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Friday, June 13, 2014

1961 Goldsboro B-52 crash

CNN reports:
Declassified report: Two nuclear bombs nearly detonated in North Carolina
(CNN) -- On a January night in 1961, a U.S. Air Force bomber broke in half while flying over eastern North Carolina. From the belly of the B-52 fell two bombs -- two nuclear bombs that hit the ground near the city of Goldsboro.

The rest of the report goes on (and on) about what might have happened if the bombs had detonated. Well, yes, that would have been bad, but they didn't.
    What got me though was the first sentence: "... a U.S. Air Force bomber broke in half while flying over eastern North Carolina." How did that happen? As far as I know Air Force bombers are not in the habit of simply breaking in half in mid-air for no reason. A little point and click and I arrive at Wikipedia's article about the incident where I found this:
The aircraft, a B-52G based at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, was on a 24-hour Operation Coverall airborne alert mission on the Atlantic seaboard of the United States. The operation was part of a larger Cold War program called the first Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP). This early plan called for one third of the Strategic Air Command's fleet of nuclear bombers to be airborne at any point in time, so that in the event of war, the fleet would not be caught on the ground, and be able to fly directly to targets in the Soviet Union,[4] China and Soviet-aligned states.
I'm not sure what to make of this. Is this showing a correct level of concern with the security of the United States? Or is this paranoid cold-warrior thinking run amuck?

The Wikipedia article does go on to explain the breakup and the fate of the bombs, and as you might expect, it is more illuminating than the story from CNN.

P.S. I think the name of the operation is Coverall, not Coveral with a funny little character tacked on the end.


Ole Phat Stu said...

If some panic-maker tells you that one bomb is still deep (180 feet) down in the mud (true, but only the casing), point out that the the tritium flask and the plutonium core were recovered. T has a 1/2 life of 12.3 years, so 94% would be helium3 by now anyway.

Charles Pergiel said...

Radiation is scary. Radiation is your friend. The thing that makes it scary is that you can't see it or feel it. By the time you notice any effects it is too late to do anything about it. So scaring the natives is probably a good policy.

I wonder what that flask was made of. 'Flask' kind of implies something light and handy. What kind of flask survives being dropped from miles up?