Nuclear Aircraft Carrier

Nuclear aircraft carriers are enormous ships capable of traveling the world indefinitely. Indeed, the ships feature relatively large flight-decks capable of launching and landing fixed-wing aircraft, typically fighters.

At 1,123 ft. (342 m.) the USS Enterprise is an enormous ship. In contrast, only oil supertankers are larger.

The Enterprise supported 4,600 service members. First launched Sept. 24, 1960, Enterprise remained in service until December 1, 2012. The ship featured eight nuclear reactors. However, future US carriers, and most other countries, never built more than two reactors per ship. The ship cost $451 million USD (about $4 billion in 2019 dollars).

The Enterprise’ first mission was recovering astronaut John Glenn, the first American in orbit. Her second mission was the Cuban blockade, leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis. By 1964, the Enterprise was sailing with two other nuclear-powered ships around the world as a display of American firepower.

Enterprise fought extensively during the early Vietnam War, launching countless airstrikes. On Dec. 3, 1965, she launched a record 165 sorties in one day. Eventually, the ship was sent elsewhere for refitting and other missions. However, she returned to Vietnam in 1971, towards the end of the war. Additionally, Enterprise also fought in both the first and second Iraq War, as well as in Afghanistan and countless other American skirmishes.

Surprisingly, the nuclear aircraft carrier was designed and launched after the nuclear submarine, a more complex weapon. At the present time, many countries have nuclear aircraft carriers. The portable airfields circle the globe endlessly, sailing from one conflict to another.

Nuclear Submarine

Nuclear submarines can stay underwater for an unlimited amount of time, or at least until the food runs out. Prior to nuclear subs, there were diesel-electric subs, that still exist today. However, these subs use diesel engines to recharge batteries. Therefore, diesel subs must surface to turn on the diesel engines and recharge their batteries, limiting their range.

Nuclear submarines, including the first one, were designed to remain underwater indefinitely. Rather than remaining close to coastal waters, nuclear submarines are able to travel the globe. In particular, nuclear sub routinely sail under the polar ice caps and are capable of breaking through the ice to surface.


The first nuclear submarine is the Nautilus, launched Jan. 21, 1954. It was tested for years, becoming the first ship to reach the North Pole on Aug. 3, 1958. Eventually, in 1960, it was assigned to the Sixth Fleet as an active-duty submarine. However, by 1966 new technologies rendered Nautilus obsolete and it was retired as a training submarine.

Nuclear submarine technology evolved and, eventually, the ships were equipped with all manner of weapons besides ordinary torpedoes. Nuclear submarines can launch cruise missiles and even full-blown nuclear ballistic missiles. Since they’re quiet and travel under the polar ice caps it is virtually impossible to destroy a nuclear submarine before it launches missiles unless an enemy submarine is nearby.

The USSR eventually developed their own nuclear sub but the early versions, and even some more recent models, lack reliability. The first Soviet nuclear submarine, the K-19, launched in 1958 and earned the nickname “the widowmaker.”

Both the US and USSR/Russia developed two basic types of nuclear submarines, bombers that launched ballistic missiles and hunters that destroyed other submarines and supported special operation missions. There is a broad consensus that the combination of a nuclear submarine armed with nuclear ballistic missiles is the most powerful weapon developed in history.


Sonography is the process of using sound waves as an imaging device, typically for medical purposes.


Indeed, the principles of sonography come from the natural world. For example, bats and whales are mammals that use sound waves for navigation. In 1794, after performing medical studies on bats, Lazzaro Spallanzani gained a basic understanding of ultrasound physics.

In 1880, French brothers Jacques and Pierre Curie discovered piezoelectricity. Simplifying, piezoelectricity is an electric current generated by deforming certain crystals. For example, flint-less cigarette lighters and inkjet printers both utilize the piezo effect. Getting to the point, piezoelectricity enables ultrasound transducers that emit and receive soundwaves.

On April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic famously struck an iceberg and sank, killing about 1,500 people. Accordingly, government agencies around the world called for some method to better detect icebergs. Eventually, In 1914, Paul Langevin built on the work of Reginald Fessenden (of AM radio) to invent the first ultrasound transducer aimed at icebergs. His machine detected icebergs up to about two miles away but had no directional capability. To clarify, it could detect there was an iceberg somewhere close but not in which direction.

Ultrasound as Weaponry

The use of submarines in World War I increased the need for directional ultrasound in water. Eventually, Langevin and Constantin Chilowsky created a high-frequency ultrasound machine with directional capabilities. On April 23, 1916, their “hydrophone” was used to sink a German U-boat.

Medical Imaging

Eventually, in 1942, Austrian Neurologist Karl Dussik used sonography to detect brain tumors. Dussik used a method where sound waves were beamed towards the head of a patient partially submerged in water and the resulting echo recorded on heat-sensitive paper. Specifically, this became the first ultrasound image. Eventually, George Lewig used ultrasounds to detect gallstones and kidney stones.

Progress continued with physicians and engineers using ultrasound to measure various fluid-based organs. Most notable are studies in cardiology and obstetrics. By the 1970s, Doppler and color Doppler ultrasound imaging became commonplace. In the 1980s, Kazunori Baba of Japan developed 3D ultrasound.

By the 1990s, with the help of computers, real-time 3D ultrasound enabled surgeons to see inside a body during biopsies. Today, ultrasound machines are common, especially in obstetrics. Unlike radiation-based imaging devices, the ultrasound machines are entirely harmless.

Supersonic Flight

On Tuesday, October 14, 1947, a B-29 bomber took off in the Mojave Desert in California. Instead of a bomb, it carried another plane.

Chuck Yeager & the X-1

The Bell X-1 “research vehicle” was a rocket fired aircraft. As the bomber climbed, test pilot Capt. Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager, climbed into the rocket aircraft. At 20,000 feet (6100 meters) the bomber released the new aircraft and Yeager.

Yeager fired the rocket and his small aircraft experienced 6000 pounds of thrust, quickly climbing. At Mach .85, Yeager temporarily stopped accelerating because the aircraft was untested at that speed. No wind tunnel could stream air that fast. He resumed acceleration and, at 40,000 feet, the aircraft passed the speed of sound.

Yeager brought the aircraft to Mach 1.06, a speed faster than any person or machine ever traveled before. Engineers were unsure of what might happen. Some predicted a loss of control or even a disintegration of the aircraft, but it flew straight and steady. Soon enough, Yeager slowed down and landed. That flight heralded the start of the supersonic era.

Engineering Matters

Supersonic flight wasn’t simply a matter of flying continually faster. Fluid dynamics function differently at speeds above the speed of sound. Isaac Newton first published a good guess about the speed of sound by measuring the difference between a flash of light from a cannon at a set distance and the resulting sound. Future scientists continued refining both the speed of sound and also how various properties acted above and below the speed of sound.

The scientists concern was two-fold. First, because air flows over a wing at slightly higher speed than under it, they worried these differences could tear a wing apart as an aircraft approached supersonic speeds. Secondly, crossing the speed of sound creates an extremely thin but strong shock wave that could also damage the aircraft.

Their easiest task was creating a rocket pushing an aircraft beyond the speed of sound. A more difficult task involved keeping the aircraft intact and under control of a pilot.

John Stack & NACA

Researcher John Stack did much of the research into shock waves and supersonic flight during the 1930s. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, later renamed NASA) sponsored the research. However, the agency initially declined to fund for a supersonic airplane.

During WWII, NACA remained underwhelmed at the thought of diverting resources for a supersonic aircraft. However, by 1943 they greenlighted limited research to “design features of a transonic airplane could not hurt anyone, providing they did not distract from more pressing business.”

Shortening an extremely long story, Stack worked with Kotcher to build the X-1.

Precision Guided Munitions

“In the past, wars’ slaughter has been largely confined to armed combatants. Obviously the airman, riding so high above the earth that cities look like ant hills, cannot aim his deadly cargo at armed males. All below will be his impartial target.”

Major Gen. James Fechet, US Army Air Corps, 1933

Precision Guided Munitions (PGM’s) are highly precise bombs. Usually, a laser held by a soldier or mounted to an aircraft guides the bombs. Bombs are launched by aircraft, submarines, land vehicles, and individual soldiers. Because PGM’s are more accurate they are also more lethal against their intended target and less likely to destroy an incorrect target.


Lobbing projectiles is an ancient practice. Bombs dropped from aircraft originated during WWI when pilots would literally pick up and drop a bomb from the cockpit. During the interwar years and WWII, aircraft and bombing technology increased at a rapid pace. Primitive devices calculate aircraft speed, wind speed, and altitude to guide when to drop a bomb. Gravity took control once a bomb dropped.

In 1942, the Germans developed radio-controlled guided bombs. Radio signals controlled the bombs after deployment. They also developed a radio-controlled “glide-bomb” that flew up to six miles (9.5km) to destroy ships. By 1944, German radio-controlled bombs flew 19-miles (30km) with a nose-mounted radio television and radio uplink.

In 1943, the Allies in turn released their own radio-controlled bombs. The famous Bridge over the Kwai River was destroyed by a US radio-controlled bomb. The US used 1,357 “AZON” radio-bombs to destroy 41 bridges. By 1945, the US released “The Bat,” the first autonomous “fire and forget” radar-controlled glide-bomb.

PGM’s took a back-seat in the post-war decades due primarily to cost. Armies focused on nuclear weapons and conventional bombs. Less than 1% of bombs dropped in Vietnam were PGM’s. One exception is Israel, which decisively used PGM’s during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. A small number of extremely accurate PGM bombs developed by Israel proved decisive in stopping tanks. This sparked renewed interest by both the US and USSR.

PGM’s Become Mainstream

By the 1980s, American bombs could fly day or night, retain altitude, and attack pinpoint targets. By the first Gulf War, about 10% of US bombs were PGM’s but they accounted for 75% of total damage.

The latest PGM, developed by the US, is a flying knife-bomb intended to eliminate damage beyond the targeted individual.

Fighter Aircraft


In 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright invented the airplane. Other aircraft preceded theirs, lifted aloft by lighter-than-air elements, but the wright brothers smaller and faster airplane was a new breakthrough. People could fly like birds, except faster and higher.

The Wright Brothers were furiously worried about their intellectual property being stolen. In hindsight, their fears were justified. One of their early collaborates already betrayed them, falsely claiming to be the inventor of the controllable glider component they created. The idea that two brothers from Ohio who owned a bicycle shop invented a working airplane was outright absurd.

In fact, the US Army refused to even look at their plane saying their claim was preposterous. Britain, France, and Germany all passed, probably because the brothers refused to demonstrate their plane without a signed contract. A 1906 article in the Paris Herald Tribune headlined “FLYERS OR LIARS?” The brothers assumed anybody had more credibility than them.

Further, the patent office refused to grant a patent because they did not believe the plane worked. Patent examiners assumed the brothers were trying to patent an idea then take royalties from whomever actually invented a working airplane.

European Tour

Finally, in 1908, the brothers relented. They brought their plane to France and flew above the racetrack at Le Mans. The brothers continued, flying over 200 demonstration flights in France.

Italy decided to create military pilots, a new role, and Wilbur trained them. These were the earliest fighter planes, typically with one person shooting or dropping a bomb. Next, they trained the Germans. Finally, the Americans came on-board, their own country is the last major nation to recognize the planes were real.

The progression for military aircraft predictably continued. Shooting straight ahead was impossible because of the propeller so they put a gun further down.

Fighter planes and weaponry quickly advanced. Wilbur died on a business trip in April 1912, but Orville carried on.

Patent Wars, and Literal Wars Too

Companies ignored the Wright Brothers patents, just as they feared. There were countless patent infringement lawsuits but, with the onset of WWI, the US military all but forced the Orville to license the patents to other airplane builders.

Early airplane manufacturers invented countless variations. Some planes were fighters, meant to shoot down other planes. Other planes were bombers. They were slower but carried more weight.

Aircraft played an important role in WWI. The dogfights went down in history as being interesting, though arguably not necessarily advantageous from a military perspective. By WWII airplanes played a vital role in the war effort.

Today, countries around the world still work to produce ever-faster more lethal fighter jets and bombers. The US is projected to spend $1.5 trillion on their latest production run fighter jets, the F-35. Russia produces the Su-57. The price is classified but is believed to be vastly less expensive than the American plane.

Military Tank

Towards the late 1800s, Europeans and Americans both worked on the idea of a tire tread. They realized a treaded machine would be useful on rougher terrain. The Holt Manufacturing Company, later renamed Caterpillar, perfected and patented a working tread in 1904.

While engineers experimented developing working treads for tractors their use in war was obvious. In 1903, French artillery captain Léon Levavasseur envisioned an armored tractor with a cannon mounted to the front. Austrian officer Günther Burstyn envisioned a similar device with a rotating gun turret. Science fiction writer H.G. Wells published a whole short story, The Land Ironclads, in 1903 about motorized armor fighting machines. Similar to the countless failed attempts at tractor treads, some work went into their ideas but nobody developed a working machine.


With the outbreak of WWI, armies immediately realized the value of Holt’s tractors. The vast majority of WWI was fought in trenches. Soldiers would try running from their trench to the other, usually unable to break through a barrage of gunfire. However, they reasoned that an armored Holt tractor might work.

By the end of WWI, about 10,000 Holt tractors saw combat. American and English troops used modified Holt tractors from the beginning. The French initially determined to build their own treaded tractor but, by 1915, decided to also use modified Holt tractors.

By the time of WWI, other tractors proved more technologically advanced. However, due to their history as a tractor company, they were available in large quantities. The ability to quickly produce many tractors surpassed technological advantages other manufacturers might offer.

Various allied forces worked throughout the war to create and improve the tank. The word “tank” was the codename for the project of developing a weaponized tractor. Although the French and English tried using technology from their respective countries, Holt tractors proved the least costly and most widely available.

Despite their technological superiority producing motors and cars, the Germans only built one type of tank and deployed only 20 of those. Their tank, the A7V, was enormous and required 18 soldiers to operate. They also used about three dozen captured British tanks.

After WWI

Tanks did not begin to make a material dent in fighting until the end of the war and, even then, their impact was minimal.

Against the advice of colleagues, a rising officer in the US, Lt. Col. Patton, decided to join the newly formed US Tank Brigade. Between the wars, Americans under Patton continued improving their tank and Germans developed their own Panzer division. However, it was the French who built the largest number of tanks. The Soviets developed a capable tank and built about 5,000 but Stalin eventually executed the head of the project, Mikhail Tukhachevsky. The lack of tanks at the outbreak of WWII cost countless Russian lives though they later redeveloped their tank brigade. Despite the obviousness of the answer in hindsight, various generals argued during the period between the wars whether horses were obsolete.

Whereas tanks developed too late in WWI, they were a central weapon in WWII. Tanks remain a central weapon in all modern armies.

Strategically Addictive Drugs


Cigarettes are addictive. However the availability of tobacco around the world, in the early 1800s, limited them as a mass-market item. Even the largest wind-powered ships contained limited space. Filling ships with enough tobacco to addict a whole country was not viable during this period.

However, another product did fill this role, opium. Tobacco and opium are considered to be equally addictive, but opium is substantially more difficult to stop using. Furthermore, opium is significantly more compact than tobacco. Wind-driven ships can transport enough opium to hook and maintain the addiction of an enormous number of people.

Another product that is less addictive, albeit far easier to quit than tobacco or opium, is caffeine. And Victorian-era British loved their tea, the vast majority of it imported from China by the British East India Company. Tea was so popular The Company was running out of gold and silver to trade for it. There was a massive trade imbalance between Britain and China.

British East India Company

During this time the British East India Company was occupying and colonizing India. The company raised a private army, significantly larger than the official British army. They also privatized colonization. The British noticed the Chinese had a particular fondness for opium, which the Indians happened to be especially good at producing.

Many of the innowiki innovators remain nameless. Even those we know are often not household names. We think that’s unfair. However, in this case, whoever dreamed up this strategy likely wishes to remain anonymous. Getting to the point, the British East India Company realized they could addict countless Chinese and trade inexpensive opium for tea, selling the tea to the British.

Unwilling to do the dirty work themselves they relied on an Indian man, Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy. Like countless drug dealers that came later, Jejeebhoy came from a poor family but desired riches. With more than a little help from the British East India Company, Jejeebhoy quickly transformed himself into a Victorian-era Pablo Escobar.

This strategy proved wildly successful. The volume of opium coming into China, and the commensurate opium addiction, skyrocketed. Over ten million Chinese were addicted to opium, doing whatever was necessary to procure the drug.

Opium Wars

In response, the Chinese decided to crack down on opium imports. Chinese government officials began destroying shipments of opium and the British responded by demanding payment for the destroyed cargo. The Chinese predictably told the British to piss off and blockaded non-Chinese ships which too often carried opium. In response, the British sent a combination of government soldiers and East India Company mercenaries to fight for payment. The resulting skirmish is the First Opium War.

Most of the fighting was naval. The Chinese were badly outgunned by the British, who had far better technology and more practice thanks to never-ending European wars. In 1842, China was defeated. They signed the Treaty of Nanking, ceding Hong Kong and other small islands to Britain. China was forced to open five ports to import opium and export tea.

The next year civil war broke out in China and a rival Emperor vowing to end the opium trade. He seized a British ship, Arrow, and jailed the crew. War erupted. In the heat of battle, the Chinese killed a French mercenary leaving the French livid. Soon, China was battling all of western Europe. They lost, again. In response, the British outright demanded the legalization of opium, reparations, and the right for missionaries to engage in cultural imperialism.


Like most drug dealers, Jejeebhoy eventually pivoted into a more legitimate business, selling cotton during the Napoleonic War. He also donated an enormous amount of wealth to charitable causes, a common pattern for criminals trying to gain legitimacy and respect after-the-fact.

Before the Opium Wars, the Chinese economy was arguably the largest in the world. However, the fighting, addiction, and terms of surrender proved a terrible burden. China suffered a severe economic setback for the next century.

Breach Loaded Firearms

Flintlock guns required the user to pour gunpowder into the barrel of the weapon, stamp it down, add a bullet, then carefully pick the whole thing up and fire it. By the time all that finished, soldiers could be chased down and stabbed with a knife.

Breach-loading firearms opened the rifle near the back. They allow soldiers to insert the gunpowder and bullet at the end, a much faster process. However, early rifles were oftentimes too weak to support the subsequent explosion and would blow up in the shooters face.

Despite that, Scotsman Patrick Ferguson invented the first breach-loaded weapon used in the Civil War in service to the King of England. Ferguson’s guns worked reasonably well but, after the war, Americans captured and killed him due to reports of his incivility to US rebel soldiers.

Breach loading rifles were complex and controversial at first. Neither soldiers nor hunters favored weapons that might blow up in their face.

Over time, as manufacturing methods improved, cartridges became technologically possible. With cartridges, the gunpowder and bullet are in one piece, manufactured together. This makes them far less likely to blow up in the shooters face. The American Manufacturing Method, using standardized parts, enabled tighter standards.

Today, virtually all guns are breach loading. Some enormous weapons, including mortars, are loaded from the front but these are a small corner case where cartridges would be too big.

Wind-Driven Sawmill

Cornelis Corneliszoon van Uitgeest invented a sawmill driven by a windmill. It cut wood about 30 times faster than sawing by hand.

Corneliszoon received a patent for his wind-driven sawmill. Workers found the mill during a 2004 excavation.

The windmill used a crankshaft to convert the steady wind into the up-and-down motion necessary to saw wood.

Besides being profitable, Corneliszoon’s mill also gave the Netherlands in shipbuilding by vastly lowering the cost of milled wood. Shipbuilding in England, Portugal, and Spain was bottlenecked by a lack of milled wood. However, thanks to the automated mill, the Netherlands thrived.

Despite that, the automation technology no doubt cost jobs these jobs were, hand-sawing logs all day, were extremely hard work. There is no mention that workers objected to automation rendering hand-sawing obsolete. Most likely, the workers went on to build ships rather than saw wood, a more interesting, lucrative, and cerebral activity.