ATLAS-I: The Cold War-Era Facility That Tested The Effects of EMP on Military Aircraft

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Flying in and out of Albuquerque, in New Mexico, the United States, one can catch a glimpse of a gigantic wooden trestle standing in the middle of an enormous pit in the desert. Built between 1972 and 1980, this wood and glue laminate structure called ATLAS-I (Air Force Weapons Lab Transmission-Line Aircraft Simulator) was used extensively during the waning days of the Cold War to test how well the United States’ strategic assets could withstand the effects of the electromagnetic pulse.

An electromagnetic pulse, or EMP in short, is an intense burst of electromagnetic energy that can be used as a weapon to inflict damage upon electrical and electronic systems by generating high levels of current and voltage surges to burn out sensitive components such as semi-conductors. Although not directly lethal, an electromagnetic bomb, or e-bomb, can devastate and render functionless any modern society that rely on electricity by knocking out their power grid and disrupting communication equipment.


ATLAS-I, also known as the Trestle, near Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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