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Built by Jered Industries in Detroit for General Electric's ominous Nuclear Materials and Propulsion Operation division, the Beetle was a mechanical terror designed for the Air Force Special Weapons Centre, initially to service and maintain a planned fleet of atomic-powered Air Force bombers. According to declassified Air Force reports, work began on the "mech" in 1959, and it was completed in 1961.
Because the Beetle was first conceived to fix aircraft engines that would be soaked in radiation, it had to be nuclear-proof. Because these would be big aircraft, with large parts that were high off the ground, the Beetle had to be big as well. And because the actual duties it was to perform would require a great deal of precision and finesse, the Beetle was given two arms with pincers for "hands", which is where the "Beetle" name originates.
All of which explain why the Beetle was a colossal 19 feet long, 12 feet wide, 11 feet high and weighed a ground-shaking 77 tons. The pilot was shielded by an inch of steel armour on the outside of the unit, half-an-inch inside and a minimum of 12 inches of lead plating around the cabin, which would keep him shielded from all but the most intense blasts of radiation. On top of all that, the cockpit glass was 23 inches thick, and was made up of seven individual panes of leaded glass.
To actually drive the Beetle, then, the pilot couldn't just pop open a hatch and jump in. The canopy, which weighed 15,000 pounds, had to be raised by hydraulic lifts then lowered onto guidance rods, a process which took several minutes. Once inside, despite cramped conditions, the pilot had some degree of comfort, with a small TV set, air conditioning and even an ashtray, should the stress of dealing with the remains of a nuclear holocaust get a little much from time to time.
Powered by a 500hp engine, the Beetle could, on a hard, flat surface, reach a top speed of…eight miles per hour. Any faster – not that it could go much faster – and the vibrations damaged some of its finer instrumentation and mechanics. That's painfully slow, yes, but speed had been traded off for power, the robot's bulk meaning it had 85,000 pounds of pull in its arms, strong enough to either punch clean through a thick concrete wall or, should the need arise, grab a wall and tear it clean off a building or bunker.
Yet despite this raw power, it could also – thanks to its roots as a servicing platform – perform incredibly delicate operations. At a public demonstration in 1962, for example, the Beetle was able to roll up to a carton of eggs, pick a single egg up and hold it in its pincers without breaking it.
In a final and — given the appearance and scale of the Beetle — unexpected twist, the robot was also capable of reaching great heights. The cabin, which housed the cockpit and arms, was able to be raised on four hydraulic pistons, and when fully extended the Beetle stood an imposing 27 feet off the ground, more than high enough to pick through the rubble of a decent-sized apartment building.
It's unknown what ultimately became of the Beetle. The Air Force couldn't tell us. Maybe it rusted away in a field somewhere. Maybe it was salvaged for parts. Maybe it's tucked away in a forgotten corner of an Air Force base, gathering dust.
Originally posted by Alaskan Man
reply to post by RestingInPieces
a 27 foot tall bulldozer with the ability to be so gentle it can pick up eggs, and built to withstand radiation from detonated nuclear devices.
Just because it has large treads to move on doesn't mean its "just" a bulldozer.
I'm sorry it wasn't impressive enough for you, it impressed me, and it sparked my curiosity on what is possibly around today.