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How to build railguns and coilguns, continued...
The Rocket Empire Strikes Back

Also in 1989, the U.S. Army reviewed its EML research -- and didn't like what it saw. EML researchers argue that those who had made their careers with rocket technology saw EML as a threat and wanted to kill it before it siphoned funding away from their work.

Dr. William C. McCorkle, Jr., technical director of the Army Missile Command (now the Aviation and Missile Command), was a leading advocate of rocket research and an opponent of EML. He was on the Army's review panel, and what he saw astonished him. “For EM guns to be successful,” he says, “they needed to start with a new and improved periodic table of the elements.” His concern went back to the soft iron core that boosts magnetic fields in ordinary electrical equipment, for no other material can do as well.  EML researchers use air cores instead for power supplies and guns, but without iron the task was, in McCorkle’s opinion, too challenging. He agreed that high temperature superconductors, if they could be made practical, could ease this problem. But no suitable superconductors existed and it was unclear that they ever would. Worst of all, no gun had yet bested Marshall’s 1977 record of 5.9 km/s.

After both SDIO and DARPA had shut down their EML programs, Harry Fair rescued his research by forming the Institute for Advanced Technology (IAT) at the University of Texas at Austin. Researchers at the University’s Center for Electromechanics had been conducting high quality experiments on power supplies and railguns, which made the University a natural nucleation site for the remnants of this research.

During the 1990s, researchers at the Institute for Advanced Technology (IAT) moved ahead with what was almost the only EML research in the world. Even their small program was too much for some critics. McCorkle continued to fight to shut them down. In 1996 he wrote that “EM guns are far from matching or even approaching conventional gun performance in the most distant foreseeable future.” (Emphasis in original.)

According to two IAT researchers, McCorkle’s attacks included “threatened press releases” that would “receive a credibility that they do not deserve.” They said that during meetings McCorkle would pull out a hand calculator and announce numbers that were “by and large, quite incorrect. In every issue raised, he has been rebutted be real calculations or a more sober statement of facts.”

McCorckle counters that these errors were ones he made on a hand calculator in the midst of arguments with EML researchers. “The calculations are really much to complex to do by hand.” He also admits to math errors in his criticisms of an IAT air core alternator that he presented at an IEEE conference, but says they don’t affect his conclusions.  “There are some simple relationships, for example between number of megajoules required and ratio of input power to output power.” He notes that pulsed power systems create a lot of wste heat and it is staggeringly hard to get rid of it before it wrecks the power system. More on pulsed power supply issues --->>

Another of the issues that appeared to have validity was McCorkle’s question: if EM guns were so great, why was there little research elsewhere? The British program, he argued, was an artifact of an EM gun “given to them by the U.S. Department of Defense…. I have also talked to the Germans and discovered their interest was based upon their belief that the U.S. somehow had a ‘secret breakthrough’… otherwise it made no sense to them.”

Next: the China Syndrome --->>

Letter from William C. McCorkle to Harry Fair of March 5, 1996.

Memo from Ian McNab and Alan Wells of March 4, 1996.

Op. Cit. McCorkle


       © 2013 Carolyn Meinel