Popular Mechanics January/February 2021

Discover the latest in technology, engineering, and tools with Popular Mechanics. Plus, get essential advice on your home and car, useful DIY ideas, in-depth explanations on how things work, and more!

United States
10 Issues

in this issue

4 min
1 my pop life

BOBBY LEA Test Editor Happiest when playing with bikes and power tools. Coolest Thing on My Desk My Olympic rings from the Beijing, London, and Rio Games for cycling. When I’m feeling trapped at my desk, it’s fun to reminisce on some great adventures that feel like a lifetime ago. PRODUCTS I’M USING RIGHT NOW 1 Carhartt Washed Duck Work Pant Hands down the best money I’ve spent on work pants. The more wear and tear they get, the better they are. 2 Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar Watch My cycling power, speed, and heart-rate sensors connect via Bluetooth. Plus: The face recharges with direct sunlight. 3 Wahoo Elemnt Bolt Bike Computer It’s small, simple to use, and has an incredibly long battery life. I never fret about running out of juice on an all-day ride. 4 Kelty Deluxe Lounge Chair I can…

2 min
everything is a tool, even your phone

A FEW YEARS AGO, I WAS TALKING TO computer scientist/professor/author/enviably prolific human Cal Newport. He had just written a book, Digital Minimalism, on how to be more deliberate with technology, and how to spend the time you win back on more satisfying pursuits. The idea is to follow some small rules—no bingeing Netflix when alone, check social media from your laptop instead of your phone, that kind of thing—to make your devices contribute to your life more usefully. Because, at least for me, new tech is capable of so much that I sometimes forget whatever task it’s supposed to be helping me achieve. My iPhone, for example, helps me find new music, laugh with friends, or drive somewhere faster. I’m not getting my money’s worth from it when I’m scrolling…

4 min
the science of making alcohol-free beer

MAYBE YOU’VE SEEN IT AT THE BOTTOM of a restaurant’s beverage menu or a brewery’s extensive beer list: the “NA” or “nonalcoholic” option. There, it might feel like an afterthought. But the nonalcoholic movement, especially when it comes to beer, is gaining traction in the adult-beverage market. Nonalcoholic beer dates back to Prohibition, but it’s having a resurgence, fueled by changing consumer habits and brewers’ successful tinkering with the complex processes required to make it. Between this past July and September, NA beer sales were up approximately 38% in the U.S.compared with the same period in 2019, according to data analytics group IRI. Craft operations dedicated to NA suds have sprung up across the country, not to mention beer giants like Heineken and Anheuser-Busch—the maker of Busch NA and O’Doul’s, two…

1 min
the lowdown on low-alcohol beer

Nonalcoholic brews are having a moment, but nowadays beer lists are also starting to include options that range from 2% to 4% ABV. Previously, social drinkers looking to mitigate their alcohol, sugar, or carbohydrate intake might turn to a low-alcohol option, such as a session, which usually hits 5% ABV or lower. But “the trend now is to go even lower,” Philip Brandes at Bravus Brewing Co. says. Beer in the 2% to 3% ABV range can be made more or less normally, but using less fermentable sugar like malt, says chemistry professor Roger Barth. “The body can be bumped up with maltodextrin or some other carb that is unfermentable by brewer’s yeast,” he adds. “One can also fiddle with mashing conditions, usually by mashing at high temperature, which suppresses production…

3 min
the air force secretly designed, built, and flew a new fighter jet—in just one year

IN SEPTEMBER, THE U.S. AIR FORCE REVEALED IT HAD PROduced a full-scale prototype jet in a staggeringly short period of time. While this process traditionally takes as long as a decade, the service appears to have created and tested the plane in the span of a year. Will Roper, the Air Force’s head of acquisition, told Defense News the branch “broke records” flying the fighter, and said it’s ready to build the aircraft “in a way that has never happened before.” The surprise reveal of the plane’s rapid development is shrouded in mystery. But we can parse the clues. The Air Force built the new fighter under its Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, which aims to produce a jet that would supplement, and perhaps even replace, the F-22 Raptor. The…

1 min
sizing up the competition

In 2011, China revealed the Chengdu J-20 “Mighty Dragon” as its first fifthgeneration stealth fighter. The fighter has flat, angular surfaces to minimize its radar signature, large forward canards for enhanced maneuverability, and an estimated top speed of Mach 2. The J-20 packs two engines, internal weapons bays, electro-optical sensors, and an advanced electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. It’s hefty enough that it could act as either a long-range fighter or a fighter bomber. And it can target American airborne tankers, intelligence, and early warning aircraft with the new PL-15 longrange, radar-guided missile, forcing American fighters to fight without critical support aircraft. The Su-57 fighter jet—NATO classification name “FELON”—is the first stealthy Russian design, with angled surfaces to reduce radar returns and a radar-absorbing paint coating. The Su-57 features two AL-41F1 thrust vectoring…