During the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the tactical mindset was MAD — Mutually Assured Destruction. Neither party could be sure of who would start a war, but, thanks to awesome destructive forces, they could both be certain that they could end it. Nuclear weapons, the backbone of these arsenals, were simple enough to launch but hard to maintain. The need to keep nuclear weapons primed in turn led the U.S. to develop all types of state-of-the-art maintenance machinery, like the “Beetle”. It was a 77-ton, 27-foot-tall mech. A real Metal Gear.
Now, when one imagines a destructive and dexterous mech warrior, something like the Metal Gear REX (pictured below) likely comes to mind. Armed with a rail gun, rotary cannons, anti-tank missiles, and nuclear bombs, the Metal Gear REX is an unholy doomsday machine that walks on two legs and strikes terror into the hearts of its exclamation point-producing enemies. The Beetle on the other hand, well, it didn’t quite live up to that image.
Developed between 1959 and 1961 by Jered Industries for General Electric’s Nuclear Materials and Propulsion Operation Division, which in turn delivered it to the U.S. Air Force Special Weapons Center (that’s the kind of bureaucracy Vogons would cherish in their poetry), the Beetle’s central purpose was to work in conjunction with a fleet of massive, nuclear-powered aircraft. It had to provide three main utilities: immense lifting capability, protection against acute nuclear radiation for its operator, and precision manipulation. And it at least fit the bill. The Beetle could pull and punch with 85,000 pounds of force (the most powerful boxers top out at around 1,300 pounds), had armor made with over 13 inches of lead and steel plating, and had precision pincers (like a beetle’s, hence the name) that could, if need be, pick up an egg without cracking it.
But like so many lofty military projects, the Beetle (seen in more detail in the gallery below) was plagued with malfunctions and limitations. Its canopy, the entrance for an operator, took several minutes to lower and raise on hydraulic lifts — it weighed 15,000 pounds. And even though it had a 500-horsepower engine, it could only move at a blistering 8-miles-per-hour. It also suffered from continuous leaks, breaks, and short circuits. It did have a TV and an ashtray in its cockpit though, so it had that going for it, which is nice.
Ultimately, the plans for the fleet of nuclear-powered bombers disintegrated, leaving the Beetle without much of a purpose. Even though it was considered for other uses (possibly fighting in irradiated areas), it moved so slowly and was so limited by its design that it was only useful for providing maintenance. The $1.5 million dollar project was discontinued, and the fate of the Beetle is still unknown — maybe a clone with a bandanna knows where it is.
HT: IEEE Spectrum
Featured Image: LIFE
Gallery Images: LIFE, Popular Science, deviantART // Puckducker