Norman Bel Geddes

The Design of Norman Bel Geddes

Norman Bel Geddes was an American industrial designer and futurist who had a major influence on the streamlined Art Deco design of the 1930s and 40s.

Geddes started out as a theater set designer before opening his own industrial design studio in 1927. His early work included such consumer products as cocktail shakers and radio cabinets. He quickly moved on to more ambitious projects, including a teardrop-shaped car and the amphibian Airliner Number 4.

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Assassin's Creed Unity scene

Airships of War

In the real world, airships weren’t successful weapons of war. Zeppelins were terrifying but inaccurate. Navigation, target selection and bomb aiming were difficult under the best of circumstances. In darkness, at high altitude and amid the English clouds, accuracy was too much to ask for.

British propaganda poster
1916 British propaganda poster depicts a German zeppelin being shot down

German zeppelins were initially immune to attack by aeroplane and anti-aircraft guns. As the pressure in their envelopes was only just higher than ambient, holes had little effect. But once incendiary bullets were developed and used against them, their flammable hydrogen lifting gas made them vulnerable at low altitudes. Several zeppelins were shot down in flames by British defenders. Others crashed on the way to England. The Germans started flying higher and higher, but this only made their airships even less effective.

The zeppelin campaign proved to be a disaster in terms of morale, men and material. Many pioneers of the German airship service were lost.

But why let such facts stand in the way of a good story?

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Thunderbirds Fireflash art

The Fabulous Vehicles of Thunderbirds

F.A.B.! If you grew up watching Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s marionette science-fiction show, you’ll remember that among the greatest things about it were the futuristic vehicles. In addition to the Thunderbirds machines, there were supersonic airplanes, nuclear-powered ships and spacecraft.

For the uninitiated: the 1960s franchise, set in the 2060s, is about a wealthy family that runs the life-saving International Rescue organization from an island in the South Pacific. Each episode features a disaster, typically involving a futuristic vehicle, to which the Thunderbirds respond with their unique capabilities.

Here is a look at some of the most fabulous vehicles of the week.

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Project Habakkuk artwork

Unsinkable British Aircraft Carrier — On Ice!

In 1942, the War in the Atlantic was not going well for the Allies. German submarines, operating in “wolf packs” just out of aircraft range, wrecked havoc on Allied supply lines. In the first half of the year, the Allies managed to sink just one U-boat for every forty merchant ships lost. At that rate, Britain would soon run out of matériel to sustain the war.

Atlantic Ocean map
Map of the military situation in the Atlantic in mid-1941, from Life magazine (July 21, 1941)

Lord Louis Mountbatten, as chief of Combined Operations, was responsible for coming up with a solution. He encouraged his department to explore every possibility, no matter how outlandish. One of the ideas, which originated with the inventor Geoffrey Pyke, was to built an aircraft carrier out of ice, which would allow the Allies to attack German U-boats no matter how far they sailed from the coast. The reason Pyke settled on ice was that aluminum and steel were in such short supply.

Mountbatten and Prime Minister Winston Churchill were enthusiastic.

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Red Alert 3 concept art

Weapons of Red Alert

In Command & Conquer: Red Alert (1996), Albert Einstein travels back in time and kills Adolf Hitler. He prevents the emergence of Nazi Germany, but this clears the way for a Soviet invasion of Europe in 1946.

The Soviets are defeated, but they get their revenge three decades later in Red Alert 2 (2000) by attacking the continental United States.

In the third game (2008), it are the Soviets who travel back in time to prevent their defeat at the hand of the Allies. Their trip has unforeseen consequences as well: they inadvertently create a more powerful Japan and trigger a three-way world war.

Throughout these games we get to play with some crazy diesel- and atompunk weapons, from the Soviets’ mighty Apocalypse Tank to Tesla Troopers.

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Schwerer Gustav German railway gun

Wonder Weapons of the Third Reich

As the Allies closed in on Hitler’s Germany in late 1944 and early 1945, a desperate Nazi regime turned to “wonder weapons” in a final effort to turn the tide in the war.

The best-known as the V-1 and V-2 rockets, which rained down on London by the hundreds but failed to demoralize the British. Others, such as the V-3 cannon and Schwerer Gustav railway gun, were barely used. Others yet, like the German atomic bomb and Die Glocke, either barely advanced beyond the drawing board or never existed at all.

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