In late February of 1991, what had once been the third-largest Army on earth was now reduced to little more than a charred smoking pile of burning garbage strewn out across the desert in mangled heaps of failure and the scorched chassis of cast-off Soviet hand-me-down armored vehicles. The vaunted, hardened veterans of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard had been epically bombed-to-hell by a multinational coalition of pissed-off world powers, who had pretty vigorously responded to his hostile military takeover of Kuwait by direct depositing a literal assload of high-explosive ordinance all the way up his army’s collective rectum, and the whole humiliating ordeal had gone down live on CNN in front of everyone in the world.
But here’s the thing about Saddam Hussein. You can say what you want about his horrific track record as a terrifying military dictator tyrant motherfucker, but this was also a guy who knew how to say “screw you guys I’m outta here” in a way that makes that scene from Half Baked look like a Yale University acceptance letter.
He burned the entire multi-billion-dollar fucking Kuwaiti oil industry to the goddamn ground on his way out of town.
This is kind of like the military equivalent of getting kicked out of your neighborhood hoops game for being an aggro dickhead and then popping the ball before you leave for home. Using awesomely-short-sighted scorched earth tactics so absurdly diabolical they literally had the potential to end all life on earth, Saddam ordered his men to take Zippos to every fucking oil derrick in a country that currently sits on like 90 billion gallons of crude. 600-700 oil drilling sites were morphed into 200-foot-tall pillars of 2,000-degree like some kind of Old Testament Dungeons & Dragons shit. All along the horizon, humongous spikes of fire roared twenty-four hours day and night like Lucifer shooting a flamethrower straight up from hell, permanently darkening the sky with choking, noxious amounts of pitch-black smoke.
4.6 million gallons of crude oil burned every goddamn day for six months straight. The 3,400 tons of smoke released each day were causing photochemical smog and acid rain in places over a thousand miles away. It was an environmental and economic catastrophe of Bond villain proportions. According to some engineers it was going to take between two and five YEARS to put out the never-ending blazes, and scientists predicted it would churn out enough evil smoke to encircle large portions of the earth, drop temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere by up to ten degrees, and create what one asshole called “nuclear winter like conditions.”
It was a world crisis. Not only were companies losing literally billions of dollars over it, but this saddamn nightmare was in danger of permanently fucking up the entire planet on an unprecedented scale. If humanity wanted to (once again) prevent ourselves from suiciding out our own species, we were going to have to pull out all the stops and go into full-on Crazy Shit Mode.
Luckily for us, the Hungarians had already punched the throttle on that mode a long time ago.
What do you get when you cross a World War II T-34 main battle tanks with a pair of supersonic Soviet MiG-21s fighter jets, a low-budget Gundam, the most awesome water slide ever, your mom, and the imminent threat of badass Cold War 1980s thermonuclear holocaust?
Meet BIG WIND. Sure, she might look like an armored railgun ripped straight out of Michael Bay’s secret porn stash, but in reality it’s probably the most badass non-lethal tank in human history.
The concept of BIG WIND began in the late 80s, when pretty much everybody worried about an impending life-or-death Patrick Swayzian murder-war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact with nothing less than the fate of Earth hanging in the balance. Sure, most of these scenarios involved thermonuclear mutually assured destruction, but another possibility both sides had to consider was what to do if the armies fought an old-school badass land war in Europe, only, you know, every once in a a while someone dropped a tactical nuke or two and atomized a couple tank divisions. Well the Hungarians decided it would probably be useful to have some iron-clad way to decontaminate surviving armored vehicles and clean off all the nuclear waste, so they decided to strap two hulking MiG-21 jet engines onto an obsolete T-34 tank chassis and hook it up to six hoses that could inject water and disinfectant into the blast.
The war never actually happened, but it turned out that BIG WIND had another, equally-rad use – you could fill it up with water and fire-controlling chemicals and use it to blow the fucking shit out of Kuwaiti oil field fires with twin-engined jet streams of turbocharged hydraulic awesomeness.
Created by MB Drilling, a company based out of Oman, BIG WIND was built by Hungarian crews outside Budapest in a facility I like to envision as looking a lot like Nikola Tesla’s mad scientist laboratory. It’s two 10-foot-long jet engines cranked onto a 46-ton tank with 90 millimeters of sloped frontal armor, and even though it can’t break ten miles an hour on the highway it fucking generates 27,000 pounds of thrust and can crank out 8,000 gallons of water a minute while its engines scream at a volume so insanely loud that it can literally make blood start running out of your goddamn ears.
And, uh, if you were wondering what Satan’s super soaker would perform like on the front lines, this double-barreled self-propelled aquatic artillery barfs out so much water that it can smash your face with enough high-velocity liquid to fill this awesome New Jersey-style above-ground swimming pool:
In about ten seconds.
Oh yeah, and not only are you filling a regulation-size swimming pool in the amount of time it takes you to get zero to sixty in a late-80s IROC-Z Camaro, but the water is traveling at a bone-shattering 770 miles an hour when it comes out of the barrel. So you’re basically pissing out a Gulf War oil field fire with water that is traveling faster than the fucking speed of sound.
Here’s the way BIG WIND works. It’s crewed by three badass middle-aged Hungarian firefighters – a driver, a turret operator, and the team commander – all wearing fire-proof suits that make them look like they’re Hollywood stunt men portraying sci-fi space marines. After being unloaded in the Persian Gulf off a C-130 in August, 1991, this thing would drive straight up to an endless 200-foot-tall geyser of white-hot burning gasoline and then plug their hose into the nearest lake, well, or groundwater hole. Then this trio of Hungarian madmen would drive the tank to within an insane 25 feet from the flame-belching wellhead, a distance at which the heat-shielded controls still get so screaming hot that you can only touch them with military-grade oven mitts, and crank up the twin jet engines to nearly full power. With a deafening whine the MiGs would start launching 220 gallons of water per second out like a Doom Super Shotgun of fire-quenching justice, blowing so hard that it destroyed the steady stream of oil and kept it from feeding the fire. The water and chemicals would simultaneously blow out the fire in the general area, and turn what was once a Dante’s Inferno of flame into a geyser of liquid gold. Teams out then run in, cap the wellhead, and move on to the next one.
Before BIG WIND arrived, crews in the Persian Gulf were putting the oil field fires out at a rate of two to three per day. After August, that rate increased to four or six per day. Sure, BIG WIND wasn’t doing it all herself, but for 46 days in the sandbox she definitely made a name for herself.
By November 6, 1991, the last of the fires was finally out. Engineers had predicted it would take five years. The fire crews on the ground had accomplished their mission in less than nine months.
Gulf War firefighting was BIG WIND’s biggest and most badass test, but you’d be surprised to find out how many uses a person can find for a 46-ton leaf blower tank that shoots water at 770 miles an hour. In the years since Desert Storm, the most badass fire extinguisher ever made has been sent around the world to fight oil fires, and has even been brought in to clear snowed-in airplane runways of ice and debris on occasion. Because why not.
She’s still in service today.
Grace, Robert D. Blowout and Well Control Handbook. Elsevier, 2003.
Hirschmann, Kristine. The Kuwaiti Oil Fires. Infobase, 2009.
Ross, Jeffrey Ian. Controlling State Crime. Transaction, 2000.