America’s Experimental Lenticular Reentry Vehicle (LRV) Program

Just Another Nuclear Flying Saucer

February 2, 2001

And you thought those were aliens, silly!

The best place to be when the bombs start dropping is elsewhere. The larger the bomb, the farther the elsewhere. This is just a rule of thumb, but consider do consider its merits if you happen to find yourself in a thermonuclear shouting match some time in the near future.

America’s experimental Lenticular Reentry Vehicle (LRV) program, a product of the Cold War in the 1950s and ’60s, was designed from the go to provide a crew of four the best possible view of the action should a hot war break out between the United States and the Soviet Union-300 miles beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. Packed with four nuclear rockets with MIRV-capability and powered by a Hypergolic/Nuclear drive, the disc-shaped LRV would have made for just about the ultimate in high-altitude nuclear bombing entertainment if it had ever come to be.

After WWII, Nazi engineers where a hot commodity. The Russians grabbed everyone on the their side of the Berlin Wall. The United States claimed most of those who’d had the sense to go west. One of the little nuggets discovered amongst the catches of German aircraft schematics was a design for an ultra-fast, flying wing, a rocket plane that looked something like a compact disc cut in half. The design produced minimal drag, excellent carrying capacity and seemed a fine starting point for U.S. weapons designers looking to dump a few billion into another secret weapons program designed to provide the Stars & Stripes with a strategic advantage over Mother Russia during the early stages of the Cold War. In fact, the very existence of the LRV program remained classified until 1999, when a congressional mandate forced the Department of Defense to open some of its old files. The LRV, which was first conceived sometime the late 1950s or early 1960s, was one of the unusual discoveries.

How close the LRV came to christening isn’t at all clear. The idea was apparently proposed in 1959 and classified in 1962. Not much else is known. There has been some speculation the last couple years, however, that some of those bright lights Iowa farmers kerp seeing hovering over their wheat fields may have rather more domestic origins than the UFO hysterics would like to believe. Be that as it may, the design schematics for the LRV released with the DOD documents are pretty intriguing.

Built around a 40-foot diameter airframe, the LRV would have likely been hefted into space by a solid rocket booster. Once relieved of its burden, a chemical/nuclear drive could keep the disc aloft and circling the globe for up to six weeks, during which it would presumably dispose of its nuclear payload somewhere behind the Iron Curtain. The four-man crew rode in a detachable capsule that could be blown out from the main hull in an emergency. Sleeping quarters and operations rooms were partitioned off in the vehicle proper. The weapons payload-four MIRV (Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicle) capable rockets would be housed out back two on each side of a center-mounted launch tube.

Assuming things went well, and there was something left to return to after its mission besides a glowing ball of radioactive goo, the LRV would re-enter the atmosphere edge-first, its razor-thin disc edge helping to dissipate reentry heat. Retractable skids would have given it something to land on. All it needed was a long, dry flat space, a kind of real estate which, in the wake of a nuclear holocaust, would likely be readily available. A helium balloon would then raise the craft and return it to its launch site in preparation for its next little bit of fun.

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