The U. S. military calls its new weapon an “active denial system,” but that’s an understatement. It’s a ray gun that shoots a beam making people feel as if they’re about to catch fire.

Ray guns give testimony to the “Space Race” of a not-to-distant era when the United States was locked into a deadly competition between two superpowers.

Apart from causing that terrifying sensation, this new technology is supposed to be harmless – a nonlethal way to get enemies to drop their weapons.

Military officials say it could save the lives of innocent civilians and service members in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

The weapon isn’t expected to go into production until at least 2010, but all branches of the military have expressed interest in it, it has been so told.

During the first media demonstration of the weapon Wednesday, airmen fired beams from a large dish antenna mounted atop a Humvee at people pretending to be rioters and acting out other scenarios that U.S. troops might encounter in war zones.

The device’s two-man crew located their targets through powerful lenses and fired beams from more than 500 yards away. That is nearly 17 times the range of existing nonlethal weapons, such as rubber bullets.

Anyone hit by the beam immediately jumped out of its path because of the sudden blast of heat throughout the body. While the 130-degree heat wasn’t painful, it was intense enough to make the participants think their clothes were about to ignite.

The system uses electromagnetic millimeter waves, which can penetrate only 1/64th of an inch of skin, just enough to cause discomfort. By comparison, microwaves used in the common kitchen appliance penetrate several inches of flesh.

The millimeter waves can’t go through walls, but they can penetrate most clothing, officials said.

The system was developed by the military, but the two devices currently being evaluated were built by defense contractor Raytheon.

Perhaps someone could tip off our government’s Government Accounting Office (GAO) and remind them about competitive bidding and/or opening up the competition to more bidders and a variety of models. However:

The first toy ray guns were produced in the 1930s and 1940s. Part of the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon craze that swept the United States they were a byproduct of the popularization of space that occurred in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Buck Rogers was an air force officer who lapsed into a coma and awakened in the 25th Century, Rogers and his cohorts, the lovely Wilma Deering and the intrepid scientist Dr. Huer, struggled to rid the world of evil warlords and “Mongol” hordes. Shades of the “Evil Empire” I do think.

So insatiable was the public appetite for the daring space traveler that he spawned another popular space hero, Flash Gordon, created in 1934 by King Features to compete with the Buck Rogers comic strip. Like Buck, Flash soon became a comic book hero and radio star.

The first “ray” gun was made of cardboard and produced in 1933. Made by Cocomalt, one of the early sponsors of Buck’s radio drama, this gun was offered, along with a cardboard Buck Rogers helmet, as a mail-away premium. One “shoots” the gun with a flick of the wrist, causing a piece of folded paper inside the gun to snap as it pops out. Length 9 1/2 inches.

The XZ-38, is one of the first toy ray guns ever made. Produced by Daisy around 1935, it sports a fluted barrel, bristling flamboyant fins, and an “electronic compression chamber” which sparks menacingly when the trigger is pulled.

The Spinray was made by Armstrong and Brewer of Kalamazoo, Michigan, around 1948, and is among the most unusually shaped toy guns ever manufactured. Made of cast aluminum, it has a strong techno-industrial appearance, which contrasts dramatically with the delicate propeller and flower-shaped design on the gun body.

Flash Gordon inspired only one toy space gun in the 1930s, the Flash Gordon Radio Repeater. A lithographed tin clicker, the gun was made by the Louis Marx Co. around 1937. Marx kept the molds for this gun and reused them later to make its 1950s Tom Corbett and Flash Gordon space guns.

The Superman Krypto-Raygun was produced by Daisy in 1940. A “genuine electric projector pistol,” the gun is equipped with seven 16mm Superman films which can be projected through a lens at the end of the barrel. The gun is available in a colorful box illustrated with a picture of Superman drawn by Joe Schuster, one of Superman’s creators. Of course, today’s warriors could be accessorized.

Like the dueling cowboys of the wild west who preceded them, space heroes have often carried their weapons in holsters which not only showcase the firearm but allow (as one advertisement says) for “quick-draw action.” Thus, it isn’t surprising that one of the most notable recent space heroes, Han Solo, sheathed his deadly blaster in a quick-draw holster, hung low, or “gun-slinger” fashion, on his hip.

.”Electronic video goggles” were made in the 1950s, a product related to one of the early, and very popular, TV space heroes, Captain Video. Will our intrepid 21st Century gunners wear these?

If you hurry, there is a Flash Gordon Ray Gun available on E-Bay with a starting bid of $6.99. Don’t delay since Item 120078710432’s auction ends next Tuesday at 7:58pm PST.

Will somebody please tip off the guv’ment? For after all, us taxpayers could save some money here. Perhaps Raytheon and Ideal Toys could merge thus create a mega corporation providing more jobs in a far off distant land but the costs would not be but a pittance on our balance of trade., eh?

Be Sociable, Share!