Nuclear Powered Flight and its Practicality

  • Thursday, May 12, 2011
  • Archimedes
  • Labels: , , , , ,
  • Ever since the world entered the atomic age predictions were made that one day just about everything would become nuclear powered. Today, the world sees wonders such as nuclear powered aircraft carriers and many other naval engineering marvels.

    Despite all that, there has yet to be any sort of nuclear powered devices on land, and for good reasons. Any military vehicle to be powered by nuclear power will require huge amounts of shielding and armor around the reactor to make a possible tank capable to withstanding damage. The raw power of a nuclear reactor could not be directed for offensive purposes unless such a vehicle carries a large arsenal of conventional or a very bulky directed energy weapon. And at the end of all this, the speed of such a thing is limited due to the huge amount of weight it has to carry, making it out of place in a modern battlefield where speed is key. For civilian uses, conventional power is simply much cheaper and much more reliable, not to mention much more safe. The thought of a literal thermonuclear train wreck alone should discourage the use of nuclear power on land for transport.

    But in the skies, I believe, lies a different future for the fruits of the Manhattan Project.

    Say we built the smallest safe reactor the modern world could build, and around it built a engine which takes magnetized or electrically charged conventional fuel pellets, accelerated them into the combustion chamber of a normal ramjet engine, and pressurized even further the combustion chamber itself with intense magnetic fields powered by a small nuclear reactor. Such a hybrid jet engine, even if it can only provide the thrust of a normal rocket motor, would use up much less fuel compared to a liquid fueled rocket and would be able to lift a relatively large fixed wing aircraft and accelerate it to immense speed.

    At this point, assuming such a device is capable of flight, one could argue that all we have created is a very large and bulky target practice drone which can be seen by even the most primitive of radar, and shot down by even more primitive weapons. Even if we stealth-coated such a beast, which would no doubt be several times larger than most aircraft due to the sheer bulk of a nuclear reactor, this aircraft would not be maneuverable enough even for commercial use as a cargo plane, assuming it is even capable of taking on cargo.

    Well, once such an aircraft gets off the ground, I would like to remind everyone that there is no speed limit in the skies. Using the same electromagnet-boosted engines we continue to accelerate the aircraft past the efficient speeds of conventional aircraft, and eventually reach a speed where the plane is constantly falling towards the horizon, or extreme low earth orbit. At this point, the engines can be shut off, and the plane is essentially invulnerable from surface threats as it would be moving so fast relative to the ground that no weapons system could react to it. From this immense speed, one could observe, command, and even fire ordnance onto virtually the entire globe without fear of retaliation.


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