b'P ROVING THE P RINCIPLEDuring 1955 and 1956, the Air Forcewas ascendant once more in Was ith ngo n ,so Fly early was the order of the day.If for no other reason than to invent andrehearse the procedures on the groundwhen an airplane returned from its mis-sion, GE needed a special hangaraFlight Engine Test (FET) facility. Th epower plant inside the airplane, crippledor not, would somehow have to beremoved from the airframe and taken toG E s huge Hot Shop, disassembled andstudied, repaired or replaced. Hangarcrews would have to handle the ordinarymaintenance of a hot airplane, not onlyits nuclear features. Such problems asextracting crew members from theirshielded cockpit without exposing themto a gamma field had to be solved.APEX-901 Nothing about nuclear flight could beAbove. Typical mission profile envisaged by U.S. The mission was.to fly [reconnais - taken for granted. Money flowed, andAir Force for a nuclear-powered aircraft flight. sance] around Russia. If necessary, NRTS construction payrolls bulgedBelow. HTRE-3 components: reactor shield, single they would come in, dive down low, aga n. 16i chemical combustor mounted behind the reactor- deliver a few bombs in strategic spotsshield assembly, two modified J-47 turbojet and leave. And then come back [to theMeanwhile, HTRE experiments contin-engines, and interconnecting ducting. American coast], turn off the reactors ued, but reactor fuel and materials had[to] let them cool off some, and fly a long way to go. GE wanted to irradi-through a corridor [on chemical fuel] ate fuel elements in the MTR, but theyback to our site.were too large to fit in the MTRs testholes and the ETR was not yet ready.We looked at population densities alongSo GE retooled the HTRE as a materi-the [possible corridor routes]. The air - als test reactor. Machinists drilled aplane would have been escorted in hexagonal space in the center of the[and] escorted out. [If it crashed] we reactor. GE called it HTRE-2. The holewould have been able to dump tons andwas a generous eleven inches widetons of foam, things of that kind. This across the sides of the hexagon.was during the Cold War. People were Physicists inserted various metals andserious. fuel elements, subjecting them to neu-15tron flux and temperatures up to 2,800degrees F. for sustained periods of time.Their work moved high-heat reactormaterials into the realm of ceramics.Courtesy of General Electric Aircraft Engines Division1 2 2'