What do you get when you combine an old Soviet tank with two Soviet jet engines and lots of water? The answer is Big Wind, a fire truck capable of stopping oil well fires on its own.
In February 1991, towards the end of the Gulf War, the retreating Iraqi army set over 700 Kuwaiti oil wells on fire, turning the desert into an almost apocalyptic landscape. For 30 weeks, up to six million barrels of oil burned every day, sending flames up to 100 meters high into the air and covering the sky with thick, black smoke. The fires reached 2,000 degrees Celsius, and even the air around them was unbearable, but even if someone could get close enough, putting out the fires was an almost impossible task. But that was exactly the kind of job Big Wind was built for …
Inspired by a Russian idea, Big Wind consisted of a Soviet T-34 tank from WWII, the turret of which was replaced by two MiG-21 fighter aircraft engines and six water jets. It looks like an old science fiction movie, and when those two motors are on, it sounds like that too.
According to Car and Driver, the Soviets had managed to extinguish gas and oil well fires and clear airfields of snow with a single MiG-15 engine bolted to the back of a large truck. Inspired by this idea, the Hungarian company MB Drilling developed an improved version that uses two powerful jet engines mounted on a more solid base, an old tank. It was called Big Wind.
The impressive-looking fire engine was designed to put out oil well fires in Hungary, but was flown to Kuwait in early 1991 to put out the devastating fires and succeeded in the nine wells it was used on.
Big Wind is not your average fire truck. It couldn’t really be used on an 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 and blow out 4,591 cubic feet of air at about 770 mph. That’s enough to blow up the windows and doors, maybe even the walls of a house.
This incredibly powerful fire truck is specially designed to extinguish oil well fires. The powerful air currents that are pumped out by the two jet engines and the water that exits through the six nozzles above the engines are sufficient to cut through the oil flow coming from the ground and essentially remove the fuel from the flames above.
Apparently, the first 5 to 30 feet of oil that comes out of the wellbore doesn’t burn because it travels too fast for oxygen to mix with and ignite. It is this flow of oil that Big Wind is targeting with its powerful combination of air and water. Cutting the flow of oil extinguishes the fire, and the water also cools the air around the construction site, preventing reignition.
Big Wind made history during the Gulf War, managing to put out nine fires and recap the wells with just a crew of three middle-aged firefighters operating it. It’s unclear whether the impressive-looking device is still in use today or if there is a newer, improved version, but it is still considered to be possibly the most powerful fire engine in human history.
According to a contribution by the Hungarian oil giant MOL Group, Big Wind is still in use as the company’s “fire extinguisher”.