress tensor equations and hypergeometric expressions the room gradually began to fill with people. When Victor finally turned around he could see that over thirty had quietly entered the room and were watching the discussion between himself and Professor Einstein. One of the people in the audience was Richard Feynman and he had a curious lop sided smile on his face.
Victor tapped the professor on the shoulder and pointed toward the silent audience.
Einstein turned and then realized that they were not alone. He surveyed the group and noticed that there were three women seated amongst the men. "Ah, ve must be late or you are early." He looked at his watch, "Time as a way of slipping by when you are enjoying your self. Mr. Holly has been telling me about some of his interesting ideas on unification. But we will continue that later. I see Professor Feynman is here, Richard, would you like to take over?"
Feynman looked at Holly, "I see you have coffee, is there any more?"
"Yes sir" said Victor, "Dr. Einstein has made a full pot." He gestured toward the alcove where the coffee urn stood waiting.
Someone had brought in cookies and some sandwiches and placed them on the table by the coffee pot. "Ah!" said the Professor, "Ve eat!"
Feynman turned to Victor, "I can't believe you made Dr. Einstein make the coffee."
As Victor was about to say something Einstein interrupted, "Vot, I can't make coffee? I can still do a few things, and," he smiled wickedly, "Mr. Holly made sure I did it right."
The word that the most famous scientist in the world had made coffee for the meeting got around almost immediately with the result that everyone wanted a cup. It was as if somehow drinking coffee that had made by the man himself conveyed magical powers.
The presentation went well. However, considering that the intent was to encourage young would be physicists to take up the quest for the unified field theory it was noted that the room was filled to capacity and mostly by faculty, there was very little room for students.
The following Monday, on his way to organic chemistry, Victor heard someone call out his name, It was Feynman. "Well, how did it go with Einstein Friday? The two of you looked like old friends at the meeting."
"It was truly amazing, I can't thank you enough for setting it up."
"Well, what did he think of your ideas?"
Victor smiled "He was very nice about it, he said that he had tried that approach in 1921 and decided that it wouldn't work."
"Really, I have read everything he ever published and have never seen it."
"He said that when he realized that he couldn't make it work he decided not to publish but he said that he would find his paper and send me a copy. I am sure he doesn't think I can make it work either but having an unpublished paper by Einstein will be a real treasure. He also autographed my copy of his book. What a thrill, he really is a great man in more ways than one."
Later that week Victor was in Dr. Feynman's office to discuss a question he had about quantum theory when he noticed a paper coffee cup in a place of honor in the glassed front bookcase. "Is that from last Friday's meeting?"
Feynman chuckled, "You might be surprised to know that just about everyone that was there kept one of those. Einstein's Coffee is probably going to become an institution around here and maybe even a legend."
"Shoot, and I didn't even keep mine."
"But an unpublished paper and an autographed book should be even better."
Holly grinned, "Oh they are Professor, they truly are." He looked out the window and could see several students stringing lights on a Christmas tree on the lawn and there was the faint sound of singing drifting through the window. "Happy Chanukah Professor."
"Merry Christmas Mr. Holly"
(full version available on Amazon.com)
AUTHORS NOTE: The Russian Security Forces, surviving members of the KGB of the former Soviet Union, and the Central Intelligence Agency of the U.S.A. all deny that anything even remotely related to what you are about to read ever happened.
Dr. Mark Hollingsgood, Director of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project, stared at the report on his desk. He was wishing it was wrong or better yet, would simply go away. He glared at the CIA man, "Are you absolutely sure about this? Tell me you could be wrong, please tell me this could be a mistake."
"We've checked and double checked, It's real unfortunately, it's been confirmed by two other sources." He pulled a cigarette out of a pack and looked inquiringly at Hollingsgood.
"Go ahead, light up Frank, I'll stick with my pipe" Mark pushed a large ashtray toward him, removed a well worn Kaywoodie from a rack and began to fill it with tobacco.
"I don't see how this could happen, We have the tightest security I've ever seen and I've been in this business since before the war. This looks like an exact copy of our system. No way it could be a coincidence, there has got to be a leak somewhere. If there's a spy in our organization..." He shook his head and lit the pipe. "I'll have to be the one to notify the White House, God what a mess." He blew a cloud of smoke toward the window. "The guy that wrote this report" he studied the document again "Holly, Victor Holly. What do you know about him?"
"Not much, NSA analyst, very young, early twenties. His boss, the head of their ELINT analysis station on the West Coast says the guy is right. Holly designed the camera that got these pictures. Pretty bright guy. Went to Turkey and installed the thing on the U2 himself. Said he didn't trust anyone else to do it."
"He's that sharp? Early twenties? What is he, some kind of kid genius?"
"Caltech grad. Good marks but nothing really over the top. Just has an aptitude for this sort of thing. He has a huge ego and frequently rubs people the wrong way, something of a pain in the ass but he is brilliant."
"Well, get him here ASAP I want the design team to go over his report and see if there is anything we or he has missed. Pain in the ass or not, We've got to find a way to plug this leak and another pair of eyes may help."
"What if the leak is one of the design team members, you don't want to tip your hand."
"Damn, that's right too. Well get him here anyway we'll figure it out when we can talk to him. I assume there's no problem with clearances."
"Not likely, I'll bet that Holly has a higher clearance than you or I, special intelligence spooks have pretty much the run of the store."
Victor frowned at the oscilloscope adjusted a gain control then said to no one in particular. "What moron recorded this mess? The signals are either saturated or non-existent. Don't these people know how to run a simple tape recorder?"
A voice from behind him said "Maybe you should make another run to Sinop and show them how to do it."
Victor spun around. Dr. Ralph Brandywine, the station director, stood smiling and holding a telex printout.
"Looks like your report on those Novogord images struck a nerve back at headquarters. They want you at Clinch River yesterday."
"Yeah? What's a clinchriver? Never heard of it." He turned back to the tape machine tweaked another knob and shook his head in disgust.
"I don't know either but then I'm just the director here. You guys are the ones with all the answers. And they want your answers and your ass in Tennessee. We just got a sigtot that says so." Ralph handed Victor the printout. "Read it and weep, this thing will keep" he pointed at the tape machine and grinned at the rhyme.
The DC7's engines quieted to a throaty purr as the airliner approached Knoxville. Once on the ground the big plane taxied to the gate where an airstair was quickly rolled into position.
Victor walked into the terminal where he saw a man holding a placard that said "Dr. Victor Holly". His mood immediately improved. He approached the man, introduced himself and made no effort to correct the error in his status.
Monty, the driver from the Clinch River facility worked in the motor pool and knew nothing about the reason for Victors visit nor did he care. Monty's interests were exclusively in Basketball, positive, and traffic, very negative. Neither of these subjects interested Victor in the least so conversation from the airport to the facility was negligible.
As the car approached the reactor plant Victor stared goggle eyed at the configuration of the cooling towers and the reactor confinement building and especially at one of the adjacent structures. "Well, I will be damned" he said quietly.
The meeting took place in a maximum-security conference room in the sub basement of the admin building. Present were Mark Hollingsgood the director of Clinch River, Martin Levin the chief scientist, Henry Marks Chief Engineer, Frank Osgood from the CIA and Dr. Sherman Feldman the number two man at the National Security Agency. Even Victor felt a bit intimidated by the political and technical power represented in the room. He was asked to take a seat at the foot of the conference table.
Dr. Hollingsgood stood up. "Mister, or is it Doctor Holly we're very glad you could make it today especially on such short notice."
Victor fidgeted slightly "Well, actually, it's mister I just graduated two years ago and..."
Hollingsgood raised his hand. "Well, may we call you Victor? I would like this to be an informal meeting. It might be best if we were all on a first name basis. Call me Mark. This is Marty he's our chief scientist and Henry is our engineer in charge of neutron physics. Frank is from the CIA and I am sure you know Sherman from your own agency."
Victor had seen photographs of Dr. Sherman Feldman but never expected to meet him face to face. He nodded his head to each as they were introduced and did his best to commit their names to memory. It wouldn't do to forget any of the names especially that of his bosses boss.
Hollingsgood turned on a slide projector and the first of the Novogord images appeared on the screen. "Victor I would like to explain why we asked you here and why we are in such a rush."
"Well, Mark, I think I have figured out part of that already. As we were driving up I couldn't help but notice the similarity between your plant and the facility in Novogord. At first I thought you were trying to duplicate the Russian reactor plant. Then I noticed the age of some of your buildings and realized that it's the other way around. The Sov's are copying this facility right down to the last bolt and rivet." Victor glanced around the room with satisfaction at the looks of astonishment on the faces of everyone there.
He decided he would show off and push it a bit further. "The real giveaway was the metallurgical treatment building. I gather that you are building a breeder reactor and you condition beryllium reflector shields in there. I'm guessing you're using monocrystaline beryllium because of its neutron retroreflective properties. From the configuration of the building its obvious that you use it for annealing large metal structures which are then delivered to the reactor containment building. At first I thought you might be using boron but with your budget and the annealing facility, beryllium is the natural choice. It's interesting that the Russians seem to have come to the same conclusion."
Now the looks of astonishment gave way to open mouthed alarm. Henry Marks was the first to regain his composure. "You figured all this out from a couple of photographs and a quick drive through our plant?"
"I'm an analyst, I get paid to analyze things. If you guys are trying to keep secrets I'm afraid you aren't doing a very good job." Victor quickly realized he had gone too far. The expressions of respect and even awe could easily turn to resentment and anger. He quickly backed down. "Well, anyway, I'm sure that's not why you asked me to fly back here. What do you have in mind and how can I help?"
Dr. Feldman, the NSA DD suggested that it might be a good time to take a break and he motioned to Victor to join him in the hall. "Listen Mr. Holly, you have a reputation as a genius and you also are known to be a primadonna pain in the butt. I can see that both views are correct. We can help these people or we can add to their problems. I think the agency can do a lot of good here, so please don't make my job any more difficult than it already is. I want you to prove to me that the Novogord pictures and that little performance you just put on in there aren't flukes. Can I count on you or do I have to find somebody else?"
Thoroughly chastised and admonished, Victor quietly returned to the meeting. If anyone else in the room knew of the dressing down he had just received they didn't show it.
Frank Osgood went to the front of the room "Well, here's the problem. We know that the Soviet design is too much like ours to be a coincidence. Clearly there is a security problem here at Clinch. As Mr. Hol... - er- Victor has pointed out the plants are nearly identical. This can only mean that, as you said, the facility is being copied and that means someone here or close to here is delivering detailed information to the Soviets. The question is who is the spy and what are we going to do about it?"
Victor raised his hand. "The images of the Novogord metallurgical plant suggest a controlled cool down system. But I didn't see those heat exchangers here at your facility. Did you change your mind or haven't they been installed yet."
Henry Marks stood up and walked to the projection screen. "We were going to use heat exchangers just like the ones in the Novogord photos. Then we decided to use river water rather than air so the exchangers will be under ground. What we originally planned looked just like this." he pointed to the image on the screen.
Victor rolled a pencil back and forth between his thumb and forfinger "Hmm and when did the new drawings, the ones showing the underground exchangers, come out?"
"They haven't, not yet." said Marks, "The plans are still in the design stage. Those prints won't be official for another couple of weeks."
"Ah" said Victor "I have a feeling that time line may help narrow down the location of the security leak."
FBI Headquarters, Washington D.C.
Frank Tappert, Special Agent In Charge of Soviet Counter Intelligence had finished briefing his boss on the Rudolph Abel investigation and was waiting for a response.
The DD for National Security shook his head and filled his pipe. "Hollow coins, microfilm, clandestine drop sites, newspaper boys picking up the wrong package? If you didn't have all this supporting evidence I would have run you out of here in the first ten minutes. But, these pictures say it all. It looks like Ivan's been reading too many spy stories. I think the NSC needs to hear about this so polish it up and be ready to present the whole thing at the White House tomorrow afternoon, fourteen hundred hours." He tapped the stack of papers, "Sarah will help you with any visuals and handouts you may need."
Sarah Martin was one of those people so competent and efficient she made everyone else look like they were on vacation. Frank started to hand her the proof copy of his report when she said, "Here are some things you may need for the meeting tomorrow." She ticked off the nature of each of the documents as she stacked them on a table beside her desk. "Slides of your illustrations, twenty-five copies of your handouts, that should be enough, list of expected attendees, and bio's on the ones you don't know. There's a new guy, some kinda Caltech whiz kid in from California. Young NSA analyst. Those that know him say he's on a real ego trip. So, be careful.
"Plus I hear he's almost as smart as he thinks he is and that makes him especially scary." She shoved the entire stack into a zippered red folder and put the folder in a security pouch. "These things will be there when you need them."
"Amazing, you are truly amazing Sarah, what are you doing this evening?"
"Oh, well anyway, you might want to take care of this." He handed her the proof copy of his talk.
She glanced at the document, opened a file drawer, located a folder and put the papers inside. She then closed the drawer and gave the combo dial a spin. Looking back up at Tappert she said, "I think you're covered Frank. Good luck tomorrow."
Henry Marks and Victor Holly hit it off immediately. Marks was from MIT and Holly from CalTech. Marks was about five years older than Holly and still single. He had finished grad school at Princeton and now held a doctorate in nuclear physics. To the extent that Holly had a main interest it was also nuclear physics so the two had a lot in common and much to talk about. Holly was especially fascinated by breeder reactors. The idea that a machine could produce energy and new fuel at the same time came about as close to perpetual motion as anyone was ever likely to get. It seemed like it violated the laws of physics, he knew it didn't but it still seemed like it did.
The commissary at Clinch sold beer and wine after regular working hours and Henry and Victor were well into their second pitcher when Feldman and Hollingsgood showed up.
"Would you gentlemen object to some company?" said Mark.
"Not at all, we better order another pitcher though." Henry poured the last of the beer into his and Victor's glasses.
"Already on the way, ordered when we came in."
Victor looked at Hollingsgood and then at Feldman. "Sorry about today, I was out of line. I have a tendency to piss people off, gotta be more careful."
Sherman Feldman removed his tie, folded it neatly and stuffed it in his jacket pocket. He then took out his pipe and began to use one of those small multipurpose tools that pipe smokers always carry to clean it. He then blew into the stem. There was a cloud of sooty particles and a sharp whistling sound.
"There, that's better" he said and began to stuff the bowl with tobacco. "Gentlemen, we have a problem." He lit the pipe. "There is going to be a meeting at the NSC tomorrow afternoon. Mark and I want you both to be there."
Henry gulped and stared at the two directors. "NSC? Me? What'd I do?"
Before Sherman or Mark could respond Victor said "NSC? What's that?"
Sherman shook his head "For a guy that's supposed to be smart, you sure don't know very much. National Security Council, The White House, President Eisenhower? You guys are expected to give a talk to the National Security Advisor and maybe Ike him self. Think you can handle that?"
"Oh shit." said Henry "What are we supposed to talk about?"
"Well for starters you can talk about the little problem we have here with secrecy and how the Sov's are building a duplicate of Clinch and just what that means in terms of national security. The people you will be talking to should find the subject quite interesting."
"And just who all is going to be there?" Henry wondered.
"Umm.. National Security Advisor, Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Head of the FBI, the heads of NSA, CIA and ONI, to name a few."
"And maybe Ike?"
"And maybe Ike."
"Oh, and Mr. Holly?"
"If you are on your best behavior I promise I won't kill you after the meeting."
Everyone laughed but Victor.
The White House
National Security Council Conference Room.
Victor wondered just how far below ground he might be. But no one would tell him, even if he dared to ask.
The elevator seemed to drop forever and there were no indicators to show the level where the car finally stopped. The doors opened onto a waiting room with two Marines both of who were carrying formidable looking machine guns. They glared out over several other people that Victor didn't recognize. One Marine stood by a door at the far end of the room while the the other simply studied each person as they exited the elevator. Victor began to sweat.
"Dr. Feldman, If you and your guests will just take your seats" one of the Marines gestured toward a group of chairs "you're up next."
After about ten minutes the far door opened and several men stepped out. Victor noticed that they all wore badges that stated "OAK RIDGE NATIONAL LABORATORY" in bold letters above the Lab's logo. None of the men looked happy.
"Looks like they got some bad news today." said Feldman.
Victor wondered if they would look the same in an hour or so.
Another Marine stepped through the door. "Dr. Feldman? If you and your party could come in now, the council is ready for you."
The room was narrow and dimly lit. There were several large projection screens at the far end and about twenty people were seated at a long conference table. There were six empty chairs near the screens and it was obvious that was where the newcomers were expected to sit. The whole thing was very intimidating.
The DNSC got directly to the point. "Dr. Feldman I want to thank you and your associates for coming to this meeting on such short notice. I know that you have a presentation but first there is something I feel that you should see. Frank Tappert Special Agent In Charge of Soviet counterintelligence would like to see what you make of some rather remarkable discoveries. Agent Tappert?"
Agent Frank Tappert stood and walked to the screen end of the room. "We have known for some time that several of our sensitive defense facilities were targeted by Soviet intelligence operatives. One of these, we knew, was the Clinch River Breeder Reactor project. We recently intercepted the delivery of some microfilm that contains what appears to be highly sensitive information. We would like your comments on this before we proceed. First slide please."
The largest of the screens sprang into life. An image of what appeared to be an involved technical drawing filled the screen. Martin Levin and Henry Marks both gasped at what they saw. Nonplussed, Tappert continued, "And could we have the next slide on screen number two please?"
Another drawing appeared.
"Oh my God" said Levin.
"Oh shit" said Marks.
"Is that what I think it is?" whispered Victor to Henry Marks.
"Yep, it sure is." said Marks.
"From your reactions I gather that you recognize these drawings" said Tappert. "Can you tell us what they are?"
"Yes," said Martin "they are engineering drawings for the neutron flux density control system of a breeder reactor, the Clinch River breeder reactor to be specific. Can you tell me how you got these drawings?
"I will come to that in a minute. Are they important? I mean by that, would Soviet access to these drawings give them an advantage when it came to constructing such a reactor?"
"Yes, without question, these drawings represent the solution to one of the most difficult problem we face in designing a breeder. Without these systems the reactor either wouldn't work at all or it would be so dangerous that you wouldn't dare to put it on line."
"Well then gentlemen and ladies," Tappert glanced to the back of the room where two women were seated. "We have a very serious problem. We have reason to believe that the Soviets realized the importance of these designs and sent them by multiple channels to Moscow. In other words, the Soviet Union has information about a critical component in a new type of nuclear reactor. Now, Dr's Levin and Marks we would appreciate your telling us just how serious this problem really is."
Levin took a long drink of water from a glass that had been thoughtfully placed at his spot at the table. He sighed. "Extremely serious. I can tell you just how serious in one word, Plutonium. A breeder reactor of the type we are building at Clinch River and that the Russians are apparently building at Novogord can produce enough weapons grade plutonium to manufacture between three hundred and five hundred nuclear weapons per year. I really don't know how much more serious it can get than that."
A murmur went around the room. Expressions like "Omigod" and "Jeesus" were heard frequently.
"And now Dr. Holly we would appreciate it if you could comment on these photographs." He turned to the projector operator "Next slide please and if you would leave these up for the time being." A third screen lit up with the first of the U2 pictures taken over Novogord. "Could you tell us what we are looking at? We understand you designed the camera that took these pictures."
There was that gratuitous Ph.D. again; Victor decided that he really was going to have to go back to grad school. "I - I just designed the image stabilizing system, the camera is a Baker Nunn. What we see here is a high altitude photograph of the construction at Novogord. The CIA has flown three missions at about one month intervals with this system and each time we find that more progress has been made. The most recent images show construction that was designed only weeks ago at Clinch River. It looks like the Russians are constructing this plant in real time in response to technical data stolen from us. If this keeps up they could finish the project before we do. From what Dr. Levin says they have the design for the most critical parts of the system. It may be too late to do anything about it."
Victor found his mind wandering. For some reason his thoughts were drawn to the second engineering drawing on the screens. Something was wrong. He couldn't place what it was but something was definitely wrong. It was a mechanical drawing of the neutron flux control drums for the reactor. There was the single crystal beryllium reflector on one side of the drum and the carbon/hafnium neutron absorber on the other side. He wasn't sure what it was, it would come to him. As he stared at the drawing a persistent voice intruded on his thoughts.
"Dr. Holly, Dr. Holly, I hope we aren't disturbing you but if you could please answer the question?" The sarcasm was dripping.
"Hunh? Question? I'm sorry, I guess I missed the question. Could you please ask it again?"
"Is it possible that your camera design could be applied to a reconnaissance satellite? The Air Force is planning a satellite branch and image systems such as the one used here are essential."
The man asking the question was wearing an Air Force uniform and had four stars on his shoulders.
"I don't see why not? Assuming you can put several hundred pounds in orbit. How many satellites have we put up so far? Three, maybe four? I would love to have the opportunity to study it but I can't give you a good answer now."
"I think you just did Dr. Holly, thank you."
The questions continued for another half hour. Finally, Levin and his group were permitted to leave.
On the way out of the building, Dr. Feldman shook Victor's hand and said with a smile, "Nicely done, I guess I won't have to kill you after all."
Holly just gulped and said nothing.
On the plane back to Knoxville, Marks and Holly sat together. "What happened to you back there in the meeting," Marks asked quietly. "I thought you were having a stroke or something. You just faded out."
"I'm not sure. Something about the drawing of the control drums." Victor looked around at the other passengers. "Better not talk about it here, though. Let's wait till we get back to Clinch."
That evening, Henry and Victor met again in the commissary. After a couple of beers and making drawings on about forty napkins Victor suddenly stood up and yelled "That's it, sonofabitch! That's it." He pointed at the stack of mutilated napkins. Henry looked at the napkins and realized that Victor had been working on a series of equations and sketches. "Tell me Henry, what do you see here?"
"Looks like neutron cross section equations, so what?
"Reflector efficiency formula, so?" Henry looked at his beer, "I gotta cut back on this stuff... what am I missing?" He finished the glass and poured another.
"And here?" Victor pointed at another drawing.
"U235 to Plutonium transition functions. What in hell are you getting at?"
"I don't think you want to build this thing this way, that's what I am getting at. OK, hear me out, don't stop me even if I sound crazy. Any kind of fission reaction is spawned by neutron collisions right?"
"Yeah, other than spontaneous fission, so, that's first year stuff."
"I said don't interrupt till I am done, OK?"
"What's a neutron reflector do? It reflects neutrons just like a mirror reflects light only not as well, right? Never mind, I'm on a roll here. A neutron comes in at an angle to the vertical of the reflector and bounces off at the incident angle, and all this keeps the neutron flux at a nice high level but pretty uniform, RIGHT? Right.
"But, what's a retroreflector do? It bounces the light or neutrons right back to where they came from just like the reflector in a car tail light. Right? Right.
"Now, here's the real deal: Let's say you have a hot spot somewhere in the reactor fuel matrix, a spot that produces a big bunch of neutrons, there's always going to be at least one, OK? Those neutrons go out and hit a beryllium retroreflector and instead of being scattered they get rammed right back to the hot spot! Right? Right. Now if the reflector is really efficient you get so many neutrons back that you start transmuting U235 to plutonium like crazy, more plutonium more neutrons, more neutrons more plutonium, a runaway reaction, and then WHAMMO!!! You've got critical mass and maybe a hundred microseconds to kiss your ass goodbye. Well, what do you think?"
Henry looked in horror at the drawings. Suddenly he was quite sober. "This can't be right, my God, this can't be right."
"Well, look at the numbers and tell me I'm wrong."
Later, much later, both men sat and studied the equations on the chalkboard in Henry's office.
Victor rubbed his eyes. "Well, what do you want to do?"
Henry shook his head. "You're right, we sure as hell don't want to build it this way. It looks like it's all in the thickness of the reflector. If we reduce the reflector to under about ten millimeters it should be OK, there will be enough beam spread that we won't over excite the neutron sources. I want to test it first to make sure we aren't missing something but that should do it. Good thing you had your attack at the meeting we could all be glowing in the dark by this time next month."
"Next month? So soon?"
"We were ready to seed the reactor and do a partial power test on it in about three weeks. I don't think we'll make that schedule. We better get the drawings changed right away, don't want to take the chance that the drums will be built like this." He gestured toward the drawings.
"What do you think would happen if we didn't say anything for a while, say a week or two? The Russians have these plans maybe we should let them build it. It looks like they are several weeks ahead of us, maybe we should wait and see what happens. After all, we could be wrong."
"You know we aren't wrong. If anybody builds it this way, they'll be nothing but glowing gas a few hours after they start it up."
Victor smiled. "I know."
Henry thought for a minute, grinned and began erasing the chalkboard. "Serves the thieving bastards right! I need another beer, want one?"
News Item. Kamchatka Peninsula, Soviet Union. July 14, 1958
A large seismic shock was detected in the Soviet Union. Measuring seven point five on the Richter scale and centered near the town of Novogord in Kamchatka in the USSR, the event was measured by seismographs as far away as Fairbanks Alaska and Pasadena California. It is unknown at this time if the event was an earthquake or a large explosion. Moscow denies any such event took place.
Victor Holly sat waiting at the printer. This was no ordinary printer; it was an extensively modified IBM Selectric typewriter connected to one of the most powerful computers in the world, the IBM 704. With over a thousand vacuum tubes and nearly twenty four thousand words of memory this monster electronic brain could perform over ten thousand computations per second. Occupying nearly two thousand square feet of floor space its waste heat could warm the entire three-story building that was its home.
Victor was waiting for the computer to complete a series of simulations describing the path of a missile as its fuel was burned during launch. Finally, the printer buzzed to life. Its print ball spinning, the information he was waiting for began to pour from the machine.
As page after page of analysis flowed from the printer he sensed someone standing behind him. He turned around and saw the smiling face of Tom Cornell the supervisor of the engineering group that was Victor's current assignment. "Think you can spare a few hours? There is a meeting upstairs that you might find interesting."
The printer had finished its work and the computer indicated that it was moving on to its next task. Victor removed the printed sheets from the hopper and looked at Tom. "Sure, what's up?"
"There are some people here from the Naval Test Station, it seems they are having some sort of problem with one of their big guns and want to know if we can help. Room 325, they're expecting you."
325 was a conference room that would hold about one hundred people. It was nearly full. At the far end of the room two screens had been set up and the image of what looked like a very large bullet was on one while a diagram of an enormous cannon was on the other. In the picture a man was standing next to the "bullet" and it seemed to tower over him by at least two feet. "Big sucker," Victor thought to himself.
As the meeting proceeded, the difficulty was described. It turned out that the giant bullet was the problem. This enormous projectile, a new design, was fired from a sixteen-inch gun on the battleships Missouri and Iowa. Sometimes, and no one knew why, the projectile would veer off course by several thousand yards with potentially disastrous results. The flaw, when it occurred, appeared to be completely random. Some times the shell would fall short, sometimes it would go long, and frequently it would also miss the intended target to the right or the left. Weighing well over a ton loaded with high explosive and representing many thousands of dollars the consequences of an errant round were both dangerous and costly.
What the navy wanted was some sort of telemetry system that would monitor the state of the projectile from the firing of the gun to its impact at a distant target.
The problem was that with an acceleration of over 500 gravities when the gun was fired there was no known technology that would provide the measurements the Navy wanted and still survive the impact of the firing of the gun. JPL had a reputation for finding solutions to very difficult problems, if this one could be solved that reputation would be maintained.
As the meeting progressed several interesting ideas were suggested. Probably a new solid state radio transmitter designed around transistors could survive the impact of launch but what about the necessary sensors like gyroscopes, accelerometers, and optical gear. Well, one thing for sure it would be a challenge.
Suddenly Victor had a thought, but it was so fantastic that he hesitated to mention it until he had a bit more information. He raised his hand to ask a question.
A man wearing two stars on his navy uniform noticed Victors hand waiving in the air. "In the back of the room, you have a question?"
According to protocol one stood, stated his or her name and organizational relationship before asking the question. "Victor Holly, Section 336, Ballistics and trajectory analysis group. I have two questions, first what is the velocity of the shell when it exits the gun barrel and second what is the maximum altitude of the shell in flight?"
The admiral turned to a man in civilian clothes. "Dr. Martin, I think you can answer that one."
Martin stood up to reply, "The muzzle velocity for the projectile type we are having trouble with is from 2300 to 2500 feet per second depending on powder load and the maximum trajectory altitude is between 45,000 and 50,000 feet depending on barrel elevation angle and range."
Victor thought for a moment, "And the stability problem, is it in any way related to either of those variables?" The answer was no, correlation had been looked for but the stability failure seemed to be completely random. victor looked at his slide rule. "So from firing to impact the velocity ranges from about mach 2 to about mach 1.5. Now, does the Navy have any aircraft that will fly that fast, Especially a two seater?"
"Well, we do have the A3J Vigilante. It's not operational yet but several are being tested at Pax River and Edwards. What do you have in mind?"
Victor looked at his notes again; "While I agree that a robust telemetry system is a very good idea for any number of reasons but there may be a way to get some early information about the problem while the telemetry is being developed."
Now all eyes in the room were on Holly, "Just what do you have in mind Mr. er Holly?"
"Well, I was thinking that if you timed it properly you could fire a shell as a supersonic aircraft was approaching the ship. The aircraft could pull up along side the shell and pictures could be taken with a high-speed camera. If the shell veered off course while you were doing this you might gain some very valuable information. The aircraft would have to be able to sustain operation at zero gravities for about 20 seconds and still fly with complete control. Someone in the back seat could operate the camera while the pilot maneuvered the plane."
The admiral looked skeptical, "Have you ever flown an aircraft under such conditions?"
Holly replied "No, the hottest thing I've ever flown is a P51 Mustang but I don't see any reason that it can't be done."
the admiral's expression shifted from skepticism to respect. "You've flown a P51, Was that in the Air Force?"
"No,I own one that I bought surplus about a year ago. I have over one hundred hours in it."
At that point it was decided to take a fifteen-minute break and let the room cool down.
During the break, the admiral was talking to Ted Morrow the section manager, but they both kept glancing at Victor. Shortly Morrow motioned to Victor to join them.
The admiral was smiling. "This idea of yours sounds crazy but it might just be crazy enough to work. How long would it take you to come up with a preliminary mission plan?"
Holly turned to Morrow, "Well, that depends on my boss, If I can spend the time I could have a preliminary plan in about a week. I will need some very specific information on the projectile, the gun, and the firing procedures as well as the specs on the aircraft we might use. Please remember that I still think a telemetry system is a good idea regardless of how this experiment comes out."
"Understood," The admiral turned to Morrow, "I assume we can coordinate this through your office?"
"Absolutely," Morrow put his hand on Victor's shoulder. "How soon can you give me a list of what you need?"
"I can have something tomorrow afternoon."
So the rest of the afternoon the meeting concentrated on telemetry system requirements and no more was said about flying jet airplanes next to giant canon shells. The following day Victor gave his section manager a list of the things he would need to generate a mission plan and promptly forgot about the whole thing.
It was about a week later that Victor was called into the section manager's office, Tom Cornell, the engineering group leader was there and Larry Markus the Division Manager was seated next to him. "Uh oh", said Victor "Looks like I'm in some sort of trouble."
Markus grinned, "Well, I suppose you could be depending on how all this works out. Here is all the information you requested from the Navy." He pointed to a large stack of books, papers and manila folders. Admiral Watson wants a plan by the end of the month and a schedule showing how soon you can make the tests. Effective immediately you are on this project full time."
"Wow! That's great I can get started right away. Wait a minute did you say how soon I can make the tests? What do you mean by that?"
"Watson and his folks at the Naval Weapons Test Center think it is a great idea but they don't know anyone but you that can actually do it."
"That's crazy, I can't fly a jet fighter and it would take me months to learn."
"I wouldn't worry about that," said Markus, "No way they'd trust you with a seven million dollar airplane, they expect you to sit in the back seat and take pictures. The Missouri is going to be in San Diego next month for retrofitting and preparation for sea trials and they want to begin weapons testing a month or so after that. They will be shooting at targets on San Clemente Island with the 16-inch guns. They hope you can be ready by then."
The project was much bigger than Victor had anticipated. First he had to analyze the trajectory of the projectile and determine its velocity vector at every point along its path. Then he had to take into account the capabilities of the A3J Vigilante aircraft and compare them with the dynamics of the projectile. This he had to do just to find out if the concept was even feasible. Once this was done, assuming that it could be, he had to understand the firing procedures of the giant gun well enough to be certain that critical timing issues could be resolved. As the aircraft approached the battleship at mach 2 a timing error of a fraction of a second would result in the aircraft being either too far ahead or behind the projectile to ever get close enough for useful pictures.
Secondly, the huge bullet would be spinning at several hundred rpm so still photography was probably out of the question. What he needed was a high-speed movie camera, very high speed. He suspected, or at least hoped, that some precursor event might be visible on the shell before it became unstable and strayed from its ballistic path. The fact that the stability problem occurred randomly and near the beginning of the shell's flight suggested that an aerodynamic flaw might be part of the problem. The question was could such a flaw be visible even with a powerful lens and fast camera? And finally, if he was to make the flights himself he had to qualify to fly back seat in a Vigilante aircraft. At this time only four of the birds were in existence and their time was jealously guarded by the people at Pax River and at Edwards Air Force Base where the planes were being tested prior to a commitment to produce them in quantity for the Navy.
A visit to the Missouri was essential and had to be scheduled as soon as possible. Unfortunately the ship would not arrive at the San Diego Naval Yard for three more weeks. Even though the ship had been decommissioned as part of the fighting fleet in 1956 it was still used by the navy as a research and weapons platform test facility. Its major task was the refinement of the 16 inch gun systems which were still in use on other Iowa class battle ships.
Then there was the problem with the airplane. There was one Vigilante at Edwards but it was down for retrofit of a new fire control system and would not be airworthy for at least six weeks. Two more were at Pax River and were heavily involved in flight profile testing and evaluation. A schedule slippage could not be tolerated. The forth plane was at North American Aviation' s Palmdale Plant for avionics tests before delivery to the Navy. He decided to Call North American and see what could be done.
"NAGPAW, what a strange name." Thought Victor. North American Aviation always named their projects with the first two letters being NA. The NAVAJO missile was an example of this as was NATDAN, for North American Transistorized Digital Analyzer, the name for their navigation computer that was developed by Autonetics, a division of North American. NAGPAW, for North American General Purpose Attack Weapon, clumsy but it did tell the story accurately. Victor decided that he liked the name "Vigilante" much better.
Bob Seevers was NAA's manager for the Vigilante program. He had heard about the Navy's problem with the guns on the Missouri but had no idea that his project might become involved in finding a solution. When he was told that an engineer from JPL wanted to use his airplane for an experiment he thought it was a joke but when he was told that Admiral Watson had approved the project he realized that he would have to take Victor Holly seriously.
Holly sat across the desk from Seevers and outlined the details of the concept. The Vigilante would have to be a precision mach 2 camera platform and would need to operate under zero gravity conditions for over thirty seconds. Would the engines and hydraulic systems tolerate such a mission without damage? Nobody knew. The plane, for that matter no plane, had ever been flown under such conditions.
"Have you considered any other Mach 2 aircraft for this job? The F104 could probably do it." Seevers pulled a large binder labeled "Starfighter" from the shelf. "Kelly Johnson over at Lockheed is doing some real magic at the 'Skunk Works' and this is one fantastic machine."
Holly took the large book and opened it. Every page was labeled SECRET . "I assume you put this away at night. Yes, I think the 104 could do it but getting information on its performance and capabilities is difficult and besides the Navy would prefer to use a Navy plane if at all possible. I guess it would look better at a Pentagon briefing."
Seevers chuckled, "I am sure that from Admiral Watson's perspective that's true and if this works it won't hurt North American's reputation either. Well, anyway, do you want to go down to the hangar and look at the plane?"
The first thing that struck Holly about the Vigilante was its size. This was a big airplane. And it was beautiful. As he looked over the sleek lines and the canted air inlets his gaze took in the cockpit. Both front and rear canopies were open. As he looked at the rear canopy he realized that it was almost completely opaque. There were two small windows but otherwise the cover was made entirely from metal. "That could be a problem. Getting photos through those little windows might not be possible." He privately wondered what the back seater did in this airplane, looking at the view certainly was not part of his job.
"The fire control and navigation systems keep the WCO busy, he doesn't have much time to look outside."
So it was decided that if a plan to use the plane could be worked up NAA would make it available. The people at NAA liked the idea and promised whatever help they could to further the project along.
One of the problems was zero gravity operation. It was not clear how the big J79 engines would react to an absence of gravitational force even for a relatively short period of time. Hydraulic systems might not feed properly; fuel might not go where it was supposed to and so on. General Electric Aircraft Engine Division was contacted and two engineers were assigned to the project. GE like North American liked the idea of the challenge and potential of good press for General Electric.
Meanwhile Victor Holly was working on another problem. The selection of a suitable camera was proving to be more of an effort than he had envisioned. Conventional movie cameras maxed out at about 80 to 100 frames per second, Victors calculations indicated that a frame rate of at least ten times that would be required. What kind of camera could do that and what sort of film would get enough light with such short exposure times? He called a friend at JPL's photo shop and laid the problem on the table.
It turned out that a new company "FASTEX" by name was making an experimental camera that could operate at rates up to 5000 frames per second. Kodak manufactured a special film for the camera that had an ASA rating of over four thousand. It might do the job on a really sunny day. The problem was that the camera was large and heavy. There was no way that it could be held by hand. It would have to be mounted in the Bomber/Navigator cockpit and still leave room for an operator and it would have to be positioned so that the lens could look out of one of those tiny windows. Victor contacted FASTEX and got a set of drawings and specifications, which he then forwarded to North American.
Meanwhile the calendar was relentlessly moving forward and if Holly was to actually ride in this thing himself he had to go through some training.
Edwards Air Force Base was not all that far from Palmdale and JPL had an operation there for rocket motor tests. He made arrangements to visit Edwards flight school and on his next trip to North American he made a side trip to the Air Base.
Chuck Yeager of Bell X1 supersonic flight fame ran the test pilot school at Edwards. Victor had hoped to meet him if for no other reason than his interest in aviation made Yeager something of a legend and hero. Seevers had made some introductions for Holly so when he arrived he was expected and his plans were known.
The Air Force Flight Surgeon, a Doctor Boggs, had the final say as to who flew and who didn't. Holly was not concerned because he had a current physical for his private pilot's license, but this fact that did not impress Boggs in the slightest. So the first thing Holly had to submit to was a thorough physical which included some rather humiliating probing of his anatomy with something called "The steel eel". When he was beginning to wonder if it was worth all this unpleasantness Boggs proclaimed him "fit to fly" and gave him a surprisingly long list of training programs that he had to participate in. Ejection seat and emergency egress training, Oxygen mask use, sudden decompression, vertigo analysis, night vision tests, in-flight fire procedures, and a refresher in survival skills and ocean survival. He was told that if he could remain at the base he could complete all this in less than two weeks.
So Victor was billeted in the "BOQ" or Bachelor Officers Quarters. The apartment was small but well equipped and much like a good motel room.
The first phase of his training was to be fitted with a flight suit, helmet and G corset. The latter was similar to a pair of pants with rubber bladders in the legs. These would inflate and keep blood from pooling in the lower extremities when the wearer experienced acceleration greater than about 2 gravities. The planed maneuver that the Vigilante would make to match the trajectory of the sixteen-inch shell would be between two and three Gee's. Both uncomfortable and potentially dangerous without the G-Suit.
After being schooled in the features of the flight suit and the helmet he was scheduled for oxygen mask training and sudden decompression demonstrations.
The altitude chamber was a large steel vessel about fifty feet long and twenty wide with several small very thick windows. The entrance was through a small airlock that was about ten by twenty feet. Victor's mind went back to his childhood when he was watching his mother prepare chicken in a new pressure cooker she had gotten for Christmas. She had insisted that he read and re-read the instructions on the use of the thing just to make sure she did it right. Victor agreed that starting off the new year by blowing up the kitchen was probably not a good idea. A careful read of the instructions made the device look like a small and very dangerous bomb. The high altitude chamber gave him a similar impression.
Inside the chamber were benches, seats and even a few desks. Victor was one of about twenty people that were to go through the familiarization process. As they filed in each was handed an oxygen mask and a small booklet. The Sergeant in charge said, "Take a seat anywhere gentlemen, er and lady." One of the group was a rather attractive woman dressed in airforce fatigues, she appeared to be about twenty five years old all the rest were men variously dressed as Airforce, Marine, and Navy officers. All were wearing either fatigues or Nomex flight suits. Victor wore a Navy flight suit without any rank indicated.
Once the group was seated the sergeant asked everyone to introduce himself or herself and to describe why they were going through the training process. He said that because they would be spending the next few days together it was a good idea to get to know one another. Most of the trainees were Airforce pilots or other flight crewmembers and were taking the training as part of a semiannual refresher program. Three were Marine pilots and another five were Navy. Victor was the only non-military person in the room.
When it was Victor's turn to explain why he was there he gave a brief description of the mission and that he would be flying back seat in one of the new Vigilante carrier based bombers as an observer and photographer. Almost immediately the Marine and Navy aviators wanted to know if a pilot had been chosen for the mission, they all wanted to have a crack at such an interesting project.
The instructor began by explaining hypoxia and how difficult it was to sense unless you knew exactly what to expect. He explained the use of the oxygen masks and made sure that each person knew how to put them on and to operate their rather simple controls. It was similar to the mask in Victors P51 Mustang.
The lesson started by slowly decreasing the pressure to that found at about twenty-five thousand feet. The "students" were grouped in pairs and were instructed that one of them should read a series of numbers from the booklet while their partner wrote the numbers down on a pad. Victors partner Dave, was one of the Marine pilots and appeared to be about Holly's age. As Victor read numbers and Dave wrote them down all was going well until about half way through the list when Holly realized that he was having trouble focusing his eyes on the print. This, they had been told, was one of the first symptoms of oxygen starvation. He looked at Dave and noticed that his lips were turning a slight shade of blue, time to put the mask on he thought. He picked up his mask and pointed at it with his free hand. Dave just stared at him dully. It was at this point that the instructor came over to their table and told them both to "mask up". Moments later they were breathing normally.
Victor had flown his P51 up to about 30,000 feet but had always worn a mask above 15,000 so he had not experienced hypoxia. He had never given it much thought but it was obvious that this could be a life-threatening situation. It was a bad day when you didn't learn something new.
Next came "sudden decompression". Sudden or "explosive" decompression was an unmistakable event but it could sneak up on you. The real question was could you react quickly enough if it occurred with out warning? Decompression to 25,000 feet could result in broken eardrums and loss of consciousness within 30 seconds. It was clearly important to know how to deal with both eventualities and to do so in a timely manner.
First came a description of the "valsalva" maneuver, a process known by swimmers and divers as well as high altitude flyers. Sudden changes in air pressure results in the eardrum being pushed either outward or inward, as the air pressure outside the ear becomes different from that in the middle ear. The familiar "popping" of the ear when one drives from near sea level to the mountains was a mild example of this. In sudden decompression from sea level to 25,000 feet the ears pop with a vengeance. To compensate air must travel from the throat through the eustacian tubes into the middle ear in order to equalize pressure across the eardrum. Failure to do this can result in a tear in the eardrum or an actual dislocation of the tiny bones in the middle ear. In addition to being very painful either of these events can result in permanent removal from flying status and a serious loss of hearing.
Simply put the valsalva maneuver is performed just by pinching the nose closed and either blowing or sucking against the blocked nostrils. This procedure forces air to travel through the tubes either to or from the middle ear and equalizes the pressure. In the event of sudden decompression or recompression one must perform valsalva quickly to avoid injury.
When explosive decompression occurs you have less than 30 seconds to locate your oxygen mask, put it on and start the flow of O2.
So Victor Holly sat with 19 others in a small room waiting for the air to suddenly rush out and threaten them all with asphyxiation. The whole point was that while no one knew when it would happen everyone knew that it would. And everyone in the room had done this before, everyone that is except Victor.
Suddenly there was a loud boom and whoosh of air and then a fog formed so no one could see a thing (the instructor didn't mention that part). Victor frantically grabbed for his mask only to discover that it wasn't there. While he blindly groped with his left hand he did the obligatory valsalva with his right. First he blew, which only made matters worse, and then he finally sucked in and cleared the pain in his ears. Then his hand found the strap to his mask. He quickly put it on and pressed the valve that started the flow of oxygen. The fog cleared as quickly as it formed and he had the chance to look around the room. Nearly half of group was still struggling with their masks. He felt much better when he realized that this bunch of intrepid aviators didn't react any more quickly than he did. Later he was told that he had his mask in place in 8 seconds, very good for a beginner. It seemed like an eternity to Victor.
They spent the rest of the day experiencing various forms of pressurization failures and mask problems. It was amazing how many different ways simple systems could foul up. Victor hoped that like his training to get his private pilot's license the only emergencies he would face were the simulated ones.
Next came vertigo and disorientation tests. This was the part that Holly truly dreaded, he hated being sick to his stomach and he knew that would be an important part of this segment of the program.
Ever since the early days of flight one of the teaching devices was the three axis trainer. It was a pilot's seat set inside a series of circular gimbals. It was arranged so that the seat could rotate in all three axes simultaneously. There was a stick and a set of rudder pedals and a simple instrument panel. The entire contraption sat in the center of a round room with a white domed roof. It was a bit like being inside a giant Ping-Pong ball. The idea was for the victim to be strapped in the seat which was then set in motion tumbling in all directions at once. The would be pilot had the task of regaining control of the seat by using the stick and rudder pedals. The fact that no real airplane could ever perform such maneuvers was quite beside the point.
Victor watched with a mixture of humor and dread as each of the other members of the group went through the ordeal. Considering that Holly would not be flying the Vigilante but riding as an observer it was not immediately clear why this should be part of his training. Even so, he was anxious to see if he could master the thing. He had never found himself in a dangerous situation in the Mustang but the skills this machine could teach might help to save his life in the future.
Finally it was Holly's turn. He sat down and strapped himself in and then pulled the opaque visor down over his eyes as instructed. He could feel the seat begin to turn and rotate and tumble and could feel his semicircular canals trying to escape the confines of his head. Finally a voice in his earphones said "Lift your visor and begin." He did as he was told and immediately a sense of nausea gripped him. The world, or what little he could see of it, was spinning all about him in an impossibly difficult and complex pattern. He had thought about what he would do as he watched the others struggle with the machine and he thought he had it figured out. All of his plans vanished completely as he sat helplessly in the whirling nightmare. Then he began to experiment, if only he could get control of one axis at a time maybe he could bring it under control.
First pitch, then yaw, then roll, no that didn't work, ok then start with yaw and, no that only made it worse. Then he tried to stop the roll with a leftward pressure on the stick. He stopped watching the whirling room and concentrated on the instrument panel. There was a HSI or Horizontal Situation Indicator in the center of the panel. The ball in the display was making the same gyrations as the room around him but finally he was able to stop the rolling motion as shown by the instrument, then he stopped yaw and last of all pitch. He realized that a real aircraft making such maneuvers would have torn its wings off in the first few seconds but this was only a simulator and a seemingly indestructible one at that. Finally he stopped the gyrations and brought the thing to a halt. As he left the seat the instructor said that he had come in 12'th among all 20 and considering that he was the only one that wasn't an experienced jet pilot that was quite impressive. He wondered how that comment made the "real" pilots in the room feel.
An hour or so later when the spinning in his head had settled down and the debriefing was over it was time to quit for the day. Tomorrow was set for ejection seat training but tonight would be spent in the O-Club with either beer or a bottle of scotch and some of Victors new found friends.
As is the case with nearly all military installations the Officers Club at Edwards is run by Noncoms. The Chief Master Sergeant that was in charge of the club was one Tazio Nuvelari . Victor thought he recognized the name and then remembered that Nuvelari was one of the greatest Gran Prix racers of the nineteen twenties. He discovered later that this Tazio was indeed the great racers nephew. His family had emigrated to the United States in the early 30's and young Tazio had found a home in his new countries Army Air Corps. He staid on during the transition from Army to a separate branch of the military finding the ultimate compromise between responsibility and authority as a sergeant. He was nearing retirement age and it was generally recognized among the officers he served that he would be dearly missed. Next to airplanes Victor loved exotic racing cars and Tazio's collection of photographs of some of the greatest machines of the 20's and 30' held endless fascination for him. One car in particular, the Type D Auto Union was represented in many photographs. At Dr. Ferdinand Porche's insistence Tazio the racer had driven this powerful mid engine car and set new records in it. His only comment after driving the machine was "Great men will be killed in this car" As it turned out he was correct.
Tazio, the officers club manager, was struck by Victors interest and knowledge of vintage racing machines and the two had many conversations on the subject. The end result of this relationship was that Holly's money was no good at the O Club. When ever he ordered a drink Nuvelari insisted on picking up the tab.
Word had spread among the pilots of the nature of Victors plans with the Vigilante and Big MO's gun problem. Some of the hottest fliers in the military were at Edwards and the competition between them was fierce. Virtually all of them were interested in the project. That evening after an all day session with the HS-1/1A emergency escape system and another go at the vertigo machine, as Victor called it he was at the O Club having a drink with two of the Marine pilots when he noticed Chuck Yeager and two other men seated at a nearby table. Yeager approached their table and asked if he could join them. Victor recognized him at once and pushed an empty chair in his direction.
"I understand you're the guy that wants to chase cannon shells is that right?"
"That's the plan assuming we can make it work," said Victor.
"Sounds ambitious but I don't see any reason why you won't be able to do it." Yeager reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. He opened it up and laid it on the table. "I would like to know what you think of this."
Victor looked at the paper. It was a series of diagrams and a rough sketch of a ballistic trajectory. At the bottom of the sheet the letters F104 were written in bold and large characters.
"We want to make a zero gravity simulator that will hold zero for at least one minute. We think the 104 will do it, what do you think?"
Once Holly got over the shock of having one of aviation's hero's asking for his thoughts on an aviation question he replied. "We know that the Vigilante can do this if the engines will tolerate it. GE is looking into the problem and they think they can solve it. Doesn't the 104 use the same engine, I mean the J79?"
"It’s a different dash number but it's essentially the same engine."
"Well, GE is looking into fluid flow issues at low G levels. The concern is accessory case lubrication and fuel feed. If they can solve those problems, and they think they can, I see no reason why the same solutions couldn't be applied to the F104"
Yeager folded the paper and put it back into his pocket. "Kelly Johnson is going to be here tomorrow, I wonder if you could find time to talk to him about your project."
"I would be delighted." Said Victor.
"Ok tomorrow afternoon say about three, my office?"
"I'll be there"
The two marine pilots had remained silent during the entire conversation with Yeager. Finally, Dave spoke up. "I can't believe what just happened I think we just saw aviation history being made."
Ever since the meeting at JPL where he proposed "chasing" cannon shells with aircraft, Holly had been thinking about the problems of extended ballistic flight. Fluid management was clearly a problem but another was control of the aircraft its self. He had tried some experiments with his own plane and had worked out a way to maintain micro-gravity conditions for as much as ten seconds. While the P51 was fast it was not nearly quick enough to keep up with one of the Missouri's 16 inch shells, but the tests were interesting and helped to shed some light on at least part of the problem.
That evening Victor was thinking about Yeager's comments and decided to make a call to flight ops to see if he could get permission to fly his own plane in to Edwards. When he told the OD that his plane was a vintage P51E he was assured that some way would be found to get clearance.
Holly's 1956 Corvette made record time back to his home in San Gabriel. As soon as he arrived he called the airport and asked that his plane be fueled and ready to go in the morning.
"Edwards approach control, this is Mustang N51PA requesting controlled airspace entry and landing instructions Edwards AFB. Ground destination North American Aviation Hanger twelve."
Edwards responded almost immediately. "Roger Mustang N51PA, entry to controlled airspace approved. State your altitude, squawk 3550 and assume heading two niner five degrees. You got a big crowd anxious to see your plane."
After he landed four trucks with "FOLLOW ME" signs surrounded his plane. Each truck had smiling people in the back with movie cameras. They were leading him to the North American Hangar.
As he pulled onto the tarmac in front of the NAA Flight Operations building he could see a crowd of at least 100 gathered to watch his arrival. Most of them had cameras pointed at his plane. Victor recognized several of the people in the gathering; Yeager was there and he was astonished to see "Dutch" Kindelberger and Lee Attwood Chairman of the Board and President of North American Aviation respectively.
As he set the brakes and shut down the big Rolls Royce engine he noticed several members of a ground crew approaching the plane with wheel chocks and tie down ropes. Victor was certainly getting the royal treatment. He slid back the canopy and prepared to climb out of the plane when Yeager, Kindelberger and Attwood approached along with several photographers.
Victor was getting the celebrity treatment and it wasn't until later in the day that he discovered why. It turned out that a very big and important meeting was being held at Edwards and the future business of NAA and several other aerospace companies hung in the balance. Victors' arrival in his P51, a plane manufactured by NAA some fifteen years earlier, gave a festive air and a kind of history to North Americans role in the development of modern aviation. Kindelberger and Attwood were delighted to have the opportunity to show off some of there earlier achievements and Holly's P51 was one of them. The newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA was establishing a major presence at Edwards and all of the aerospace manufactures wanted a piece of the action.
Kindelberger wanted to know if Holly would join them for lunch. Yeager would be there and Kelly Johnson of Lockeed "Skunk Works" fame might make an appearance. To be asked to join such a group of aviation legends was far beyond anything that Holly could ever have expected.
At lunch the conversation inevitably centered on aviation and the future of the space program. Victors' plans for the Vigilante and the fact that it would have to reliably operate under essentially zero gravity conditions for a significant period of time was of considerable interest to everyone at the table. The fledgling space program would require extensive testing of many components and systems in a zero gravity environment. Holly's concept might provide a flying laboratory where these experiments could be performed under controlled conditions. There remained a number of questions about the idea but on the whole everyone was thoroughly taken by it.
"I have tried it in my plane and so far I can get nearly 10 seconds of zero G operation. The hardest part was figuring out how to control the plane in a precision trajectory. There aren't any aircraft instruments that are designed to provide the sort of information a pilot needs to fly this kind of path so I came up with this." He reached into a flight case that he had brought with him from the plane. He took out a large glass jar with a bright orange ping-pong ball inside it and placed it on the table.
Everyone at the table stared at the object. Finally Yeager said, "Uh what is that?"
"That" Holly said triumphantly "is an integrated three axis micro-gravity accelerometer and display."
After the chuckling and out right laughter had died down Holly continued. "I figured the big problem would be how to control an aircraft while using an external visual reference, that being the projectile we are trying to fly in formation with. The shell will be in a ballistic trajectory and aside from the relatively small effect of air resistance that trajectory will be in free fall all the way from the muzzle of the gun to impact. Time of flight is between 45 seconds and about a minute and a half depending on range. When a shell tumbles it usually happens in the first ten to fifteen seconds of its flight. That means that we have to catch up with the thing within two or three seconds of the firing of the gun. We have to be very close to our ballistic trajectory several seconds before that. I estimate that we will have to maintain a true ballistic trajectory for a minimum of fifteen seconds and probably closer to twenty five to thirty seconds. That means operating the aircraft in a zero gravity environment for at least that long a period. To my knowledge no aircraft has ever been flown under such conditions. We will have to learn how to do it before we commit to supporting the Navy's test. The problem is that we cannot expect the Navy to fire a number of their shells just to let us learn. We need to simulate as many of the conditions as possible prior to going to San Diego for the test.
Victor could feel all eyes on him as the group listened attentively. "I see at least three problems and there are probably more. First is precision flying in a zero G environment, the second is control surface response when there is no gravitational loading on any of the aerodynamic surfaces and the third is fluid management for the engine and hydraulics. What this gizmo does" He pointed to the glass jar, "is provide a visual reference for a truly ballistic path. Once finish my pitch up I fly the plane to keep the ball floating in the center of the jar. This requires simultaneous control of all three axes plus thrust. I t took me about twenty tries to learn how to do this but I finally was able to maintain a zero gravity path for a bit over fifteen seconds before red lining my airspeed." He reached into the flight case once more. "I mounted a movie camera in the cockpit and filmed several of the attempts. Here is the film, I think you'll find it interesting. I am sure you guys can come up with something much more sophisticated than this," he pointed once more to the jar. "but, I think this proves that it can be done."
Kindelberger stared at Holly with obvious respect. "Well Mr. or is it Dr. Holly? This is very impressive work."
"Thank you" said Holly "It's Mr., I'm working on my Ph.D but have about another year to go."
Attwood asked "What is the subject of your Ph.D? Aeronautical engineering I would guess."
"No," Holly replied "Theoretical astrophysics, My thesis is on polarization diversity interferometry and the distribution of angular momentum in Seyfert Galaxies."
Attwod was astonished. "Astrophysics and astronomy? That's a big leap from aviation and flying. How did you get to be such an accomplished pilot? Were you in the Airforce or Navy?"
"Neither, my employer wouldn't let me be drafted. I've always loved flying and got my private license on my sixteenth birthday, the first day it was legal. As far as the graduate studies go I was sort of dragooned into the program. It seems I wrote a series of papers that were well received by the astronomical community and Cal Tech found it embarrassing that I didn't have a degree to go along with the work so they made me an offer I couldn't refuse. Either get a Ph.D or find another line of employment. Well, I like to eat and live indoors so it was an easy decision. As far as the P51 goes I traded an AT6 and some cash for it and then taught myself how to fly it. I had about 50 hours in the AT6 so the transition to the Mustang wasn't that difficult. There were a few places where the learning curve was pretty steep but as you can see I survived to tell the tale. As far as being an accomplished pilot I'm just comfortable with machines." He looked at Yeager. "There's a real aviator, I'm just an airplane driver. And believe me, I know the difference."
Yeager studied him for a moment, "How would you like to take a crack at the F104? You would find out pretty quick if you are an aviator or, as you say, just an airplane driver."
Holly was taken aback and then he grinned. "I'd love to give it a try. I understand that thing separates the sheep from the goats in short order. Maybe when this project's over I'll take you up on the offer."
Kindelberger and Attwood had left for their meeting with an Airforce general and a Navy Admiral. Yeager and Holly walked down to the hangar to take a look at the 104.
"That has got to be the beautiful thing I have ever seen." Holly caressed the sleek craft with his eyes. "It's more like a rocket ship than an airplane. It looks like it's going mach one just sitting there."
"Mach two or a bit better, or so Kelly says." Yeager replied. "So far only Lockeed test pilots have flown it, we will be flying it later this week."
"Did I hear my name mentioned in vain?"
Holly and Yeager spun around, Kelly Johnson was standing behind them.
"Victor Holly, I might have known it would be you. You are the only one I know that would want to chase after out of control cannon shells."
"It's a living." Holly replied grinning broadly.
Yeager was intrigued. "I guess you two have already met?"
Johnson was still studying Holly. "Yeah, it was a couple of years ago he wanted to put a fancy new camera in one of the CIA's U2's. Came over to my shop for some info. How did that work out? Did you get some good pictures?"
"Much better than expected." Holly replied. "Ivan is still a bit pissed over what we did."
Johnson chuckled. "I'll bet they are. Are you still with the NSA?"
Holly grinned. "You mean No Such Agency? Sort of, they call me back from time to time to clean up some of the messes I left behind. Now I work directly for JPL and, for the moment, the Navy and maybe with any luck this guy." He nodded toward Yeager.
"So what do you want to do with my airplane? Something really different I'll bet."
Yeager nodded his head. "Mr. Holly here has some very interesting ideas about extended zero gravity flight. We need to talk."
Yeager and Johnson reviewed Holly's analysis and decided that his "accelerometer" was worth trying in a high performance aircraft. An upgraded design was prepared and two operational prototypes were constructed. One for the F104 and one for the A3J-1 Vigilante. A flight test program was laid out with the upcoming tests with the Missouri as a time target. General Electric engineers came up with a series of modifications to the J79 engine that, in theory, would permit zero gravity operation for a maximum of three minutes. It was agreed that the engine would be flight tested in the F104 and if successful the engines in the A3J Vigilante would receive the same modifications.
The flight trajectory for a zero gravity ballistic arc was easy to calculate but difficult to perform. The plane would enter into a shallow dive from an altitude of twenty thousand feet, accelerate to mach 1.4 and pitch up to a dec angle of about 85 degrees at which point thrust was reduced to exactly balance the drag caused by air resistance. The plane would remain supersonic from about twenty five thousand feet to an altitude of nearly seventy thousand feet. It would take about thirty seconds to reach the top of the arc and another thirty seconds to return to twenty five thousand feet. During the entire arc the pilot had to keep the indicator ball floating in the center of the accelerometer chamber by varying thrust and pitch. Once initiated the ballistic trajectory was passed on to the ball. It naturally followed a parabolic arc. If the pilot maneuvered the plane so that the ball remained floating in the center of the transparent chamber the plane, like the ball would be in a free fall ballistic trajectory. Roll and yaw were essentially locked as there would be no intended movement in either of those two axes. At the bottom of the arc the pull out would subject the pilot to about three gravities of acceleration. Nature keeps very precise books when it comes to momentum and these books always balance.
The F104 has conventional control surfaces, rudder, elevator, ailerons, flaps, etc. The A3 is different; Instead of rods and cables to the control surfaces the A3 has a "Fly by Wire" system. There is no direct mechanical connection between the control stick and the control surfaces, everything is powered by electronics and hydraulics. Also, in place of ailerons it has leading edge spoilers, and trailing edge deflectors. It is also equipped with a boundary layer control system on the trailing edge of the wing. How would these systems behave in zero gravity flight? The designers could see no reason that the plane would not function under such circumstances but no one knew for sure. The plan had to be tested.
To test one of only four planes in existence in such an exotic mission profile was risky to say the least. NAA management agreed that test must be performed but would only trust their own chief test pilot, Richard Wenzel, to make the flight. Wenzel had more hours in the A3 than all of the other pilots that had flown the plane combined. Clearly, if there were problems he was the most likely to solve them and if necessary, save the plane from destruction.
Wenzel, Yeager and Holly studied the problem and devised a multi step plan to evaluate the planes performance under reduced gravity conditions. NAA's chief aerodynamicist was convinced that there would be no problems and the plane would simply "weathervane" to the minimum drag attitude during the entire flight. It was likely that the pilot would only have to manage thrust to compensate for variations in aerodynamic drag.
Yeager successfully performed the entire trajectory maneuver in the F104 on the third try. Such is the nature of a man that is a true master of the sky. He learns quickly. After several successful flights and refinement of the procedures it was decided that the A3 would accompany the 104 in joint operations. The A3 would follow the path suggested by the trajectory of the Missouri's shell simulation. The 104 would fly chase.
The tests worked out perfectly. Neither the A3 nor the F104 had any control problems, if anything they flew more smoothly under zero gravity conditions than in normal flight.
Finally a simulation was designed where the 104 would fly a path identical to that expected from the 16 inch gun and the A3 would fly chase. Victor Holly would be riding in the EWO seat of the A3 operating the camera.
Holly had completed familiarization training in the A3 and was ready for his part in the test. The North American Aviation engineers had modified the rear canopy with much larger window areas and had installed the Fastex camera looking out of the right side of the plane. The pilot had a rough sighting square painted on the inside of his canopy. This could be used to provide coarse aiming of the camera and keep its field of view centered on the object of interest while fine pointing and focus would be controlled by Holly. Initially this object would be the F104 and ultimately it would be the giant shell blasted out of the sixteen inch gun of the Missouri.
The projectile causing the problem for the Navy was the Mark 23 Nuclear shell. This shell had about the same weight and ballistic properties as did the HC Mark 13 projectile but because it could carry a nuclear warhead there were additional accuracy and safety requirements imposed upon it. The shell had a number of modifications that were supposed to improve its accuracy and reliability but in the absence of useful telemetry it could not be ruled out that these modifications were actually causing the problem. The tests were to use a Mark 13 shell body which had the same weight and dimensions as the Mark 23 but with the additional stability features. If the tests were successful the information could be used to refine subsequent designs which included Mark 143, Mark 144 and Mark 145 projectiles all of which were similar to that of the Mark 13 in basic configuration.
The tests would fire the shell with a muzzle velocity of 2,500 feet per second and an elevation angle of 40 degrees. This would provide a range of about 40,000 yards and a flight time of about 80 seconds. For the simulation using the F104 the Starfighter would have to follow the same ballistic path and the Vigilante would have to match it.
Before every flight mission there is a planning session that includes everyone involved. In addition to the pilots and other members of the flight crew there are range safety, ground crew members, ground support, telemetry analysts, telescope operators, emergency services and a host of others. All are under the jurisdiction of Mission Control. Every detail of the mission is considered, discussed, examined in detail and finally approved or rejected.
There were about seventy people in the conference room. Martin Kilgore, test flight operations manager, brought the meeting to order and started out by reiterating the problem they wanted to solve, the purpose of the exercise and the general flight profile that each craft would follow.
The planes would fly down the supersonic test range, which was well instrumented with tracking theodolites and radar.
In order to simulate the firing of a 16 inch gun at sea level it is required that the F104 fly at supersonic speeds at relatively low altitude, about 1500 feet and pull up to a 40 degree dec angle and enter the ballistic trajectory at less than 5000 feet above ground level.
The F104 and the A3J sat at the end of the runway waiting for take off clearance from the Edwards tower. Because fuel consumption at low altitudes is profligate, the planes carried enough JP4 for only three attempts at the simulation. Success was not expected on the first day of tests but if it did work it would be truly sweet.
The ground support team reported that telemetry from both aircraft was being received and gave the go ahead for launch. The order came quickly, To conserve fuel the 104 made a relatively leisurely take off, well it was leisurely for an F104, even without the afterburner it was airborne in less than ten seconds. Then came the Vigilante's turn. The pilot brought the twin J79's up to full takeoff power and released the brakes. The acceleration was impressive, they were off the runway in less than fifteen seconds, again without afterburners, and climbing out at over ten thousand feet per minute.
Mission control was watching both craft on radar and long range video cameras. The point where both planes were to begin their ballistic arc maneuver had been planed carefully in advance and the controllers were providing a countdown.
Phase one of the test was for the planes to fly parallel ballistic trajectories in close formation. The pilot of the A3 would have to maneuver close enough to the 104 for Holly to obtain good quality photographs. The first test was to simulate the trajectory of a shell that functioned properly with no course variations.
The countdowns reached zero and both planes performed their pull up maneuver resulting in over three gravities of acceleration to the pilots and Holly. In a few seconds both planes were at a 40 degree dec angle with an initial rate of climb over 40,000 feet per minute. The pilots eased forward on the stick and reduced thrust in accordance with the profile. Zero Gravities! The sudden loss of weight gave the impression of falling. Even though Victor expected it the sensation came as a surprise. Upward the two craft soared gradually loosing vertical speed at the rate of thirty two feet per second every second as the Earth's gravity made its claim.
Holly recovered quickly from the sudden lack of g force and started the camera. Looking through the viewfinder he centered the 104 in the reticle. It was surprisingly easy to maintain the other plane in the field of view, the pilot of the Vigilante was doing an excellent job of keeping the plane steady. The camera made a howling sound as the film poured through the gate at nearly three thousand frames per second. He had one minute of film at that rate, enough for three tests.
Careful planning has its rewards. The first trajectory went flawlessly as did the second, but twenty seconds into the third arc ground control called a halt to the test. Telemetry indicated unusual bearing sounds coming from the accessory case on engine number two in the Vigilante and the GE engine specialists requested that the mission be terminated. The planes would have to return to base for evaluation and possible maintenance. Both planes resumed standard one Gee flight and headed for home.
Disappointed at what he hoped would be only a temporary setback, Victor took solace in the fact that he had at least the beginnings of the photographic data necessary to demonstrate that the concept was feasible. The return to base went without incident but Wenzel was prepared to shut down the noisy engine and proceed with just number one, fortunately, that did not become necessary. As soon at they landed and had completed the post mission shutdown procedures Victor raced to the photolab to have the film processed.
It seemed an eternity but finally the film was processed. The large 2000 foot reel of 16 mm film seemed to weigh a ton. It was amazing that all this film held only 40 seconds of data. Twenty pairs of eyes anxiously watched as the film crawled through the projector at 32 frames per second. It took only 40 seconds to expose the film but it took over an hour to view the results.
The pictures were phenomenal! The clarity of the images was impressive, individual rivets and other small features on the Starfighter were clearly visible. The Fastex camera would do the job as would the A3, assuming that GE cleared the engines for the mission.
Admiral Watson was one of the people watching the film along with Kindelberger and Attwood. After the two pilots and Victor had finished describing the test Watson stood and addressed the group.
"Very impressive gentlemen, From this I assume that we can move on to the tests with the Missouri. The ship has arrived in San Diego and will begin armament evaluation in two weeks. Can we be ready?"
Life on a destroyer is almost the complete opposite of life at an airbase. Edwards is a vast expanse of facilities situated on thousands of acres but while the ship is large everything on the Missouri is cramped. Machinery is everywhere and most of it is both noisy and dangerous.
The Missouri was huge. At eight hundred and eighty seven feet long, one hundred and eight feet wide and weighing fifty eight thousand tons it was larger and heavier than the Titanic, nearly three football fields long. Its main armament was its nine sixteen inch guns. These were mounted in three turrets, two forward and one aft. These guns were so complicated that it required a crew of nearly one hundred for each turret to load and fire them.
Victor sat quietly in turret number two and tried to stay out of the way. The Mo was still in the Naval shipyard in San Diego but drills and training on the operation of the big guns was underway.
The gun captain opened the breech on the center gun and with a cloth wiped the surface of the "mushroom" the opening for the primer. Then he looked through the bore and called out "bore clear". Immediately another seaman, known as the "primer man" inserted a primer into the breach. For the purposes of the drill the primer was bright orange and labeled "INERT".
Then from several levels below an elevator carrying the projectile arrived and the shell was loaded onto the cradle. Again, the projectile had orange bands and the word "INERT" in bold lettering. The projectile was pushed into the bore with a hydraulic ram and then the elevator delivered three inert powder bags. These were pushed into the bore and were followed by three more. Finally the breach was closed and the gun captain called "ready to fire" and pressed the "READY" switch.
The entire process looked like one of those German clocks with marching figures, everything was precision, expediency, and speed, twenty crew members functioning as a well oiled machine. The loading procedure took less than twenty five seconds. Victor was impressed.
"OK Gentlemen, lets take it apart and do it again." The Gun Captain turned to Victor, "In the heat of battle we can fire two rounds per minute from each gun, that's over twenty tons of ordinance dropping on the enemy every minute.
Each of the guns could be fired from the turret or remotely from several different locations. For Victors test the remote firing control would be from the bridge.
The key to success for the exercise was timing. It was crucial that the speed and position of the aircraft, and the firing of the gun be coordinated to a fraction of a second.
The test called for the projectile to be fired from the center gun in turret number two. The turret would be pointed at an angle of minus ninety degrees or perpendicular to the long axis of the ship on the port side, this would be a broadside position. The aircraft would then approach from the starboard side of the ship at mach 2 and fly over the stern. The gun would be fired at the same time as the pilot completed his pull up maneuver and entered into ballistic flight. If all went well the pilot and Victor would have visual as well as radar contact with the projectile within three seconds of the firing of the gun.
Victor performed some calculations and produced a prediction of what an observer would see as the aircraft approached the ship. He then made a sketch of a simple sighting device that would permit the observer to fire the gun at the precise moment necessary to assure that the aircraft was within maneuvering distance of the shell.
The ships chief machinist looked at the drawing and built the sighting device to Holly's specifications he then helped install it on a platform on the starboard side of the bridge. Admiral Watson wanted a test of the timing system and the pilot of the A3 wanted some practice. It was decided that before any live fire rounds were wasted on an unproved system that a dry run be performed as soon as the Missouri was on station off San Clemente Island.
The landing field on San Clemente Island was ideal for A3 operations. Originally set up as a training strip for carrier pilots the field provided close access to the Missouri and good support for the plane. The San Clemente Range Complex is the core of the Southern California Operations Area and it supports the largest concentration of naval forces in the world.
San Clemente Island is about 24 miles long and 4 wide. The South East end of the island is reserved for gunnery practice while the North West end houses the air station and other training facilities.
Wenzel brought the A3 to San Clemente without incident. Holly sat in the back seat and continued to familiarize himself with the camera controls and procedures. He had mastered the technique of changing the 35 pound film magazine in flight and with two extra mags on hand he could rely on enough film for as much as nine tests before returning to base.
Now it was time for the dry run.
Wenzel would fly the plane solo while Victor operated the sighting system and trigger on the Missouri. After a helicopter ride from San Clemente to the ship everyone was ready for the first test.
Victor was in intercom contact with the bridge and the gun crew and in radio contact with the A3. The Vigilante would approach from the south and fly over the stern of the ship in a 40 degree climb at mach 2. When the plane reached the mark on the sighting device Victor would press the "fire" button. Everything would be recorded on film for analysis later. The plan was to make three passes so the timing and position of the aircraft could be evaluated.
"Approaching rotate point at mach two point two. Time to rotate in five, four, three, two, one, NOW". Wenzel provided a countdown and Victor spotted the plane on the count of four. He pressed the fire button as the plane crossed the mark on the count of one. He watched the A3 pull up and approach a 40 degree climb, it was then that the sonic boom hit.
The sound was devastating. The shock wave from a mach two aircraft flying less than six hundred feet away is nearly as destructive as a direct hit from a heavy weapon. Holly's knees turned to water as the acoustic pressure wave washed over him. At first he couldn't think and then he was afraid that he would loose control of his bowels. As the reverberations of the shock died down he could hear the roar of the twin J79's pushing the Vigilante into the stratosphere, and then there was blessed silence.
As he tried to gather his shattered composure he noticed several crew members of the Mo lying flat on the deck below him. They had reacted the same as he to the sudden crack of the sonic boom. Holly was deeply mortified. How could he, an experienced pilot, fail to predict something as obvious as a sonic shock wave and its effects. It never occurred to him, or for that matter anyone else, that the noise of the big plane would be as loud as the firing of one of those 16 inch guns.
Fortunately, the crew of the Missouri was accustomed to very loud noises and thought little about the incident. As to the three crewmen that Holly saw lying flat on the deck their reaction was more that of surprise than fear or uncontrolled response. They assumed that the crew had fired one of the guns without proper warning and were understandably annoyed. Once they realized what had happened they regarded the incident more with humor than anger.
Analysis of the radar and motion picture film taken during the test indicated that the position of the plane and the timing of the firing of the gun were well within expected limits so it was decided to proceed with the live fire exercise. The live firing tests would be conducted the next day.
As he rode the big Sikorsky back to the island he was fascinated by the symphony of strange sounds the machine made. "Thump thump chugga chugga whir whine." And it seemed that every few minutes a new instrument was added to the mix. From time to time there was a ringing sound followed by a harsh grinding and all the while as a kind of basso percussion was the undertone rumble of the big radial engine in the things bulbous nose. He thought to him self, "I gotta learn to fly one of these things, if for no other reason than to really make myself believe that something this ugly and ungainly can actually get into the air."
That evening, after flying in the A3 from San Clemente Island to the Naval Air Station in San Diego, Wenzel and Holly went to the "O" club to discuss the events of the day.
The word was out among the Marine pilots and the Naval Aviators that there was this crazy pair that were going to chase shells fired from the Missouri in one of the Navy's latest jets. What's more, they all wanted to do it. First.
Surrounded by some of the hottest pilots in the world Richard and Victor discovered once again that their money was no good at the bar, everyone wanted to buy them a drink. Unfortunately, considering that the next day held some of the most demanding flying that either of them had ever done they were compelled to exercise at least some degree of restraint.
Finally everyone was satisfied when Wenzel said, "OK, if this works tomorrow we'll be back and tell you all about it."
The next day the preparations on board the Missouri were well under way when Richard and Victor arrived at the field and began to preflight the Vigilante. Finally Wenzel and the ground crew declared the plane was ready and the two of them took to the air.
They flew subsonic from the field out to the Missouri. They over flew the ship at an altitude of about ten thousand feet and called in to say they were ready. Admiral Watson was on board as were several other major field and flag officers that wanted to observe the festivities. When the gun captain called out that all was ready for the first firing Richard put the plane into a shallow decent and leveled off at 600 feet. Then he turned to the heading that lead to the ship and engaged the afterburners pushing the craft to mach 2.2. The acceleration was impressive but not overpowering. Victor had the camera ready and was trying, unsuccessfully, to conceal his excitement.
Victor listened as Richard counted of the distance and time to rotate. At the count of "one" he started the camera and began looking for the shell. On three, he glanced up.
Wenzel was the first to see it. "There it is! Right on schedule." He maneuvered the plane to center the shell in the small black rectangle that had been applied to the inside of the cockpit bubble. "On Target!" he called out.
Victor replied: "Camera on and target centered". The now familiar loss of gravity didn't faze Holly as he followed the projectile in its path. Like two cannon balls flying in formation the plane and the shell rose into the stratosphere at over twice the speed of sound. Victor was briefly surprised that he never heard the Missouri's gun fire but quickly realized that at their speed the shock wave from the muzzle blast could never reach them.
The shell and the A3 were both being tracked on radar and any deviation from the intended path would be reported immediately. "Normal Trajectory, no deviations," the radar officer intoned.
To the unaided eye the shell appeared to be a rapidly spinning cylinder about the size of a Volkswagen. It was hard to imagine that it had been fired from an enormous gun. After twenty seconds, it was decided that this round was not a failure. Smiling to himself, Victor Shut down the camera. Richard returned to normal flight. The sudden reappearance of gravity seemed oppressive.
Wenzel returned to the starting point of the next run while the gun crew readied for the next shot.
The second shot, like the first was problem free. Victor was beginning to wonder if somehow their presence was effecting the behavior of the projectile. His concerns vanished on the third shot. As Richard centered the viewfinder on the shell he noticed it wobbling. As he watched the giant projectile, he saw that the rear was describing a circle of constantly increasing diameter. Uh, oh. Suddenly, the shell began to tumble end over end. Its path became very erratic and Richard sped the plane away to a distance of about one hundred feet. Richard kept the camera rolling as long as the shell was in view, but its path rapidly departed from a ballistic trajectory. The shell fell short of its intended target by nearly six miles.
Six more shots saw two more failures and four perfect flights. It was time to quit for the day and hope the film would reveal something about the cause of the problem. The odds were good, but not good enough.
Just as "a watched pot never boils", it seemed to take forever for the film to be processed by the photography lab. The men waited with all the patience they could muster. Finally, the photo tech emerged from the lab with three large reels.
Forty pairs of eyes were glued to the screen as the first film was loaded into the projector.
At first, it was just empty sky. Victor's heart sank briefly. Then the projectile came into view. With slow motion of over one hundred to one, it appeared to be spinning at a leisurely rate and the markings could easily be read. At this rate, it would take over 33 minutes to observe the twenty seconds of the first round.
A seeming eternity later the sequence of the second round began. Victor watched intently and gradually realized that something was different but he couldn't quite put his finger on what it was. Both rounds traveled along their intended trajectories, so whatever it was probably didn't matter.
Everyone anxiously anticipated the third sequence as this one contained the first failed round.
At first glance, the projectile appeared to be completely normal. Then the wobble began, gradual at first, but increasing in severity until the shell began to tumble end over end. No one saw anything that would indicate why it behaved any differently than the previous two. No one, that is, except for Victor.
The nagging feeling that something was different was overwhelming now. "Could you back this up about two minutes?" he asked the projector operator. The man obliged. "Now could you stop it here and put it on still frame?" The moving image stopped. Victor walked up to the screen. He took a pointer stick from the table and indicated several small black triangular objects sticking out of the rear of the shell. He spoke to no one in particular, "What are these?"
"Stabilizing fins" was the answer. "There are eight of them. They're canted at the same angle as the rifling in the gun barrel and they pop up after the projectile leaves the muzzle. They assure that the shell will travel with out tumbling. Or at least that is what they are supposed to do."
"And are these peculiar to the shells that are causing problems?" Asked Holly.
The answer was no, all of the shells have them.
Victor thought for a minute. "Well, it may be nothing but, in this case two adjacent fins failed to deploy and I am quite sure that on the previous two rounds only one or two of them failed to deploy and never were they adjacent to one another."
Dr. Martin from the Naval Ordinance Test Center spoke up. "That could certainly explain loss of control of the shell. But why does it only happen on this particular model? What's the difference?" The group sat in silence and stared at the image on the screen. Suddenly Dr. Martin exclaimed, "It can't be that simple! The difference is in the arming circuits. In the nuclear shell, the warhead is armed when the projectile leaves the barrel of the gun. Part of the arming system is switches on the stabilizing fins. If they don't pop out then the warhead won't arm. There must be something about the switches that keeps the fins from deploying."
As it turned out, Dr. Martin was correct. Chamber pressure in the gun sometimes caused one or more of the switch mechanism to jam thus preventing the deployment of the fins. Furthermore, in every case at least one of the fins failed to deploy as a result a nuclear warhead would never have been armed. The failure of two adjacent fins caused enough aerodynamic instability to cause the spinning projectile to nutate and finally tumble. And finally, analysis revealed that the telemetry system being considered would not have identified the problem, the sticking stabilizer vanes would have remained a mystery.
That evening at the O-Club Richard and Victor were "The Men of the Hour". Drinks flowed and the "Cannonballers" as the duo came to be known were honored with "The Order of the Broken Propeller", a somewhat dubious award that was given out to aviators that performed particularly hazardous and even foolish tasks in aircraft.
The next day as Richard and Victor were returning home to Edwards in the A3, Wenzel remarked, "Admiral Watson told me that he thought your idea was crazy, I wonder what he thinks now?"
Victor smiled to himself, "Well, I am glad it was crazy enough to be true."
(F-104 in Flight photo credits to NASA and NAA!)