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Thunder downunder?

20 January 2010

NZ is a peaceful country with no aspirations of engaging in war or conflict.

Okay, so our SAS troops seem to have been active in recent combat actions in Afghanistan but by and large, we steer clear of picking fights or placing our countrymen in battlezones, unless at the request of our allies.

We also seem to have a strong aversion to building the weapons of war.

Unlike many other small countries, we have no arms industry to speak of and attempts to start one seem to be swatted down whenever they appear.

I'm not going to mention the LCCM again -- but I did spy something in today's newswires that showed we might just be positioned to take a lead in one small area.

Apparently, Israel is working on a kind of sonic cannon that can be used to deter and even temporarily disable anyone it's used against.

The really cool thing is that it's based on pulsejet technology!

By exploding a mixture of LPG and oxygen in a long tube with some simple internal structures, a very powerful supersonic shockwave is created. If you're within the range of the "Thunder Generator" as it's called, these waves can render you senseless.

Now, while such a device has obvious use on the battlefield, its primary application is more likely to be related to riot control in civil situations.

Having built and stood in close proximity to some of the largest pulsejet engines currently in existence I can verify that even the pressure waves from a decent pulsejet (as opposed to the much stronger shock waves from a pulse-detonation engine) can really knock you around.

Standing even 10 metres behind the large pulsejets used on the twin-engined dragster we built a few years back was like being attacked by a rugby team wielding heavy pillows.

The engine we built for our UAV was even worse -- producing an effect somewhat akin to being whacked on the skull with a ball-peen hammer and causing your limbs to tingle with pins and needles at distances of up to 20 metres.

What's more, no amount of hearing protection would reduce the noise to a comfortable level, since the impact of the sound waves on your skull was transmitted directly to your inner ear.

It's very easy to see how a sonic cannon could be a very effective non-lethal weapon in a theatre of war or civil unrest -- and the key term there is "non-lethal".

Perhaps the design and construction of similar devices might be a cool way for NZ to establish a foothold in a new market. It would sure be tempting to build a sonic cannon, even if just to show that it could be done right here in Godzone.

We may even end up with our own applications for such a device. Apparently in some parts of the world, these sonic cannons have been used to dislodge pests and vermin from trees and to discourage them from inhabiting sensitive areas.

Here in NZ we already use LPG cannons to protect certain crops (grapes, fruit etc) but it should be remembered that these simple deflagration devices are several orders of magnitude less powerful than a detonation-based device.

The one thing I like most about technology is that, just when you think we've run out of applications for something -- a new one pops up!

I've even found examples of folks trying to use shockwaves to create rain in parched areas by forcing clouds to release their valuable payload as they pass overhead.

About the only downside of the "Thunder Generator" is that it releases evil baby-killing CO2 as a byproduct of the combustion process. Now, if only they could add a carbon-sequestering add-on it might even get the approving nod of the greenies.

I'm sure all the sandal-wearing tree-huggers would much rather be slapped with shockwave or two than a rubber-bullet while protesting in the streets.

Is it time for some "Kiwi Thunder" perhaps?

I wonder if I should organise a display of "pulsejet power" for Aardvark readers at some time in the near future. All those interested could drop in to Tokoroa and experience the interesting effects that powerful sound waves can have on the human body -- first hand.

Perhaps we could have a BBQ and a beer at the same time -- yet another use for the humble pulsejet. Mount your live chicken 30cm from the rear of the engine. Light blue touch paper and stand well clear. The "Pulso-Barbimatic" will stun, kill, pluck, gut and cook your chook in just 20 seconds :-)

Related story: Israelis develop Nazi-doodlebug sonic deathwave cannon

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