NUCLEAR WEAPON

"The information in it is pretty good. In some cases, a little too good.”

—Tom Clancy, referring to Chuck Hansen’s US Nuclear Weapons

In 1993, I was awarded a contract to solve a problem for the Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA), a now-vanished branch of the federal government that was responsible for placement and

security of thousands of nuclear weapons.190 It tried to be inconspicuous to the point of invisibility, and its headquarters were away from the bustle of Washington, D. C., in a plain, unmarked building out on Telegraph Road in Virginia. It was, however, obviously a secret government building, because the entrance was completely blocked to any vehicular traffic, in addition to the fact that it did not have an actual numerical street address, as far as I could tell.

On my first meeting with my sponsor, he started the briefing with a stern lecture detailing the fact that the armed forces had never lost a nuclear device. Always one to assert superior knowledge when possible, I casually blurted out that Chuck Hansen had documented 32 instances of atomic or hydrogen bomb loss between 1950 and 1980.

This was the wrong place and the wrong time to bring this up. Showing a marvelous level of self-control, my sponsor launched into a spirited criticism of Chuck Hansen, his abilities as a historian, and any of the people who had divulged this information to him. I felt the skin peeling

off my face.191

Did the Air Force ever lose an A-bomb, or did they just misplace a few of them for a short time? Did they ever drop anything that could be picked up by someone else and used against us? Is humanity going to perish because of poisonous plutonium spread that was snapped up by the wrong people after being somehow misplaced? Several examples will follow. You be the judge.

Chuck Hansen was wrong about one thing. He counted thirty-two “Broken Arrow”

accidents.192 There are now sixty-five documented incidents in which nuclear weapons owned by the United States were lost, destroyed, or damaged between 1945 and 1989. These bombs and warheads, which contain hundreds of pounds of high explosive, have been abused in a wide range of unfortunate events. They have been accidentally dropped from high altitude, dropped from low altitude, crashed through the bomb bay doors while standing on the runway, tumbled off a fork lift, escaped from a chain hoist, and rolled off an aircraft carrier into the ocean. Bombs have been abandoned at the bottom of a test shaft, left buried in a crater, and lost in the mud off the coast of Georgia. Nuclear devices have been pounded with artillery of a foreign nature, struck by lightning, smashed to pieces, scorched, toasted, and burned beyond recognition. Incredibly, in all this mayhem, not a single nuclear weapon has gone off accidentally, anywhere in the world. If it had, the public would know about it. That type of accident would be almost impossible to conceal.

The danger of an accidental nuclear detonation was given full attention by design engineers before the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan in 1945. War machines and materials have never been safe to handle or to stand near, and accidents happen all the time, whether in the chaos of battle or on a quiet Thursday morning. Chemical munitions can accidentally blow up entire towns, but the introduction of nuclear explosives kicked the danger level up by a factor of

a million, and serious engineering went into ensuring that it would never happen.193

Any nuclear explosion begins with a chemical detonation, used to assemble or compress fissile material, and there is only so much you can do to prevent it from going off accidentally. The explosive fission and nuclear fusion, however, are different. Conditions for the nuclear part to happen are subtle and precise, and prevention of an unplanned destruction of lives and property by nuclear means has been remarkably successful. In the early 1950s, the one-of-a — kind bomb dropped on Nagasaki was hastily modified to make it safe to handle. The round, plutonium ball at the center, or the “pit,” in the original bomb had to be placed at the center of the shells of explosive material in the complex assembly procedure. When loaded into the aircraft bomb bay, there were few reasons why it should not explode. A couple of SAFE plug­ins had to be manually replaced with ARMED plug-ins to enable the electrons inside, and it had to actually drop free of the airplane, which would jerk out a set of enabling wires on top of the bomb casing. These were not considered adequate measures, and there was no way to fly a “safe” bomb in this configuration.

This problem was solved by opening a round hole in the front of the big ball of chemical explosive. There was a removable piece of explosive, which was solid and looked like dull brown plastic, made to fit in this hole. For normal transport or just cruising around with a device hanging in the bomb bay, the center of the bomb was left empty, with no pit installed. The pit was stored separately as a “capsule,” to be installed on demand with 30 minutes of handiwork in the bomb bay. The flight crew member turned designated armorer would remove the cover on the nose or tail of the weapon, unhook the explosive segment, pull it out, and push the plutonium sphere into place. Replace the explosive segment, button up the hole, and she’s ready to rock and roll.

The capsule was carried in an open, rectangular metal box made of aluminum tubing, called the “birdcage.” It was designed to prevent anyone from storing two or more pits close together, as they were quite capable of becoming an out-of-control mini-reactor if within a foot of each other. The capsule was stuffed inside a metal tube at the center of the birdcage, closely resembling an old-fashioned soda-acid fire extinguisher, including the handling hoop, looking like a halo atop the canister.

The arming operation was not quite as easy as it sounds. The work area was not pressurized, and it was a cramped space. The special T-handle wrench was conveniently clipped to the wall of the bomb bay, but tools were easy to drop as hands froze in the high-altitude environment. It was a good first step. This procedure was improved soon by introduction of the Automated In­Flight Insertion (AIFI) mechanism. The capsule tube was mounted with the bomb in the bomb bay, with the explosive hole left open. Nothing that could happen to the airplane, from an electrical fire in the bomb bay to a vertical dive into the ground, could cause a nuclear explosion, because the pit could not be uniformly compressed without being at the center of the sealed explosive sphere. On a moment’s notice, a crew member could arm the device by pushing a button on the bomb control panel. An electric-motor-driven screw pushed the capsule into the open hole in the bomb and closed it. In a minute, the red light came on indicating that the device was armed and ready to drop.

The first weapon using manual in-flight capsule insertion was the MK-4 Mod 0, made available on March 19, 1949, after two years of development. The last device to use manual insertion was the MK-7, used in the atomic depth charge named “Betty.” It was finally retired in June of 1967 after 15 years on call as an anti-submarine weapon. The last bomb to use AIFI was probably the MK-39 mod 1, a big, ugly, gravity-dropped thermonuclear device. It was taken off the inventory in September 1965.

In every case of the airborne loss of one of these early bombs, the capsule was separated from the device, and in some instances it was not even in the airplane. In 1955 there was a radical change in bomb-core design, in which the traditional solid plutonium sphere was replaced with a thin, round shell of plutonium, collapsed by implosion onto a void. With this interesting design came a new paradigm for bomb safety. No longer would anything have to come apart and travel as two separate pieces, and the device would be a sealed, integral unit, proclaimed “one point safe.”

In this new design, when the hollow shell of fissile material is explosively collapsed, the bomb does not have the hyper-criticality characteristic of a nuclear explosive. In fact, it reaches a point just short of simple criticality, in which as many neutrons are being produced by fission as are being lost. Explosive criticality requires enough fissile material concentrated to be more than two critical masses in the same spot. The only way to simulate hyper-criticality in the new bomb is to introduce a heavy burst of high-energy neutrons at the center, as if the mass were fissioning way out of control. This is accomplished using “boosted fission” after fission is forced to start using an electrical neutron initiator. To achieve boosted fission, a mixture of tritium and deuterium gases, held in a small pressure tank, is vented into the void at the center of the

plutonium shell right before detonation.194 The extreme temperature and pressure exerted on this gas mixture as the bomb implodes causes a percentage of the deuterium and the tritium, both heavy isotopes of hydrogen, to fuse into helium-4. Left over from each reaction is a neutron, clocking out at an impressive 14.1 MeV and very likely to cause fission in the collapsing metal ball. Just before the fusion starts, a sudden blast of neutrons comes forth from the initiator, an electrically driven deuteron accelerator, and sets off fission artificially, adding energy to the implosion event.

If the exact sequence of events, the implosion start, the initiator start, and the hydrogen fusion at the center, do not occur with perfect timing, then the device will not explode in a nuclear fashion. An accidental ignition of the chemical explosive used for the implosion caused by fire, shock, or an errant electrical signal will blow the bomb to pieces and it may even crush the fissile ball into a tiny kernel, but it will not cause a nuclear event. Furthermore, the fusion components in a thermonuclear device, the most powerful explosive ever made, require the explosion of an imploding fission bomb just to set them off. Without the fission device working, a hydrogen bomb is little more than dead weight.

A further advantage to this improved design is that the yield of the bomb can be dialed in from the control panel. A 5-megaton device can be scaled back to a 1-megaton explosion just by turning a knob and pushing a YIELD SET button. This action sets the open interval on the gas — release valve, controlling the amount of deuterium-tritium mixture that is injected into the void at the center of the imploding sphere. More gas means more fusions in the explosion and thus more generated neutrons and a larger bomb yield. The energy release by the fusions that takes place in the center of the fission bomb does not add much to the explosion, but the dense cloud of high-speed neutrons produced by fusions determines how much of the fissile material burns before the explosive disassembly of the device. Full use of the boost gas also means that the fissile material, which can be plutonium, uranium, or both, is used more efficiently and less is needed than in the old-style bombs. The new bombs are lighter and more compact.

The neutron initiator is a vacuum tube, having an electrically heated filament anode coated with uranium deuteride. Downstream from this ion source is a cathode consisting of a thin metal plate coated with uranium tritide. A potential of 500,000 volts is established between the anode and the cathode, and deuterium ions (deuterons) boil from the uranium deuteride and are attracted to and vigorously accelerated by the cathode. Splattering into the cathode, the deuterons fuse occasionally with tritium held in the uranium, and a burst of neutrons develops. The neutron flux is amplified by the uranium content of the cathode, which tends to fission and

release 2.4 neutrons for each received.195

The safety measures used in the nuclear bombs and warheads were well designed and

effective, but there were still problems with the delivery systems.196 The end of World War II was the beginning of a very exciting quarter of a century for the United States Air Force, particularly with the steep rise in strategic bomber capability, radical changes in strategy, and one very ambitious enemy, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The new ultimate weapon would not be carried in formations of a thousand bombers, but by one lone aircraft. One city, one bomb. Starting with the propeller-driven B-50 Superfortress, an upgrade of the old B-29 from the last war, the Air Force would lunge forward, developing an ever-advancing line of exotic airplanes to carry the nuclear bombs. These aircraft would have to fly higher, farther, and faster than anything had before, and new boundaries would be drawn describing the limitations of men and machines. Each new bomber was built way out on the edge of what was possible, using new materials and design techniques, and none were forgiving of a slight piloting error, a switch left in the wrong position, or a gas cap left off. Plane crashes, explosions, and disappearances occurred with appalling frequency.

The first notable strategic bomber of the Cold War was the Convair B-36 Peacemaker, the “aluminum overcast,” a 72,000-pound monster with a 230-foot wingspan. It was made airborne using six radial engines driving enormous propellers, swinging in circles 19 feet wide. Together, the engines developed 22,800 horsepower, but to top it off four General Electric J47-19 jet engines were added, two under each wing tip. Before takeoff, 336 spark plugs had to be changed, 600 gallons of oil were added to the engines, and a tanker truck had to top off the fuel after the B-36 had lumbered into takeoff position on the runway. For a while starting in 1949, it was the only airplane we had that could deliver atomic bombs to targets in the Soviet Union. It had a range of over 6,000 miles, and its bomb bay was the only one ever made that

was big enough to carry the enormous MK-17 thermonuclear device.197 It took a crew of 15 men to fly it, and amenities included a dining room, six bunk beds, and a wheeled trolley to ride from the tail to the nose. It was very prone to engine fires, due to the backward mounting of the engines, the fuel tanks in the wings would develop cracks and leak, and the vibration caused by firing the machine guns could disrupt the vacuum-tube electronics in the control system and send the big bird into an irrecoverable vertical dive. By the time it was retired from bomb­carrying service in 1955, B-36 airplanes had been involved in three crashes involving nuclear weapons.

In June 1951, the Air Force was introduced to its new, highly advanced jet-powered strategic bomber, the Boeing B-47 Stratojet. Everything about it was new, from its back-swept wings to its extensive electronic systems, and its many innovations helped Boeing to build its successful line of modern jet airliners. It was built like a fighter plane with six engines and a bomb bay, and it was flown by three very busy men: the pilot, the co-pilot, and the navigator/bombardier. It could almost break the sound barrier, and it remained on SAC alert, ready to fly with nuclear bombs against an enemy threat at a moment’s notice, until 1965. But it still had a few bugs.

It liked to take off slow and land fast. Its hesitancy to leave the ground was solved by attaching groups of solid-fuel rockets to either side of the airframe, pointed slightly down. The 18,000 pounds of thrust from the rockets were a big help. It wanted to land at an exciting 207 miles per hour, and its design was so aerodynamically clean, it would rather continue flying and not touch down. This situation was helped by popping out a 32-foot drogue parachute from the tail for landing. This would cut the speed and shorten the landing roll without burning up the brakes. At optimum fuel economy altitude, about 37,000 feet, the airspeed had to be maintained precisely, with an acceptable error of plus or minus three miles per hour. Four miles per hour too slow, and the plane would fall out of the sky. Four miles per hour too fast, and the wings came off. At lower altitudes it was easy to go faster than 489 miles per hour, but do so and the controls would reverse, going down when you say up.

The B-47 was a remarkable airplane and a forward leap in design, but it was involved in ten nuclear weapons incidents, the most interesting of which involved accidentally dropping bombs within the boundaries of the United States.

Learning a lot from having built the B-47, Boeing designed a new swept-wing bomber using eight jet engines mounted under the wings. The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers, introduced in February 1955, have been in service for an impressive 58 years, and they will probably be phased out around 2045. The grandchildren of people who flew the original batch of B-52s could be flying B-52s today. The last B-52H was built in 1962, and this last group of 85 planes still in service has been modified and improved several times. These bombers can go 650 miles per hour and climb to 50,000 feet with a range of 10,145 miles, and they have broken many flight records. They have flown around the world non-stop in 45 hours 19 minutes with in-flight refueling, and can fly from Japan to Spain with one load of fuel. A B-52 can land sideways in a heavy cross-wind, using its in-board landing gear with coupled steering.

The flight crew can vary between six and nine, sitting in a fuselage that has work stations on two levels. A B-52B first dropped an MK-15 mod 2 thermonuclear device over Bikini Atoll on

May 21, 1956, in the test code-named Cherokee.198 A B-52 has never dropped a nuclear weapon in warfare, although it has bombed targets in several wars since 1955. B-52s put out the lights in Baghdad in Operation Desert Storm, 1991, with gravity bombs and launched one hundred air-launched cruise missiles into Iraq in Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003.

B-52s were involved in six nuclear weapon accidents. Common problems in the early versions of the plane were vertical stabilizers and wings breaking off in mid-flight. These structural deficiencies were identified, and all B-52s in service were eventually sent back to the Boeing factory for strengthening retrofits.

Next up was the B-58 Hustler, another wild experience in aircraft design from Convair of Fort Worth, Texas. Introduced to the Air Force on March 15, 1960, the B-58 could hasten along at Mach 2—twice the speed of sound. It looked like something out of science fiction, with its rakishly swept delta wings and its slender body, sharply pointed at both ends with a slight waist at the center, and four big General Electric J79 jet engines on pods under the wings. It was the first military aircraft in the inventory that was all transistorized, with computers monitoring and controlling everything. If the system detected a fault somewhere in the vast interplay of electronic, hydraulic, and human systems, a sexy recorded female voice, supplied by actress Joan Elms, would coo a warning into the communication system.

Everything in the airplane was from out on the frontier limb, including the material from which it was made. A special alloy of magnesium and radioactive thorium-232, “mag-thor” or HK-31, was used, giving the airframe superior strength and temperature endurance for supersonic flying. The thorium content gave the airplane a bigger radiation signature than the thermonuclear device it carried, but it was harmful only if ingested. There was no room in the fuselage, thin as a supermodel, for a bomb bay. The big, fat bomb was carried along with jet

fuel inside the detachable auxiliary gas tank, slung underneath.199 It was not easy to fly, and, despite all the electronic help, the three-man crew was kept busy. Altogether, the surfeit of innovation contributed to the accidental loss of 26 B-58s, over 22 percent of the 116 that were built. In ten years of flying around with bombs on board, only one nuclear-weapon incident occurred on a B-58, when in 1964 a fully loaded Hustler slid on ice at Bunker Hill AFB, Indiana, while trying to turn onto the runway. The landing gear hit a concrete electrical box, the plane caught fire, and the five nuclear weapons on board were destroyed.

With this combination of complex weapons, tricky flying machines, and men working under stress, packed down by a towering bureaucracy and a constant threat of war breaking out, it is a wonder that civilization survived. Somehow, the safety systems on both sides of the Cold War seem to have functioned well. But it was still not foolproof.

The era of nuclear-weapon accidents began on February 13, 1950, when B-36 no. 44-92075 was flying between Air Force bases Carswell in Texas and Eielson in Alaska on a simulated combat mission. The weapon on board was an MK-4. Its removable composite plutonium — uranium capsule, type 110, was replaced with a lead dummy for training purposes. Aside from the core, it was a complete MK-4, all 10,850 pounds and looking like a black teardrop with fins. The plane was an early, Model B example of the B-36, built before the jet engines were added.

The bomber had flown six hours when it started to ice up. It was at 12,000 feet, and the ice forming on the wings and propellers was so heavy, the crew could not climb out of the icing conditions. After a while, three engines caught fire. The Pratt & Whitney rotary engines were highly advanced for the time, but they were piston engines, mounted backwards on the wings. Usually, rotary engines were mounted with the carburetors in back, warmed by the hot air streaming through the cooling fins on the engine cylinders, but in this case the carburetors were in front, sucking in cold air with no advantage from engine heat. Ice formed on the air intakes, restricting the airflow and causing the fuel-air mixture to become mostly fuel. Raw aviation gas started to blow out the red-hot exhaust pipes, and fire was inevitable. With half the engines out, the lifetime of the airplane was severely limited.

The crew turned the bomber out over the Pacific Ocean, cranked open the bomb bay doors, and released the MK-4. It whistled off into the darkness, fell 5,000 feet, and made a bright flash as its airbust fuse detonated the implosion charge. Five seconds later, the shock wave rattled the bones of the big, crippled plane. The crew turned the aircraft around and made for land, steadily losing altitude. As soon as they saw Princess Royal Island below them, the crew bailed out. The copilot took one last look at the plane as he rolled over before his chute opened. He saw a brilliant blue-white stream of flame from an engine extending back to the tail. It appeared that the engine’s magnesium heat exchanger had caught fire, and he guessed that the plane would self-destruct in a ball of flame any minute now as the fuel tanks ignited. Every crew member made it back alive.

Abandoned, the B-36 leveled out and turned due north. It flew inland for 200 miles, finally running out of gas and crashing on the remote, perpetually snowed-in Mount Kologet, British

Columbia.200 The MK-4 presumably blew itself to unrecoverable smithereens using the implosion explosives, without causing a full-nuclear event.

The next loss of an MK-4 nuclear weapon occurred two months later, when a B-29 carrying it took off at night from Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. Taking off on Runway 8 at Kirtland was tricky, in that you had to make a right turn as soon as possible or you would run into the mountain at the Monzano Base Weapons Storage Area. The pilot, Captain John R. Martin, failed to execute the turn promptly and flew right into the hill three minutes after takeoff. The plane exploded and killed all thirteen people on board. The MK-4 was broken to pieces, with some of its explosive segments scattered and burned up in the gasoline fire. The capsule, stored separately in its birdcage, was recovered along with four spare detonator assemblies in carrying cases. The mission had been to ferry the bomb and some personnel to Walker Air Force Base in Roswell, New Mexico. For decades after the crash you could still see pieces of the plane glittering in the sun on the west slope of the mountain if you knew where to look.

Three months later, a B-50, an upgrade of the aging B-29 bomber from World War II, was on a secret mission to transport an MK-4 nuclear weapon to a base in the United Kingdom. Just to be perfectly safe, the capsule was being transported on a separate flight. It was a clear day. After takeoff from Biggs Air Force Base in Texas, the plane was seen in a spiraling descent over Lebanon, Ohio, at about 2:54 P. M. local time. There were no parachutes visible. It stalled briefly at about 4,000 feet, then fell into a spin to the right and flew straight into the ground. The high-explosive components of the MK-4 went off on contact, and the bomb, the airplane, and the 15 men on board were obliterated. The cause of the crash was never determined. The separate plane carrying the nuclear capsule landed without incident.

A month later, on August 5, 1950, another B-29 transporting an MK-4 without nuclear capsule to Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, from California experienced two runaway propellers and landing gear that would not retract on takeoff. The pilot turned the plane around to try an emergency landing, but the left wing touched ground and the plane crashed, killing 12 crew members. Twenty minutes later, as the twisted wreckage burned from its full load of aviation gasoline, the atomic bomb’s implosion explosive went off, and the shock wave, heard 30 miles away, wiped out a nearby trailer park, killing or injuring 180 military, civilians, and dependents. Among the fatalities in the airplane was Brigadier General Robert F. Travis. The Air Force base, Fairfield/Suison, was renamed Travis Air Force Base to honor him.

The year 1950 was not good for MK-4 nuclear weapons.201 Another one was ditched over the St. Lawrence River near St. Alexander-de-Kamouraska, Canada, from a B-50 on November 10. It was missing the nuclear capsule, but it still blew up into a million pieces when it hit the water. It was one of 15 MK-4s being air-transported from Canadian Force Base Goose Bay, Labrador, back to Arizona at the end of a six-week deployment beginning on August 26, 1950. The reason for having 15 nuclear weapons staged in Canada at that time is not clear.

Things were quiet until 1957, when on May 27 a late-model B-36J was ferrying a deactivated MK-17 from Biggs Air Force Base in Texas back home to New Mexico. The MK-17 was a thermonuclear weapon with a 15-megaton yield, made very complicated by its use of a cryogenic deuterium-tritium mixture for explosive fusion. It had been pressed into emergency service while a lighter bomb using solid-state lithium-deuteride was developed. The B-36J had lined up for the landing on Runway 26 at Kirtland and was coming in slow at 1,700 feet.

It was a written procedure at the time to pull out the locking pin on the bomb release before landing in a strategic bomber. It was designed to prevent any chance of an accidental drop while in flight, but if the landing started going bad, the base wanted you to jettison the bomb before you crashed and made a big crater in the runway. The locking pin would make a hasty decision to deploy impossible, so the captain always sent a man who was not needed for anything else to the bomb bay to disengage the pin and allow a drop if necessary. The captain, Major Donald F. Heran, sent a co-observer back to the bomb bay to pull it.

Disengaging the locking pin in the bomb bay was not easy. It was above the bomb, which was a hulking five feet in diameter, and there was not really any place to stand in the cramped space as the plane bounced around in the sun-baked turbulence at Kirtland. The co-observer found it by feel and jerked it out, but he lost his balance and grabbed for something. His hand found the bomb-release cable.

Instantly, the 42,000-pound MK-17 cleared the plane, taking the bomb bay doors with it. It hit the ground hard, detonating all of the primary high explosive, making a 25-foot-wide crater, and throwing shrapnel as far as a mile from the impact point. The largest piece found weighed 800 pounds, a half mile away.

Four more bombs were lost in quick succession. Two were dropped into the Atlantic Ocean, and two were burned up when B-47s blew out tires trying to take off, but on February 5, 1958, there occurred an odd incident. It happened off Tybee Island, near Savannah, Georgia.

Tybee has long been an interesting place, populated at various times by pirates, Spanish colonists, Yankee siege batteries, General George C. Marshall, tourists, hangers-on, and the world’s first Days Inn. It has one of the last remaining 18th-century lighthouses which, when first built in 1736, was the highest man-made structure in America. It has been blown down and rebuilt several times, but the bottom 60 feet of the current building was erected in 1773. At 3:00 a. m. on Wednesday, February 5, 1958, Tybee Island was mostly asleep.

Major Howard Richardson, First Lieutenant Robert J. Lagerstrom, and Captain Leland W. Woolard left the ground at 2151 Zulu from Homestead Air Force Base, Florida, in a B-47 for a Unit Simulated Combat Mission (USCM), looping them up to Radford, Virginia, and back down

to Homestead.202 The bomber was loaded with an MK-15 mod 0 thermonuclear weapon, serial number 47782, having a dummy (lead) type 150 nuclear capsule installed. Burdened with the 7,600-pound dead weight, the B-47 made a decent approximation of a Soviet bomber trying to unload over the Savannah River Project (SRP), a secret plutonium production facility in

Aiken, South Carolina. Code name for the flight was Ivory 2.203

A pair of F-86L Sabre interceptors, Pug Silver Flight and Pug Gold 2, were scrambled to find

two B-47s and give them simulated grief.204 Ivory 2 did a simulated bombs-away over SRP at 0455 Zulu, then banked into a 200-degree turn and headed for his check-point at Charlotte, North Carolina. Pug Gold 2, one of the interceptors, caught up with Ivory 2 as directed by the ground-based radar system, but the radar-return signal was weak and the position of the target was not well defined. The pilot, First Lieutenant Clarence Arville Stewart, keyed his microphone

and called “twenty seconds,” indicating the impact time of his simulated rocket attack.205 After 34 seconds of silence, his microphone keyed again without a voice signal. His F-86L had just collided with the B-47 as he ducked down in the cockpit, jammed the control stick forward, and accidentally hit the microphone switch. It was 0533 Zulu, or 12:33 am. With no remaining control of the aircraft, the pilot bailed out and watched his broken F-86L spiral out into the Atlantic Ocean.

The crew of Ivory 2 felt a severe yaw to the left and saw and felt a blinding explosion off the right wingtip. Number six engine was suddenly pointed up at 45 degrees and running out of control. Nothing would stop it until Richardson pulled the number six fire extinguisher and choked out the burners. The pilots started calling mayday while they executed a slow left turn and a descent. They noticed that the right wing tank was missing, and they jettisoned the left tank for the sake of symmetry, first noting no lights on the ground that would indicate civilization.

The heavily damaged bomber was given permission for an emergency landing at the closest field, Hunter Air Force Base in Savannah. They were in worse shape than they had thought, and the bomber came in too fast and too high to land. They had too much weight on board to make an emergency landing with the damaged wing. They decided, with permission, to take the MK — 15 out over the water and lose it. They made a left turn to the east, out over Wassaw Sound off the shore of Tybee Island, and then released the bomb from 7,300 feet. There was no explosion when it hit the water 22 seconds later. Just a splash. The newly formulated implosion explosives, made insensitive to shock-detonation, performed correctly when it hit the water by not going off. The crippled B-47 and its crew made it back to Hunter and landed without catching fire, and Stewart and his parachute were recovered unscathed on the ground.

There remained a loose end. Somewhere out there was an MK-15 mod 0 thermonuclear weapon with a fake pit installed. The impact point was hard to pin down, as there was no usable radar scope recording made when the bomb was released, but it was near the coast, off Tybee Island. The U. S. Navy was given priority for the recovery operation, with the USAF

Explosive Ordnance Detachment (EOD) acting as liaison at the scene. The EOD coordinated a search of the beaches for any bomb debris and an underwater visual search with hand-held sonar gear. The Navy brought in a submarine rescue ship, two minesweepers with high — resolution sonar, a Coast Guard cutter, a troop transport, a 1,000-ton barge, two 15-foot motorboats, a catamaran, two Higgins landing craft, and a helicopter. In the close confines of Wassaw Sound, the fact that no watercraft crashed into each other speaks well for the seamanship involved.

The search was called off on April 16, 1958, without any leads as to where the MK-15 could be. Since it was not a complete bomb with capsule, it was not worth further effort, and so the

search was abandoned.206 As far as the Air Force was concerned, the bomb had been swallowed by the mud at the bottom of the sound, and it was probably buried for good under 15 feet of silt by this point.

Nevertheless, the search for the missing MK-15 has continued sporadically over the past 50 years, mostly by amateur treasure hunters. In 2004, retired Air Force Colonel Derek Duke claimed to have narrowed the search down to a small area by towing a Geiger counter behind a motorboat and mapping the radioactivity over a patch of water. The Air Force came out to

investigate and left disappointed.207

A little over a month after the bomb was jettisoned off Tybee, another B-47 was forced to drop their bomb. This time it was over Florence, South Carolina, in what became known as the Mars Bluff Incident. Unlike events happening out over the ocean, on Air Force property, or in remote mountain ranges, the public relations aspect of this Broken Arrow would prove challenging. The bomb was dropped on an American family, and the voting public would be smacked right in the face by the remote, abstract, and carefully hidden world of nuclear warfare.

It all started on March 11, 1958, 3:53 P. M. at Hunter Air Force Base, when a B-47E manned by Captain Koehler, the pilot, Woodruff, copilot, and Bruce Kulka, the bombardier, left the ground, headed for England on a training mission named Operation Snow Flurry. They had on board an MK-6 atomic bomb with a 30-kiloton yield. It was a practice exercise, so the nuclear capsule was not installed. In case of a sudden war breakout, the manually insertable capsule

would be stored on board in its birdcage.208

Once they had climbed to 5,000 feet, Woodruff, sitting behind the pilot, rotated his seat 180 degrees so he was facing backward and pushed the lever to engage the locking pin on the bomb-release mechanism, which would prevent accidental release, as called for in the flight manual. The lever did not feel right, and the red light stayed on, indicating that the pin had failed to engage. For five minutes Woodruff tried wiggling the handle to make the pin drop in, banging on the handle with a palm, applying force with a knee, and criticizing it with abusive language, trying to shame it. Nothing worked. The not-engaged light remained on, indicating that the bomb was not locked into position and was free to be dropped on demand.

Captain Koehler asked Kulka, the bombardier, to go have a look at it and try to push the thing home. They were still climbing and had reached 15,000 feet. Kulka would have to enter the bomb bay, which was not pressurized, so they had to get this resolved before the air got too thin. The space was cramped, and the door to the bomb bay was small. Kulka had to take off his parachute and squeeze through, past the hulking, five-foot-wide bomb. He had no idea what a locking pin looked like or where it might have been in the complicated maze of levers and cables.

After 12 minutes of searching, Kulka decided correctly that it must be on top of the bomb, hidden from the casual observer. He tried to pull himself up off the bomb bay floor, where he could see over the bomb, groping for something to hang on to. He grabbed the emergency bomb release handle. Click, and down she went.

For a moment, the MK-6 seemed to hang there, resting along with Kulka on the bomb bay doors. It weighed as much as a Rolls Royce with six people in the back seat. The doors gave up, and the bomb exited downward. Kulka, finding his floor gone, flailed wildly for anything to hang on to. He grabbed a cloth bag, but it was not connected to anything. He felt himself, almost in slow motion, following the bomb into space. His hands found something solid, and he managed to pull himself up and out of the open doorway as he watched first the bomb and then the cloth bag get smaller and smaller, falling away.

On the ground underneath, it was 4:34 P. M. on a sunny Tuesday afternoon. Walter Gregg, a train conductor, his son, Walter, Jr., and Jr.’s cousin were making benches in their workshop. Gregg’s wife was in the kitchen, and his three daughters were off in the yard somewhere. They had a playhouse next to the vegetable garden, but they were through pretending domestication for the day and were busy piddling elsewhere. They all heard the B-47 overhead. It sounded closer than it was.

All hell broke loose. The MK-6 centered the playhouse, the implosion charge ignited, and the garden went airborne. The blast and shock waves were tremendous, making an oblong crater, 75 feet long and 35 feet down at its deepest point. Huge chunks of earth, some weighing hundreds of pounds, were suddenly coming down all over the place, and in the thick fog of dust and debris Gregg could not see ten feet in front of his face as he and the boys staggered out the front of the workshop. Looking back at the woods, he could see the pine trees snapped off at the ground and laid out in a circle around the former garden. The house was shifted off its foundation, and the back wall was pierced by rocks and shrapnel, as if a huge shotgun had been discharged at it. The roof appeared to have melted onto the rafters. He could hear his family screaming all over the place before the air cleared and the reverberations stopped.

Captain Koehler and the crew felt the shock wave seem to lift their airplane several feet. Fearing the worst, they turned around and immediately saw the vertical column of smoke rising over Mars Bluff. They sent a specially coded digital message back to Hunter indicating that they had laid an egg. On the receiving end, they had never before seen such a message and did not know what to make of it. Getting no acknowledgement, Koehler radioed the tower at the Florence municipal airfield and persuaded the radio operator to place a collect call to Hunter Air Force Base and tell them that aircraft number 53-1876A had lost a device somewhere near here. The impact point would be easy to find.

Back on the ground, Gregg was certain that a jet plane had crashed on his property. Nobody was dead, but his wife had a cut on her head from flying plaster, he had a cut on his side, the cousin was bleeding internally and would have to get to a hospital, everybody was bruised all over from flying rocks, and neither of his automobiles would ever roll again. Neighbors came running, thinking that his propane tank had exploded. The family doctor took them in for the night after stitching up some cuts.

The bomber crew saw their careers melting before their eyes as they flew in circles around Mars Bluff. Evaluating the remaining fuel, Kulka suggested that they might do better to fly to Brazil. They were met on the airstrip at Hunter by security guards who deprived them of their side-arms before locking them in a room. It took a while to convince the Air Force that they had not dropped a bomb on South Carolina on purpose. The national and international press were all over it, descending on Mars Bluff like the black death. Newsreel cameras rolled, peering into the crater and showing airmen examining the ground with Geiger counters. After three days, the excitement died away. Eventually the Air Force was able to find 25 pounds of fragments identified as belonging to a MK-6. When it left the bomb bay, the thing had weighed 7,600 pounds. In August 1958, the Gregg family was paid $54,000 for their losses. They moved elsewhere.

Today, the crater is still there, although it is somewhat filled in and obscured with plants and trees. It is visible on Google Earth. Just look for Mars Bluff. The flight rules were changed immediately. After Mars Bluff, the locking pin was inserted by the bomb-loading crew while the plane was on the ground and remained in at all times, unless you were intending to drop the device. At great expense, all the existing nuclear weapons were upgraded to have reformulated chemical explosives that would not detonate on contact. The three crewmen were reassigned

overseas and were never seen again.209

In the next few years, five nuclear drop-weapons were lost or destroyed in places that were non-residential, and thus escaped the same level of scrutiny as Mars Bluff. In 1960, a BOMARC IM-99B nuclear-tipped cruise missile exploded and burned at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey when its helium fuel-pressurizing tank blew up without warning, but there was little notice outside the base. The next unusually serious accident occurred just after midnight on Tuesday, January 24, 1961, in the tiny farming community of Faro, North Carolina. It is forever known as The Goldsboro Incident, and it was impossible to keep it quiet.

By 1961, the big, technically sophisticated Boeing B-52 had taken over as the Strategic Air Command’s most prized long-range bomber and the twitchy, crash-prone B-47 took a back seat. The B-52 carried two MK-39 mod 2 thermonuclear weapons, individually strapped into the double bomb bay by what looked like a very heavy bicycle chain.

The MK-39 was an ugly-looking, blunt-nosed cylinder, nearly 12 feet long, painted olive drab with notations (part number, serial number, modification level, etc.) stenciled on the sides with yellow paint. On top was stenciled “DANGER,” in red, “DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REMOVE ARMING RODS.” The rear section of the bomb was slightly larger than the rotund body,

containing four tightly packed parachutes.210 Four very stubby aluminum fins were bolted to the rear section, looking like an engineering afterthought. It was designed to drop nose-down, with the parachutes out the back slowing its fall. The “frangible” nose section, painted yellow, was made of crushable aluminum honeycomb, intended to ensure a soft landing before it detonated. It weighed over 9,000 pounds, and would explode with the force of 3.8 megatons. To put that in perspective, that is more explosive power than the sum of what has been detonated in every war in the history of the world, including the two A-bombs dropped on Japan in World War II. These bombs were sealed and ready to go, with no removable capsules as had been the saving grace in so many previous accidents. They were protected from accidental

Подпись: THE HYDROGEN BOMB IS MORE POWERFUL AND MORE COMPLICATED THAN THE FISSION DEVICES BUILT IN WORLD WAR II, although it uses an off-the-shelf atomic bomb as the primary explosion. Excess neutrons streaming from the fission detonation convert lithium in the secondary component to tritium, which then fuses with the deuterium under pressure from the x-ray shock wave caused by the disintegrating primary bomb. The fusion process releases energy in addition to that from the fission explosion. Tritium and deuterium are both isotopes of hydrogen.

detonation by a series of six steps that must occur before the device will explode. The newly implemented boosted fission feature prevented the plutonium-fueled fission stage from ever exploding because of fire or shock to the system.

As was the case with every nuclear weapon built, including the first ones, “safety rods” had to be pulled out of sockets on top of the bomb to make the explosion sequence begin. The safety rods, also called “Bisch rods,” were thin metal wands stuck in holes on the bomb and hard — connected to the ceiling of the bomb bay. When the weapon exited the bomb bay, it pulled out the rods, threw a switch, and automatically started the arming steps. The weapon prepared itself for a full nuclear explosion on the way down.

The B-52G number 58-187 took off from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro,

North Carolina, at 10:52 a. m. on January 23.211 It was a “Coverall” mission, in which the bomber’s task was to fly around for 24 hours with two thermonuclear bombs, locked and loaded. It was the peak of Cold War tension, and the Strategic Air Command was keeping one third of their airplanes in the air at all times, ready to strike. Major Walter Tullock was the Command Pilot, Captain Richard Rardin was the Senior Pilot, and First Lieutenant Adam

Mattocks was the Third Pilot. They would take turns flying the plane during the long mission. An additional five airmen rounded out the crew. The flight was code-named Keep 19.

After 10 hours and 33 minutes, the routine, boring mission began to unravel. Tullock was at the controls for the second mid-air refueling. The B-52 was connected to a tanker plane by a hollow boom, through which JP-4 fuel was being pumped rapidly while the two airplanes were flying together, 30,000 feet off the ground. The Boom Operator on the tanker, looking out his rear window while steering the refueling pipe, noted a stream of fuel, about six feet wide, exiting the right wing on the B-52, behind the number three engine. This was not good. The width of the stream rapidly increased to 15 feet. At the same time, the Flight Engineer on the bomber noted that the fuel in main tank number three went from full to empty in 90 seconds. That is about 44,000 pounds of fuel. Major Tullock decided to cut the mission short and proceed back to Seymour Johnson.

The tanker shifted to a position behind the bomber so that its crew could see where the fuel was leaking. It appeared to be coming out of the wing, between number three engine and the fuselage. There was a real chance of the leaking fuel catching fire, so engines number five and six were shut down. This was starting to look like a full-blown emergency. Keep 19 was cleared to land at Seymour Johnson, but they were advised to make one orbit to make sure that the leaking fuel tank was empty. Tullock then lined up on Runway 26 and put the landing gear down. So far, so good.

Tullock cautiously lowered the flaps for landing. With this added stress on the wings, the crew heard disturbing cracking, thumping noises, and the plane started to barrel-roll. As the roll reached 90 degrees right, everyone heard the right wing explode, and the commander gave the bailout order over the interphone as the plane started breaking into large pieces. The electronics warfare officer and the gunner were not able to get out, and the radar navigator landed in a tree and died from a broken neck. The other five crewmen parachuted

successfully.212

The two bombs also abandoned the stricken aircraft. As it fell, the bomber broke apart between the fore and aft bomb bays. The bomb in the aft bay twisted slightly clockwise and slid forward, leaving the plane nose-first as it slipped out of its chain. As it rolled out of the bomb bay, the arming rods were jerked out, and it began the detonation sequence with actuation of the Single Pulse Generator, MC-845. Next, the MC-834 Explosive Actuator fired, then the MC-543 Timer ran down and stopped. The MC-832 Differential Pressure Switch, detecting that the correct altitude had been reached, closed all contacts. Two more steps to go, and the bomb would make Goldsboro into a large inland bay. The MC-640 Low Voltage Thermal Battery was turned on and warmed up. Fortunately, the MC-772 Arm-Safe Switch had not been turned to ARM. That would have required the radar navigator to pull out a knob on his control panel using both hands, shearing off a copper retaining pin, and turn it to ARM. The bomb did not explode. It hit the ground nose-first, and its parachutes were found draped in a tree. The nose, which crushed as intended, was buried 18 inches deep in the soft ground.

The other weapon took the entire bomb rack with it as it fell away from the front half of the plane at about 7,000 feet. Somewhere on its way to the ground, the rack came loose and pulled out the arming rods, but the sequence in which the rods were pulled out was incorrect, so the parachutes did not deploy and no remaining steps in the deployment sequence were activated. The bomb did a free fall, nose down, reaching a terminal velocity of about 700 miles per hour. It landed in the middle of a plowed field and left a crater 15 feet in diameter and six feet deep. It made no explosion. Its MC-543 Timer had only run for 12.5 seconds when it hit the ground. The only way you could tell that a bomb had fallen from the sky was the crater it made.

The bomber itself rained down on the tiny farming community of Faro, North Carolina, over a swath two miles long, on a line starting at Big Daddy’s Road and running northwest to

southeast, 1.5 miles south of where Big Daddy’s tees into Faro Road.213 To the sparsely placed residents awakened by the house-shaking thumps of airplane sections hitting the ground, it was the end of the world. Flames were everywhere as the remaining jet fuel burned off.

Lieutenant Wilson, the navigator, landed in a swamp, feeling exhilarated at being alive. He stripped off his chute and started running toward civilization. He could see the porch light at a farmhouse in the distance. He jumped a fence, landed wrong, and broke an ankle, but still he hurried along. He made it up onto the porch, took a second to get his breath, and knocked. The farmer came to the door and opened it cautiously. Wilson appeared to be a homeless person with possible intention to rob. He was able to convince the man that he had, in fact, bailed out of the airplane that was burning in the distance. The farmer got his wife out of bed, and she made coffee so that they could sit in the kitchen and hear all about it.

Major Tullock, the command pilot, a World War II veteran who had flown everything from B — 29s over Japan to B-36s, had never actually parachuted before. He found it curiously relaxing, right up until the point when he got hung up in a tree. It was so dark, he could not see anything, but he thought that the ground was just out of reach of his feet. He released the parachute harness and did a 20-foot free fall into the Nahunta Swamp. It was not clear which way to go to get out of the cold water, so he wrapped himself up in his parachute and waited for daylight, shivering and occasionally finding himself face down in the water.

Captain Rardin, the senior pilot, landed in the trees, but he was able to extricate himself from the tangled chute harness and put both feet on the ground. He could see some lights, and he started walking across a large field. By the time he got to the road, his further progress was slowed by the convergence of “various and sundry dogs” demanding to know who he was and

what he was doing here.214

By morning, the Air Force had taken over the town. Everyone was cleared out, the area was cordoned off, and nobody, particularly a stray journalist, was allowed in. Residents could not help but notice as they were removed that the Air Force was very interested in the crater in the field. They were told that it was caused by a seat that had fallen out of the plane.

The first order of business was to secure the MK-39 thermonuclear weapons, with their valuable cores. The one that had landed with its parachutes was easy. Specialists opened the access port on the side of the bomb, pinched off the tritium injection tube, and removed the tritium tank. Without that component, there was no way a nuclear explosion could occur.

The other bomb was a problem. It was buried somewhere down in a crater made in soft, swampy ground. At 1:30 P. M. on January 24, specialists from the explosive ordnance disposal squadron began digging in the crater. They had burrowed down eight feet, resorting to shovels by the end. They found a piece of the nose section. The next day, they were down 12 feet, and they found the top of the parachute pack. It rained the next day, making the swampy ground even softer and less stable, but they were able to completely expose the rear section of the bomb. The arming rods had definitely been pulled out, starting the arming sequence. The internal structures of an MK-39 were mostly made of plastic, and they found broken pieces of it embedded in the mud. On the 27th, they were able to pull out the entire back end of the bomb, containing mostly parachutes, and they found the tritium cylinder. It was full. The bomb was never fully armed, and it would not have gone off.

By the 28th, they were down another 10 feet, using mechanical shovels, and the diameter of the hole had grown considerably. Water was filling up the crater, making further digging impossible, and 16 gasoline-driven pumps were used to drain it. At this depth, they could see that the primary, the fission-implosion bomb used to start the fusion process, had broken free of the bomb and the ball of chemical explosive was smashed to pieces. At the end of the day, they found the MC-772 Arm-Safe Switch. It was in the armed position. A question came up: Why had the MK-39, with its arming rods out and the switch in the armed position, not gone

off?215

On they dug, with the walls of the crater now collapsing and mud sliding onto the workers. On the 30th, the hole was 22 feet deep, 50 feet wide, and 70 feet long, and it was becoming dangerous to dig. They found the plutonium shell of the primary, which was fairly intact, and more fragments of the high explosives, detonators, and tangled-up sections of electrical cable.

The secondary, the part that made it a high-yield hydrogen bomb and not just an A-bomb, had obviously broken free and shot through the front of the bomb like a bullet, burying itself deep into North Carolina. The secondary was a hollow cylinder, 14 inches in diameter and 34 inches long, made of uranium-238, filled with lithium-deuteride powder, with a plutonium-239 rod running down the center. It weighed a little less than 200 pounds, and, believe it or not, it was encased in molded Styrofoam, the stuff used to make disposable coffee cups.

On February 7, the team gave up digging at a depth of 42 feet. The hole was now 130 feet wide at the surface, and cave-ins and water leaking in were exacerbated by rainy weather. It was not worth the effort to find the lost secondary unit, and the hole was filled in. Later simulations indicated that it was probably 120 feet below the surface. It is still there, somewhere. The Air Force paid $1,000 for the easement for a circle 200 feet in diameter in the field and will permit no digging on the property. On July 2, 2012, a historic marker was unveiled on Main Street in Eureka, North Carolina, commemorating the Goldsboro Incident, which actually happened about three miles down the road, in Faro. It reads:

NUCLEAR MISHAP. B-52 transporting two nuclear bombs crashed Jan. 1961. Widespread disaster averted: three crewmen

died 3 mi. S.

The last survivor of the crash, Adam C. Mattocks, was on hand. The young inhabitants of Eureka dismiss the story, finding it about as believable as a local version of the Loch Ness sea monster. To them, it is just another ghost story.

These accounts of air disasters with nuclear weapons could go on for another three volumes and start to get repetitious, but from this small sampling a general trend begins to form. Here is one last, fascinating tale before we move on. It is a little-known accident, occurring in Greenland near Thule Air Base on January 21, 1968. Pronounced “Too-lee,” Thule, located well north of the Arctic Circle at the intersection of three moving glaciers, has long held the prize, unofficially, as the most miserable air base on the planet Earth. Rather than list its deficiencies as a vacation spot, I offer the following anecdote:

Late on a dark winter’s night, an Air Force general, high up in the Strategic Air Command, landed at Thule Air Base in his flying command-center/palace for a surprise inspection. As the plane taxied off the runway, the general asked his pilot to radio the tower and have equipment sent out to empty the latrine on board the plane. Its waste-holding tank was full.

The tower radioed back that this would be accomplished right away, but the aircraft could not proceed to the disembarkation point until the latrine service truck had done its business and disconnected. Understood. We shall wait.

The general, who was by disposition opposed to waiting for something to happen, sat fuming in the cabin as time ticked away. After a 30-minute wait, he was fit to be tied. He exited the plane through the rear door so that he could pace up and down on the tarmac and give the tardy airman a lecture about promptness. Finally, the honey wagon showed up, approaching in no particular hurry. After making absolutely sure that his parka was all zipped up, the airman ambled over to the back of the truck, unrolled the hose, eventually connected it to the waste port on the plane’s fuselage, and stuck his hands into his parka.

“Airman!” the general screamed. “You are intolerably late, and your lack of enthusiasm is obvious! This will go down in my report, and you will regret your slovenly performance here!”

The airman, barely awake, squinted so as to see who was talking. “General,” he began, “it’s 27 degrees below zero. I’m pumping shit out of an airplane. I’m at Thule. What exactly are you

going to do to me?”216

It is always cold at Thule, but 35,000 feet over Thule in the dead of winter, Sunday, January 21, 1968, it was even colder than usual. The crew in the downstairs compartment aboard the B-52G strategic bomber, “HOBO 28,” were freezing, and they called upstairs begging for more heat.

Gone were the halcyon days of SAC, the Strategic Air Command, when they kept a dozen bombers in the air at all times in “Operation Chrome Dome,” ready to counter-strike a Soviet threat at a minute’s notice. There were too many accident opportunities, and it was terribly expensive even if nothing crashed into anything. On January 17, 1966, a B-52 and a KC-135 tanker plane had a fender-bender over Palomares, Spain, and managed to spill the contents of

the bomb bay over land and sea, this time in a foreign country.217 It was the latest in a number of loud wakeup calls, and the number of planes to be in the air at once was cut back to three. By 1968, the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) was up and running in Greenland, and there was enough planet-killing power available underground at the throw of a switch in missile silos or in submarines to give airborne weapons a back seat.

The Department of Defense questioned the need for any bombers at all. SAC, fearful of losing their defining mission, argued that the BMEWS radar sites, particularly the one at Thule monitoring the over-the-pole route for enemy missiles, could be taken out by a stealthy Soviet overland strike, and the data link back to the command center in Colorado would go dark. We would have no idea what was being sent in over the North Pole with that radar knocked out. The only way to ensure that all was well at BMEWS Thule was to fly over it in a bomber and make sure it was still there. It was a weak justification, but the DoD went along and gave SAC permission to keep exactly one plane in the air. It would fly a “butter-knife” pattern, a sort of figure-eight route starting at Baffin Bay, over Thule, then over the BMEWS station, and back down to Baffin Bay, over and over, with in-flight refueling.218 If the connection to BMEWS Thule was ever lost, the B-52 could look down and tell whether it was just a power outage or it had been blown to Kingdom Come. The operation was named “Hard Head.”

The old reliable pair of MK-39 thermonuclear weapons carried in the B-52 bomb bay had been replaced with a four-round clip of sleek, slender MK-28FI bombs in case something of global significance happened while the bomber orbited over Thule. The newer bombs were only 22 inches in diameter but were 12 feet long. They looked exactly like cigar tubes, dull but attractive

aluminum with perfectly hemispherical noses, and each weighed only 2,300 pounds.219

The Command Pilot on HOBO 28 was Captain John M. Haug, the Copilot was Captain Leonard Svitenko, and the Third Pilot was Major Alfred J. D’Amario. The crew was Major Frank F. Hopkins, Radar Navigator; Captain Curtis R. Griss, Jr., Navigator; Captain Richard E. Marx, Electronics Warfare Officer; and Staff Sergeant Calvin W. Snapp, Gunner. Their mission, Junky 14, started at 7:30 a. m. with a pre-takeoff briefing in the Bomb Squadron room at Plattsburgh Air Force Base in New York. Captain Haug and his crew loaded their equipment into HOBO 28 and started engines at 8:44 am.

The Third Pilot, D’Amario, had to sit downstairs in “the hole,” an uncomfortable, fold-away jump seat bolted to the bulkhead of the lower crew compartment. The back rest was a thin cushion glued to a door at the back of the cabin. The sealed doorway led to the front landing gear compartment, and a door on the far side of that space led to the forward bomb bay. There was a seat belt and a headphone jack, but it was the only seat in the plane that would not eject from the aircraft on demand. Officially, the seat was designated the IN, for Instructor Navigator.

At D’Amario’s feet was the “egg crate,” the grid over the folded-up ladder for the aircraft’s front door, a hatch underneath the ladder. He looked into the backs of the ejection seats for the Navigator and Radar Navigator, and on his left and right were racks full of electronic equipment. At his left elbow was the urine canister, piped downstairs from the crew’s toilet, to which the yellow ladder in front of him led.

There was no place to put extraneous things in a B-52G. D’Amario had gotten some extra cloth-covered foam rubber cushions to make his long stay in the hole more comfortable. Before takeoff, he stowed three of them under the jump seat, right on top of the “hot air spray tube,” or what anywhere else would be called the “furnace vent.” After takeoff, D’Amario found that the extra cushion he was sitting on did not do as much good as he had hoped, so he crammed it on top of the other three cushions, and in front of them he moved a metal box to put his feet on.

By 1:09 p. m. they were entering the orbit area over Greenland, where it was dark 24 hours a day. The pilots had just finished a successful in-flight refueling, and D’Amario went upstairs to spell Svitenko in the copilot’s seat. Svitenko immediately noticed that it was freezing cold downstairs, and he called for more heat. The temperature control knob was already turned all the way up, so D’Amario turned on the emergency cabin heater system, taking hot air from the jet engine manifolds on the right side of the plane. It was still cold downstairs, but on the flight deck it immediately started getting uncomfortably hot. As the pilots puzzled over the temperature paradox, Marx called from downstairs that he smelled something burning. Rubber?

A brief search found smoke coming from underneath the IN seat. Marx unhooked a fire extinguisher from the wall, pulled the safety pin, and released its contents all over the seat. One fire extinguisher did not do anything, so he quickly found another and emptied it in the direction of the smoke. Svitenko pulled out the metal box in front of the cushions, and flames erupted into the downstairs compartment. Haug immediately called Thule, reporting an emergency on board and requesting an immediate landing. Marx opened the sextant port to try to vent the smoke out

of the compartment, while Griss tried to smother the fire with an A-3 bag.220 It was only growing worse. As the plane descended, at 3:32 P. M. D’Amario dumped the cabin pressure, trying to smother the flames by depriving them of oxygen. The smoke was so thick, the pilots could not see the instrument panel. Three minutes later, all electrical power failed, and Haug shouted the bailout order.

Haug could not see much of anything, with the only visible light being a red glow coming through the hatchway to the lower compartment, but he distinctly heard four ejection seats fire off in quick succession. He looked down at the end of the left armrest and grabbed the “magic handle,” painted yellow with black stripes, with his left hand and rotated it up. The ejection trigger snapped into position, the hatch over his head unlatched and blew away, the inertial reels on his shoulder harness locked, and the control column with which he had been flying the plane spaced forward, out of the way. All the smoke vacuumed out of the cockpit, and for a second the sound of air rushing past the open hatchway was deafening. He squeezed the trigger. The next thing he knew, he felt as if he were floating. He could see lights on the ground.

D’Amario, unlike Haug, was not wearing a winter-weight flying suit with thermal underwear. He had the right undies underneath a summer-weight flying jumper, but as he saw the situation deteriorating he pulled on his snow parka. After he was blown out the top of the plane and the

chute opened, he occupied himself with deploying his arctic survival kit.221 He could see the lights on the west end of the runway at Thule.

Hopkins, the Radar Navigator, was surprised at the violent jerk of his ejection seat. The eject trigger set off an explosive charge, and the high-pressure gas generated in the explosion vented into a pneumatic cylinder at the back of his seat. The seat, mounted on rails, left the plane very quickly. Somewhere in the event his helmet and his left glove were lost, and his left arm seemed to have gotten caught in the hatchway as his seat exited downward. He could not wave his arms and stop himself from oscillating back and forth under the parachute canopy. To the east he could see the lights at Thule. His arm was hurting, which thankfully meant that it was still attached to him.

Marx was not properly dressed, having only a light summer flying suit and thermal underwear. As soon as his seat cleared the plane, he became acutely aware of the cold air. He could see the base, but he was drifting in the wrong direction.

Snapp, the gunner, was not well dressed either, and it seemed to him that it took an awfully long time to hit the ground. He had lost his helmet and both gloves in the ejection. While floating, he tried to release his survival kit, but his hands were too cold.

Griss, the navigator, felt his arms flailing as his seat ejected downward, and he was afraid that he had broken both shoulders. He could not reach for his survival kit on the long way to the ground.

Svitenko, the one stuck in the IN seat without an ejection charge, tried to jump out the hole left when the navigator seat dropped out. His head hit the hatch-frame on the way out, and he

never regained consciousness.

With nobody on board, the eight-engine bomber made a slow left turn, heading out over Wholstenholme Fjord but quickly losing altitude. Over the vast plain of thick sea-ice on the western shore of Greenland, the plane’s left wingtip touched the surface and started to dig a trench. The nose slammed down on the ice as the bomber began to cartwheel, and it disintegrated in a bright yellow flash, spreading finely divided debris in a north-south line two and a half miles long. Hopkins was the only one who happened to be looking west when the plane hit the ground, and he witnessed it disintegrate in the darkness, leaving a large field of burning jet fuel.

Haug made an easy landing and tried desperately to open his survival kit. The survival kit was important in that it was always a secret, sealed box, said to contain many interesting things, including the coveted folding rifle, but it could never be opened and examined under normal conditions. It was a sort of prize given only to those who had lived through the extreme event of being shot out of the plane in an ejection seat, and Haug and the other survivors wanted to look inside. His hands were too cold. He finally abandoned it and his parachute and walked 600 yards to the comfort of a heated hangar on the base.

D’Amario yanked the quick-release lever on his harness as soon as he felt his feet touch ground, and it abruptly dumped him out onto his right side. He stood up, felt all over, and could find no injuries. He collected his survival kit and walked the 200 yards to a hangar.

Hopkins could not reach the survival kit handle with his hurting arm, so he just let it go. He started walking after he hit the ground, and soon he ran into Marx. When Marx hit the ground, the snow felt like concrete to him, and he was so cold, his numb hands could not open his survival kit, so he gave up and started walking. Seeing that Hopkins was injured, however, he went back for his kit and finally got it open, but sadly, there was nothing inside that could help Hopkins. They started walking together, and 30 minutes later they were picked up by a rescue helicopter.

After he landed, Snapp spent a frustrating time trying to open his kit as his hands got colder and colder. It seemed that there was a turning point for each of the men, at which the 53 degrees below zero chill factor or even physical injury began to take precedence over the desire to see inside the secret box. Unsuccessful, he dropped it and started walking. Two rescuers found him an hour and a half later and took him to the base hospital.

Griss was the first to eject and the last one to be found. The pain in his shoulder kept him from even trying to open his survival kit. He wrapped himself up in the parachute and lay down in the snow. The rescue team found him 22 hours later, frostbitten but alive.

The United States Air Force, together with the Royal Greenland Trade Department and some dog-sled teams, had found and rescued the surviving members of the crew of HOBO 28 under terrible conditions of cold and dark. It was a job very well done, but now there was a larger problem. Greenland belonged and still belongs to Denmark, and the Air Force was allowed to land, take off, and house airplanes on the ice at Thule, but the written conditions of this agreement stated clearly that no nuclear weapons were to be present. There were now four such devices, spread out over a large blackened area on the ice covering the fjord, about seven and a half miles west of Thule, that had fallen out of the plane as it crashed. To police the area of debris would not be an easy effort.

The first thing the Air Force did was to give the task a name: Project Crested Ice, or, unofficially, “Dr. Freezelove,” based on the name of a Stanley Kubrick film from 1964, Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. All the Americans had seen the film. It was unfamiliar to the Greenlanders.

Weather conditions for the cleanup project were extreme, with temperatures as low as 76 degrees below zero and winds up to 89 miles per hour. Sunlight would not peek over the horizon until February 14. The hand-held radiation detectors which worked so well in a laboratory would fail as the batteries froze. Radiation contamination from nuclear weapons torn to pieces and burned was spread out over three square miles on the ice shelf over the fjord. The goal was to pick up every interesting-looking piece at the wreck site so that Eskimos would not collect them and take them home, subjecting themselves and their families to long-term alpha-radiation exposure. Unfortunately, the crash occurred in the middle of an election in Denmark, and the U. S. Embassy in Copenhagen was immediately notified that the Danish government wished to send help for the cleanup operation. There was no objection, as it was diplomatically correct to accept the assistance, and the Air Force needed all the hands it could muster to collect every small bit of debris off the ice. Danger to personnel from radiation exposure during the operation was, for all practical purposes, nonexistent and paled in comparison with the threat of frostbite. Any plutonium or uranium smoke originating in the crash had condensed onto the ice in the extreme cold, so it could not be breathed. Nobody’s bare skin touched anything in the frozen environment, so there was no chance of absorbing alpha — emitting material during the mission.

The Danes turned out to be a bit more fussy than the Americans on the subject of disposal. The Americans wanted to dump the bomber and its cargo into the deep fjord, where it would be out of sight, out of mind, and gone forever where it was too cold and too deep for anybody or anything to ever pick it up. The Danes wanted every little piece, every dust particle, and every ton of contaminated ice to be packed up and shipped to the United States. The Air Force, wanting to keep its base in Greenland, agreed to this stipulation.

Camp Hunziger was erected at the crash site, consisting of many igloos, a heliport, several generator shacks, communications buildings, a large prefabricated building, two buildings mounted on skis, a decontamination trailer, living quarters, and a latrine. A straight line of 50 men would start walking over a search area, looking down and picking up anything that was not clean ice. Back at the camp, bomb experts would determine which blackened fragments were from a nuclear device, and these parts were separated out and loaded into steel drums for transport back to Pantex, where the weapons were originally assembled. Ice showing any radioactivity at all was loaded into tanks for shipment back to the Savannah River Project in South Carolina.

About 93 percent of the airplane and its cargo was accounted for. The remaining seven percent had probably fallen through the ice and was considered unrecoverable. Carefully reconstructing the bombs from all the tiny pieces, the specialists at Pantex were able to account for everything except the secondary unit, the cylinder made of uranium and lithium deuteride, from one of the weapons. An underwater search in the fjord was attempted using a Star III mini-sub, but nothing was ever found. After almost eight months of work, the operation was completed on September 13, 1968, when the last tank of contaminated ice was sealed

and loaded onto a ship.

The Danish workers did not go anywhere near the crash site. They worked on the vehicles used in the cleanup and at the port where the steel tanks full of contaminated ice were loaded. Nineteen years later, about 200 of the workers were convinced that they had been exposed to radiation, and they took legal action against the United States. The action was successful only in forcing the release of many classified documents concerning the Thule accident and Operation Crested Ice, making this detailed account possible. The Danish government wound up paying 1,700 workers 50,000 kroner, about $8,300, each.

The airborne alert program came to an immediate stop at Strategic Air Command. As one observer pointed out, if HOBO 28 had crashed into the BMEWS site, we would have concluded that the Soviets had simultaneously destroyed our radar outpost and our look-down aircraft, and the Third World War would have commenced.

On the whole, the Air Force, Navy, and Army were good stewards with the thousands of nuclear weapons and warheads in inventory in the 20th century. They managed to never detonate one, even with planes crashing, ships colliding, and mistakes and errors so simple, it was impossible to predict what would happen next. A solid conclusion that one can draw from the representative subset of accidents here is that a technically advanced warplane is safe only when it is on the ground with the engines turned off.

The accidents that did happen were not technically nuclear in nature, and they certainly were not nuclear-power accidents, and yet they added to the distortion and the magnification of the public nuclear concept. When one of the tobacco farmers in Faro was advised to leave town while the specialists dealt with the thermonuclear weapon standing on its nose in his field, he and his wife stole a glance at it on the way out. The wife said she could feel it. The radiation was making the right side of her body burn. Psychologically, that was true, but it was not alpha, beta, or gamma rays streaming out of the weapon. It was difficult to detect the plutonium and uranium deep inside the bomb chassis using the most sensitive electronic instruments pressed against it, much less two hundred feet away with sensitive skin. It was not the radiation, but it was the very thought of radiation that made her skin react. It was the strictly imposed secrecy, the complete lack of knowledge of what was inside the bomb case that would let the imagination run wild and make a normal person break out into hives. The major edict in the instructions for cleaning up a lost nuclear weapon, the Air Force procedure known as Moist Mop, is “Don’t scare the locals!” The effect seems just the opposite.

It will take decades or maybe centuries for the fear of deliberate nuclear destruction to subside, but that emotion is not even necessary to sustain the atomic dread. Commercial nuclear power, the benign type that makes electricity come out of your wall, would itself cause enough mayhem to keep the fire burning, now that the Cold War is over and continual transport of nuclear bombs via airplane is not as routine. The next event would happen in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, on a fine March day in 1979, and it would become known to nuclear engineers everywhere as “TMI.” As was the case of the aircraft accidents, the initiating fault would be so minor, so insignificant that it would be impossible to predict what was going to happen.

190DNA was the Defense Atomic Support Agency (DASA) from 1959 until 1971, when it became DNA. In 1996 it was changed to the Defense Special Weapons Agency (DSWA), and in 1998 it was combined with three other agencies to form the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). Every time it changed, they had to change the seal and all the stationery. I liked the old DNA seal, the blue background of which was peppered with little mushroom clouds. The latest seal has the Eagle of State looking to his right, at the olive branch of peace, but in his left talon he holds an A-bomb instead of a bunch of arrows.

191 Chuck Hansen published US Nuclear Weapons: The Secret History in 1988, printed by Aerofax, Inc. and distributed to the trade by Orion Books. He collected information concerning nuclear weapons with 30 years of dogged use of the Freedom of Information Act. His collected papers are now housed in the National Security Archive at George Washington University. Hansen was 55 years old when he died of brain cancer in 2003.

192A Broken Arrow is an accident involving a nuclear weapon, warhead, or components that does not cause World War III. A Bent Spear is an accident or a mistake made while transporting a nuclear device from one location to another. An Empty Quiver occurs when a functioning nuclear device is stolen or lost. A Dull Sword happens when you have a perfectly good nuclear device but some malfunction or damage to the equipment means that you cannot set it off. A Faded Giant is a malfunctioning military power reactor. A NUCFLASH is the unauthorized deployment of a nuclear device, such as launching an ICBM or flying away with a loaded strategic bomber when not under orders to do so. The prefix Pinnacle added to any of these terms makes it immediately reportable to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A Pinnacle NUCFLASH is really bad. This terminology is not used globally, but it is detailed in DoD Directive 5230.16, “Nuclear Accident and Incident Public Affairs (PA) Guidance,” and other high-level documents.

193On the morning of December 6, 1917, two ships collided in the Narrows of the Halifax, Nova Scotia harbor. The SS Mont-Blanc was fully loaded with explosives bound for Europe, and at 8:45 am. it tried to occupy the same space as the SS Imo from Norway headed to New York to pick up supplies. Mont-Blanc promptly caught fire, and its crew abandoned ship, knowing that it was about to explode and rowing as fast as possible. The burning ship drifted gracefully into Pier 6 and disintegrated in a blinding fireball at 9:04 am. The chemical explosion was the equivalent of a 2.9-kiloton nuclear weapon. The entire community of Richmond was obliterated, 2,000 people were killed, 9,000 injured, and the shock was felt as far away as 220 miles in North Cape Breton. Buildings shook and shelves were rearranged 62 miles away The harbor was scoured dry for an instant, then water rushed into the void and caused a tsunami that wiped out yet another community in Tuft’s Cove. The following day the remains of Halifax were buried under 16 inches of snow, complicating relief efforts.

194There are at least five different boost tank designs. The most common one looks like a bratwurst—a small cylinder, rounded at both ends, with the electrically actuated release valve built into the center of the tank. One looks like a pipe elbow, and three designs look like squat cylinders with truncated conical ends, all with the valve attached at one end. In released documents they are never referred to as deuterium-tritium tanks, but only as tritium tanks or tritium cylinders. With only tritium in the tank, the fusion scheme would not work. There were cases in which tritium and deuterium were kept in separate cylinders, to be mixed upon injection. This allowed the tritium, which would deteriorate with age, to be replenished on a schedule.

195This is an educated guess. The vacuum-tube neutron initiator is among those aspects of nuclear weapon design which remain classified SECRET. However, vacuum-tube electrical neutron generators are fairly common industrial items, and all work using similar principles. The technique for making neutrons electrically was first patented in Germany in 1938. For practical reasons, electrical initiators are not used in missile warheads, where a solid-state, explosive thing that looks like a roll of quarters rounded off at one end is employed instead. It uses the old-school polonium-beryllium neutron source scheme, with the two metals explosively mixed together. Sandia Labs in New Mexico has recently developed a new, solid-state neutron generator called the neutristor, based on integrated circuit technology If used in nuclear weapons, the neutristor would advance bomb technology developed in the vacuum-tube days of the 1950s, by at least 30 years. Part number for the neutron generator on the MK-28 bomb was MC — 890A.

196There was another problem with nuclear bomb safety to deal with: a bomber crew could go rogue and decide to deploy a bomb or warhead without an order to do so. In early strategic bombers, all the bombardier had to do was push some buttons, and away she goes. To fix this flaw in the system, the Permissive Action Link (PAL) was devised by the Sandia National Laboratories and implemented across the board by September 1962. The system was basically a mechanical combination lock, with the unlocking code known only at the executive level. The USAF Strategic Air Command got around this restriction for the Minuteman ICBM force by having the lock codes set to all zeros, a terrifying fact discovered in a 1977 shakedown.

197Although the B-36 could deliver the MK-17, there were doubts that it could make it back from the mission. The MK-17 was a high-yield weapon, 15 to 25 megatons, and the B-36 was a remarkably slow aircraft. With all the guns and nonessential equipment stripped out, it could probably reach 423 miles per hour, and at that speed it could not get out of the way of the fireball when the bomb went off, even if the bomb were dropped with a parachute. At the Operation Castle test in 1954, B-36s were flown at reasonable range to a 15-megaton explosion. They suffered extensive blast damage.

198The mod 2 on the MK-15 bomb was interesting. This modification gave the bomb a piezoelectric contact detonator, so that it would explode when it hit the ground. Most nuclear weapons were made to explode in the air, at least 1,000 feet up, so as to cover as much ground as possible with the shock wave while avoiding making dust. The contact explosion made the mod 2 useful against deeply buried targets. The experimental TX-15 version, code­named Zombie, delivered an impressive 1.68 megatons of explosive energy in the Nectar test of operation Castle on May 14, 1954. The mod 2 device carried a small drogue chute to slow its descent.

199This cohabitation of fuel and bomb in the MB-1C pod did not last long. Predictably there were unsolvable problems with fuel leaking into the bomb and out of the pod. This design was replaced with the TCP (two-component pod), in which either the fuel tank or the bomb could be dropped independently The introduction of the 1-megaton MK-43 aerial bomb in April 1961 made this possible. The B-58 could carry four of these weapons along with the TCP The MK-43 was interesting in that the wrenches, H745 and H1210, used to arm it were stored in a neat compartment recessed on the left side of the bomb.

200 You can find the crash site using Google Earth. Just look for Mount Kologet, and the crash site is indicated on the Wikipedia layer. A B-36 was a lot of metal, and although scroungers have carried off some interesting pieces, there is too much splattered all over the mountain to ever clean up completely The wreckage was found and identified on September 3, 1953, by a team of Air Force investigators who hiked in on foot. Identification was confirmed by the number 511 found on the nosewheel door. The site was relocated accidentally by civilian surveyors in 1956, but they did not think to tell anyone about it. Finally in 1997 one of them mentioned it to somebody and word got around. Both the United States and the Canadian Departments of Defense immediately launched expeditions just to look at it. The original discovery document, a single teletype page having the lat/long of the site, had long since disappeared into the filing system. Since the 1997 expedition, the location has been public knowledge.

201 An odd incident, assumed to be an accident, occurred on March 10, 1956, somewhere over the Mediterranean Sea. AB-47 engaged in Operation Chrome Dome was ferrying two nuclear capsules to an overseas air base. It was scheduled for an in-flight refueling 14,000 feet over the Mediterranean. It never showed up. The airplane, its crew, and the two capsules simply vanished. Not a trace has ever been found.

202 “2151 Zulu” is armed forces lingo meaning 2151 Coordinated Universal Time, or the time at Greenwich, England, in 24-hour notation. The local time was five hours earlier, or 9:51

203 Ivory 2 was the second of two B-47s sent to simulate an attack. Ivory 1 was spaced 4.5 minutes ahead of Ivory 2.

204 The F-86L was a special modification of the F-86D, equipped with electronic equipment linking it to the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system. SAGE was a computer network of ground-based early warning and air-surveillance radars, built in the late 1950s to provide interceptor planes with real-time data for heading, speed, altitude, target bearing, and range of intrusive aircraft. L-modifications included an AN/ARR-39 datalink receiver and an AN/APX-25 identification radar. The directions from SAGE were uploaded into the interceptor’s E-4 fire control system, automatically pointing the plane at the target, which in this case was a B-47. The SAGE system, which was vacuum-tube-based, was way ahead of its time. The purpose of this USCM, Operation Southern Belle, was to test SAGE and gain experience in its use.

205 Rockets carried by the F-86L were the MK 4 FFAR, or the “Mighty Mouse,” an unguided, inadequately spin-stabilized weapon with a 6-pound warhead. The only way you could hit something as small as a six-engine strategic bomber with a Mighty Mouse was to be very close to it, which is what caused this mid-air collision. Live testing of Mighty Mice in California caused massive brush fires and destroyed a lot of private property as they would diverge from the aiming point and find their own targets.

206 Assistant Secretary of Defense W. J. Howard stated in a 1966 congressional investigation that the Tybee Island bomb was a complete weapon, with the 150 capsule installed. The source of his statement is not clear. At the time of the loss, it was Air Force policy not to fly training or test missions simulating combat with the capsule on board, and the receipt signed by Major Richardson mentions no capsule.

207 There is an ongoing misconception about nuclear weapons. Many assume that such a device can be detected at a distance using a radiation­measuring instrument, such as a Geiger-Mueller counter. While it is true that uranium and plutonium give off gamma rays, these emissions are weak and are almost completely shielded from outside detection by the substantial metal bomb-case and the thick layers of chemical explosive that surround the nuclear components. The fusion materials in a thermonuclear weapon, lithium-6 and deuterium, are not radioactive at all. Even if the bomb had contained the plutonium capsule and if the case had corroded away a couple of feet of water shielding would make it invisible to any type of radiation counter. It is true that the remaining bomb mechanism included a uranium tamper, which is radioactive, but the radiation in Wassaw Sound, often reported, is actually due to monazite sand on the bottom, composed of radioactive thorium oxide.

208 Most accounts of the Mars Bluff Incident refer to the bomb as an MK-6, although the bomb-type is blacked out on released government documents. This does not agree with History of Strategic Air Command 1 January 1958-30 June 1958, page 88, which states that the bombs assigned to Hunter AFB at that time were all MK-36 mod 1 thermonuclear weapons. The MK-36 weighed 17,600 pounds. Maybe the B-47 crew was given the much lighter MK-6 to save fuel on the round trip to England. By 1958 the MK-6 was an old design, and all had been upgraded to mod 6 with improved barometric and contact fuses.

209 Attempts to find Bruce Kulka, known to his colleagues as the “Nuclear Navigator,” dry up after his service in the Vietnam conflict. He moved to Thailand and stopped answering his mail.

210 The rear section was a combined desiccant pack and parachute tube, with the arming rod sockets on top. The four parachutes were deployed sequentially First, a six-foot drogue chute deployed, and the drag from it pulled out a 28-foot ribbon drogue to stabilize the bomb and make sure it was pointed down. The third chute was a 68-foot octagonal canopy to decelerate the bomb, and the last chute was a 100-foot solid canopy to lower it gently to the ground.

211 At the time, this airbase was unofficially referred to as “Seymour Johansen, the Swedish Air Base.” I have no idea why.

212 The command pilot and senior pilot in a B-52 are shot out the top of the plane when they eject. The third pilot, Mattocks, was on his own to find an open door and jump. He has gone down in history as the only man who ever successfully abandoned a B-52 through the opening left when the command pilot ejected upward. After he landed, Mattocks, the only crew member of African heritage, was driven the 12 miles to Seymour Johnson AFB by a farmer and his wife, who dumped him out at the gate. Mattocks, who seemed to have lost his military identification, was immediately arrested for having stolen a government-owned parachute, which he still carried, wadded up in his arms. (His treatment was not as bad as it sounds. Without an ID, nobody was allowed on a SAC base. The only way the guards could pass him through the gate was to charge him with a federal crime.)

213 Search for Faro, NC, with Google Earth. It labels the intersection of Big Daddy’s and Faro as the spot, but this is incorrect. Go southwest from there on Big Daddy’s for 1.5 miles. Off the northwest side of the road is a clump of trees in a plowed field. West of those trees 114 feet is where the secondary component of the bomb is still buried. It is at 35.492817° lat, -77.859307 lon.

214 Captain Rardin’s concise report reads in its entirety: “I could see three or four chutes against the glow of the wreckage. The plane hit ten or twelve seconds after the bail out. I hit some trees. I had a fix on some lights and started walking. My biggest difficulty was the various and sundry dogs I encountered on the road.”

215 This question was answered when the parts were sent back to Los Alamos for inspection, but that does not stop the recurring concerns that the bomb could have gone off. In reality the Arm/Safe switch (MC-772) proved to be in neither armed nor safe condition when found. It was severely shocked in the impact, and the switch contacts were distorted. It looked as if it was in the armed condition, but it was not. The MC-772 would be set remotely to armed condition by a 28-volt pulse sent through two arming rods on top of the parachute housing. The arming signal originated at the radar navigator’s console, on the AN/DCU-9A Weapons Monitor and Control Panel. You could tell just looking at the MK-39 bomb whether or not it was armed by glancing at a small glass window on the side. If there was a green S in the window, then it was safe. If there was a red A in the window, then it was armed and ready to go.

216 This bit of Air Force lore was given me by Colonel Eric Conda Murdock, USAF retired. It might even be true.

217 In the Palomares incident, a B-52 overran his tanker in a refueling operation over southern Spain. Both the bomber and the tanker broke up and crashed, killing seven of the 11 crewmen and scattering the four MK-38FI thermonuclear weapons. Two of the bombs were destroyed on impact by detonation of their primary explosives, one landed safely by parachute on a tomato farm, and one sank in the Mediterranean Sea. With great effort the sunken bomb was recovered, and 1,400 tons of soil and vegetation contaminated with fissile uranium and plutonium were dug up and shipped to the United States for controlled storage.

218 The long-range incoming threat detection equipment at BMEWS Thule at that time used AN/FPS-50 radars operating UHF at 425 MHz. The antennas, permanently aimed at Russia over the top of the world, were 165 feet tall and 400 feet wide, called “fences.” How powerful was this setup? On October 5, 1960, the moon rose directly in front of the antennas, and the radar detected it as an extremely large missile coming straight at them. The long signal return, 2.5 seconds, clued the operators that it could not really be a missile, and World War III was averted.

219 Also designated B28FI, the F means “fully fused” and the I means “carried internally” A fully fused MK-28 could be dropped in a free fall for an airburst, dropped with a retarding parachute for an airburst, or lowered to the ground gently for a delayed burst on the ground, called a “laydown drop.” The actual bomb was a cylinder only three feet long. The entire back section of the casing held the parachutes, and the long nose was filled with balsa wood, intended to cushion the shock of landing nose-down. The intended yield of the bombs carried in HOBO 28 is unknown. It could have been anything from 70 kilotons to 1.45 megatons. The fissile material at the center of the bomb’s secondary stage consisted of highly enriched U-235, and not the usual Pu-239. Four bombs were conveniently mounted in an MHU-14/C clip-in subassembly plus MHU-19/E bomb cradle. Loading this four — bomb cluster onto a B-52G was quick and easy using a special trailer with a hydraulic lift.

220 A-3 is an “aviator’s kit bag,” a shapeless Air Force duffel still used to hold a crewman’s spare clothing and accessories for a long mission. It has become a fashion accessory, which shows that anything is possible.

221 When strapped into his seat, an airman was sitting atop his survival kit. It was two molded fiberglass halves, held together like a clamshell with aluminum hardware. When the seat fell away and the parachute opened, the kit was held against the airman’s backside by the lap belt. If there was a chance that he was coming down over water, he was supposed to reach back and pull a handle. The kit would come apart at the seam, and the back

half would fall away attached to a 20-foot lanyard. At the end of the lanyard, a life raft would inflate, ready for him when he hit the water. After he was on the ground, another handle, almost impossible to manipulate with cold hands, would open the remaining half of the kit, containing food, water, a knife, an aluminized Mylar “blanket,” a radio beacon, a book on how to survive, and, best of all, a tiny folding rifle, good for keeping rats away from your food providing they were slowed down by the cold. (In 1968, the rifle was probably an Ithaca M6, single-shot, over-under.22 long rifle and 410 shotgun with a palm-squeeze trigger that can be pulled wearing heavy mittens.)

Chapter 9

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