That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items

Imagine looking out your window to see an eerie green glow resonating from your neighbor’s shed. Or seeing government trucks being loaded with barrels marked radioactive by men dressed in hazmat suits outside your home.


The residents of Golf Manor, Michigan, don’t have to imagine it, because in 1995, a young teenage boy built a nuclear breeder reactor in his mother’s potting shed, an idea he came up with while working on his Atomic Energy merit badge in attempt to earn Eagle Scout status.

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items
Offering an Atomic Energy badge seems like a bad idea.

It wasn’t until David was interviewed for an article in Harper’s Magazine that the entire story was told. Even investigators from various federal agencies were shocked to find out some of the details.

At an age when most adolescents are consumed with sports, friends, or dating, Hahn spent his free time conducting chemical experiments. Much to the chagrin of his parents, he had several chemical spills and even created an explosion that rocked their tiny house and left David “lying semi-conscious on the floor, his eyebrows smoking.”

Even his scout troop was not immune to his scientific curiosity. David once appeared at a scout meeting, “with a bright orange face caused by an overdose of canthaxanthin, which he was taking to test methods of artificial tanning.” Then there was the night at camp where his fellow scouts accidentally ignited a pile of powdered magnesium he had brought to make fireworks.

There’s no question that David was increasingly bold in his attempts to learn more about the chemical compounds of our world, but even with the goal in mind to build a nuclear breeder reactor, you have to wonder how he obtained the radioactive elements.

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items

David worked a series of jobs at fast-food joints and grocery stores after school to finance his experiments. He admitted to Harper’s that he used several aliases and a string of mail communications with individuals working for agencies that control nuclear elements. None were as helpful as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where David was able to engage the agency’s director, Donald Erb.

Erb provided David with a list of contacts who provide commercial sale of some elements and how to harvest others. David broke apart smoke detectors to obtain americium-241, commercial gas lanterns provided him thorium-232, and with the help of a Geiger counter, he found an antique luminous clock that contained a vial of radium paint used to keep the clock face glowing. He even purchased $1000 worth of batteries to extract the lithium.

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items

After several attempts to create energy, David was finally successful but he soon learned that his small reactor was producing so much radiation that it was spreading through his neighborhood. Unfortunately, his safety precautions only consisted of wearing a makeshift lead poncho and throwing away his clothes and shoes following a session in the potting shed. So he took apart the reactor.

Stashing some of the more radioactive elements in his house and the rest in his car, he was later found by the police after a call was made about a young man trying to steal tires. The police opened his trunk to find an array of scientific materials and a tool box locked with a padlock and sealed with duct tape. The police were rightly concerned about the box, and after David advised that it was radioactive, they were worried he had a nuclear bomb.

While being questioned by the police, David’s parents became afraid that they would lose their house, so they ransacked his room and his “laboratory” and tossed everything they could find. This left the authorities with nothing but what was in the car.

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items
Looks like he got that atomic energy badge (top left).

“The funny thing is, they only got the garbage, and the garbage got all the good stuff,” Hahn told Harper’s.

David never went back to his experiments and later served four years in the U.S. Navy – including service aboard the USS Enterprise, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. He also briefly served in the Marine Corps before returning home to Michigan. In 2016, David died from alcohol poisoning – not from exposure to radiation.

Though David Hahn is gone, the small town of Golf Manor will never forget their “Radioactive Boy.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Norway prepares for upcoming climate war

As the U.S. maps out plans to protect American military bases susceptible to climate change, its partner nations are growing increasingly concerned that global warming may lead to weapons and technology proliferation as now-frozen waterways open.

Norwegian officials worry that melting Arctic ice will lead players such as Russia, China, and the U.S. to increase use of undersea and aerial unmanned weapons as well as intelligence gathering platforms in the newly opened areas.

The drones could be programmed to “follow strategic assets,” including Norwegian or ally submarines, a top Norwegian Ministry of Defense official said in early May 2019.

He added that the presence of such drones may increase the potential for collisions.

“I don’t think all these unmanned things work perfectly at all times,” he said.


Military.com spoke with officials here as part of a fact-finding trip organized by the Atlantic Council, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, through a partnership with the Norwegian Ministry of Defense. The group traveled to Oslo, Bergen, and Stavanger to speak with organizations and government operations officials May 6-10, 2019. Some officials provided remarks on background in order to speak freely on various subjects.

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items

The Norwegian ULA class submarine Utstein.

(U.S. Navy photo)

The official’s concern is not unfounded. Norway’s military has reportedly spotted unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) surfing alongside Russian submarines in the Barents Sea. Russia is also funding research into aerial UAVs that can operate longer in the cold climate, according to a recent report from TASS.

And during the U.S.-led exercise Trident Juncture in 2018 — the largest iteration of the drill since 1991 — troops observed multiple drones flying nearby, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Roughly 50,000 U.S. and NATO forces participated in the three-week exercise. It spanned central and eastern Norway, as well parts of the North Atlantic and Baltic Sea, including Iceland and the airspace of Finland and Sweden, NATO said at the time.

Officials could not confidently say the observing drones belonged to Russia, but noted the increased risk posed by the flights.

While Russia and Norway’s coast guards deconflict on a near daily basis, Norway’s MoD has not held top-level talks with its Russian counterparts since 2013, officials said. Norwegian military officials instead call up their Russian peers on a Skype line they keep open, checking in weekly.

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items

Russian Coast Guard.

(United States Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Jonathan R. Cilley)

Russia has been clear about its push for additional drone operations in the Arctic circle.

“There has to be some sort of deconfliction in order to avoid collisions,” said Svein Efjestad, policy director for security and policy operations at Norway’s Ministry of Defense. “If you use UAVs also to inspect exercises and weapons testing and so on, it could become very sensitive.”

Complicating things further, China, which considers itself a “near Arctic state” is planning to create new shipping lanes with its “Polar Silk Road” initiative. Officials expect that process with include drones to surveil the operation.

Commercial drones also compound the congestion issue. For example, Equinor, Norway’s largest energy company, is partnering with Oceaneering International to create drones able to dock at any of the company’s offshore oil drilling facilities to conduct maintenance. The smart sea robot will be controlled from a central hub at Equinor’s home facilities, a company official told Military.com.

Another MoD official highlighted further risk, worrying that “smart drones” could be manipulated in favor of an adversary.

“What if [the drone] can collect data, but [put that data out there] out of context?” the official said, citing spoofing concerns. “The risk is getting higher.”

Norwegian officials plan to pursue regulatory changes to help avoid “nasty reactions” due to the growing congestion of drone operators in the region.

Because as the ice melts, the Arctic “will be an ocean like any other,” the MoD official said.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A brave Titanic officer somehow survived to rescue troops from Dunkirk

On Apr. 15, 1912, Charles Lightoller was the second officer aboard the ill-fated Titanic. After helping as many passengers and crew as he could into lifeboats, he refused an order to escape on one of the final boats to make it off the ship. As Titanic’s bridge began to sink, he attempted to dive into the water and to the safety of one of the crew’s collapsible boats.

Except the Titanic sucked him down with her.


That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items

Two lifeboats carry Titanic survivors toward safety. April 15, 1912

(NARA)

Lightoller was no landsman. He had been at sea for decades and, as a result, he’d seen and heard everything. Titanic wasn’t even his first shipwreck, but it was the first time a sinking ship tried to take the officer down with it. As a grating pulled him to the bottom, the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean finally reached the ship’s hot boilers, and they exploded. The force propelled Lightoller to the surface and to the safety of his fellow crew’s boat.

He was the last Titanic survivor rescued by the RMS Carpathia the next day. He was also the most senior officer to survive the shipwreck. Later, during World War I, Lt. Lightoller would take command of many ships in the Royal Navy, leaving the service at the war’s end. By the time World War II rolled around, Lightoller was just a civilian raising chickens. His seaborne days confined to a personal yacht.

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items

The Titanic’s officers. Lightoller is in the back row, second from the left.

While he did survey the German coast in 1939 for the Royal Navy while disguised as an elderly couple on vacation, his fighting days were long gone. But the very next year, the British Army in France was on the brink of ruin, as 400,000 Allied troops were stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk. The Royal Navy could not reach them, and they were slowly being annihilated by the Nazi forces that surrounded them. Operation Dynamo was on.

The Royal Navy ordered Lightoller to take his ship to Ramsgate, where a Navy crew would take control and ship off to Dunkirk to rescue as many Tommies as possible. But Lightoller wasn’t having it. He would take his ship to Dunkirk himself. The 66-year-old and his son departed for France as soon as they could in a 52×12-foot ship with a carrying capacity of 21.

The Lightollers picked up 130 British soldiers.

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 dumb things Marines would do in the Space Force

Marines never change. We’re simple creatures. Whether it’s in the air, on the land, at sea, or in the outer reaches of space, we’re going to find a way to restrict everyone’s liberty by doing what we do best: getting drunk and fighting things.

Any place we go, you’ll know we were there. Not just because of the trail of destruction and bodies we leave in our wake, but because we’ve found a way to distinguish ourselves by looking and acting like the most primitive humans to ever exist in the modern era.

This type of thing will not change in space, no matter how far we go. Here are a few things that Marines will still do, even if we’re in the Andromeda system:


1. Get married to an alien stripper in their first month

Once we establish colonies on other planets, you know there will be tons of alien strip clubs and tattoo parlors set up just outside the gates of any military installation — and you know where they’ll get their business? The Space Force Marines. One of the FNGs is bound to fall in love with an alien stripper and marry it within a month of arriving on station.

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items

It’ll become a competition to see who can hit someone on a planet’s surface from orbit.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

2. Throw space rocks at each other

When Marines get bored of waiting, they end up finding rocks to throw at each other. No, I’m not kidding. This is a popular pastime among Marines.

This won’t change, even if they’re in space. If anything, the lowered gravity will only make this more enjoyable.

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items

We might even try to eat it.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

3. Find dangerous alien creatures to interact with

If you’ve ever been in a desert with Marines, then you know we’ve got some uncanny ability to find rattlesnakes and scorpions to play with. Here’s what would happen in the Space Force: Marines arrive on a new planet and find some kind of acid-spitting alien creature and decide it would be a good idea to pick it up and keep it as a pet.

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items

Pro-tip: Don’t touch anything you aren’t familiar with.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

4. Eat strange, alien plants

There’s always that one Southern guy in your platoon who, while in a jungle, will just rip moss off trees and drink the water from it — or they’ll see some leafy plant and chew on it when they run out of tobacco.

Chances are, they’ll do the same on some distant planet.

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items

The Mars rover already did it, but it lacked a human touch.

(NASA/JPL/Cornell)

5. Draw penises on everything

Marines have this weird obsession. If you’ve ever seen the inside of an on-base porta-john, then you know what I’m talking about.

The Navy recently had an incident where a pilot drew a penis in the sky using contrails, which means Marines must to find a way to top that somehow.

MIGHTY CULTURE

First Marines to get new women’s uniform graduate boot camp

For nearly four years, Marine Corps Systems Command has been working on a new dress blues coat for women that more closely resembled the coat worn by male Marines. The Corps wanted a more unified look between the two uniforms. On Nov. 16, 2018, the first class of female Marines graduated from boot camp on Parris Island wearing the new coat.


“I was honored to be a part of history and stand out on the renowned parade deck to witness the newest Marines who will enter into the operating forces,” said Marine Corps Systems Command Sgt. Maj. Robin Fortner said. Fortner served as the parade reviewing official. “All the Marines looked sharp. The uniform represents the United States Marine Corps and its proud, rich legacy, which was exemplified by the Marines.”

The most obvious difference for the new women’s uniform is that the standing collar now matches the men’s dress blues coat, instead of using the old standard lapel.

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items

The old women’s dress blues coat next to the classic men’s dress blues.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Photo by Sgt. Mallory Vanderschans)

Other improvements include a white belt and a seam in the upper-torso area to allow for Marines to more easily alter the coat to better fit their body types. It is also longer, an addition that gives it balance with the uniform trouser but also allows the wearer greater mobility and range of motion.

The reason the changes took so long to design and then enact is the attention to detail paid to making the improvements. The approved changes in the jacket worn by Marines with November Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion (the class who graduated on Nov. 16) is actually the third and final attempt at improving women’s dress blues.

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items

Drill Instructors and Marines with November Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion march towards the Peatross Parade Deck before their graduation ceremony Nov. 16, 2018 at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C.

(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. Yamil Casarreal)

Researchers interviewed female Marines from I and II Marine Expeditionary Forces along with surveys conducted with Marines in the National Capital Region, Parris Island, Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point, Yuma, and the entire west coast. An additional 3,000 women filled in the information online as well.

The coat is now available for sale at the Marine Corps Exchange.

In the Marine Corps, traditions don’t change fast, if at all. But female Marines who modeled the coat during its trial phase tell current Marines to give the coat a try before forming an opinion about it – they might be pleasantly surprised when they look in the mirror.

Before I joined the service, my first impression was the iconic male uniform coat I saw on commercials,” said Sgt. Lucy Schroder who traveled with the designer to model the uniforms and answer questions from fellow Marines. “When I got to boot camp and they gave me my coat, I was confused because it looked different than what I expected. The more we progress in time, the more female Marines are having a voice and opinions on how they want to look, which will hopefully draw the attention of future recruits.
MIGHTY TRENDING

How NATO will counter increased Russian sub activity

Units from the USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike group returned home to Norfolk, Virginia, in July 2018, only three months after deploying.

The Truman’s time at sea was only about half as long as typical deployments, and the early return reflects the Pentagon’s shift toward “dynamic force employment,” a concept touted by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis as a way to make the military more responsive to emerging threats.


“The National Defense Strategy directs us to be operationally unpredictable while remaining strategically predictable,” US Navy Fleet Forces Commander Adm. Christopher Grady said a release announcing the return to port, which he said was “a direct reflection of the dynamic force employment concept and the inherent maneuverability and flexibility of the US Navy.”

Grady said the carrier group “had an incredibly successful three months in the US 6th Fleet area of responsibility,” an area that stretches from pole to pole between the mid-Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items

The Russian Yasen-class nuclear attack submarine Severodvinsk

However, the Truman and its accompanying vessels finished their time at sea much closer to home — in the western Atlantic closer to Canada than to Europe, according to USNI News.

That area falls under the responsibility of Fleet Forces Command but will soon become the remit of the US Second Fleet, which was reestablished in early 2018 amid growing concern about Russian naval activity in and around the Atlantic Ocean.

The cruiser Normandy and destroyers Forrest Sherman and Arleigh Burke are set to return to Norfolk in July 2018, while the destroyers Bulkeley and Farragut remain at sea, a Navy official told The Virginian-Pilot. An official with Fleet Forces Command did not return a request seeking details about what operations these ships have been performing. But anti-submarine operations have become a bigger priority for the US and its allies.

The Truman’s anti-submarine capabilities are limited to the helicopters it carries, but the strike group did deploy in early 2018 with more destroyers than usual.

Those ships are outfitted with sophisticated anti-submarine-warfare assets that aren’t typically used in the Atlantic, Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and a former submariner, told USNI News in June 2018. Operating in the Atlantic would give carrier strike groups opportunities to carry out high-end exercises with partner forces, he said.

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items

An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter from the “Dragon Slayers” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 11 alongside the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Scott Swofford)

The North Atlantic become an area of renewed focus for NATO in recent years. Alliance officials have said Russian submarine activity in the area is at levels not seen since the Cold War (though intelligence reports from the era suggest that activity is far from Cold War peaks).

Russia’s submarine fleet is is not nearly as big as its Cold War predecessor, but the subs Moscow has added and is working on are more advanced. (NATO navies, too, are smaller than they were during the Cold War.)

“The Russians are closing the gap,” Magnus Nordenman, director of the Transatlantic Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said in early 2018. “And they have departed from their traditional sort of approach — with lots of mass and lots of submarines but of sort of varying quality — and they are taking a page from our playbook, which is go for quality instead.”

The US and its allies have put more energy and resources into anti-submarine warfare. That includes a new focus on the Cold War maritime surveillance network that covered the sea between Greenland, Iceland, and the UK — known as the GIUK Gap. The US Navy has spent several million dollars refurbishing Naval Air Station Keflavik in Iceland to handle the advanced P-8A Poseidon patrol aircraft, though the Navy has said those upgrades don’t necessarily mean a permanent presence will be reestablished there.

Nevertheless, focusing on the GIUK Gap may fall short of the challenge NATO now faces.

For much of the Cold War, the Soviet navy lacked land-attack cruise missiles and would have had to leave its “bastion” in the Barents Sea in order to engage NATO forces, which made the GIUK Gap an important choke point at that time, according to Steven Wills, a military historian and former US Navy surface-warfare officer.

But with the development of sub-launched missiles — especially the modern Kaliber cruise missile — “Today’s Russian Navy can remain within its Barents bastion and still launch accurate attacks against ships in the Norwegian Sea and NATO land targets without leaving these protected waters,” Wills argues in an article for the Center for International Maritime Security, a professional military journal focused on naval strategy.

NATO should adopt a deterrent posture like that of the Cold War, Wills says, “but the locus of the action is much further north than Iceland.”

NATO’s decision to reestablish an Atlantic Command, to be based in Norfolk, is a welcome one, Wills writes, but that headquarters should focus on air and port facilities around the Norwegian and Greenland seas, even forward-deploying to oversee activity there. Surface vessels may need to partner with unmanned assets to cover a greater area as sea ice recedes.

Russia’s Northern Fleet is based on the Kola Peninsula on the Barents Sea, and a more active NATO naval presence in the area would almost certainly draw protests from Moscow, which has accused the alliance of trying to box in it and its allies in Europe. But a presence in the northern seas is necessary, according to Wills.

“The real ‘Gap’ where NATO must focus its deterrent action is the Greenland, Svalbard, North Cape line at the northern limit of the Norwegian and and Greenland Seas,” he writes. “It is again time to consider deterrent action and potential naval warfare in the ‘High North.'”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

The 7 weirdest nuclear weapons ever developed

Nuclear weapons are in their own class, completely separate from every other kind of weapon in the arsenal. But, not all nuclear weapons are created equal. Here are the weirdest ones that saw service in the U.S. military.


1. Jeep-mounted recoilless rifle: the Davy-Crockett (1956)

The Davy Crockett had a 10 or 20-ton yield, depending on the type. There were two launchers for the Crockett, one of which would be mounted on Jeeps. Crocketts would be deployed with mortar platoons who would aim the weapons into Soviet troop and tank concentrations, poisoning the Russians with extreme levels of radiation within a quarter-mile radius of the point of impact.

2. Air-to-Air Missiles: AIR-2 Genie (1957) and AIM-26 Falcon (1961)

Before effective surface-to-air missiles or guided air-to-air missiles, America was looking for a way to shoot down large formations of enemy planes.

One idea was to fire an unguided air-to-air nuclear missile. Enter the AIR-2 Genie. Fielded in 1957, it was capable of being fired from an American fighter and the 1.5-kiloton blast was lethal to 300 meters. To prove to the American public that the missile could be safely detonated over American cities, a single Genie missile was detonated as five Air Force officers stood below it.

Four years later, a guided missile entered service. The AIM-26 was capable of a 250-ton nuclear explosion and chased its target using semi-active radar.

3. Nuclear torpedo: Mark 45 anti-submarine torpedo (1963)

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items
Photo: Cliff, Wikimedia Commons

Designed to kill enemy subs, the Mark 45 was guided by wire. Triggering the 11-kiloton detonation required a command from the firing sub. The nearly 19-foot torpedo had a range of 5 to 8 miles.

4. Rockets: UUM-44 SUBROC (1963)

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The UUM-44 was a submarine-launched rocket that would exit a sub, ignite its rocket engine, leave the water and fly to a predetermined point. There, the rocket would separate and the warhead would fall into the water as a depth charge, detonating at a programmed depth and killing enemy subs. With its 5-kiloton nuclear warhead, the SUBROC wasn’t really worried with direct hits.

5. Land mine: atomic demolition munitions (1964)

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items
Photo: DoD

Though commonly referred to as nuclear land mines, ADMs were really designed as area denial weapons where the bombs would be detonated ahead of advancing troops, triggering rockslides and poisoning the environment. Special versions could also be dropped behind enemy lines with two-man teams who would use the bombs to destroy ports, power plants, or communications hubs. Since they could be remotely detonated, the ADMs could be used as mines as long as a human stayed within the remote’s range and waited for the advancing enemy. They had a nuclear yield between .5 and 15 kilotons.

6. Artillery: M65 Atomic Cannon (1953) and M198 (1963)

There were a variety of nuclear artillery shells in the U.S. arsenal (China, India, and Pakistan still have them), most of them arrived in the field between 1953 and 1963. Initial models were like the M65 in the video, large-caliber rounds with large warheads delivering 15-20 kilotons of boom. The nuclear punch got smaller as smaller rounds were developed, ending with a 155mm round that delivered 72-ton yield.

7. Cryogenically-cooled bombs: Mark 16 (1954)

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Mark 16 only served in an emergency capacity from January 1954 to April 1954. Based on the designs of the first thermonuclear bomb ever fired, the Ivy Mike, the bombs contained deuterium that had to be constantly cooled to below -238 Fahrenheit. They delivered 6-8 megatons (a megaton is 1,000 kilotons) of destruction, but were rendered obsolete by the successful testing of solid fuel thermonuclear bombs that didn’t require cooling.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

Great Falls Nike Fire Control Site W-83 played a critical role in the creation of GPS

During the Cold War’s arms buildup, there were 13 Nike Missile sites erected around the greater Washington D.C. and Baltimore areas. Project Nike was a U.S. Army project proposed in 1945 by Bell Laboratories to develop a line-of-sight anti-aircraft missile system. The project created America’s first operational anti-aircraft missile system, the Nike Ajax. Here’s how the Great Falls Nike Fire Control Site W-83 played a critical role in the creation of GPS.

The first successful Nike test happened in November 1951 when a Nike Ajax intercepted a drone B-17 Flying Fortress. The Army initially ordered 1,000 missiles and 60 sets of equipment. By 1953, the first missile had been deployed to Fort Meade, Maryland. By 162, the DoD had built up an additional 240 launch sites across the country. Most of the missiles replaced radar-guided anti-aircraft guns. 

Each of the 13 launch sites located around Washington D.C. included three parts, separated by about 900 meters. One part contained the Integrated Fire Control radar systems used to detect incoming targets. The second part held one to three underground missile magazines that could service four launch assemblies. This site had a crew of 109 officers who operated 24 hours a day. The third part of the site was an administrative area and contained a battery headquarters, barracks, DFAC, motor pool, and rec area. 

Nike sites were organized in defensive positions and placed near large population centers as well as strategic locations that might come under attack, like long-range bomber bases, nuclear plants, and ICBM sites. 

The Great Falls Nike Fire Control site was built in 1954 after being purchased from a dairy farmer. It was activated just a year later, all in an attempt to ensure that the national capital region could be properly defended against air attacks. The 13 sites included everything the military might need to wage war. Integrated Fire Control Sites were located downrange from launch areas, and the majority of the sites all operated first-generation Nike Ajax missiles.

Ajax missiles are massive and weigh around 2,400 pounds. They’re 34 feet long and have a range of 25 miles. After being fired, they can reach a max speed of Mach 2.3. 

Military fears about defending the metro-DC area quickly faded. By 1962, the Great Falls Nike Missile Launch Site and the Integrated Fire Control Site ceased operations. Then it became a research station for the Army’s Map Services. Research focused on geo-location and navigation developments, and it was at the Great Falls site that the Map Service initiated a satellite tracking program that would eventually become part of the Defense Mapping Agency. 

This tracking system is the foundation of what we now know as GPS. The data that the Mapping Agency collected allowed geospatial scientists to establish geographical reference points on the Earth’s surface. This knowledge allowed the researchers to refine their estimates of the true shape of the planet as well as develop a better understanding of the variations in the gravitational field.

In the years following the deactivation, the launch site’s buildings and other structures were left to rot. Weaponry and other harmful elements were removed, but the government didn’t tear down any of the surrounding buildings. As suburban development reached out of urban D.C. in the late 1970s and early 1980s, many of the launch building sites were finally torn down. Missile magazine hatches were buried where contractors found them. One of the missile launch sites was overtaken by the Fairfax County Park Authority and transformed into the Great Falls Nike Park, complete with a tennis court and two baseball fields created right on top of the missile magazine hatches. IN 1980, Forestville Elementary School was built on top of the launch site’s barracks.

Between 2000 and 2002, all the remaining structures were finally torn down, with the exception of two radar towers. The southern tower was repurposed as an observatory. In 2010, the dome was replaced with a newer and stronger telescope. Now, there’s a roll-top observatory building located next to the telescope, and both sites are utilized by local schools. Now, all that’s left to mark the spot is a radar dome. 

Nike missile sites might be all gone, but the technology continues to live on. Many of the rocket systems used to develop the Ajax were later reused for many aeronautical functions. The missile’s first-stage solid rocket booster became the basis for several types of rockets, including the Nike Hercules missile and NASA’s Nike Smoke rocket, which has been used for upper atmosphere research. 

MIGHTY TRENDING

Poland willing to pay for U.S. deterrent to Russia

As military personnel paraded through Warsaw on foot, horseback, and armored vehicles on Aug. 15, 2018, Polish President Andrzej Duda reiterated his country’s call for a permanent US military presence on its soil — a presence that the Eastern European country has said it’s willing to pay $2 billion to get.

A permanent US Army presence would “deter every potential aggressor,” Duda said, it what was almost certainly a reference to Russia, whose recent assertive moves in Europe — particularly the 2014 annexation of Crimea and incursion in Ukraine — have prompted NATO members to increase their activity along the alliance’s eastern flank.


Duda’s remarks came during Poland’s Armed Forces Day holiday. The Aug. 15, 2018 holiday commemorates Poland’s defeat of Soviet forces in 1920 during the Polish-Soviet War — a victory known as the “Miracle on the Vistula.”

2018’s celebration was larger and more vibrant than usual because it marks the centenary of the country regaining its independence after a 123-year period during which it was divided among Russia, Prussia, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

“We won. Yes, we won. We Poles won,” Duda said. “Today we look with pride at those times.”

That time a Boy Scout built a nuclear reactor out of common household items

Armed Forces Day 2008.

His comments also came a few months after Poland’s defense minister, Mariusz Blaszczak, said he had discussed establishing that permanent presence with US officials.

Blaszczak said the US Senate had contacted the Defense Department about the matter. Local media reported at the time that Poland was willing to spend up to billion to finance a permanent deployment.

The US has yet to respond to the request. Such a deployment would be costly and would almost certainly anger Moscow, which has sharply criticized NATO’s recent deployments and military exercises in Eastern Europe.

Poland has lobbied NATO for a permanent military deployment in the past. In 2015, a US diplomat said the alliance would not set up permanent military facilities in the country. At the time, the diplomat said the US would maintain a “permanent rotating presence” of US military personnel in the country.

Since 2016, NATO has deployed multinational battlegroups of roughly 4,500 troops each to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The battlegroup stationed in Poland is led by the US and includes personnel from the UK, Romania, and Croatia.

US forces and troops from other NATO members have carried out a variety of exercises in Eastern Europe in recent months, as the alliance works to deter Russian aggression. Those exercises have focused on established capabilities that had fallen out of use after the Cold War — like maneuvering and interoperability between units — as well as new practices to fend off Russian tactics, like cyberattacks and hacking.

President Donald Trump has also goaded NATO members to increase their defense expenditures more rapidly, believing they unfairly allow the US to shoulder the bulk of that expense. Members of the alliance have boosted their spending (though some have done so with the aim of reducing dependence on US arms makers).

Poland has already met the 2%-of-GDP defense-spending level that the NATO allies agreed to work toward by 2024. On Aug. 15, 2018, Duda said he wanted Poland to increase that outlay even more, reaching 2.5% of GDP by 2024.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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4 strange weapons of the Vietnam War

War brings out the very best in technological innovation. Humans have shown themselves to be remarkably adept in devising new, creative ways to kill each other. The Vietnam War brought out this human capacity for creative destruction on a grand scale, even if it manifested itself a little differently on both sides.

The United States was blasting into the Space Age and, with that surge of technology, came chemical defoliants, like Agent Orange and jet aircraft that could break the sound barrier. The Vietnamese expanded their work on tried-and-true effective yet obsolete weapons, like punji stick booby traps. The two sides were worlds apart technologically, but when it came to murderous creativity, the combatants were close peers.


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The XM-2 backpack mounted personnel detector.

1. People sniffers

The United States was desperately seeking a way to detect North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong movement across the DMZ and down the Ho Chi Minh trail, not to mention the bands of NVA and VC that were hiding in the dense jungles of South Vietnam. The U.S. infamously used the chemical defoliant Agent Orange to strip vegetation from entire areas, but it was more effective at giving everyone cancer than it was at outing hidden bands of the enemy.

So, the minds over at General Electric created a mobile cloud chamber that could detect ammonia, a component of human sweat. They called them the XM2 and XM3 personnel detectors, but the troops who used the devices quickly dubbed them “people sniffers.” While troops hated the XM2 backpack versions (and for good reasons, like the noise it made in an ambush area and the fact that it detected their sweat as well as the enemy’s), the XM3 saw widespread use on helicopters.

However, the enemy caught on and began to post buckets of urine around the jungle to create decoys for people sniffers. In the end, the device wasn’t even that great at picking up people, but it did detect recent cooking fires, which retained its usefulness.

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Gross dog poop. …or is it?

2. Poop

It’s fairly well-known by now that the punji stick booby traps used by the Viet Cong during the were sometimes smeared with poop as a means to cause a bacterial infection in the victim. The idea was to try to take as many people and resources from the battlefield as possible: one injured soldier, at least one more to help cart him away, and maybe a helicopter could be lured into an ambush trying to medevac the wounded.

What’s not as well known is the Americans also used poop to their advantage. This is, again, the result of trying to track the movement of men and materiel down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The United States placed sensors along the supposed routes of the Trail but when discovered, these sensors were, of course, destroyed. The U.S. needed to place sensors that wouldn’t be detected or destroyed. The answer was poop – in the form of a poop-shaped radio beacon.

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An X-ray view of that same “poop.”

The Air Force dropped these sensors from the air and they would detect movement along the trail during the night, relaying the signal via radio. Since they looked like disgusting poop, the VC and NVA would often just leave them alone, thus ensuring the Americans would be able to listen along the trail.

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3. “Lazy Dog” Flechettes

Imagine an explosive device filled with thousands of tiny darts or nails. It’s not difficult – many anti-personnel weapons use some kind of shrapnel or fragmentation to wreak havoc on enemy formations. Flechette weapons in the Vietnam War were no different. American helicopters, ground forces, and even bombers would fire missiles and rockets filled with thousands of these darts, launched at high speeds to turn any enemy cluster into swiss cheese.

A unique version of the flechette weapons however, came from B-52 Bombers, who would fly so high as to be pretty much silent to enemy Viet Cong or North Vietnam Army formations on the ground. When dropped from such a high altitude, the darts didn’t need an explosive to propel them, as they fell to Earth, they gained in velocity what they would have had from such an explosion. The result was a deadly blast of thousands of darts that was both invisible and inaudible – until it was too late and death rained from the sky.

Fun fact: When dropped from space, a large enough object could hit the ground with the force of a nuclear weapon.

Now Read: These Air Force ‘rods from god’ could hit with the force of a nuclear bomb

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4. Tactical Tree Crusher

Throughout the war, the Army wrestled with the problem of clearing vegetation to find Vietnamese hiding spots. Since Agent Orange took too long and could be washed away by heavy rains, the U.S. needed another way to clear paths for the troops. In 1968, they leased two vehicles designed for logging companies and sent them off to Southeast Asia. These became tactical tree crushers.

A 60-ton vehicle with multi-bladed logger wheels knocked trees over and chopped the logs as it drove. The U.S. military version would have a .50-cal mounted on the rear for self-defense, as well as a couple of claymores on the sides to keep the VC away from the driver. The vehicle was very effective at clearing trees, but the engine was prone to giving out and the large design made it an easy target for the enemy, so the military version was never made.

MIGHTY TRENDING

In a world of vet-owned coffee, Rakkasan Tea has a mission of its own

Brandon Friedman wants you to know that just because coffee has the reputation of being the military’s beverage of choice, tea isn’t reserved for Brits in silly hats enjoying crumpets. For Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, their wars have centered mostly around having tea. After all, foreign fighters and tribal leaders hold court over tea, not coffee. Friedman thought it was strange that tea isn’t more associated with the military experience. He founded Rakkasan Tea Company with that in mind.

Friedman was commissioned as an Army infantry officer in 2000 and was assigned to the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division — known as the “Rakkasans,” the old Japanese word for “parachute.” By March, 2002, he and his unit were in an air assault into Afghanistan’s Shah-e-Kot Valley as part of Operation Anaconda. In 2003, he was part of the initial invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and eventually became part of the force that held Tal Afar and Mosul.


By 2004, he was out of the Army and taking his career in a different direction. His now-business partner in Rakkasan Tea was then-Pfc. Terrence “TK” Kamauf, whom Friedman met in his unit. Kamauf was a machine gunner then, but stayed in long after Friedman left. Kamauf went on to become a Green Beret and was in another six or seven years. Now, the two import tea together.

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Friedman’s partner in Rakkasan Tea, Terrence “TK” Kamauf (left), in Iraq.

(Courtesy of Brandon Friedman)

But Friedman’s love for the leaf began in Iraq. As many veterans can attest, all business was conducted over tea. It was an introduction to what Friedman calls the “social experience of tea.”

“It’s hard to find that in the U.S. because this is such a coffee country and coffee is really a solitary drink,” He says. “Tea brings people together and we think the U.S. is ready for that. I know we won’t convert everyone, but the veteran community should certainly give tea a serious look.”

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Friedman with his platoon of Rakkasans in Iraq.

But where Rakkasan Tea Company gets its tea is central to its ongoing mission. The company imports solely from post-conflict countries as a way to promote peace and economic development.

“As a veteran-owned and veteran-staffed company, we understand what conflict does to communities,” Friedman says. “And we want to get as many veterans into this business as we can. So, we often describe our mission as being one that helps communities recover from war at home AND abroad.”

Rakkasan Tea comes from places like Nepal, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Laos. With the exception of Sri Lanka, these are difficult to find on American shelves. The tea imported from Laos is significant because it comes from one of the areas most devastated by American bombing during the Vietnam War — more ordnance was dropped on Laos than in the entirety of Europe during World War II.

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One of Rakkasan Tea Company’s Vietnamese tea pickers.

(Courtesy of Brandon Friedman)

The latest effort in Laos centers on small farms in the mountainous Xiengkhouang Province and on the Bolaven Plateau in southern Champasak Province. The teas come from some of the oldest trees in the world and you won’t find this quality at Starbucks or Whole Foods.

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To Friedman, tea is like wine: its character, flavor, and aroma are all greatly influenced by its environment. That might be why he sells tea both by the type of tea and its place of origin.

“Rainfall, altitude, soil content, processing techniques, and more all factor into the taste and quality,” Friedman says. “So when we say we have premium tea grown in Rwanda’s volcanic soil or tea grown on northern Vietnam’s 400-year-old tea trees, that’s of interest to tea enthusiasts. Because it’s really good.”

He wants you to know how good it is and he wants you to be a repeat customer. He obsesses over the returns from his customers. Their feedback really does have an influence on the direction of the company.

“First, I hope we’re living up to the Rakkasan ideal of honor, justice, and commitment,” he says. “But meeting people who enjoy our product is best part of doing this.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here’s why Earth-like planets might be common

A growing body of research indicates that there are likely billion of Earth-like planets that we haven’t yet discovered.

That’s good news for astronomers seeking alien life. Since Earth is our only example of a life-bearing world, scientists try to pinpoint planets like ours when they search for life elsewhere.

That’s what NASA’s Kepler space telescope set out to do. Kepler scanned the skies from 2009 to 2018, and it found over 4,000 planets outside our solar system. A dozen or so of these planets seem like prime real estate for life.

Kepler’s data has produced a growing body of research that indicates there are likely billions more Earth-like planets that we haven’t discovered.

Here’s why scientists are starting to think planets like Earth might be common.


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Nine years’ worth of observations by the Hubble Space Telescope revealed about 10,000 galaxies in one of the deepest, darkest patches of night sky in the universe.

(NASA/ESA/IPAC/Caltech/STScI/Arizona State University)

When astronomers peer across the cosmos for potential outposts of alien life, they look for planets like Earth.

That means a rocky planet that’s roughly the size of Earth. Scientists haven’t exactly defined this size range, since they don’t yet know how big rocky planets can be.

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The habitable zone, or “Goldilocks zone,” around a star is where a planet is neither too hot nor too cold to support liquid water.

(NASA)

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This artist’s concept illustrates the idea that rocky worlds like the inner planets in our solar system may be plentiful, and diverse, in the universe.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt)

A handful of recent discoveries shows that Earths could be common in the universe.

That means alien life could be common, too.

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An illustration of NASA’s Kepler space telescope.

(NASA)

Most of what we know about exoplanets comes from the planet-hunting Kepler space telescope.

Kepler, which first launched in 2009, retired last year after it ran out of fuel. NASA passed the planet-hunting torch to the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which launched in April 2018.

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From the International Space Station, astronaut Scott Kelly took this photo of Earth and the Milky Way. He posted it to Twitter on Aug. 9, 2015.

(NASA/Scott Kelly)

Based on Kepler’s findings, one NASA scientist estimated that our galaxy alone contains 1 billion Earth-like planets.

Astrophysicist Natalie Batalha sent these rough calculations to the Washington Post in 2015. She noted that it was a conservative estimate.

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This artist’s concept of the Milky Way shows the galaxy’s two major arms and two minor arms attached to the ends of a thick central bar.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Since then, further research has indicated that the Milky Way could harbor as many as 10 billion Earths.

In a study published in August, researchers estimated that an Earth-like planet orbits one in every four sun-like stars.

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Jupiter’s Great Red Spot was captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft as it performed a close pass of the gas giant planet on Feb. 12, 2019.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill)

Those researchers didn’t want to rely solely on the planets Kepler found. That telescope’s method is better at detecting large planets (like Jupiter) than small planets (like Earth).

That means that Kepler data probably underestimates the number of Earth-like planets in the cosmos.

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In this composite image provided by NASA, the planet Mercury passes directly between the sun and Earth. This May 9, 2016 transit lasted seven-and-a-half-hours.

(NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Genna Duberstein)

That’s because Kepler used the “transit method.” It watched for tiny dips in a star’s brightness, caused by a planet passing in front of it.

Larger planets obstruct more of their stars’ light, making them easier to detect. Plus, Kepler’s method was biased toward small, dim stars about one third the mass of our sun.

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A multi-frequency all-sky image of the universe’s background radiation.

(ESA/ LFI HFI Consortia)

So Ford’s team built a simulation of a universe like ours and “observed” its stars as Kepler would have.

The simulation gave the scientists a sense of how many exoplanets Kepler would have detected in each hypothetical universe, and which kinds. They then compared that data to what the real Kepler telescope detected in our universe, to estimate the abundance of Earth-sized planets in the habitable zones of sun-like stars.

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This artist’s impression shows an imagined view from nearby one of the three planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star just 40 light-years from Earth.

(SO/M. Kornmesser)

The result: up to 10 billion rocky, Earth-sized planets in the habitable zones of sun-like stars.

“There are significant uncertainties in what range of stars you label ‘sun-like,’ what range of orbital distances you consider to be ‘in the habitable zone,’ what range of planet sizes you consider to be ‘Earth-like,'” Eric Ford, a professor of astrophysics and co-author of the study, told Business Insider in August 2019. “Given those uncertainties, both 5 and 10 billion are reasonable estimates.”

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An illustration of the binary star system Sirius. Sirius A (left) is the brightest star in the night sky of Earth, and it has a small blue companion called Sirius B.

(NASA/ESA/G. Bacon)

Many of those planets could be Earth-like in other ways, too. Last week, a study found that 87% of Earth-like planets in two-star systems should have a stable axis tilt like Earth’s.

“Multiple-star systems are common, and about 50% of stars have binary companion stars,” Gongjie Li, a co-author on the study, said in a press release. “So, this study can be applied to a large number of solar systems.”

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The surface of Mars.

(NASA)

That stable tilt is crucial for life on Earth. The tilt of Mars’s axis changes wildly over tens of thousands of years, creating drastic shifts in global climate that could prevent life from taking hold.

Some scientists think Mars’s changing axial tilt contributed to the disappearance of its atmosphere.

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A star like our sun dies by casting off its outer layers of gas, leaving only the star’s hot core behind.

(NASA/ESA/K. Noll)

In an autopsy of six dead stars, researchers found that the shredded remains of rocky planets contained oxygen and other elements found in rocks on Earth and Mars.

The researchers used telescope data to calculate how much the iron in these rocks had oxidized — the process where iron chemically bonds with oxygen and rusts.

“The fact that we have oceans and all the ingredients necessary for life can be traced back to the planet being oxidized as it is. The rocks control the chemistry,” Edward Young, a co-author on the study, said in a press release. “We have just raised the probability that many rocky planets are like the Earth, and there’s a very large number of rocky planets in the universe.”

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An artist’s representation of Venus with land and water.

(NASA)

Earths might even be common in our own solar system. Venus may have had oceans and a climate like Earth’s for billions of years.

In September 2019, researchers presented the results of five different simulations of the climate history of Venus. In all five scenarios, the planet maintained temperatures between 20 and 50 degrees Celsius for up to 3 billion years.

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NASA’s Galileo spacecraft took this colorized picture of Venus on Feb. 14, 1990, from a distance of almost 1.7 million miles.

(NASA/JPL)

The researchers think that a mysterious catastrophe about 700 millions years ago transformed Venus into the uninhabitable hothouse it is today.

“Something happened on Venus where a huge amount of gas was released into the atmosphere and couldn’t be re-absorbed by the rocks,” Michael Way, a NASA scientist and study co-author, said in a press release.

It could have been magma bubbling up from below Venus’s surface, releasing tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That would have trapped enough heat to reach the broiling surface temperatures that average 462 degrees Fahrenheit today.

“It is possible that the near-global resurfacing event is responsible for its transformation from an Earth-like climate to the hellish hothouse we see today,” Way added.

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On the morning of June 22, 2019, astronauts in the ISS captured the plume of ash and gases rising from the erupting Raikoke Volcano on the Kuril Islands in the North Pacific.

(NASA)

Even that susceptibility to disaster is, in fact, quite Earth-like.

A supervolcano eruption or asteroid impact could one day make our planet uninhabitable. That could be the end of life on this Earth, but the research shows there may be plenty more Earth-like planets to spare.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The man behind the ‘stache: why Mustache March matters to airmen

Basketball season isn’t the only part of March Madness.


In aviation circles, there’s a trend that brings about a bit of madness, too: Mustache March.

If you haven’t heard of Mustache March, it’s all about honoring history’s most famous military fighter pilot, Brig. General Robin Olds. While the former pilot may have passed away in 2007, his boldness and courage are remembered almost as much as his mustache.

So how did this no-nonsense pilot start a revolution of facial hair growth every year?

Read on to learn more about the one and only man behind the ‘stache.

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Who Started Mustache March?

That would be the late, great Brig. General Robin Olds.

During World War II and the Vietnam War, he became a triple ace who scored at least 17 victories.

As a fighter pilot, he got tired of the lack of support and unqualified pilots he received on his watch. Out of protest against the U.S. government, he grew what’s known as a handlebar mustache — a huge violation of Air Force grooming regulations. Word has it Olds called it his “bulletproof mustache.”

Now, in honor of his memory, Airmen participate in the annual tradition of “Mustache March” as a nod to the respected pilot.

Are Mustaches Allowed in the Military?Are Mustaches Allowed in the Military?

Grooming standards vary by branch. You’ll have to check with your commanding officer and consult the grooming standards in your specific branch’s manual in case of an update.

But in general, here are the guidelines:

Air Force – Airmen, in particular, may only have mustaches. Beards are only allowed for medical reasons.

Army – Mustaches are allowed, but may not be bushy. If worn, mustaches must be neatly trimmed.

Navy – Handlebar mustaches, goatees, and beards aren’t permitted. Mustaches are allowed but must be kept neat and closely trimmed.

Marine Corps – Mustache may be neatly trimmed and the individual length of a mustache hair fully extended must not exceed 1/2 inch.

Coast Guard – While in uniform, members must be clean-shaven.

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What are the Specific Air Force Facial Hair Regulations?

So, just what is the Air Force grooming regulation these days? According to the manual as issued by the Secretary of the Air Force, here’s what’s allowed:

3.1.2.2. Mustaches. Male Airmen may have mustaches; however, they will be conservative (moderate, being within reasonable limits; not excessive or extreme) and will not extend downward beyond the lip line of the upper lip or extend sideways beyond a vertical line drawn upward from both corners of the mouth.

This grooming rule allows Airmen to grow military mustaches — even if they don’t normally sport facial hair — for display during Mustache March.

But most Airmen understand they probably won’t get away with a mustache as bushy and impressive as the original Olds.

Honor the Triple Ace with an Impressive Military Mustache

Sorry, Air Force wives. During March, you’ll have to deal with the scratchiness of your own Airman’s ‘stache as he grows it out.

Luckily, March only has 31 days, so you won’t have to endure the unsightly military mustache for too long. If anything, it’s a month full of good-hearted teasing and some ridiculous captured photos to share for years to come.

Teasing aside, it’s also a great opportunity for building camaraderie among service members and their families who get to be a part of the military force that rules the skies.

Cheers to growing those impressive Mustache March ‘staches that would make the Brigadier General proud!

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

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