Military Review

The Ling-Temco-Vought SLAM (Pluto) intercontinental cruise missile project (USA. 1957-1964 year)

In 50, the dream of omnipotent atomic energy (atomic cars, airplanes, spacecraft, atomic everything and everyone) was already shaken by the awareness of the danger of radiation, but it was still in the minds. After the launch of the satellite, the Americans were concerned that the Soviets could be ahead not only in missiles, but also in antimissiles and in the Pentagon they came to the conclusion that it was necessary to build an unmanned atomic bomber (or missiles) that could overcome air defense at a low altitude. What they came up with was called SLAM (Supersonic Low-Altitude Missile), a supersonic low-altitude rocket that was planned to be equipped with a direct-flow nuclear engine. The project was named "Pluto".

The Ling-Temco-Vought SLAM (Pluto) intercontinental cruise missile project (USA. 1957-1964 year)

A rocket-sized locomotive was supposed to fly at an ultra-low height (just above the treetops) with a triple speed of sound, scattering hydrogen bombs along the way. Even the power of the shock wave from its span should have been sufficient to kill people nearby. In addition, there was a small problem of radioactive fallout - the exhaust of the rocket, by itself, contained fission products. An ingenious engineer suggested turning this clear flaw in peacetime into an advantage in the event of war — it had to continue to fly over the Soviet Union after the exhaustion of the ammunition was exhausted (until self-destruction or extinction of the reaction, that is, virtually unlimited time).

Work began on 1 on January 1957 of the Year in Livermore, California. The project immediately faced technological difficulties, which is not surprising. The idea itself was relatively simple: after acceleration, the air itself is sucked into the air intake in front, heated and ejected behind the exhaust jet, which gives traction. However, using a nuclear reactor instead of chemical fuel for heating was fundamentally new and required the development of a compact reactor, not surrounded by hundreds of tons of concrete as usual, and capable of withstanding thousands of miles of targets in the USSR. To control the direction of the flight, steering motors were needed that could operate in a red-hot state and in conditions of high radioactivity. The need for a long flight with an M3 speed at an ultra-low altitude required materials that would not melt or collapse under such conditions (according to calculations, the pressure on the rocket should have been 5 times the pressure on the supersonic X-15).

For acceleration up to the speed at which the ramjet engine will start working, several conventional chemical accelerators were used, which were then undocked, as in space launches. After the launch and departure from populated areas, the rocket had to turn on the nuclear engine and circle the ocean (it was not necessary to worry about fuel), waiting for an order to accelerate to the M3 and flight to the USSR.

Like the modern "Tomahawks", she flew, following the terrain. Due to this and tremendous speed, it had to overcome air defense targets that were inaccessible to existing bombers and even ballistic missiles. The project manager called the rocket "flying crowbar", referring to its simplicity and high strength.

As the efficiency of a ramjet engine grows with temperature, the 500-MW reactor, called the Tory, was designed very hot, with an operating temperature at 2500F (more than 1600C). The Coors Porcelain Company porcelain company was tasked with making 500000 ceramic pencil-like ceramic fuel cells that were able to withstand this temperature and ensure uniform distribution of heat inside the reactor.

For plating the rear of the rocket, where the maximum temperatures were expected, various materials were tried. The design and manufacturing tolerances were so narrow that the cladding plates had a spontaneous combustion temperature of just 150 degrees above the maximum design temperature of the reactor.

The assumptions were many and it became clear the need to test a full-sized reactor on a fixed platform. For this purpose, a special 401 polygon was built on 8 square miles. Since the reactor was supposed to become highly radioactive after start-up, a fully automated railway branch delivered it from the inspection site to the disassembly workshop, where the radioactive reactor was to be remotely disassembled and investigated. Scientists from Livermore watched the process on television from a barn located far from the landfill and equipped, just in case, with a two-week supply of food and water.

Only for the extraction of material for the construction of the disassembly workshop, the thickness of the walls of which ranged from 6 to 8 feet, the US government bought the mine. A million pounds of compressed air (for simulating the flight of a reactor at high speed and launching the RX) was accumulated in special tanks with a total length of 25 miles and pumped by giant compressors that were temporarily taken from the submarine base in Groton, Connecticut. The 5-minute test at full power required a ton of air per second, which was heated to temperature in 1350F (732C) by passing four steel tanks filled with 14 with millions of steel balls that were heated by burning oil. However, not all components of the project were colossal - installing the final measuring instruments inside the reactor during installation had to be done by a miniature secretary, since the technicians did not fit through there.

During the first 4, the main obstacles were gradually overcome. After experiments with different coatings, which were supposed to protect the covers of the electric motors of the rudders from the heat of the exhaust jet, a suitable paint for the exhaust pipe was found by advertising in the Hot Rod magazine. Struts were used during the assembly of the reactor, which then had to evaporate when it was started. A method was developed to measure the temperature of the plates by comparing their color with a calibrated scale.

In the evening of 14 May 1961, the world's first atomic PRD, mounted on a railway platform, turned on. The Tory-IIA prototype worked for only a few seconds and developed only a fraction of the calculated power, but the experiment was recognized as completely successful. Most importantly, it did not catch fire or collapse, as many had feared. Work began immediately on the second prototype, lighter and more powerful. Tory-IIB did not go beyond the drawing board, but three years later Tory-IIC worked 5 minutes at full power in 513 megawatts and provided thrust in 35000 pounds; the radioactivity of the jet was less than expected. Dozens of Air Force officials and generals watched the launch from a safe distance.

They celebrated their success by setting the piano from the women's dormitory of the laboratory to a truck and going to the nearest town, where there was a bar, singing songs. The project manager on the road accompanied the piano.

Later in the laboratory, work began on the fourth prototype, more powerful, lighter and compact enough for a test flight. They even started talking about Tory-III, which will reach four times the speed of sound.

At the same time, the Pentagon began to doubt the project. Since the rocket was supposed to be launched from the territory of the United States and it had to fly through the territory of NATO members for maximum secrecy before the attack began, it was understood that it was no less a threat to the allies than to the USSR. Even before the attack, “Pluto” would stun, cripple and irradiate our friends (the volume of Pluto flying overhead was estimated at 150 dB, for comparison, the volume of the Saturn V rocket, which launched the Apollo to the Moon, was 200 dB at full power). Of course, broken eardrums will seem just a minor inconvenience if you find yourself under a flying rocket that literally bakes chickens in the yard of the farm on the fly.

Although the inhabitants of Livermore rested on the speed and impossibility of intercepting the missile, military analysts began to doubt that such a large, hot, noisy and radioactive weapon may go unnoticed for long. In addition, the new Atlas and Titan ballistic missiles reached the target for hours before the flying reactor at a price of 50 million dollars apiece. The fleet, which was initially going to launch “Pluto” from submarines and ships, also began to lose interest in it after the appearance of the Polaris rocket.

But the last nail in the lid of the coffin of "Pluto" was the simplest question that no one thought about before - where to test a flying nuclear reactor? “How do you convince bosses that a rocket will not get off course and fly through Las Vegas or Los Angeles like a flying Chernobyl?” Asks Jim Hadley, one of the physicists who worked in Livermore. One of the proposed solutions was a long leash, like model aircraft, in the Nevada desert. (“It would have been another leash,” Hadley remarks dryly.) A more realistic proposal was the flight of “eights” around Wake Island, US territory in the Pacific, and the subsequent rocket flooding at a depth of 20000 feet, but by that time radiation was enough feared.

1 July 1964, seven and a half years after the start, the project was closed. The total cost was $ 260 million dollars not yet depreciated at the time. At its peak, 350 people were working on it in the lab and 100 at the 401 test site.


Calculated tactical and technical characteristics: length-26,8 m, diameter-3,05 m, weight-28000 kg, speed: at a height of 300 m-3М, at a height of 9000 m-4,2М, ceiling-10700 m, range: at a height of 300 m - 21300 km, at an altitude of 9000 m - more than 100000 km, warhead - from 14 to 26 thermonuclear warheads.

The rocket had to be launched from a ground-based launcher using solid-fuel boosters, which had to work until the rocket reached a speed sufficient to launch an atomic once-through engine. The design was wingless, with small carinae and small horizontal plumage located according to the duck pattern. The rocket was optimized for low-altitude flight (25-300 m) and was equipped with a terrain following system. After launch, the main flight profile was supposed to take place at an altitude of 10700 m with a speed of 4M. The effective range at high altitude was so long (on the order of 100000 km) that a rocket could perform long patrols before a command was given to interrupt its mission or continue flight to a target. Flying into the enemy’s air defense area, the rocket dropped to 25-300 m and included a system for following the relief. The warhead of the missile was to be equipped with thermonuclear warheads in the amount of 14 to 26 and shoot them vertically up when flying over the set targets. Along with warheads, the missile itself was a formidable weapon. When flying with a speed of 3M at an altitude of 25 m, the strongest sound strike can cause great damage. In addition, atomic send leaves a strong radioactive trace on the territory of the enemy. Finally, when the warheads were consumed, the rocket itself could crash into the target and leave a powerful radioactive contamination from the broken reactor.

The first flight was to take place in the 1967 year. But by 1964, the project began to raise serious doubts. In addition, there were ICBMs that could more effectively accomplish the task.
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