What would happen to someone strapped to an ICBM?

Once again I resist the temptation to add, “Need answer fast!” to the title.

Anyway, a scene in a comic I read as a child remains stuck in my mind. In it the hero is captured and wakes up having been tied to an ICBM which is very shortly to be launched in order to start a Third World War (the logic of which I cannot recall).

Anyway assuming our hero isn’t saved by his buddy flying a heavily armed supersecret Concorde with a sweet black paintjob (no, seriously) how long could he expect to last after launch and what would finish him off first? G-forces? Wind-resistance? Would he choke being unable to breath? What altitude would he reach?

What if the scenery chewing supervillian (a really rather creepy walking corpse whose mind continues to function having been linked up to a computer in a briefcase) kindly provides him with an oxygen mask, how long does he last then?

Enquiring minds want to know!

If the ICBM was launch from a silo like in this photo:

Then the exhaust fumes would wash back up around the entire missile during launching and roast our hero in seconds straight after the engine is ignited.

If you somehow were able to survive the exhaust fumes avoid being crushed by the tremendous g-forces as the rocket accelerated, you surely would suffocate in the upper atmosphere.

Wikipedia says a Sprint missile hits 100 g during its launch cite. That’s well above anything a human could survive.

Based on numbers that I found by Googling, an ICBM increases its speed by about 60mph every second during its boost phase. 0 to 60 in one second is pretty strong acceleration, but it’s not enough to kill you. But the supersonic slipstream will. Within the first ten seconds you’ll be either:

  1. Shredded by the wind.
  2. Torn free from the rocket.

The Sprint is an ABM, not an ICBM.

I know but I assumed the numbers are comparable. The point is that a missile that isn’t designed for passengers is going to have a much higher acceleration than a human can survive.

The passenger would probably black out pretty quickly as all his blood drained from his brain and pooled in the lower part of his body from the acceleration.

Shredded. Remember that someone in free fall- 120-140 mph- is experiencing their weight in wind resistance, and it goes up as the square of the velocity. By 300 mph you’re confetti.

They aren’t. The Sprint missile–a last ditch, low altitude nuclear-tipped interceptor for point defense of strategic installations–accelerated so rapidly due to its unique mission, and staged within 1.5 seconds. Total flight time was less than 15 seconds at maximum range and altitude. By comparison, the three stage LGM-30G ‘Minuteman III’ ICBM will stage at somewhere around 70 seconds, with a total powered flight time exceeding three minutes. Maximum acceleration is on close order of 10 g, and that only on the upper stages near burnout. That acceleration is theoretically survivable, albeit probably not by someone carelessly strapped to the exterior of the booster.

As others have noted, from silo liftoff or from a flat pad, the ‘passenger’ would be incinerated by the reflected plume, which even after expansion is >2000 °F for a solid propellant motor. Even if you could insulate your passenger from this extreme heating—say, perhaps, by coating him in RTV—the sound pressure level of the acoustic field at liftoff, which may exceed 160 dB at a 20 micropascal reference basis, would turn his internal organs to a thick paste. Barring all that, the presence of such an offset weight and drag would very likely exceed the thrust vector system duty cycle in order to maintain guidance and contol, resulting in an expendature of injectant fluid, gas, or battery power (depending on the type of system) and loss of useful axial thrust such that the vehicle would miss its targeting objective if it didn’t become completely uncontrollable. If this were a test flight equipped with a flight termination system it would be destructed by the range safety officer once it flew outside the destruct lines.

In general, this would not be a good day for anyone involved.



Have you ever considered starting a “Ask the rocket scientist” thread? I don’t know if that’s your actual job but you have to be pretty close.

Also, if you happen to have a brain surgeon as an acquaintance, that would be pretty nice as a twin thread.

Except presumably the guy who strapped our hero onto the ICBM in the first place.

Dr Science addressed this when a letter asked “Why are people so against cruise missiles? I was on a cruise ship once, and it was wonderful.”

I can’t recall the whole response but

‘I’m with you. A cruise missile ride is wonderful. You can sip your complimentary cocktail and savor a view you’ll treasure for the rest of your life(which will be roughly 0.052 microseconds).’

Great thread title/username combo, particularly in light of the answers received! :smiley:

I honestly cannot believe that I’m the first one to say they wouldn’t have as much fun as Slim Pickens riding the bomb: where in hell is Major Kong?

I reckon he’s having himself a pretty good weekend in Dallas.

It was (apparently having done a bit of research) a stolen Polaris missile jury-rigged into a mobile ICBM similar to the Soviet SS-20, so an open-air launch.

I assume the exhaust plume in that scenario would disperse enough for our hero to be killed in a different fun and interesting manner.

Oh, don’t worry, he first got riddled by a sub-machine gun then the teams ubiquitous Yorkshire ninja threw a sword through his briefcase computer…no, seriously.

Never noticed that, I’m sure a psychologist would have some deep and interesting things to say about it, but I’m not sure what. :smiley:

Anyway, just to prove I wasn’t making it up I’ve found this memory of my childhood:

It was actually a pretty cool comic and Storm Force definitely had its moments.


You thought I was winding you up about the Concorde, didn’t you?

Anyway, thanks for the answers everyone! If I ever turn evil and descend into cartoonish supervillianary I’ll have to remember this particular method of hero disposal. :wink:

Thisarticle describes an incident where the captain of an airliner was blown halfway out of the side window of the cockpit and survived (albeit with frostbite and injuries) exposure to **500mph **winds. (the other crew in the cabin held onto his legs until the plane was able to land)

Take that, Maynard G. Krebs!