Archive Gallery: The Twentieth Century’s Best-Kept Military Secrets

Death-ray bombs, giant flamethrowers, unclassified airfields, and more of history's deepest military secrets
Although military applications of lasers were kept largely a secret, we published an article that pieced together bits of information to conclude that laser radiation weapons would soon reach perfection. We reported that military researchers had used a laser beam to shoot down a drone. Additionally, the Air Force thought it possible to build a space-based laser system that would guide missiles into targeted countries. Military planners also cooked up a laser defense system, which would disable incoming missiles in just seconds. Just nine years later, however, President Reagan's controversial Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars") would research lasers as defensive weapons and test concepts for an X-ray laser beam. Read the full story in "Laser Weapons -- How Close Are We?"

It’s hard to look at military spending without wondering what’s behind the scenes.. For instance, in this month’s issue of Popular Science, we investigate what exactly the Pentagon is getting for the $58 billion it has dropped on classified assassination weapons.

A peek in our archives revealed that Popular Science has a long history of investigating top-secret operations. We didn’t hesitate to publish an expose on “loony gas” warfare in 1960, nor did we refrain from sending one of our reporters into Groom Lake’s unofficial airfield.

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One of our earliest mentions of the military’s “black budget” occurred in March of 1993, when civilians claimed to catch glimpses of the Air Force’s hypothetical, hypersonic Aurora aircraft. Although we can only guess at the details of aircraft experimentation, we do know that there’s a lot of money being funneled away in the name of fighting terrorists.

While the Age of Terrorism is a fairly recent concept, government secrets go back as long as we can remember. Everyone loves a good speculative theory, and while time has rendered some secrets, like Nazi Germany’s rocket weaponry, common knowledge, other operations remain shrouded in code words and confidential reports.

Sound intriguing? There’s a lot more where that came from. Launch the gallery and join us as we investigate history’s most enigmatic military tech.