The Radioactive Mite

by Chuck Fairchild

This is the second in a series of Chuck's adventures in a Mite....

Once upon a time many years ago Mite 4156 was even used to transport radioactive material. My employer was involved in a project to develop tungsten coated radioactive thermionic-fuel-pins to be used as space-probe power sources. We developed the fabrication and coating technique, but a California company did the actual production coating.

When we needed the first small batch of 100 (¼” diameter by 2” long) test pins coated in CA, I was to take them there, observe and critique the process, and bring the coated pins back. When I decided to carry them in the Mite, there was no fuss and very little paperwork needed to allow me to carry the batch of radioactive pins under my clothes bag immediately behind the seat, packed in a cardboard container. Today, it would simply not be allowed because of safety, security, environmental, and administrative regulations. It would be necessary now to spend probably 1,000 times the amount that the trip in the Mite cost then. At that time an individual was trusted as no one is now.

Anyway, the trip itself was not eventful except that it was one of only two times in 6 years that the Mite engine faltered. Although it was September, the temperature was very hot departing a fuel stop in Needles, CA. On climb out the oil temperature gauge exceeded red line before the plane reached a cooler altitude. The engine sputtered and almost quit until power was reduced to the point where altitude could just be maintained. After a bit the engine temperature came down and with more power the plane climbed to a cooler altitude with no further trouble. Thus the slight problem of radioactive material being spread over the California desert was avoided!

November 5, 2003