In the early 1940s, the Army's 1.3 million-square-foot Detroit Arsenal was built in just seven months. The facility had a single purpose: to build quality tanks. In 1946, the Tank-Automotive Components Laboratory, now known as the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), was formed.
On April 11, 1941 - just seven months after the groundbreaking of the 'new' Chrysler plant - 230 workers finished the first tank, also known as tank No. 1. The 30-ton M3, the General Lee, was presented to the Army as a gift from Chrysler.
Workers and dignitaries watch an M3 tank demonstration outside the glass wall of the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant in 1941. (Photo courtesy of Chrysler Group LLC)
In July of 1942, President Roosevelt and the First Lady visited the Detroit Arsenal. FDR commented that this visit was an “amazing demonstration of what can be done by the right organization, spirit and planning.”
Here's the Swamp Skipper from 1948. With a chain drive and skid steering, it was well-suited for Louisiana swamps, among others.
During WWII, 65 percent of all U.S. tanks built were Shermans. This is the M4 Sherman tank back in 1951. It had a large engine for its weight and was considered both reliable and highly mobile, earning tributes as the tank that won the war!
American ingenuity prevailed as Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant workers built as many Shermans as the total production from all German manufacturers combined.
Application of the Albee Rolligon (pneumatic rollers) principle to a Dodge Power Wagon. The idea was to keep vehicles from bogging down in rain gutted roads and/or rice paddies.
TARDEC's Test Cell 9 in Building 212 under construction, February 1955. Still active today, the cell's ambient temperature can be cranked up to 160F and air can be streamed from eight different directions from 5-20 mph.
Back in 1956, TARDEC engineers developed a serious approach to remote-control vehicles. Using four phases of development, a remote controlled demolition vehicle was integrated. Known as “Little David” (no, we are not talking about the Soldier to the right …), it was a six-wheeled platform with a two-cycle engine that could travel up to 35 mph and carry a payload of 250 pounds! Little David could “do it all,” paving the way for future unmanned vehicle innovations.
In 1959, the TARDEC Land Locomotion Group invented and built interesting vehicles. Although they were not the types of vehicles people were used to seeing, each had a niche purpose. This vehicle is the "Air-Roll Vehicle." It was used for level sand or mud.
A dunk tank for tanks ... Here's a shot from February 1960 of an M-60 tank during a fording test on the north side of Bldg. 200.
TARDEC Computer Lab, circa 1960.
In 1960, TARDEC's Mechanical Laboratory developed a special machine to test fatigue in the torsion bars used in heavy tanks. The T95 tank with Hydropneumatic Suspension can tilt to the left, tilt to the right, sink down low, or rise up high.
TARDEC was originally created as a series of labs in the '50s - including the Electrical Lab. Back in 1961, TARDEC engineers began testing battery charging and discharging performances under a range of temperatures and conditions in the Electrical Lab.
Back in 1961, TARDEC's Cold Temperature Propulsion Lab was the second largest in the country. This facility stood 21-feet-high and was 70 x 52 feet. Accommodating vehicles weighing up to 200 tons, the cool room could get as low as minus-90 degrees F.
A fun fact about TARDEC's Cold Temperature Propulsion Lab is that prior to the first U.S. mission into space by Alan Shepard in '61, components for the spacecraft were tested here for low-temperature performance.
The first motion simulator – The Seat Simulator – was installed back in 1961. Studying shock and vibration effects on human subjects, this seat was hydraulically driven and electronically controlled with an analog computer that replicated motions a subject would feel if he were riding in an actual vehicle.
The seat had four degrees of freedom, which delivered a maximum travel of three feet of bounce, 40 degrees of roll and pitch, and 20 degrees of yaw motion to the occupant.
TARDEC engineers developed the Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge (AVLB) that was first fielded in 1963. The AVLB is a "scissors folding" 14.65-ton steel-aluminum structured bridge carried atop M48 or M60 tank hulls that can span a 60-foot gap. With a launching mechanism - mounted on the front of its hull - the tank could deploy the bridge, cross the bridge, re-attach the bridge and then retrieve it to move on.
Here's the massive -- 3,000 lb., 11 foot high -- Four-Legged Walking Machine prototype built by GE and studied by TARDEC in the 1960s. The machine's legs are an extension of the operator's arms and legs. As the operator moved his right arm, the machine moved its front right leg. If a force acted against it, the operator would "feel" the force. The mobile powerful machine could balance on two legs, climb stairs, carry up to 500 pounds or kick around 175 pound beams like matchsticks. However, electronics were not advanced enough in the 1960s to make a practical design.
As far back as WWII, a tremendous battlefield logistical challenge was providing high-quality water supply for Soldiers. TARDEC took control of this situation back in 1969 and invented and "Water Purification Unit, Van-Type, Body Mounted, Electric Driven (ERDLator)." ERDLator produced 600 gallons per hour or 1,500 gph of water depending on the model. The ERDLator was successful with fulfilling the Army's needs!
In the late 60s, this articulated vehicle broke military speed records. This concept vehicle was the XM808 Twister and was designed into two sections by TARDEC. Each section had four wheels and its own 440-in gasoline engine.
Think back to 1969; remember the heat coming from Test Cell 9? This high-temperature facility allowed engine and vehicle testing between room temperature and 160 degrees F. Still located in Bldg. 212A, this building includes six engine test cells and three whole vehicle test cells.
From 1970, here's the Signature Tower that was south of Bldg. 200. Vehicles parked under the 40-foot tower and researchers viewed heat signatures -- that is, the warm and cold spots commonly in the same or similar places on vehicles.
Here's a shot from inside Building 215, which opened in 1972. By using a simulator rather than a driver on a test track, more-controlled conditions could be obtained and the vehicle could be tested on a 24/7 schedule.