Instrumentation by the Decade: The 50’s

2019-06-26 07:38:03.000 – Charlie Peachey, IT Intern


The 50’s were another busy period of time in Mount Washington history. The U.S Army and Navy were working on a joint research project at the mountain. The notoriety of our rime icing and extreme conditions drew them to the summit to test their prototype jet engines and helicopters. Beginning in 1948, they set up a hanger on the lower parking lot of the summit for storing supplies and equipment (pictured below). Using the cog railway they were able to haul their massive jet engines and all the equipment up the mountain in preparation for winter. Before this research project, jet engines were practically useless during extreme cold weather conditions. Their air intakes would suck in freezing cold air and create rime ice. It was typically a matter of minutes before the engines would be choked off and stop working. They conducted pivotal research on jet engines and helicopters that helped save the lives of pilots by better preparing planes to deal with ice. Pictured below is one of the U.S Army’s first experimental helicopters landing on the summit of Mount Washington. The second and third photos are courtesy of the U.S Army.

Another important project the Army was working on was developing better clothing and gear for cold weather. It was not as glamorous as testing jet engines, but it proved to be just as crucial on the battlefield. In the November 1954 edition of the Mount Washington Bulletin, there is a quote from one soldier who remembered the bitter, winter cold of the Battle of the Bulge, the Nazi’s 1944-45 last offensive. He says ““If our making these tests now will keep some poor guy from freezing,” he says, “I’ll tackle Mt. Washington everyday for as long as I’m needed.” Their research was quickly proved to be valuable in Korea with the development and use of a five person arctic tent and insulated boots. Some of the other items they tested were pajama-type underwear, 10-man arctic tents, insulating liners for cold weather clothing, inverted gasoline lanterns, preventative sunburn cream and 200-pound capacity plastic, boat-type sleds.


The research done by the U.S Army also brought another vital piece of equipment to the summit; the Sno Cat. The Sno Cat was first used by the U. S. Army to make the transportation of equipment up and down the mountain easier. It is now used by summit staff to get up and down the mountain during the winter season. It is a crucial tool to keeping the observatory staffed and operational for half the year. Below is a picture of some of the first Sno Cats on the mountain and an original cartoon for a December, 1951 issue of the Mount Washington Bulletin.


With all the ongoing research projects at the summit, observers soon realized the need for more space at the observatory. They also saw the need to advance the technology to keep pace with the technological innovations at the time. With those ideas in mind the proposal to build a new observation tower came into place. They noted that, “times have passed that a rugged mountaineer in a little hut equipped with an anemometer and a thermometer can supply adequate scientific information” they now needed to keep pace with technology, “in the age of electronics and satellites”. 


Charlie Peachey, IT Intern

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