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In the late 1950s, a group of ingenious but misguided Americans began development of a nightmarish missile system: The Supersonic Low-Altitude Missile, or SLAM. It also came to be known as “The Flying Crowbar” due to the missile’s low complexity and high durability.
The missile was intended to use a very simple nuclear ramjet engine… outside air would be forced into a duct on the front using ram pressure, and then this air would become superheated by a nuclear reactor inside the missile. The heated air would expand rapidly, pushing the exhaust out of the rear to provide enough thrust to reach three times the speed of sound. The theory was workable, but the design had the unfortunate tendency to rain radioactive fission fragments everywhere it went, which is a lot of ground considering that this was a low-altitude long-range weapon.
The weapon’s design called for a complement of hydrogen bombs inside, which could be peppered upon targets while the missile zig-zagged over the general area. As an added bonus, any enemies which were not killed by the nukes were likely to die from the passing missile’s shockwave, or by exposure to the gamma and neutron radiation belched out by its unshielded nuclear reactor.
The full story of this charming and delightful weapon was written for Air & Space Magazine in 1990, and it’s a fascinating read.