What to you get when you combine an old Soviet tank with two Soviet jet engines and a lot of water? The answer is Big Wind, a fire truck capable of stopping oil well fires all by itself.

In February of 1991, near the end of the Gulf War, the retreating Iraqi army set over 700 Kuwaiti oil wells on fire, thus creating the desert into an almost apocalyptic landscape. Up to six million barrels of oil burned every day for 30 weeks, sending flames as high as 300 feet into the air and covering the sky with thick, black smoke. The fires reached temperatures of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, and even the air around them was an unbearable 650 degrees Fahrenheit, but even if anyone managed to get close enough, putting out the fires was a nearly impossible task. But that was just the kind of job that Big Wind was built for…

Inspired by a Russian idea, Big Wind consisted of T-34 Soviet tank dating back to World War 2, with its gun turret replaced by two MiG-21 fighter-plane engines and six water nozzles. It looks like something out of an old sci-fi movie and, when those two engines are turned on, it sounds like that too.

According to Car and Driver, the Soviets had managed to blow out gas and oil well fires and cleared airfields of snow by using a single MiG-15 jet engine bolted onto the bed of a large truck. Inspired by this idea, Hungarian company MB Drilling developed an improved version that uses two powerful jet engines strapped to a more solid base, an old tank. It was named Big Wind.

The impressive-looking firetruck was supposed to put out oil well fires in Hungary, but in early 1991 it was flown into Kuwait to help put out the devastating fires, and it managed to do just that at the nine wells that it was used at.

Big Wind is not your average fire truck. It couldn’t really be used in any old house fire, as it would most likely do more harm than good. That’s because its two jet engines can produce a whopping 27,000 pounds of thrust, blowing out 4591 cubic feet of air at around 770mph. That’s enough to  blow the windows and doors, maybe even the walls of a house right off.

This incredibly powerful firetruck was specifically designed to put out oil well fires. The powerful air currents pumped out by the two jet engines, mixed with the water coming out through the six nozzles above the engines, are enough to sever the oil stream coming out of the ground, essentially depriving the flames above of fuel.

Apparently, the first 15 to 30 feet of oil coming out of the well doesn’t burn, because it travels too fast for oxygen to mix with it and ignite. It’s this stream of oil that Big Wind targets with its powerful combination of air and water. Cutting through the oil stream kills the fire, and the water also cools the air around the site, thus preventing reignition.

Big Wind made history during the Gulf War, managing to put out nine fires and recap the wells, with only a crew of three middle-aged firemen operating it. It’s unclear if the impressive-looking contraption is still being used today, or if a newer, improved version exists, but it still regarded as probably the most powerful firetruck in human history.

According to a post by Hungarian petroleum giant MOL Group, Big Wind is still in service as the company’s “fire extinguisher”.

 

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