TLDR: Sun is barraging Earth with frequent but unpredictable EMPs.
I have an event in a story inspired by Carrington event set in near future, but the event duration already passed several years. Please ignore that Carrington would not do this, or this is not how it works in real-life (Artistic license). Everything with a chip is destroyed or will be destroyed if turned on outside of robust Faraday Cage. That is the only rule - No chips or microchip technology is allowed. Only electronics with vacuum tubes.

I know that propeller planes built like in WW2 but with modern touch like modern alloys and better guns would work. But I also strongly suspect that first generation of jets like Mig-15 and F9F would be flyable too - those could not have chip technology as they were built before chip invention, but could they contain any other technology disrupt-able by Sun barraging earth with EMPs? (I am looking at you guided missiles)

Edited and added rules:

  • Chip technology does not work
  • Coils, capacitors or mechanical switches can withstand very high transient currents, therefor during exact time of EM pulse they might falter but not fail.
  • Transistors must be replaced with vacuum tube technology
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In between vacuum tubes and microchips in terms of sensitivity are transistors, capacitors and other components such as light bulbs (which before LEDs were standard on instrument panels as well as for lighting) and starter motors. Need either physical characteristics on the electromagnetic pulse or rulings on other electrical and electronic components in order to answer. $\endgroup$ May 5, 2020 at 6:59
  • $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055 I added some rules on your suggestion, but I am taking your answer as valid because you have point on light bulbs! $\endgroup$
    – Prahara
    May 5, 2020 at 7:25

2 Answers 2


Aircraft by themselves will be fine, as long as they are skinned in aluminium/titan/any metal used in plane making. Including chip electronics, because the plane hull make a quite decent Faraday cage.

What will be fucked - radiocoms, radar, navigation. Their circuits can be hardened, but their functionality will be affected (to impossible) by the level of EM noise a Carrington-like event will generate.

Possible solutions:

  1. use microwave with transmission in heaps of redundant channels and encode the information digitally.
  2. add the use of light - not a foolproof solution, but can help (the way sea-lights helped the navigators some hundred of years before)
  3. improve acceleration sensors and increase the precision of dead-reckoning
  4. the Carrington event is already a big source of EM - try to use it in passive radars.
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I am aware that planes are themselves Faraday Cages, but what I read from few studies the modern plane itself would be capable of finishing flight and with little luck perform a safe landing. But are not those modern planes really reliable on micro correction from flight computer?. Another thing.. a traveling civilian or soldier.... would you trust this tech instead of older, more reliable ( more reliable in this Carrington world) tech? I mean this is the answer I justified the replacement. And thank you for your answer, you put some good bugs in my head to justify better my scenario $\endgroup$
    – Prahara
    May 5, 2020 at 9:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Prahara reliable on micro correction from flight computer? with the flight computer inside the Faraday cage, what's the problem? Most of the (attitude/speed) sensors aren't based on electronics. (to be cntd) $\endgroup$ May 5, 2020 at 9:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Prahara (cntd) would you trust this tech instead of older, more reliable tech - the old tech isn't more reliable (in terms of the results/precision/repeatability), just more robust (you won't kill it that easy). With enough care to hardening, you can bring robustness in the microchip-based electronics too - use robust interfacing with the outside, put in some optocouplers between the outside-facing-IO and the "processing circuits" which is working inside a Faraday cage, and you will have the best of the two worlds. $\endgroup$ May 5, 2020 at 9:17
  • $\begingroup$ Would there be at least some gap, for example a year or two, before the hardening could be made.Lets say Year for whole project planning, designing and production and a year for integrating this hardening into tech to make it functional again? Would not this create whole new technological race in hardening? $\endgroup$
    – Prahara
    May 5, 2020 at 9:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Prahara I expect it would. But the problems will be much higher than just adjusting the production lines. The entire power grid of all nations will be down, the HV and UHV lines are aerials - kiss them good bye together with any transformers connected to them. The entire world will frantically work to bury underground the shielded thick cables that make the new power grid, then use shielded and earthed power cables inside homes - any unshielded power cable in your walls will pick crazy transient voltages. You can't sustain billions with in population with your production based on steam power. $\endgroup$ May 5, 2020 at 9:45

TLDR; Guided missiles would still be possible as would fighter jets without integrated circuit technology it would just be much less efficient than those made today.

By chip I'm assuming you mean integrated circuits, which is where all components are placed within the same semiconducting wafer. I see no reason why you couldn't design semiconductors to handle high voltages, this requirement is not built into today's designs because it is not an issue. The current goal of modern IC technology is to get things as small as possible, not as robust as possible for which you would have to sacrifice a lot of size. For example field effect transistors can be made to with stand pretty high voltages if you want, the only problem is that the commonplace MOSFETs aren't designed with these restrictions in mind. In-spite of this there are many examples of MOSFETs for sale which can handle thousands of Volts; just google search power MOSFETs for instance. Of course these are still semiconductors and could conceivable be integrated with other components, I have not seen it done but this is only because we have no reason to, not because it is impossible.

This aside, using only vacuum tube technology actually comes at a disadvantage because triodes (which act like transistors) are actually less robust than Field effect transistors. For diodes, vacuum tubes are more robust on average, but this is only because of the application for semiconducting diodes.

If on the other-hand, you want to forgo any solid-state device altogether for the sake of the story, the earliest missiles were developed in the 1940s using only the simplest of circuits with the crucial component being the photo-resistor. While not created with any semi-conducting technology, the missiles essentially functioned similar to those today. The only advantage modern day air-to-air missiles possess of those of their predecessors is that they have much more advanced circuitry and thus can handle a much wider range of scenarios, but the underlying principles have not changed too drastically.

To get a good idea of what is possible without heavily reliance on IC technology, most of the technology deployed in the 1950s did not use solid state devices, particularly look at the early soviet aerospace and space programs, which even into the 60s and 70s tended to be very advanced but using less modern IC technology when compared to their western counter parts

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much, this is very much what I am looking for. And just to pull something more from you. I completely forgot existence of MOSFETs... I guess I would have to somehow hide them from players. Would it be possible to say that MOSFETS are degrading really fast, therefor are unreliable or non-viable for safety? $\endgroup$
    – Prahara
    May 5, 2020 at 8:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Prahara possibly, making any solid state devices requires a certain level of equipment and industrial supply chain. While this is true for any electrical component, solid state devices are typically much harder to "Jerry-rig" than non-solid state devices, if a post-apocalyptic scenario is in question $\endgroup$
    – user110866
    May 5, 2020 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ I already solved it with discussion with folks. Basically it is inevitable to even adapt microchip technology to be working in these conditions. So I have decided to really limit production of Mosfets and "hardened IC" so this equipment is basically distributed only to special forces and very rich people as a badge of wealth and power. $\endgroup$
    – Prahara
    May 6, 2020 at 4:55

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