Have you ever wanted to own a lightsaber? Well, now you can (sort of): The U.S. Air Force has developed a welding torch that apparently cuts through metal like a lightsaber would through a Sith Lord. It’s compact, versatile, and burns through whatever you put in its way with a 2,760 degree celsius (5,000 degree fahrenheit) jet of vaporized metal.
This device – described as a handheld thermal breaching torch – might not produce a solid beam of colorful light, but it does physically resemble the famous Jedi weapon. Furthermore, it is designed to fit into the utility belt of anyone who really needs to break through a wall at a moment’s notice.
Invented by Energetic Materials & Products, Inc., its ammunition cartridges contain a solution of metal powder fuel and a metal oxide, a combination commonly referred to as thermite. This mixture – often using iron oxide and aluminum powder – is perfectly stable until strongly heated, whereupon a violent reduction-oxidation (redox) reaction occurs and a vast amount of thermal energy is rapidly released.
As the metal powder is more reactive than the metal oxide, the oxygen is stolen by the powder, with the resulting mixture being aluminum oxide and iron; the typical reaction is so hot that it can burn underwater. With no sort of containment, the heat will escape in multiple directions. This torch, on the other hand, focuses the intense thermal energy release into a miniature “jet,” allowing it to burn through specific, targeted spots.
Image credit: It’s not quite a bonafide lightsaber just yet, but it’s not too far off. Credit: Thomas S./Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Unlike a lightsaber, however, this torch definitely isn’t an elegant weapon for a more civilized age: It’ll mostly be used by emergency responders, law enforcement officers, and the military to quickly breach through doors, windows, barricades and even hostile vehicles. Lock picking often takes too long, and high explosives are a shade too unsubtle, so this tool fits somewhere in the middle: It’s quick, portable, and exceedingly efficient.
Check out the new torch below in its promotional video, accompanied by some appropriately dramatic music.