[AMPS] HV warning

Mike Baker k7dd@qwest.net
Sat, 13 Oct 2001 00:21:48 -0700

    When I was a new ham and a senior in High School I had a friend and
fellow ham who worked at Sandia Labs in Albuquerque about 1970.  He told me
they were working on a new "cannon" project for Uncle Sam but it was weird
because it didn't use a powder charge, it used electricity.  A few weeks
after telling me about this, we had a big power "blink" late one afternoon.
The following day I ran into him at the scrap yard at Sandia and he dragged
me off to see a bit of what he was working on.  At the time it all looked
pretty weird to me and didn't make a lot of sense.  Man, I didn't realize
what I had been privy too that day until maybe 10 years later.  The first
"plasma cannon.  It would shoot an electrical charge through probes inserted
into this "super cooled" chamber and electrically blast a carbon sphere
(Diamond?) and divert the energy down a "barrel" that was underground and
super cooled to a waiting "target" on the other end and some distance away.
(Distance unknown.)  I was told that the "target" consisted of a foot of the
toughest armor plate known on top of 3 feet of reinforced and layered
concrete (sort of like a vertical sandwich).  The carbon ball was about 1/4
inch in dia.  The blast damage at the other end was described as
    So what has this got to do with the subject?
    I was taken to the underground "Power Accumulator Center" to see the
size of the storage devices used to power the "cannon".  The room was about
40 X 50 and 4 stories DEEP under several feet of earth and concrete.  There
was large copper tubes (6inch) running all over the place and I was told
that they ran full of liquid nitrogen when the test was under way.  All
around me were large boxes the size of a large home refrigerator/freezer
with huge ceramic/porcelain insulators on top of them that connected to the
copper pipes.  3 of the 4 floor of the building were full of them.  I have
no idea what their value was nor was I told how much voltage they were made
for but the one voltmeter I did see measured 0 to 5 MEGAVOLTS and I can't
even begin to think how much the Amperage was.  This was impressive enough
but what he told me next gave me chills.  He said that it took 3 days to
siphon off enough energy to charge the system without being too obvious but
when you first connected it to the "mains" it surged a bit and caused the
lights on that end of town to dim for a second or so.  All personnel were
isolated away from the system when it was fired BUT were INSIDE during the
charging time, walking about keeping an eye open for leaks in the cooling
system and wearing special safety suits designed to insulate them from the
system and provide a safe breathing atmosphere.  Sort of like a space suit.
    He said as the system charged up, even inside the suits, you could still
feel the hairs on your body stand up and you would get these mini sparks
like you get from a wool carpet at various places within the suit.  Even the
placement of the runs of conductors were carefully placed to eliminate
magnetic reaction (solenoid) otherwise the system would short out with
    To say I was amazed is a vast understatement.  I walked around inside
the building "drop jawed" during most of his tour.
    A few days later (a weekend as I recall) I ran into him again and was
invited to stop buy for a few moments so I could "feel" the power of the
system.  I couldn't resist.  He was right.  It was the most awesome
sensation of pure stored power I have ever felt.  I can honestly say looking
back on the event that it held a mixture of emotions akin to a roller
coaster ride and playing Russian roulette, at the same time!  Excitement,
Fear, Awe, and the mixture of wanting to run for safety and watch the events
unfold.  It has remained the greatest "rush" I think I have ever had.  I
only wish I could have seen an actual firing.
    For all of the work involved in building that project, it apparently
didn't last too long as there was more heavy equipment working on the
"secured area" later that summer and from what I heard later through the
grapevine, it all went away and became a part of history no one but a select
few have memories about.  For me it left an impression I will NEVER forget.
To quote Darth Vader, "feel the power Luke."

Mike Baker  K7DD
----- Original Message -----
From: "Steve Thompson" <g8gsq@qsl.net>
To: <amps@contesting.com>
Sent: Friday, October 12, 2001 5:40 AM
Subject: Re: [AMPS] HV warning

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Jon Ogden <na9d@speakeasy.net>
> To: John T. M. Lyles <jtml@lanl.gov>; amps@contesting.com
> <amps@contesting.com>
> Date: 12 October 2001 13:22
> Subject: Re: [AMPS] HV warning
> >
> >But the idea of walking into rooms full of cap banks that have been
> >with 80KV gives me the willies!  YIKES!
> Takes me back to my student days. I spent a long summer working on the
> Marconi Martello radar tx. From memory, the ht cabinet had 140kV in it,
> delivered 86A during the rf pulse. Lots of work with 3' long insulated
> prods, trying to look at mV in the control circuits. I saw some good
> standing jumps when people 'accidentally' dropped steel panel on the
> floor. Then there was the time that the hose feeding the dummy load split
> and sprayed water in there.
> It was a particular sort of misfit seemed to end up in that department.
> Happy days.
> Steve
> --
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