Friday, April 30, 2021

A Technological Appendix to Postblogging January, 1951 With Bonus Public Engagement Content: Hometown Titanium


The North American F-100 Super Sabre was the first of the Century Series fighters, although the design had a shorter path to production than the F-101 and F-10s, both of which originated in responses to late Forties USAF requirements. The F-100, in contrast, was an unsolicited design proposal submitted in January of 1951. Perhaps understandably, the "Fokker panic" currently being experienced over in MiG Alley inspired fast work on everyone's part. On the other side of the curtain, the MiG-19 was ordered in July of 1951 and first flew in September of 1953.  So the first flight of the F-100 prototype, at the end of May, 1953, and seven months ahead of schedule, came none too early. After that, air forces of East and West alike dealt with growing problems as MiG-19s blew up mysteriously in mid-air while the F-100 gave us that ever-amusing joke about the "Sabre Dance" thanks to its yaw instability, only the most spectacular in a range of instability problems, from which the MiG-19 was hardly spared. 

The aerodynamic problems don't need to be explored any further here, much less the rival Russian programme, because today's post is about titanium and Marinette, Wisconsin, home of the Ansul Chemical Company, manufacturer of Met-L-X Dry Powder, a fire-suppressing powder that 

 [M]ay be used on sodium, potassium, sodium-potassium alloy, and magnesium fires. In addition, it will control and sometimes suppress small fires on zirconium and titanium;" 

And Lith-X, another fire suppressant, which

"[W]as developed for use on lithium fires, and will also suppress magnesium, sodium, and potassium fires. LITH-X agent will contain, and in some cases completely suppress fires of zirconium, titanium, and sodium-potassium alloy."

About Marinette, I hard know what to say. I have just scrolled through all fifty or so photographs posted to Google Maps. Forty-eight of them were taken on the lakefront at Ann Arbor Park, of which two each are shot back at downtown or the mill; more than half are of the lighthouse, and there is one picture each of the city park and the museum, featuring exactly one building, the museum. (Bet you didn't see that coming.) Marinette seems to be the least interesting part of Marinette.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Postblogging Technology, January 1951, 2: Titanium Days

(Dean Martin imitating Bing Crosby)

R_. C_.,

Dear Father:

As predicted, the Communist advances in Annam and Korea turned on a dime just as soon as flying weather improved, which just goes to show that this is the Air Age. I will explain in person next week when I arrive via Canadian Pacific from Hong Kong, if Hong Kong is still there when I leave and we avoid any inconvenient mountains on the way. (It's  ocean, it shouldn't be hard, but you never know.) 

Your Loving Daughter,

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Postblogging Technology, January 1951, I: Loyalty Oaths

R. _C._,
Vancouver, Canada

Dear Father:

Here we are, back in beleaguered (they say?) Formosa, resuming our so-vitally important mission of annoying the People's Liberation Air Force and Koumintang hostessesboth at the same time. I am pleased to report that at least the base librarian has taken a shine to me, and we get regular packages of loans from Hong Kong back and forth, so I am not completely in the dark as to what is happening in the outside world, whether it be the exciting new age of titanium or Aviation Week tearing Uncle Henry a new foraminis rectus (see below for feeble non-joke; and don't bug me about the Latin, which is the fruit of five seconds in a dictionary). We have almost finished preparing the nursery,  unless I suddenly change my mind on a whim, which I'm told is my prerogative as a woman, which is good because it feels like our prerogatives have been rolled back a bit since the war. Is anyone ever going to start hiring women for aircraft production work? Probably not, because we still can't quite agree to actually build all the planes we're mobilising to build. I see the point: The B-47 needs 16 JATOs to get aloft; there is no way that a B-36 can get away from a MiG-15, and who even asked for more F-84s or an improved Vampire that's actually a Vampire? (Only with a wing fence, yay!)

Yes, I am grumpy, because I had a difficult night, and well, you try sleeping comfortably carrying around this ahem, blessed bundle. 

I remain,

Your Loving Daughter,

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Robert Mundell is Dead: A Mixed-Economy Recap to December 1950 with a Look Forward Six Years


On the one hand, the (Canadian-born, UBC-educated) "Father of Supply Side Economics" died last week. On the other, December of 1950 saw something of a peak in the American commitment to a (Keynesian) managed war economy. It won't long survive Robert Taft's passive-aggressive resistance, but for the moment we are absolutely throwing money at aviation.

Which brings me to the other thread I want to pull on here, which is the continuing flowering of the Buck Rogers moment of the Second Elizabethan Age, and why, in a childish show of disrespect, I am recycling my triumphalist Farnborough spread above, and not giving you the late Robert Mundell. I mean, I'm sure that Dr. Mundell was a great guy, but can he compete with the Canberra?

No, he can't. Thanks for asking. 

So December of 1950 is when "defence mobilisation" kicks into high gear. The Atlee government is putting together estimates that will almost double British defence spending,  Above is a chart I stole from UKpublicspending that illustrates the steep upward curve beginning with the Estimates tabled on 6 March 1951, and here is a link to Arthur Henderson introducing the Air Estimates of

£328¾ million. This is an increase of £105¾ million  . . . net increase of £95¾ million. The Estimates themselves are based on the £3,600 million programme which was drawn up last summer and do not provide for the additional expenditure that will result in 1951–52 from the further measures recently announced by the Prime Minister . . . .

. We tend to think of high British defence spending and all the fancy planes as natural companions, but it seems that the planes come a good eighteen months ahead of the emergency. In fact, as far as one can tell, it is all downhill from here! Okay, that's not exactly true unless your view of aviation is drably utilitarian and focussed on airliners, but even here the downward slope is not at all far away. Specifically, the story of the VC7 airliner will serve as my eulogy for Dr. Mundell. 

Friday, April 2, 2021

The Early Iron Age Rise of the State: From the Sublime to the Perishable?

 You know the pattern by now. We have two weeks of drilling into the peak of the last, decaying maxima of the past-present wave as it moves through human chronology (seventy years ago plus three months, I have decided), two weeks to play around with what we've got. Alas, I can't quite discover another technological appendix in the story of the last two weeks. Everything is consolidation and amplification of things already explored.  Project Typhoon is yet another analog computer; We had a bit of radio astronomy;  the Savannah "H-bomb plant" again, with just a hint of the toxic politics of race in the American South under a thin veil of technocracy; Yet more on the automation of the cockpit, almost as interesting as the recently increased frequency of business machine ads that remind us of the central importance of Campbell-Kelly's insight that the computing revolution had precious little to do with computing; and titanium, always good for some exotic thrills.

(Disney+ is being sticky about uploading scenes from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but I thought it was kind of cool that Isaiah Bradley dismantled the Winter Soldier's original, titanium arm "on the peninsula" in 1951.) 

In the meantime, something else has come up. Juan Carlos Moreno Garcia has decided to bump up mentions of his 2016 edited collection for Oxbow, Dynamics of Production in the Ancient Near East, by releasing his chapter on, and it's a bit of a revelation that sends my own exploration of this period down a new path. If spiritualism is a disappointing avenue for understanding the explosive growth of human population(!), wealth and states during the Axial Age, how about diving way down deep into the quotidian and looking at produce markets?