Inane Popular Mechanics

Many years ago, say in the 1970s, science magazines didn’t have nearly as much to report as they do these days. Popular Mechanics in particular always seemed to be hyping silly cover stories, stories that bore no relation to things that were likely or economically worthwhile, like a hotel on the moon or a personal helicopter in every garage. It’s tabloid science, but hey, it sells magazines. “Someday you will send superfast mail through transcontinental pneumatic tubes!”

These days, there’s enough fast moving science and engineering to fill a thousand magazines, but still Popular Mechanics insists on pitching things in an absurd way. Here’s an article about nuclear aircraft that is a beautiful throwback to the days of the 1958 Ford Nucleon and the family submarine:
The Return Of Nuclear-Powered Aircraft. It’s not like the story is a pack of lies, but it’s told with the breathless excitement of Tomorrowland, when after all, they’re talking about flying nuclear reactors. But the thing that really delighted me was the painting associated with the story. Look closely at the picture and you’ll see Mom, Dad, and the kids getting out of the cockpit while hazmat-suited technicians pull nuclear material out of the back. Meanwhile, two other nuclear planes are zipping merrily through the air on an apparent collision course. Are you buying this? A fully loaded 767 is a bad enough hazard without dumping in a bucket of hafnium-178 and a powerful x-ray machine.

To be fair, they themselves acknowledge this story has been here before: “Older POPULAR MECHANICS readers may recall that an atomic plane was featured as our January 1951 cover story.” I don’t think we’ve heard the last of the atomic plane. Perhaps this latest issue of Popular Mechanics will show up in a future edition of Yesterday’s Tomorrows.

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