Oil well fires are notoriously difficult to extinguish. An immense amount of combustible fuel supplied to the inferno means that when an oil well does erupt into flames, they often go on for a long time and cost fortunes. Most oil well fires are extinguished by obscene amounts of seawater, sprayed directly at the base until it cannot continue, but in the early 1990s, a team of Hungarian engineers designed something way more awesome.
Enter Big Wind. A bizarre hybrid between tank and jet fighter, this colossal 46-ton beast is exactly what it looks like – two powerful jet engines strapped onto the top of a Soviet-era tank.
Specifically, the tank base is a T-34, a medium tank that saw ample battles during World War II, but replacing the gun now sits two MiG-21 fighter jet engines. According to some, Big Wind was originally designed to combat the chemical and nuclear threats from the Cold War, in which the two 3 meter-long (10 foot) jet engines would blast steam at contaminated tanks to instantly rid them of the toxic fallout. Others suggest it was built when the Russians extinguished oil well fires with a single MiG-15 engine on the back of a pickup truck, but thought that just one engine no longer cut it.
Watch as Big Wind blasts a fire into oblivion. Video Credit: Our Awesome World/YouTube
Either way, Big Wind quickly found its niche, and that was combatting the rampant oil well fires of Kuwait.
In 1991, Iraqi soldiers had conquered the city of Kuwait, but were expulsed by a United Nations intervention. In their hasty retreat, the soldiers set fire to an astonishing network of 600 oil wells throughout Kuwait in an attempt to cripple oil production in the country. Just one oil well fire is a mammoth effort to extinguish, but an entire country filled with billowing flames and toxic fumes raining from the sky was a catastrophe.
Luckily, Big Wind was perfectly equipped for the job. As the behemoth rolled onto the stage, the MiG-21 engines fired up, forcing huge amounts of air at the speed of sound directly out of the tank’s modified turret. Retrofitted with three water pipes on each engine to introduce water into the mix, Big Wind could suddenly output 220 gallons of water per second in a powerful jet of exhaust and steam. Even the most stubborn oil well fires didn’t stand a chance.
Big Wind was controlled by three crew: a driver to control the movement of the tank; a controller to take command of the water stream; and a fire chief, who is outside the tank instructing the crew on how to combat the blaze. There are records of Big Wind extinguishing a number of fires throughout Kuwait, shown in the documentary Fires of Kuwait.
There is little evidence on Big Wind’s whereabouts or final fate, but the idea was nothing short of an insane stroke of genius. The final oil well was capped on November 6, 1991, and the need for Big Wind’s monstrous firefighting capabilities likely dwindled dramatically. The idea didn’t quite catch on commercially, and the more traditional method of using hoses is utilized more often than jet engines nowadays.