Blown Up: More Inflatable Military Stuff

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This scheme in a 1950 issue of Mechanix Illustrated – archived here – proposed a series of “rubber bubbles, housing radar sentries, hidden in the icy peaks of America’s northernmost mountains” which, it was claimed “could be our first line of defense against any A-bomb attack.”

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The article explains further:

“To obtain maximum radar range and permit easy defence by a minimum garrison, our rubber forts, like castles of the ancient barons along the Rhine, must roost on the most inaccessible arctic peaks. For concealment and protection against bombing, most of the installation must be buried in the rock and heavily sheathed with concrete. The parts above ground–the balloon dome protecting the radar antenna and the level helicopter deck–will be well camouflaged by air-inflated rubber rocks. These will be fastened down in set patterns but can be easily removed to clear the way for flying operations.”

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These inflatable fortresses are the most ambitious and bizarre of blow-up projects that I’ve seen. (Though of course they were never realised – although perhaps the camouflage is so good that we are unaware of the thousands of secret military bases dotted around mountainous locations inside NATO borders).

The history of military inflatables begins in 1939, far more humbly and much more practically when the Patten Company began manufacturing inflatable life rafts. Fred F. Patten, the company founder, was motivated by personal grief – his Navy pilot brother had crashed into the ocean performing military maneuvers. Pattern pioneered the development of the one-man inflatable life raft to save lives where his brother’s had been lost.

Patten was also the initial project engineer for the development of the inflatable decoy deception force that confused the Germans, before and during the D-Day invasion. Products ranged from full-scale landing craft, troop carriers, tanks as well as B-26 bombers.

A history of the company is told here.

“The U. S. Army Engineer Corp in late 1942 contacted Mr. Patten advising of their interest in developing an inflatable rubber aircraft to be used as a decoy. This prompted him to design and build, at the U. S. Rubber Company plant, a rubberized fabric structure that, when inflated, simulated an actual size B-26 bomber. In Sept. 1942 this unit was taken to an Army Engineer Base and inflated in a field not far from the Base airfield. After a short period of time, a fighter aircraft flying in the vicinity made two zooming dives over the rubber bomber then radioed the airfield tower that a bomber had landed in a nearby field. This supported the Army Engineers in their inflatable decoy idea.”

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Shown here in deflated and what should really be called ‘flated’ stated. These WWII models are somewhat doughy, as though the planes, tanks and trucks had been at the (rationed) pies.

The technique is still in use and thanks to digital modeling and pattern cutting can be produced in amazingly high definition as these models from Shape Strategic Defense show.

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The examples above deal with concealment by disguising equipment as part of landscape, or by conjuring phantom visions in the eyes of your enemy. The following is quite a different military use for inflatable technology: a blow up soldier used by Columbia’s national army who wanders around hugging suspicious locals in order to gain their confidence. Via

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