Daft Lightning Weapons People Actually Thought Would Work

Laszlo Schürbüscher CC BY 2.0

New weapons are being developed all the time. Humans have come up with plenty of ways to kill each other but some never made it much past the production level. For instance, in 1967 the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States tried to develop artificial lightning in order to assassinate their enemies.

According to forbes.com, a proposal was sent to the CIA’s Deputy for Research Special Activities by an unnamed scientist who then passed it to the Air Systems Division.

Nssl.noaa.gov tells us “Lightning is a giant spark of electricity in the atmosphere between clouds, the air or the ground. In the early stages of development, air acts as an insulator between the positive and negative charges in the cloud and between the cloud and the ground.

When the opposite charges build up enough, this insulating capacity of the air breaks down and there is a rapid discharge of electricity that we know as lightning. The flash of lightning temporarily equalizes the charged regions in the atmosphere until the opposite charges build up again.”

A similar version investigated by the US Army used lasers to guide the lightning bolt. Image by U.S. Army Picatinny Arsenal

The idea was to use artificial leaders made of a wire several miles long and a few thousandths of an inch in diameter to create lightning when and where they wanted it. The wire would be taken up by planes on a roll which would release it to feed to the ground. Even if the wire broke it would still be capable of getting the lightning started.

The plan would be relatively inexpensive and leave no evidence. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency began experimenting with the research but claimed they were not developing lightning as a weapon but to prevent lightning strikes. In 2017 the funding stopped for unknown reasons but some experts felt it was because using the unpredictable weather just didn’t make sense with all of the new weapons coming to the forefront.

In World War II, British inventor Geoffrey Pyke responded to the shortage of steel and aluminium used for building ships by coming up with pykrete which was fourteen percent wood pulp and eighty six percent water that when frozen is stronger than natural ice. The Allies jumped on the idea and started Project Habakkuk. A model was being created in Canada when the obvious happened.

The Project Habakkuk aircraft carrier’s plans.

In order not to melt, the temperature had to be three degrees Fahrenheit or lower. In order to solve that problem, a refrigeration system was added but it required ten thousand tons of steel making the project redundant. Not long after, the model ship was taken to Patricia Lake and sunk.

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According to mentalfloss.com, in 2007 the United States military invented the “sick stick”. It was a large fifteen inch long and four inch wide flashlight that emitted a moving multicolored pulse that caused vertigo, nausea and vomiting.

A cross section of the inner workings of a ‘Sick Stick’ device.

It was created after the military realized that the sun shining through a helicopter’s moving blades created disorientation. The problem was solved with dark helmet visors and tinted windshields but gave someone the idea that the concept could create a weapon that repelled rather than killed.

The eight hundred thousand dollar project was abandoned when people realized that all one had to do was look away from the flashlight, wear sunglasses or just close their eyes.

In World War II, the Japanese attached bombs to nine thousand balloons and released the ‘Fu-Go’ weapons into the air. The plan was for the thirty three foot diameter balloons to drift across the ocean and drop their payloads in the United States causing fires everywhere.

A captured and re-inflated Fu-Go balloon in California.

Because of the changing winds only three hundred and eighty nine of the balloons came to the United States and not all of them exploded.

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Two of them returned to Japan and one landed in Nevada only to be confiscated by locals. After it was reported that a group of children led by their pregnant Sunday school teacher were killed by one of the bombs in Oregon the Japanese stopped releasing balloon bombs although not all of them have been found. One was found as late as 1992 and even more may be out there.


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Jack Beckett: Jack Beckett has been editor of War History Online since 2012. Huge fan of war history and rural history and a motorbike rider.
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