This work is dedicated to my wife, Pat, who has been the light
of my life. Through all of these almost 40 years she has been the Champion of
our God, our Country, and our Family. Her strength has never faltered. Simply
said, she is a terrific person who does Right.
This is a work of non-fiction. However, since loose nukes fall
into the category of Weapons of Mass Destruction, I occasionally found it
necessary to alter and/or omit certain aspects of their design so as not to
provide a blueprint for their construction. Nobody wants these Doomsday Devices
to get into the wrong hands. Nitpicking critics are advised to get over it and
Interstate 95 is the East Coast’s main artery. I never counted
them, but there must be hundreds of thousands of vacationing families that pass
by Savannah on their way from Yankee Land up north, to the Magic Kingdom down
south. If they knew what I and many of the other locals know, they wouldn’t be
so quick to come back. Maybe that’s why we’ve mostly kept the secret to
ourselves all these years.
Truth is that there is a 3 megaton monster that puts the Loch
Ness monster to shame lurking somewhere out there in the shallow coastal waters.
Not only is this monster very much real; it is fully capable of destroying
families, vehicles, I-95, and anything else that gets in its path. That it
hasn’t done so already does not mean that it will not do so sometime in the
future—maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow,
but sooner or later it may, so help me Hannah, do what the mad scientists who
created it 50 years ago intended it to do. And, as if that wasn’t enough, there
are at least 10 more like it hiding somewhere in the waters along I-95, two of
which are biding their time, waiting for the right moment to devour New York and
New Jersey. Fifty more of their species lurk along the continental shelves of
Britain, France, Greenland, Japan, Russia and China.
Don’t believe me? I’ve seen them up close; so close that, if I
didn’t have more sense, I might have been lulled into forgetting what these
monsters can do. I have reached out and touched them. In fact, I used to work
for the megalomaniacs who put the mad scientists up to letting these monsters
loose on us. In a way, it’s ironic that the megalomaniacs and mad scientists
lost their sway at the end of the Cold War, but their monster minions—loose nukes—have proved harder to find.
My name is Derek Duke and I chase loose nukes. It’s a job fit
for a super hero, but it doesn’t pay much—most expenses are out-of-pocket—so I’ll
just have to do until a super hero comes along. As it stands, I’m spread pretty
For many years, mine was a lone voice lost in the political
universe. The Air Force figured that the least the public knew about lost nukes,
the better. After having screwed up, they elected to cover up. They said the
abandoned thermonuclear weapons weren’t armed (technically true, more about that
later), that they didn’t pose a risk to anybody (an outright lie), and that—for the most part—they didn’t know where they had lost them.
Of course, that didn’t sit well with anyone who lived anywhere
near an abandoned nuke. After hurdling numerous obstacles such as the Official
Secrets Act and threats of being prosecuted for violating national security, I
and a few others managed to get the ball rolling. The Tybee Island, Georgia,
City Council passed a resolution calling on the Air Force to conduct a search to
locate the missing hydrogen bomb that at one time was thought to be located
somewhere just beyond the pier. Congressman Kingston, who represents the region,
asked a lot of pertinent questions to which the Air Force would have rather not
have had to answer. Finally, out of desperation, they agreed to conduct with me
a one day search of an area about as big as a football field and to lend me the
services of NEST, the Nuclear Emergency Search Team [The name tended to scare
the dickens out of people. It was nowhere near being politically correct.
Consequently, these fine young men, right after 9-11, were rechristened DTRA
(pronounced Dee-Tra), the Defense Threat Reduction Agency Team].
On September 30, 2004, the 20 man strong DTRA team—experts in nuclear weapons, gamma spectroscopy,
and underwater salvage—showed up with
enough weapons to fight a small war. Ostensibly, the weapons were needed to
defend the secret equipment they possessed. This is the elite unit tasked with
defending America from weapons of mass destruction. They placed sensors in the
water and attached wires to mysterious black boxes. The Zodiac boats sped off
into Wassaw Sound, the divers suited up, and the scuba teams went in. I, being
the acknowledged leader of the ASSURE team that found the radiation, dutifully
followed in our flagship,
a decidedly unmilitary, king-sized cabin cruiser. The hunt was on.
Imagine a band of heavily armed commandos in wetsuits thrashing
in the water, scooping muck from the ocean bottom—desperately searching for a hydrogen bomb that
had been lost at the height of the Cold War, nearly 50 years earlier, a Doomsday
Device of such enormous magnitude that if it were to detonate full force,
Savannah, Hilton Head, and Tybee Island would instantly disappear and would
remain uninhabitable for generations. What a picture we must have made for the
good citizens of Savannah, Georgia—the
first official United States government search for a loose nuke in decades, and
it was happening here, right under their noses.
Founded in the colonial era, Savannah
is a stately city with a warm heart—aptly
termed the Hostess of the South. Designated by Conde’ Nast Traveler
as one of the top ten U.S. cities to visit, Savannah is a stroll back in
time with hidden charms that could not help but entice the most jaded
sophisticate. Porticoed mansions, moss-draped oaks, and churches nearly as
stern as they are inviting, give Savannah a unique flavor found nowhere else in
the world. One mile south of the Savannah Hilton Head International Airport on
Interstate 95 just west of downtown Savannah, set’s the 8th Air Force
Museum. This magnificent tribute to the courageous men of America’s finest unit,
has exhibits from the Great War, World War II, and other era’s where the
8th Army Air Force's bombers led the way.
Situated next to Interstate 95 for tourists to see is a
beautifully restored B-47 jet bomber, America’s first. If you ask, you can
arrange to see the airplane up close, including the bomb bay where the markings
for hanging nuclear bombs are still visible. It was a jet like this that had a
horrible midnight in Savannah on February 5th 1958.
Twelve miles east of Savannah, beneath
shallow layers of sand and water, an abandoned 7,600 pound nuclear bomb is
biding its time, waiting to rain death and destruction on the southern Atlantic
coastline. If not disarmed, perhaps some sleepy Sunday morning an atomic
fireball will erupt on picturesque Wassaw Sound, shooting along nearby heavily
traveled Interstate 95 with the force of a hundred hurricanes, instantly
vaporizing tidal wetlands, and brutally destroying a vibrant, thriving
metropolis—women, children, more than
200,000 people instantly incinerated—into a
crumbling, deserted heap of radioactive rubble.
A cold, calculated act of
terrorism? Not quite. It's simply that the United States Air Force
is not in the habit of picking up after itself. In February 1958, a B-47
Stratojet bomber from Homestead Air Force Base in Florida had a midair collision
with an F-86 Saberjet fighter northwest of Savannah and had to jettison an
H-bomb in order to land safely. It was dumped from 7.200 feet in the dead
of night in shallow water somewhere along the southern shore of uninhabited
Little Tybee Island. Although the parachute didn't deploy, we are pretty sure that
it came down intact. If the bomb had exploded, someone would have heard or seen
it. And if the casing had cracked or broken, there would have been tell-tale
signs of radiation contamination such as three-eyed gulls and flipper-less
Colonel Howard Richardson, the bomber’s pilot, brought his B-47
with the #6 engine dangling at a 45 degree angle from a partially demolished
wing in for a safe landing at Hunter Air Field and was awarded the Distinguished
Flying Cross for his daring feat. It took tremendous effort during the approach
to maintain alignment with the runway. If the dangling engine dipped too low and
scraped the tarmac, the bomber would go nose over tail and disintegrate.
Richardson eased back on the throttle, maintaining just enough airspeed to keep
control. The wheels touched the runway and the jet bounced back into the air.
When the B-47 came down again, Richardson ordered the Co-pilot, Lieutenant
Robert Lagerstrom, to pull the brake chute. Braking with a vengeance, the
enormous tires dug into the runway. This time they managed to remain on the
pavement and were able to bring the 125,000 pound aircraft to a full and
complete stop. After shutting the engines down, all three crew members clambered
down the ladder and kissed the tarmac. They had good reason to do so. Their B-47
was beyond repair and would never fly again. There was a wide gash on the right
wing, the aileron had been shoved back 20 inches, the main wing spar was broken.
Remnants of the F-86 were scattered over the vertical and horizontal stabilizer
and the rear fuselage. Holes were torn in the tail turret and the empty fuel
Meanwhile, both wings having been torn from the F-86 jet
fighter, Lieutenant Clarence Stewart has ejected from 35,000 feet. The ejection
system is designed to open his parachute at about 12,000 feet, but Stewart’s
automatically opens right away and suffers a 22 mile long, very cold ride east
across the Savannah River where he comes down in a small clearing in the largest
swamp in South Carolina. Amazingly, his sole injury was a severe case of
frostbitten fingers suffered during the six mile parachute descent to earth
under sub-zero atmospheric conditions.
According to the Air Force accident report, the temperature is
35 degrees, just barely above freezing. Stewart wraps himself in the parachute,
inflates his life raft, turns it upside down and lays down beneath it. Several
hours later, he hears an aircraft and fires the flare gun in his survival kit.
His frozen fingers fumble and the flare barely misses his toes before tearing
into the parachute. Evidently, the pilot of the plane failed to spot this
interesting fiasco, but it does set a dog to barking. In due course forest
ranger Andy Walker comes along, convinced he's caught a poacher. By sunrise
Stewart is wrapped in a blanket next to a wood stove, drinking some fine,
untaxed South Carolina whiskey.
Because long-distance calls are expensive and because he
considers the matter official government business, Stewart calls Charleston Air
Force Base collect to report his survival. Citing regulations, the base operator
refuses to accept the charges. Walker graciously foots the bill for the phone
call and drives Stewart to the Walterboro hospital, where his hands are soaked
in ice water—standard operating procedure
for frostbite. From there an Air Force helicopter fetches him and returns him to
his base. Stewart remains in the hospital for a month while doctors work to save
his badly swollen and discolored fingers. At one point they recommend amputating
all or parts of five of them, a prospect that so horrifies Stewart that he
threatens to desert from the hospital.
In addition to saving his fingers, Stewart must face an
accident board, a proceeding designed to prevent future accidents rather than
affix individual responsibility. Stewart is not convinced of the board's benign
purpose. “What they really wanted to do was [to] fry my young [posterior],” he
declares. That probably would have been the outcome had not the device that
recorded his plane's radar images been found five weeks later and several miles
away. It was part of the canopy assembly and had been blown out of the aircraft
during ejection. The black box type device showed that the F-86's radar had
mistakenly focused on the wrong B-47, having somehow failed to detect
Richardson's looming aircraft. Normally, an abandoned fighter without wings goes
into a nosedive, crashes, and burns. Amazingly, Stewart's F-86 did not. The tail
surfaces apparently provided some gliding capability and, bizarrely, the
aircraft descended gradually, coming in for a belly landing four miles from
Sylvania, near Whitehill, Georgia [Editor’s Note: Stewart subsequently
flew 130½ missions in Southeast Asia, became
a Flight Commander, and ejected from a F-105 fighter after being hit by
small-arms fire. He was awarded the Silver Star].
Dozens of boats assisted by military divers took part in the
search for the missing hydrogen bomb. Exhausted soldiers in full packs slogged
through the marshlands in water up to their necks. Grappling hooks were dragged
along the bottom of the sound in an attempt to snag the bomb. Navy Lieutenant
Commander Art Arseneault who headed the unsuccessful search thinks it failed
because it concentrated on the south side of the sound. Newly gathered
information indicates that the bomb lies in shallow water on the north side of
the sound, approximately three miles from Tybee Island.
After 90 days of fruitless searching, the Air Force, having
bigger fish to fry, packed up and left, leaving the locals to their fate. The
Air Force brass had a ready-made alibi in that if the massive hydrogen bomb ever
did explode, they could blame it on the Communists. It seems that our military
weren’t the only ones interested in finding the missing H-bomb. According to
C.W. Jenkins, a retired Coast Guard captain who was in charge of the Port of
Savannah in 1958, he had received reports from US Naval Intelligence that a
Russian submarine had arrived on the scene shortly after we gave up the search.
No doubt the Russians could have gained valuable intelligence from a US
thermonuclear weapon of the latest design. Did they succeed where we failed? We
definitely didn't find it and, if the Russians really did show up, there is no
evidence in the archives that they found it either.
In an April 1966 letter to the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy
General W.J. (Jack) Howard, who was the Assistant Secretary of Defense
[Editor’s Note: he served in this capacity while on active duty and in
uniform], wrote that four nuclear weapons had been lost and never
recovered. Two of these four were “weapons-less capsules,” assumed to be
incapable of a nuclear blast, but the Savannah bomb and a device lost in the
western Pacific Ocean in 1965 are listed as “complete” with
capsule. And the term “letter” from Howard does not really state the facts correctly. His
written letter was a sworn secret statement. It was hand delivered by special courier to the
investigating committee apparently to clarify his earlier personal appearance
and sworn testimony to them. And guess what, all such testimony always remains
secret. In this case, Howard’s letter of testimony became public from the copy
he kept in his office files. Those were military files that were declassified
“by mistake” in the late 1990’s. What I wanted to know was how a federal witness
can change sworn testimony 34 years later with ‘Since I cannot recall, I must have been wrong.’ [Editor‘s Note: the preceding statement is
necessarily paraphrased because the actual quote remains classified.] I was
really upset that our government got a ruling from the Department of Justice
that allowed such legal contortions. I mean, really...sworn testimony can put
people to death.
A nuclear tipped BOMARC air defense surface-to-air (SAM)
missile burst into flames after its fuel tank was ruptured by the explosion of a
high pressure helium tank at McGuire Air Force Base near New Egypt, New Jersey.
Although firefighters were able (at great risk) to keep the high explosives from
detonating, the 47 foot missile melted, resulting in plutonium contamination at
the facility and in the groundwater below when, according to the New York
Times, “the…magnesium metal which forms part of the weapon” caught fire.
A B-52 bomber carrying one or more nuclear weapons
disintegrated in midair following an engine fire and explosion approximately 10
miles north of Monticello, Utah, killing all 5 crew members. Although I could
find no record of what became of the nuke(s), full recovery seems unlikely.
A B-52 bomber carrying two Mark 39 (the third generation of the
Mark 15 Mod 0) hydrogen bombs suffered structural failure of the right wing, and
disintegrated over Goldsboro, North Carolina. Five crewmen parachuted to safety,
while three others died when the aircraft exploded in midair. Both of the nukes
jettisoned as the bomber descended, one parachuting to earth with only minor
damage, the other breaking apart upon impact and plunging deep into waterlogged
farmland. The radioactive uranium core was not recovered despite excavation to a
depth of 50 feet. To this day, parts of this massive nuke remain embedded deep
in the muck. Consequently, the Air Force purchased an easement, making the area
off-limits. It is tested from time to time for radiation releases. More
information can be found at the Broken Arrow: Goldsboro, North Carolina, website
The United States attempted its first high-altitude nuclear
test by placing a nuclear device atop a Thor missile. The missile was launched
from Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean but failed during flight and had to be
destroyed. The missile’s nuclear payload fell into the ocean and was not
A second attempt to detonate a nuclear weapon at high altitude
also went amiss and the Thor missile had to be destroyed above Johnston Atoll.
The nuclear device being tested fell into the Pacific Ocean and was not
A B-58 Hustler experiencing icy conditions, slid off the runway
at Bunker Hill (later renamed Grissom) Air Force Base (Peru, Indiana), resulting
in a fire which melted portions of five onboard nuclear weapons. All of the crew
made it to safety except for the navigator. Radioactive contamination of the
surrounding area occurred (which may or may not have extended down to the
An A-4E aircraft accidentally rolled off the USS Ticonderoga
with a B-43 nuclear weapon aboard. The pilot, Lieutenant D.M. Webster went down
with the plane in the Sea of Japan, 200 miles east of Okinawa. The thermonuclear
weapon later leaked and had to be reported to the Japanese government at
considerable embarrassment to the US State Department which had agreed not to
bring nuclear weapons into the region.
A B-52 carrying 4 hydrogen bombs collided with a K-135 jet
tanker while refueling at 30,000 feet over the coast of Spain. The tanker’s
40,000 gallons of jet fuel caught fire, killing 8 of the 11 crew members. Upon
impact, the high explosives in two of the bombs detonated, scattering
radioactive material over tomato fields in Palomares, Spain. The third nuke
parachuted to a soft landing near the village of Palomares and was recovered
intact, while the fourth nuke fell into the sea approximately 12 miles off the
Spanish coast. More than 1,500 tons of radioactive soil and tomato plants were
removed and sent to a nuclear waste dump in Aiken, South Carolina, for burial.
In protest, the Spanish government closed all U.S. bases in Spain and formally
forbid all future penetration of Spanish airspace by the United States Air
Force. The fourth nuke was recovered years later as a result of a massive search
by a naval task force, composed of a small armada of miniature research
submarines, Seabees, Navy Seals, sonar specialists, nuclear weapons experts,
photographers, and hundreds of sailors aboard ships of the Sixth Fleet.
Alvin, a miniature deepwater research and salvage submarine, spent two
weeks chasing the loose nuke before finding it entangled in its parachute on a
70 degree slope at a depth of 2,500 feet. On April 5, 1966, a horrifying
situation emerged when Alvin became tangled in the nuke’s fully extended
heavy duty nylon parachute while attempting to navigate underwater near the
bomb. The parachute covered the portholes of the submarine, forcing the two
pilots to sail her blind. Due to the intense sea pressure at that depth, if the
Alvin got trapped under the parachute the two crewmen could not be
rescued. For fifteen minutes, naval officers on the surface could do nothing but
curse until they received word that the pilots had found their way out. An
embarrassing series of unsuccessful attempts by Alvin resulted in
the bomb falling to an even greater depth. Eventually, however, the loose nuke
was recovered dented but intact by an unmanned CURV (Cable Controlled Underwater
Research Vehicle), and deposited on the deck of the USS Kiowa
[Editor‘s Note: the Kiowa was commanded by Captain Walt
Strickland, USN, who went on to serve as the ASSURE team’s chief naval observer
during the September 2004 search for the Savannah nuke]. The Palomares
affair is an example of the outstanding salvage and clean up work the military
can and does do when it has to. Eventually, the United States settled claims by
522 Palomares residents at a cost of $600,000, and gave Palomares the gift of a
$200,000 desalinizing plant. That our leaders when pressured would do more for a
foreign country than they would do for their own citizens makes me angry. It’s
one more slap in the face for the American taxpayer.
A B-52 from Plattsburgh Air Force Base, New York, flying the
Arctic Circle route as of a continuous airborne alert operation, crashed 7 miles
south of Thule Air Force Base in Greenland, scattering the radioactive fragments
of 3 nukes over the terrain and dropping one hydrogen bomb into the sea after a
fire broke out in the navigator’s department. Both United States and Danish
officials at the time insisted that the aircraft had approached the area because
of an emergency and was not on a routine flight over Greenland. A recently
declassified document reveals that the ill-fated B-52 had been loitering right
above Thule Air Base as part of a top-secret mission to monitor the important
Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) radar, a vital element in the
U.S. defense against a Soviet nuclear strike. Contaminated ice, gravel, nuke
fragments, and airplane debris were sent back to the United States. Denmark
(which owns Greenland) protested the incident as a violation of an agreement
with the United States that prohibits nuclear weapons in Danish airspace. Recent
information supplied by personnel who had worked at Thule indicates that one
warhead remains at the bottom of the ocean. An internal investigation by the
Danish government discovered that nuclear weapons had also been deployed on the
ground with the tacit approval of the late Danish Prime Minister H. C. Hansen.
The Soviet Golf-class diesel-powered ballistic missile
submarine K-129 sank in over 16,000 ft (4,875 m) of water in the Pacific Ocean
several hundred miles northwest of Hawaii near the Leeward Islands. The entire crew of 98 was lost and
the vessel sank with three ballistic nuclear missiles plus two nuclear
torpedoes. Kenneth Sewell in Red Star Rogue claims that the submarine had surfaced and was in the process of launching a one megaton SERB nuclear missile from the #1 missile tube that would have vaporized Honolulu and rendered Oahu uninhabitable when a miscalculation triggered a fail-safe device that destroyed the missile and sank the submarine. The CIA secretly funded the construction of a massive ship called the
Glomar Explorer that carried an enormous crane designed to grapple the
Soviet submarine and lift it to the surface for study. It is unknown for sure
how successful the effort was, but the United States has admitted to recovering
at least a portion of K-129, which purportedly included the bodies of numerous Russian sailors.
The Soviet November class nuclear-powered attack submarine K-8
sank in the Bay of Biscay about 300 miles northwest of Spain purportedly due to
a fire which broke out in two aft compartments. The captain's order to abandon
ship was subsequently countermanded and the submarine sank in heavy seas, taking
the lives of 52 Soviet sailors. K-8 was powered by two nuclear reactors and also
carried multiple nuclear torpedoes. Prior to the sinking, K-8 had been on a
mission to lay tactical nuclear torpedoes in the Bay of Naples for use as mines
against the US fleet in the event of war. The vessel was carrying 24 of these
torpedoes with nuclear warheads and only four were found inside the sunken
wreck. It is unknown whether the remainder still lie on the continental shelf
near Italy or if the Soviets recovered them at a later date. K-8 had also
suffered an earlier reactor accident in 1960 that contaminated the vessel and
injured several crewmen.
Cosmos 954, a secret Soviet-navy satellite was launched on September 18, 1977. A compact nuclear reactor was employed to supply electricity for the spacecraft‘s “spy-in-the-sky” antennae. The orbit gradually decayed until on January 24, 1978, Cosmos 954 reentered over Canada, with debris hitting the ground in frozen and scarcely populated areas in the Canadian Arctic. A U.S. team, which many now believe was associated with the CIA, arrived in Canada to assist in the search. The day after the crash, they started overflights of the area trying to detect the radiation from the spacecraft's remnants. In the following days many pieces were found, scattered along frozen desert; one emitted 200 roentgens of radiation per hour—a level which is enough kill a human after a two-hour exposure. A special container was hastily prepared to remove the object. For several months afterwards cleanup teams continued their efforts. Operation Morning Light (the code name for the search) officially ended on April 18th. At the peak of its operation—the first two weeks—120 U.S. personnel worked alongside the Canadians. Of that number, 39 were Laboratory people, with an additional 80 people back at Livermore supporting the team. In the aftermath of the accident, Canada sent the U.S.S.R. a bill for $6,041,174.70 (US Dollars), half of which the Soviet government paid after three years of negotiations. [Author’s Note: It had been estimated that the first 1,000 kilometers of space is already filled with so much “space junk” that adding to it will make future space trips more difficult. There are reportedly some 110,000 pieces of such junk already swimming in space—enough to make 34 plutonium reactor cores]
The Soviet Yankee class nuclear-powered ballistic missile
submarine K-219 was on patrol off the Atlantic coast of the United States when a
leak erupted in one of its missile tubes. Incoming water mixed with liquid
rocket propellants that had dripped from a missile to create toxic gases. The
buildup of gases resulted in an explosion and fires. Four of its crew perished
while fighting the fires and the rest were forced to evacuate because of toxic
fumes. While being towed to port, the submarine sank 680 miles north of Bermuda
taking two nuclear reactors and 16 nuclear missiles to the bottom. The missiles
carried two warheads each and the submarine might have also been carrying two
nuclear torpedoes for a total of 34 nuclear warheads.
The Air Force 1998 reunion at Charleston Air Force Base, South
Carolina where I flew in the 1960's with Navigator Bruce Kulka was what
triggered my involvement with loose nukes. Although I had grown up in Georgia,
and can recall the newspaper headlines saying something about an abandoned
thermonuclear weapon, the incident had long been forgotten by everyone,
including me. I had been 13 and totally a teenage redneck in February 1958. My
reaction had been ‘A lost nuke in Savannah. Wow. Now what's for lunch?&rsquo: The other
historical bookmark in my teenage memory happened the next week. SNOW. My first
snow...and the coastal empire’s first snow at Savannah Beach or Tybee Island.
Wassaw Sound had 1 inch. Now that's a wow to a 13 year old who had never seen
Kulka turned out to be a no show at the 1998 reunion because he
had retired to Thailand. OK. Well, Bruce, you were a damn good navigator and you
had a real war story about the Florence incident. I wanted to hear it from the
horse’s mouth and were disappointed when you didn’t come. So, I looked it up on
an internet search engine; I typed ‘nuclear accident Savannah Georgia 1958’ and
hit enter! That keystroke produced a major life direction...the lost nuke of
Savannah at Wassaw Sound and Tybee Island, aka the Tybee Bomb.
It was in the summer of 1998 when I asked my wife's cousin who
had grown up in Savannah if she remembered the incident. She looked odd and said
of course as a good friend of hers had been interested in it because he had
found the deformed crab and fish. That led me to Harris and Pepper Parker of
Whitemarsh Island just east of Savannah out off the Savannah Beach highway.
Shades of a good old boy, not doing no harm, Harris Parker was a godsend. A true
Savannah native who grew up on the water in Savannah and whose Dad worked as
supervisor for Henry Ford himself on his Ford Agricultural Experimental Plantation in nearby
Richmond Hill, Georgia (it’s still there). The research team I lead, American
Sea Shore Underwater Recovery Expedition, Incorporated, a registered Georgia
Corporation, also known by its acronym, ASSURE, came about as a result of the
discussions I had with Harris and Pepper Parker at their home in the summer of
Inevitably, the question kept coming up as to how to go about
chasing down a loose nuke. Early on, we decided that this was definitely not
going to be a high-risk, quick-fix, cut rate cowboy mission. A Mark 15, three
megaton Cold War Doomsday Device demands respect. Anyone foolhardy enough to
miscalculate and/or ignore the potential danger had to be screened out. I needed
experts, men with plenty of savvy and lots of experience in their specialty.
Fortunately, picking the right man for the job was how I had accomplished
seemingly impossible missions while serving as a Senior Command Pilot in the Air
Force. I began by realistically examining my own qualifications: United States
Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, retired; Senior Command Pilot; Combat Veteran,
Vietnam, Desert Storm; Distinguished Flying Cross; four Air Medals; Chief Pilot
for National Security Agency Air Mission over Southeast Asia; 200 Combat
missions; Commercial Airline Captain and Flight Instructor; Director Private
Flight Training Academy; married 32 years, 2 sons; lifelong resident of greater
Savannah area. Since I was to lead the team, it was up to me to interview
potential ASSURE team members individually. This is part of the
behind-the-scenes preparation that is critical to the success of any mission.
And, as has always been the case in emergency situations, God sent the right men
my way. I am extremely proud to be associated with men of this stature. Their
credentials speak for the deep regard we all hold for this effort. Now, for the
Dr. Stephen Schock—
Oceonographer at Florida Atlantic University and former US Naval Officer who was
personally recruited to nuclear submarines by the founding advocate of nuclear
submarines, Admiral Rickover. He served as Nuclear Weapons Officer and Reactor
Officer. He is a valuable consultant to ASSURE. He developed world leading
underwater detection systems for the US Navy including most recently a passive
3D imaging capability for buried objects such as h-bombs or mines. With the
vessel Deep Scan he helped perfect the Passive Sensing Array for Shallow
Water work. The Deep Scan is a converted 1983 NATO Landing Craft— over 60 feet long while drafting less than a
meter. Its 360 degree station keeping system allows passive detection of buried
objects such as the lost Savannah nuke through the latest technological
advances. Dr. Schock makes sure our electronic gadgetry is up to date.
Colonel Joe Eddlemon—
US Marine Corps, Retired, expert in nuclear radiation and Owner of Pulcir,
Incorporated, a nuclear radiation instrumentation company in Oak Ridge,
Tennessee. Joe was a top notch attack bomber gunner in the Pacific in a two man
Navy aircraft in World War II. He went up through the ranks very successfully.
In like fashion the corporation he founded in 1967 has flourished, earning him
the highest respect in the field of nuclear radiation detection and analysis.
Joe became our hands on expert at the scene. The instruments he and his company
provided were critical in making our case in the summer of 2004 for an official
government search. Joe was on scene as an observer in September 2004 with the
(Myself) Derek Duke— USAF Lt. Colonel, retired: varied military service involving air transport of
nuclear weapons, Air-Sea Rescue and Recovery Helo experience in this region,
ELINT experience for National Security Agency in Vietnam, and over 200 combat
missions across span of 25 years. Subsequent civilian experience includes Captain for Korean Airlines; also Flight Instructor and Captain for a major American airline; and owner/administrator of a flight academy in Georgia that went broke along with a lot of other businesses in the airline industry in the lean years following 9/11.
Bill Curry— USAF
Non-Commissioned Officer, retired, was an Explosive Ordinance Instructor in 1958
on nuclear bombs and, in particular, this lost Mark 15 Hydrogen Bomb with a 4
Dr. Leon Curry— USAF
Colonel, retired, Flight Surgeon for Nuclear Medicine and noted life long
resident of Savannah area with extensive experience in aviation activities.
Dennis Duke— my brother,
Senior Executive of the US Corps of Engineers, Masters Degree from Georgia Tech
in Maritime Engineering. He is a past winner of the Society of American
Engineers award for best yearly achievement and is currently the Project Manager
for restoration of the Florida Everglades. Dennis is also an expert in hurricane
preparation and response (due to his senior government position, my brother can
only serve in an advisory capacity for this effort).
J. Paulsen Helmken, also known as “Jay Bird” Helmken— Vessel Captain Helmken began his sea career in
Savannah and the south when he first accompanied his Grandfather to work at the
1st Savannah tugboat company, which his Grandfather founded and operated.
Captain Helmken acquired a natural ability to operate substantial vessels in
tight, near shore conditions. Of comment is his excellence with extensive
projects. He worked as a consultant with the US Coast Guard in the 1996 Olympic
Sailing Event in Savannah for safe mooring in Wassaw Sound of the more than 1200
sailboats. (This is the very site of the weapon's loss in 1958) He invented
numerous commercial safety devices for safe mooring of smaller vessels
displaying his mastery of ocean and storm pulses.
R. Harris Parker—Vessel
Captain Parker's professional Sea Captain experience is enhanced by his diving
expertise. Both the Department of Justice and the FBI cited him with highly
laudatory letters in the 1980's for his work in a Lear jet crash involving a
known mob figure. The jet mysteriously disappeared into the depths of the ocean
60 miles east of Savannah. It was Mr. Parker alone who located the small jet's
wreckage, planned, and executed the highly successful retrieval dives. Mr.
Parker maintains a production facility in Savannah to create maritime assets for
Hollywood studios to use in their feature films. He is unequalled in his ability
to adapt mechanical devices to the needs of a seaman in any maritime
Mr. Harris Parker
Harris Parker and I started chasing nukes in that early fall of
1998. In Savannah it is still very warm then. And, as we came to fully
appreciate later, “search” weather ends in December and as Commander Arseneault
and his troops way back in 1958 learned first hand, it is advisable to wait
until late April to begin again. (and that’s when the first official Government
search was conducted…February and March…bitter cold despite the Deep South
Harris Parker is a sailing man‘s sailor. A Master Diver and man
of huge talent, he grew up on the coast of Savannah. As a teenager back in the
1950’s, he had a hot car and an even hotter boat. And in typical teenage “watch
this” fashion, he ran his speedboat crammed with cute southern
belles out through the shallow back creeks to the
“forbidden military zone” in February 1958 almost as soon as he heard the news
that the Air Force had lost an h-bomb in coastal waters. He and the girls were
chased and probably would have been caught had they not ducked into a boat house
on Turner's Creek.
Four decades later, I accompanied Harris Parker on an outing to
a spot where Harris and Pepper had caught a deformed fish and a mutant crab with
a small net on the same cast. It was a shallow indentation in a narrow tidal cut
made by Coastal Mosquito control for keeping the backwater flowing. It worked.
Tucked away amidst the marshy side of Tybee Island in a run from Lazarreta
Creek, this channel can be navigated south to Wassaw. Such are the meanderings
of the marsh just inland from the barrier islands. Like the rest of the region,
the nearby islets are filled with trees, brush, and wildlife— truly a nature preserve.
Harris and I had tinkered with some surplus Cold War equipment
and came up with radiation detection gear suitable for maritime use. That may
sound easy but it took quite a lot of trial and error to calibrate the
instruments. And we were constantly having to call on friends to help us get
Although we did not detect radiation at this particular
location. it was a beginning. This excursion was the lens that brought our
initial research into focus without which later expeditions would not have been
possible. I began to investigate the details of the mishap as they became
available. We had been led to believe that we were going after an incomplete
weapon and weren't really sure of what that meant at this stage of the game.
Summer of 1999 brought opportunity. We had the radiation gear
now and it was calibrated and we had underwater housing for seabed analysis. The
GPS devices and fish finders were ready to go. We had already done some
satellite photo analysis and without having talked to the pilots or the 1958
search team we launched for Wassaw Sound where the Air Force had looked for the
Having over flown the area myself, I was able to see firsthand
the route the B-47 took. I made many a pass over Wassaw Sound. Looking at the
water below, while tantalizing, only convinced me we were going to have to work
very hard to find a 10 foot long object in this vast expanse of water. I began
putting together a computer simulation in an attempt to recreate the collision
phase that led to the bomb being jettisoned. And early markers all pointed to
Wassaw as being the right spot.
In the original search, two areas, four miles apart— one area identified by the pilot and the other
by the navigator— had been thoroughly
searched. The first area near a pier on Tybee Island was the last place the
pilot, Colonel Richardson, saw through the canopy prior to ordering the
navigator to drop the bomb. Having just been rammed by an F-86 fighter, Colonel
Richardson had his attention drawn to multiple urgent matters at this point, any
one of which could prove fatal. Fire alarms were wailing, the plane bucked and
shuddered, the right outboard engine was on fire, and, if they were going to
stay aloft, there was no choice other than to bank continuously to the left.
This was old fashioned seat-of-the-pants flying, the kind that separates the men
from the boys. That the pilot (Howard Richardson) and the navigator (Leland
Woolard) differed in their assessment of where the bomb had been jettisoned by
four miles can easily be attributed to the need to concentrate on the emergency
at hand plus the fact that at 500 miles per hour it took them less than 30
seconds to travel four miles. Let's also remember that they were flying at night
in an age before GPS. I defy anyone to do a better job than they did. That they
were able to bring the battered B-47 in for a landing was a remarkable feat.
There is no doubt in my mind that Colonel Richardson earned his Distinguished
Flying Cross the hard way.
When Richardson gave the order for the nuke to be jettisoned,
Woolard pulled the lever that opened the B-47’s massive bomb bay doors. Then he
opened a small red hatch on his control panel and loosed the nuke. All three
crewmembers held their breath … they knew that their fate would be determined in
the next 30 seconds. If the nuke fully detonated, they would be killed in the
fireball before they even knew it. The co-pilot, Bob Lagerstrom, remarked to me
in an interview that after the bomb was jettisoned he had peered into the
blackness of the dark ocean looking for a flash. There was none.
All three marked the position. Both the copilot and bombardier marked Wassaw. Very
precise markings were done with the bombardier’s chart being the most precise.
The pilot and copilot were frankly giving their best estimates as they had their
hands full of flight controls and throttles for this very badly damaged
So, the most busy man at that moment, the pilot, Colonel Howard
Richardson, who was totally involved with flying the jet, estimated that the
bomb had been dropped off Tybee Island. The other two crewmen put it at Wassaw.
That’s why both areas were part of the original search in 1958. [Editor’s Note:
The original search was not entirely unsuccessful in that a number of Civil War
cannonballs were discovered under the front porch of a two story house on Wassaw
Island. The 90 year old black powder explosives were removed and subsequently
detonated at a firing range. U.S. weaponry is designed— and rigorously tested— to work under adverse conditions. There is every
reason to believe that the lost hydrogen bomb is fully operational.] What that
search failed to take into account, however, was that the jettisoned nuke could
have easily fell someplace in between the two locations. Five decades later,
during the 2004 DTRA search, the Air Force would repeat this mistake, once again
failing to take into account that these coordinates were never meant to be
precise. What they ended up searching was a small portion of what should have
In December 1999, I telephoned both pilots. Finding them was no
easy matter. After obtaining their phone numbers, I had Howard Richardson and
Bob Lagerstrom on the phone for long, long talks. We became long distance
friends…granted neither of them understand nor condone my continual push for the
nuke being found. Their stance is that it contains no plutonium capsule and is
therefore not a problem. Richardson lives in Mississippi and Lagerstrom lives in
Arizona…so in a sense they are right, for them the Savannah lost nuke is not a
Nevertheless. they cooperated with me and everyone else. And it
was Richardson who finally forwarded me the W.J. Howard letter he received in
the late fall of 1999. He had obtained it from the military historian.
Richardson immediately wrote a letter to the commander of SAC. His letter
apparently got mishandled and was never answered.
When I received Richardson’s letter with the de-classified
Assistant Secretary of Defense Howard’s sworn secret testimony to Congress that
the Savannah nuke was “secretly armed,” I went ballistic. At the time, I did not
know enough technical information about the Mark 15 in question to warrant being
so upset, but as I later discovered it would take a lot more than getting upset
to get a loose nuke removed. I immediately contacted Arseneault, who had led the
original search. He informed me he had always treated the Savannah nuke as being
armed. And he said he always did that no matter what anyone said— it was his way of staying alive. I asked and he
answered, yes, he had the technical data on the Mark 15 when he led the search.
But the technical data and his search report were still classified and he no
longer had access to the files.
Howard’s admission that the nukes had been “secretly armed” led
ASSURE to believe that time was of the essence. We concluded that a realistic,
detailed proposal to chase down Savannah‘s loose nuke— while almost certainly doomed to rejection by
the government— had to be prepared. My
brother, Dennis, became our advisor on what needed to be done. Being a senior
executive with the US Corps of Engineers, he knows contracts like I know
airplanes. Together we devised an innovative plan to chase and locate Savannah’s
loose nuke via a high tech expeditionary voyage aboard Deep Scan, a
Research Vessel that Harris Parker and Jay Helmken recommended for the task.
In 2000, after the news broke on the renewed missing bomb
investigation, a film crew was setting up to take a shot of the New Tybrisa
(Tybee Island) Pier from the beach alongside it. That shot looked out to the
shipping channel beyond when, as luck would have it, a Canadian lady tourist
came down the beach with, of all things, a metal detector. Somewhat amused at
the implications of the scene of a metal detector on the beach not far from
where a nuclear bomb had been lost, the journalist stopped the lady and
laughingly asked her if she had found anything. A sack with coins and small
metal objects was produced by the middle-aged, attractive lady who beamed
proudly at the cameras. In the lark of the moment, the journalist asked her in a
mock serious tone if she knew about the nuclear weapon lost right out there,
pointing beyond the end of the pier where a tanker moved down the channel.
Draining of facial color, the lady looked shocked and quite seriously enquired,
“Is this too close?”
This is indeed a story of close calls— of just how close we have come to being
annihilated by nuclear weapons. Many people who have access to such information,
such as former Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara— the man who marshaled the nukes during the
Armageddon of the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962— say we came WAY TOO CLOSE. I’m inclined to
The discovery process crept along. I had not been a true
nuclear warrior. Transporting the things in the back of a C141 is a far cry from
carrying it as a weapon of war. That awesome mission was not for me. So I did
not know the systems professionally, at least not yet. That all changed in
December 1999 when Lieutenant Commander Arthur Arseneault gave a talk at the Navy
League Club of Savannah. His subject: his command of the US 1958 search for the
lost nuke in Wassaw Sound near Savannah. I saw the news and found him later. He
became a true friend and pointed the way for me. Art was a nuclear weapons EOD
commander in Charleston, South Carolina at the Navy Station in 1958. His team
was one of two in the United States, the other being in San Diego. Art's team
got the call. From the early morning shake out, he reported with his team mid
day to the General in Command at Hunter Air Force Base in Savannah. The General
pointed to the East Coast near Savannah on a big map and told Art to get busy.
That launched sea, ground, and air searches with dozens of ships, planes,
blimps, and hundreds of sailors, soldiers, and airmen. Hearing this from Art, I
finally did what I had always wanted to do. I talked to the pilots: Howard
Richardson, Bob Lagerstrom, and Clarence Stewart. That led to Howard Richardson
sending me the March 2000 copy of the infamous W.J. Howard secret testimony to
Congress in 1966 where under oath, the Assistant Secretary of Defense swore that
the missing nuclear bomb in Savannah was a complete nuclear weapon ready for
war. That letter hit me like a Hydrogen Bomb shock wave. Until that point, I had
bought the Air Force’s story that the weapon was a War Reserve item with no
In November 2000, due to repeated requests by Congressman Joe
Kingston, an inspection team was scheduled to come to Savannah. The Savannah
Inspection Team was comprised of Washington based Air Force officers in various
departments and officials from the Department of Energy and Sandia National
Labs. Several NEST members were there. It was a conference only. The US Corps of
Engineers hosted the secure site then, the same as they would do later in 2004
and 2005. Savannah's Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SKIO) experts who I had
already interviewed were called in for witness to the Wassaw Sound environs.
SKIO is situated just inland of Wassaw Sound adjacent to a saltwater river. I
was not invited to the conference. A report was subsequently issued which
rubber-stamped the official version of what happened. They had been stonewalling
and were determined to continue to do so.
Post 9-11: Fall 2001 was for me, as it was for most
Americans, a vast sad emptiness driven by the realization that yes, it could
happen here. The morning of 9/11/2001, I was at my new flight school, Georgia
Flight Academy in Statesboro, Georgia, when I caught reports of the first jet
crashing into the tower...saw the weather report for JFK International and La
Guardia airports and said “what the hell.” I was on the phone with an off duty
Air Force General friend of mine who was one of General Tommy Franks’ chief
assistants at that time...and we watched the second plane hit the second tower
on a live broadcast...the word “terrorists” spoken by both of us to disconnected
phone lines as we both hung up immediately…he rushed to his duty station at
MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida— then
home of Central Command— where they locked
down for over 30 days.…
I rushed to gather our students and flight instructors,
immediately recalling all planes and securing our flight line with armed
instructors. Then I phoned the Sheriff’s Department and requested for them to
supplement the security at our little municipal airport because word of other
hijackings was filtering in and there was no way to know that the multi-pronged
attack was limited to commercial aircraft. We thought we were at the mercy of an
assailant who could strike anywhere with little or no warning.
The death of a thinly financed flight school was the least
casualty of 9-11. Being grounded for weeks put an end to my dream of developing
an air academy. It was with great regret that I watched my former pupils depart.
It would take a long time for the airlines to recover enough to absorb newly
Two days after 9/11 the ASSURE team— Walt Strickland, Bert Soleau, and myself — met at Snooky’s for breakfast. Everything was at
a paralyzed standstill. Why not just drink coffee and cuss?
Sucker punched. We all felt like fools. Perhaps everyone in
America felt like they had been mugged. But here I sat with some pretty smart
people and no one had a clue that it was coming.
Bert was CIA…you never retire from that group of good old boys.
He was as down as I was. And I was just finding out that the first Airline
Captain, John Ogonowski, had been a squadron mate of mine at Charleston Air
Force Base, South Carolina, in the mid 1970’s right after we had both come back
from Vietnam. He had transferred to MacGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, closer
to Boston where he was based with American Airlines…until that morning of
I felt doubly foolish. We had been soft pedaling the terror
threat with the missing Savannah nuke, trying not to alarm the public. I had
also been lulled as an Airline Flight Instructor at a major airline where we
teach security that a hijacker was to be appeased and stalled. The 9/11
terrorists evidently knew that and exploited it.
We would learn much later that the hijackers came on John’s 767
at Boston that morning in attack formation…two sat in first class on the left
side at the back of first class and right behind a former Israeli Security Agent
with the MOSSAD. How the hell did they know that?
Mohammed Atta, the leader for the group, came on board last
talking on his cell phone and took his seat in first class next to his partner
and right across the aisle from the Israeli agent. That gave them four in first
class. And there was a “sleeper” terrorist in coach, ready to guard the rear and
surprise anyone who mounted a reaction from the back.
Getting into the cockpit was easy. They threatened the flight
attendant and forced their way in. Being strapped into their seats, the pilots
were unable to defend themselves from a rear attack. The takedown was quick and
That the hijackers were able to fly the jet at speeds
approaching 500 miles per hour in a hairpin turn into the World Trade Center is
somewhat amazing. But the two hijacked airliners did that and accomplished their
grisly mission. Our trusting nature had been rewarded with a sneak attack. It
was a costly lesson. Evil cannot be appeased.
The ASSURE team was pissed. Like all Americans, we wanted to
kick some serious ass. But the missing weapon had no place at all in our
considerations. We simply replayed what had gone on and where we now were.
My mind drifted back to July, 2001. That had been when the
report from the Air Force (see Appendix c ) had come
out. I had been away, across the country, training a set of students for the
airline. The identity of one particular individual had come as quite a shock.
Like me, he had flown C-141’s and was retired from the military, but he had also
been the senior military aide for the President of the United States— talk about double takes!
Z was a great student. And in the bull sessions after work when
we sat around the pool relaxing at the motel with nothing else to do since our
families were all back east, Z told me about his ex-job.
I guess what really got my attention was when he had mentioned
the strike aircraft on the runway ready to hit Osama’s best guessed
position…they were always termed “best guess” even though they were thought
highly reliable. Z said he was in the Oval Office alone with the President. On
the phone was the Pentagon’s Command Center waiting on the President’s
authorization to launch the strike plane. The attack window was closing and the
President sat on a sofa watching television. Tiger Woods was live in a golf
Z stood holding the phone for the President who had already
told him to wait. The President was focused on the television set, watching
Tiger Woods. Z urged him to respond, “Mr. President, the fighter is waiting. We
need the GO or we will have to abort the mission.”
Without looking up, the President muttered, “Z, I told you I
was going to watch Tiger putt!” He said nothing else…Z turned and told the
Pentagon who scrubbed the mission as the time to launch simply ran out.
Z had asked me about the nuke hunt I was on…he somehow knew. We
talked candidly about the device and the politics at play over it. Z offered
that he had seen many a terrorist threat assessment cross the President’s desk,
EYES ONLY stuff, that not even Z was authorized to see. But, inevitably, he did
see some. He mentioned the one where an attack would be made using planes as
I did not connect the dots until after 9-11. Had we known? Just
like all the old rumors about Pearl Harbor—
did we know beforehand? We knew. But life is a guessing game. We did nothing
about it because there are so many threats and warnings that we couldn’t
possibly give credence to them all. As fate would have it, this was one that we
had let ride.
For the time being, ASSURE waited. The attacks on the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon had sidelined us. Bigger enemies were running
The publicity blackout we had imposed following September 11,
2001, necessarily ended in early 2002 when the Atlanta Journal
Constitution headlined its front page with an article about the original
search commander, Arthur Arseneault, and his participation with ASSURE. As fate
would have it, the Atlanta Journal Constitution article and an
accompanying photo generated an enormous amount of publicity. The Easter Sunday
expedition, coming as it did on the heels of an unprecedented level of public
interest (and government intransigence), forced us to conclude that if the nuke
was going to be located, we would have to do it ourselves.
I was made aware very quickly that our interest in the loose
nuke and the resulting publicity were NOT welcome by BIG BROTHER. The Atlanta
news editor and the reporter were paid visits by government officials who let
their displeasure with the article be known. And— perhaps more importantly— although the powers that be were most assuredly
watching, they pointedly refrained from doing anything that could be remotely
construed as assistance.
An unexpected phone call in January 2002 got my attention and
was to set a series of events in motion. The caller wanted to meet me in
Atlanta. He represented a gentleman that had a device to locate high energy
elements like uranium. Locate? What did he mean by that? He didn’t want to talk
about it over the phone. If I wanted to know more, I would have to meet with him
Although the representative was a quirky guy, he had about him
a genteel gentleman-from-the-South quality that lent him credibility. We talked.
He told me about Earl— all about Earl. Earl,
you see, had a “magic box” that could locate choice elements like gold and high
energy elements like uranium.
My skepticism was obvious. A test was offered. I accepted. A
discussion of where and when produced Savannah. We might as well be prepared to
look for the bomb if we were going to meet there…that was what he said. My due
diligence kicked in and I set about finding out more about this ingratiating
representative and his mysterious client. To my surprise, they both turned out
to be legit.
The meeting was set for February in Savannah. It was very cold
normally in February so we made it near month’s end. I informed Harris Parker
that we might need to motor out to Wassaw. Harris thought I was nuts. Then, in
late February when Earl got to town, Harris unexpectedly took an immediate shine
to him. After that, Harris was continually reminding me that Earl was indeed
legit. In fact, Earl is a living legend among treasure hunters.
I found it hard to take this gentleman seriously. Although Earl
was not his name, it is what he asked us to call him. Given his interest in
finding gold and other treasures, his predilection for privacy seemed
pretentious. Being a fellow Georgian, however, he took a notion to the idea that
this loose nuke ought to be found rather than lay around the Georgia coast
waiting on only-God-knows-what to happen. It doesn‘t take much brains to reach
the conclusion that you don‘t want to live anywhere near a loose nuke. The Air
Force's position of “it‘s no big deal” is just so much BS. It fits right into
that “Duck and cover” propaganda campaign they ran back in the Cold War in an
attempt to convince Americans that a nuclear attack wouldn’t hurt them if they
just followed instructions. Sort of like in the airline business: right before
the crash, they tell the passengers to bend over in their seats, grab their
ankles, and kiss their behind goodbye. Yes, I know it’s a sick joke, but it fits
with some of the BS our very human— and
therefore fallible— officials have fed the
public as evidence that “your leaders are in charge...everything is under
control...our control...just trust us and everything will be fine.”
Earl passed the trial with flying colors. He’s got a talent for
finding things. So we took Earl and his magic box to the beach at Wassaw. Wiring
sensors into his computer mapping device and properly arraying grounds, Earl
made many stops along the beach, took numerous readings, and kept us there
several hours. We finally finished and headed indoors for warmth.
At the end of March, I got a call from Earl‘s representative.
Earl had just given him his analysis of the readings he took at Wassaw. He had a
fix on the bomb. I raced to north Atlanta in the middle of the night to get the
map and plots. At the Waffle House in Roswell the Rep handed me the findings. I
studied the chart carefully. There was no way that Earl could have known that
the Savannah nuke’s position, marked by an x on the chart, exactly matched the
navigator’s position— coordinates classified
for years— and only available to me because
of what I had already done. Colonel Howard Richardson, the ill-fated B-47’s
pilot, had entrusted me with them.
That was Friday night, Good Friday. I was on the cell phone to
Harris on the way back to south Atlanta. Harris was just as excited as I was. He
agreed— we needed to launch on this
information as soon as possible. A quick check of the weather forecast and tides
made the decision easy. Easter Sunday would be the day.
That Easter morning sunrise was quite thrilling to us as we
drove out to Wassaw. The meaning of the resurrection was not lost on me in that
we were trying to bring back the bomb. We headed exactly to the spot marked by
an x on the chart. Our arrival was met with slight gains in the radiation count
from our free air sensors on the boat. We immersed the seabed sensors in the
water. The depth of the ocean floor at this point was only 14 feet and
visibility, as expected, was zero.
Nothing, nada. No radiation readings at this particular
spot. But we weren’t about to let that deter us— all spring and summer we went back, each new
search overlapping the last. We took precise readings and entered them on a
chart of Wassaw Sound. Chasing a loose nuke involves a lot more work than one
Art Arseneault brought us a new ASSURE team member, Colonel
Joe Eddlemon from Knoxville, Tennessee. Joe's hearing is pretty much shot
today from having been a machine gunner in the back of an open cockpit in World
War II. Having gotten his start at Oak Ridge in the early days of atomic energy,
Joe is one heck of a radiation man. His sage advice has proven to be an enormous
With Joe supplying the very latest radiation detection and
analysis devices, Harris Parker was able to put together an underwater housing
to investigate radiation on the ocean floor. And with this device supported by a
secure cable, we proceeded the tedious process of surveying the entire area,
expanding outward from the x on Earl‘s chart.
A Canadian production company, making a documentary for
National Geographic International, tagged along during that outing. When we went
to gas up the boat, the attendant got the tanks mixed up and inadvertently
pumped fuel into the bilge rather than the fuel tank where it belonged.
Fortunately, our noses detected the mistake and we narrowly averted what could
have easily have been an explosive end to the ASSURE team and the National
Geographic film crew. Pumping out the bilges may have cost us a day, but better
that than the alternative. The segment, which was broadcast on television in
2004, shows me watching my Geiger counter spike over an area off Little Tybee
“We‘ve got it,” I said. And at the time, I really did believe
that we had located the lost nuke.
Ultimately, we would obtain the results in the summer of 2004
that led the Air Force to grudgingly provide us with a search team in order to
thoroughly investigate an area the size of a football field.
Why did it take us so long? Well, we were getting spurious
radiation readings. Sometimes they were intense, but they seemed to be fleeting
and quite often dependant on the tide. Analyzing seabed samples and doing
intricate work under very demanding sea conditions just took a long time. Wassaw
may be very close to Savannah but it is an unprotected harbor prone to
hurricanes, a wild natural area where the elements can come into play in a
heartbeat. Both sea and seashore can be extremely unforgiving places.
This prolonged investigation resulted in ongoing debate as to
how much radiation we could expect to come from the abandoned weapon. In other
words, we had to determine what the radiation intensity footprint looked like.
And in 2004 we came upon the spot seen in the National Geographic documentary
where the footprint fit what we were receiving; almost as if you put a light
inside of an old gym bag in a dark room. The light is hidden except for the
pinpoint beams that seep out of any slight hole or defect in the bag. And our
lost bomb, we all felt, might be like that, “beaming” out radiation from “holes”
in the rear of the bomb assembly that we suspected had resulted from nearly five
decades of corrosion in saltwater.
When it finally did come, the DTRA search was an enormous
letdown. At the initial briefing the Intelligence Officer for the Air
Force team nearly came to blows with Bert Soleau over the government’s
intentional “disinformation” releases to the media (the Air Force paid for the
media‘s boat and thus were able to feed the journalists their sanitized version
of what was occurring). Bert was firmly convinced that ASSURE wouldn’t get a
fair shake. He said we needed to get the Air Force to agree to further
stipulations before embarking on the joint ASSURE/DTRA expedition. As group
leader, I chose to overrule Bert. Although this probably sounds naïve, I
expected a modicum of good faith from both parties. Having the benefit of 20/20
hindsight as I write this book, I now realize just how wrong I was. But it’s too
late for that. In October 2006, Bert was diagnosed with a particularly
aggressive form of stomach cancer. We can only hope and pray that he
The radiation levels recorded on the joint expedition (see
Appendix d ) turned out to be a disappointment. They
weren’t significantly more than one might expect from background radiation and
didn’t come close to the readings that I had taken in the same location when
National Geographic was filming us. Nothing could have proved more embarrassing.
How could the radiation be there one day and not be there a
month or two later? I had been out there enough to know that things had changed.
While sailing towards the search area, I had noticed sand bars in areas where
none had existed weeks before. In the intervening period, Hurricane Jeanne had
hit the Georgia coast— and Wassaw Sound is a
woefully unprotected harbor— a devastating
blow. No doubt the gale force winds scoured the shallow ocean bottom. The sands
in the football field-sized search area had evidently shifted, perhaps further
covering— or maybe even moving— the 7,600-pound weapon.
When the Air Force Report was released more than a year later,
it said pretty much what we thought it would say: we had failed to locate the
nuke and even if we had, they wouldn’t bother digging it up because it couldn’t
possibly hurt anybody or anything.
We were back to square one. But at least we had gotten the
government’s attention. For better or for worse, we were now on their radar. And
this could not have been proven any more effectively than by a cell phone call
in the weeks that followed. The voice on the line identified himself. How could
this be?…another government agency asking me to work with someone with a device
that could help find the bomb…and I was asked because I had made things happen;
I had dared go where “sensible” people chose not to go. And this new task was
not going to be a piece of cake and— as is
customary in matters regarding national security— was completely deniable. We were to evaluate a
revolutionary new device to find explosives, in particular the military
explosives that plague us everyday in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not only that, but
this revolutionary device could also help to find Weapons of Mass Destruction
(such as nuclear bombs).
This would not be easy. The device is complex, cutting edge,
and, if proven successful, would change the world as we know it, perhaps even to
the degree that controlling FIRE changed man. Imagine being a part of that!
While exciting, it is also scary.
Why me and what is next? One thing that this “Chase” has done
is to convince me that my beautiful wife is right about life: no door ever
closes without another opening up.
Those Incredible Machines
Who was to blame for the midair collision between Richardson’s
B-47 bomber and Stewart’s F-86 fighter high in the moonlit sky over Savannah in
February 1958? At first glance, it would have appeared to have been pilot error
on the part of Lieutenant Stewart. However, when a recording device in the
canopy assembly was found some 5 weeks later, it proved conclusively that the
F-86’s radar had malfunctioned, focusing on the farthest bomber rather than the
The incident would have been little more than a footnote in the
history of the Cold War had not Colonel Richardson ordered the
bombardier/navigator to jettison the hydrogen bomb. Richardson had few options.
Due to a design oversight, there was no way to dump the thousands of pounds of
fuel the B-47 carried. In other words, the only way to lighten the load was to
drop the bomb.
Please don’t get me wrong. The F-86 and the B-47 were excellent jet aircraft, but the fact is that they were designed by man and, therefore, did not always function according to plan. On the other hand, pilots, being human beings crafted by God, are meant to function under the worst imaginable conditions. It’s all too easy to blame accidents on pilot error. Pilot error implies misjudgment on the part of the pilot. In truth, the source of most aerial disasters can be traced to flawed design and/or mechanical breakdowns. The planes being flown were the best that money could buy. Being state-of-the-art, however, meant that they were extremely complicated, having been assembled from parts and systems made by numerous manufacturers and subcontractors. That you, the reader, may fully appreciate how complex these aircraft were and just how much could—and did—go wrong, I am devoting the remainder of this chapter to U.S. Cold War era jet aircraft, their development, and the difficulty experienced in upgrading their systems.
Therein lies the problem. A thermonuclear weapon is
unforgiving. There is no margin of error for man or machine. In fact, there is
no such thing as a safe nuke. Let one get loose and there will be hell to
The B-47's production was spurred in 1944 by the War
Department's demand for jet bombers. In contrast to the B-45, and other
concurrent proposals, the B-47 design, as finally approved, included radically
new features. Foremost were the aircraft's thin swept wings which, coupled with
6 externally mounted jet engines, promised a startling, high speed bomber,
capable of carrying out effective operations for the foreseeable future despite
an enemy's fighter air defense. Undoubtedly, the B-47 lived up to expectations.
More than 2,000 production models were bought, and some B-47 versions, true
production models or post production reconfigurations, remained in the
operational inventory for nearly 2 decades. Yet few aircraft programs witnessed
as much development, production, and postproduction turbulence as the B-47 did.
To begin with, there were arguments about cost and plant location and after
1947, complaints by Boeing that the newly independent Air Force had laid
additional requirements that changed the concept of the overall program. Also,
the secrecy which shrouded the development of atomic weapons, long after the
atomic attacks on Japan, increased the difficulty of preparing the B-47 to
handle every new type of special weapon—a
problem shared by the B-36 and B-45. Ensuing events only compounded the initial
B-47 research and development began in 1945 with the first
prototype flight occurring in December 1947. The Air Force wanted a high-altitude,
medium-range, subsonic bomber. At that time, four contractors were developing
bombers. Two designs were conventional bombers in the mold of the B-29, while
the more radical designs were the Northrop flying wing [Editor’s Note: The flying wing proved hard to fly and was truly before its time. Subsequent technological innovations made it possible to bring back the flying wing in the form of Stealth aircraft] and the Boeing swept wing
jet (which was literally stolen from its World War II German designers). In this era before the SAM, fighter aircraft were considered the main
threat to bombers. World War II had shown that stripped down B-29's with
near-fighter speed and a higher altitude ceiling could only be successfully
intercepted from the rear.
As it had for the B-36, the Truman Administration's stringent
financial restrictions worked in favor of the B-47. Pressed for money, the Air
Force decided to buy more B-47s instead of purchasing additional B-50s or future
B-54s, since neither one of those rather expensive bombers had any growth
potential. Hence, even though the B-47 was yet to fly, the initial production
order of 1948 was increased in mid 1949. The subsequent Korean War, rising world
tensions, and mounting urgency to build an atomic deterrent force raised the
tempo of the B-47 program. In December 1950, the Air Force foresaw a monthly
production of 150 B-47s, but still recommended changes, making it almost
impossible to settle on an acceptable type. Other factors made matters worse.
With the speed and maneuverability of the fighters of the late
forties, Boeing's swept-wing XB-47 won the bomber competition and swiftly
transformed the XB-46 and the XB-48 into aviation footnotes. Six Allison J35-2
turbojet engines slung in pods beneath the swept-back wings gave the prototype
B-47 nimble performance, and helped to validate a design concept still widely
used today. Although uprated J47-GE-3s were soon substituted, the B-47 also
carried mountings for 18 solid-fuel booster rockets in the aft fuselage to
shorten the takeoff. Flight testing continued through 1951, and B-47's began
entering the inventory in 1952. Intercontinental ballistic missiles were not in
existence, and the penetrating bomber was the only nuclear strike vehicle
available. A total of 2,039 B-47's were funded and built in a serial production
that lasted until 1956.
The B-47 was the first United States Air Force bomber to
receive a weapon system designation, a move prompted by the Air Force’s
recognition that the rising complexity of weapons no longer permitted the
isolated and compartmented development of equipment and components which, when
put together in a structural shell, formed an aircraft or missile. However, this
was as far as the B-47 benefited from the new developmental philosophy. The
Boeing airframe was built without adequate consideration for its many crucial
components. In turn, the components, subcontracted or furnished by the
government, were behind schedule and when provided, did not match the
sophistication of the high performance B-47.
In 1951 alone, the Air Force took delivery of 204 B-47Bs, none
of which were suitable for combat. The aircraft's canopy was unsafe; the B-47B
had no ejection seats (a deficiency shared by 200 successive B-47s); the bombing
and navigation system was unreliable; a new tail defense system was needed; and
the jet engines were creating unique development problems such as fuel boil off
at high altitudes, which reduced the aircraft's range which was already shorter
than anticipated. In sum, the hasty production of an aircraft as revolutionary
as the B-47 proved to be costly, generating extensive, unavoidable modification
projects like Baby Grand, Turn Around, High Noon, and Ebb Tide. Yet once
accomplished, the B-47 modifications worked.
Although heavier than the heaviest World War II bomber, the
B-47 was designed to be a medium-range penetrator with approximately a 3,500
nautical mile range. This was not a problem in the early 1950's since forward
basing was available in the United Kingdom, Spain, Morocco, Guam, and Alaska. In
addition, the B-47 was equipped with an air refueling capability and, on several
occasions, 36-hour missions were flown. Thus, when it initially entered the
inventory, its range was sufficient. Finally deployed overseas in mid 1953, the
B-47s totally replaced the obsolete B-50s by the end of 1955, when new B-47
production models were delivered that could carry larger fuel loads and thus had
greater range. After the B-47 demonstrated that it was rugged enough for low
altitude bombing, some of the aircraft were again modified to satisfy a new set
of requirements levied in 1955. These modifications also worked, and in 1957,
the Air Force publicly demonstrated its new low-altitude, strategic bombing
tactics, an achievement marking the beginning of an era in aeronautics.
The aircraft's payload capacity was limited to 20,000 pounds
internally. Since nuclear weapons were large in the early 1950's, the bomb bay
was limited to one or two of high yield. But this lack of payload capacity was
compensated for by the large numbers of B-47's that were purchased (at a cost of
less than $2 million per airplane) which resulted in an acceptable overall
weapon delivery capacity. The B-47 was also capable of carrying thirteen
500-pound or eight 1,000-pound conventional bombs. Although no B-47 squadron was
ever equipped with any type of missile, the B-47 was used on several occasions
as a test aircraft for missile launches. The biggest aid to the B-47 payload was
nuclear weapon technology which eventually developed smaller weapons.
Serial production made incorporating changes easier; the most
numerous models were the B and E series. There were many production improvements
made which included more powerful engines with water injection, the addition of
tail guns, ejection seats, increased maximum gross weight, and bomb bay
modifications for new weapons technology. Once deployed, modifications were
numerous. The most significant was the structural revision to convert the B-47
from a high to a low altitude penetrator due to the development of Soviet
surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) in the mid 1950's. In May 1960, Gary Powers' U-2
was shot down by a Soviet SAM, vividly demonstrating Soviet high altitude
Besides structural modifications, ECM and other avionics were
updated. Some B-47's were modified into reconnaissance and other specialized
aircraft. Since space was a limitation, most aircraft modified for
reconnaissance and special missions were not capable of carrying bombs. However,
the RB-47B could be converted back to a bomber. The B-47 had the capability to
be modified but was restricted by space limitations.
The Air Force accepted a grand total of 2,041 B-47s (including
the first 2 experimental planes and the prototype of a never produced
configuration). Specifically, the B-47 program comprised 2 XB-47s, 10 B-47As
(mostly used for testing), 397 B-47Bs, 1 YB-47C, 1,341 B-47Es, 255 RB-47Es, and
35 RB-47Hs. All other B-47s in the Air Force's operational inventory, be they
weather reconnaissance aircraft (WB-47Es), ETB-47E combat crew trainer, QB-47
drones, or others, were acquired through post production reconfigurations.
In December 1953 Strategic Air Command had eight B-47 Medium
Bomber Wings, and a year later the Strategic Air Command inventory counted 17
fully-equipped B-47 wings. By early 1956 a total of 22 medium bombing wings had
received the B-47 while another 5 wings were undergoing conversion to the B-47.
Thus, by the end of 1956, Strategic Air Command had 27 combat-ready B-47 wings,
with 1204 combat-ready B-47 crews assigned. By 1956, B-47 deployment had reached
its peak with 1,306 aircraft assigned to Strategic Air Command. In addition
about 250 RB-47s were in Strategic Air Command at that time. In all, Strategic
Air Command had 30 Bomb Wings (Medium), each with four squadrons of 15 aircraft
per squadron, along with four Strategic Reconnaissance Wings (Medium), one
Combat Crew Training Wing and four Support Squadrons/Post-Attack Command and
Control Squadrons which also flew different types of B-47s.
The final B-47E was delivered on 18 February 1957 to the 100th
Bomb Wing at Pease Air Force Base, New Hampshire. This was the 29th and last
Strategic Air Command bomb wing to be equipped with B-47s. The beginning of the
phase-out of the B-47E coincided with the delivery of the last example in 1957.
In 1960 there were still almost 1,100 B-47s. This dropped to about 400 in 1964.
Strategic Air Command's last two B-47s went to storage on February 11, 1966. A
few RB-47s were retained until 1967. In March 1961 President Kennedy had
requested funding to support an increase in the number of Strategic Air Command
aircraft on 15-minute ground alert from one-third to one-half the total force.
At this time the B-47 phase-out was accelerated to provide the aircrews needed
to support the higher alert rate of B-47 and B-52 bomber forces [which was
attained by July 1961].
In the strategic bombing role for which the B-47 was designed,
weapons delivery at the target was originally intended to take place from high
altitudes. By the mid-1950's, however, the increasing effectiveness of methods
for detecting aircraft at high attitudes, as well as the growing capability of
surface-to-air missiles and fighter aircraft, required the development of new
methods of weapons delivery. As a means of avoiding detection by radar,
penetration of enemy airspace was to take place at high speed and at an altitude
of only a few hundred feet. At the target, the aircraft was to execute an
Immelmann turn with weapons delivery taking place in near vertical flight. (An
Immelmann turn consists of a half loop followed by a half roll from inverted to
normal flight attitude at the top of the loop. A change of 180° in direction
coupled with a gain in altitude are accomplished during the maneuver.) This
method of weapons delivery was known as LABS (low altitude bombing system) and
was intended to provide the aircraft a means for escaping destruction from the
blast effects of its own weapon.
Constant practice of the LABS technique subjected the B-47
fleet to the severe gust-load environment of high-speed low-altitude flight, as
well as the maneuver loads associated with weapons delivery. The aircraft was
not designed for this type of service. As a consequence structural fatigue
problems were encountered, and several aircraft were lost as a result of
structural failure. At one point, the entire B-47 fleet was grounded for
inspection and incorporation of necessary design modifications. Both the
structural fatigue problem and the much greater capability of the Boeing B-52,
which began entering the inventory in 1955, played a part in the retirement of
the B-47 from first-line service. Its life with the Strategic Air Command began
in 1951 and ended 15 years later in 1966.
The phase out of the B-47 medium bomber coincided with the
rapid build up of ICBM and SLBM deployment by the United States. The B-47 had
shown flexibility in adapting to a low level mission profile that was required
by the introduction of SAMs. But modifications to a large fleet (especially
structural modifications) cost vast sums of money. Moreover, forward basing of
strategic nuclear forces was becoming unpopular with US allies, and there was
not enough tanker support to make up the range difference for continental United
States basing of all the B-47's. The B-58, planned as a replacement for the
B-47, started entering the inventory in 1960. Also, the B-52, designed as an
outgrowth of the B-47, was proving to be a very capable strategic bomber. Thus,
the combination of mission profile changes, which limited B-47's usefulness and
the emergence of a replacement medium-range bomber and a truly long-range
strategic bomber, led to the retirement of the B-47's after 14 years of service.
Despite its convoluted start, the B-47 program proved
successful. The aircraft served in various roles and was involved in many
experimental projects, some connected to the development of more sophisticated
atomic weapons, like Brass Ring, or with the development of air refueling or
other endeavors of great significance to the Air Force. Strategic Air Command's
last B-47s went into storage in early 1966, while a few converted B-47 bombers
and reconnaissance models kept on paying their way for several more years,
remaining on the Air Force rolls until the end of the 1960s.
In concept, the Boeing B-47 was as revolutionary as the North
American B-45 was conventional. The Stratojet was far ahead of any contemporary
bomber in its performance and operational capability. A total of 2041 of these
aircraft were manufactured, more than any other United States bomber built under
peacetime conditions. As a key element in the Strategic Air Command, the B-47
served in operational squadrons until withdrawn from service in 1966. The
aircraft was used for various types of special operations, however, for at least
another 10 years.
The B-47 was the first pure jet strategic bomber. Its many
unique features included six jet engines; a two-engine, pylon-mounted pod under
each wing near the fuselage; and a single-engine pod further outboard. The wings
were attached high on the fuselage and swept 35 degrees. The design incorporated
a revolutionary bicycle-type, retractable main landing gear with single,
two-wheel struts on the forward and aft fuselage. Outrigger wheels added lateral
stability and retracted into the two-engine pod cowling. The B-47 was 107 feet
long, 28 feet high at the tail, and had a wing span of 116 feet. The crew
consisted of a pilot, copilot, and bombardier. With a maximum gross weight of
about 204,000 pounds, it used solid fuel rocket assist on takeoff. A tail brake
parachute was used to slow down the aircraft during landings.
The design of the wing featured an average thickness ratio of
about 12 percent, an aspect ratio of 9.42, and a sweepback angle of 35 degrees.
Single-slotted flaps located at the trailing edge provided high lift for
landing, and conventional ailerons were used for lateral control. All control
surfaces were hydraulically boosted. Location of the wing near the top of the
fuselage allowed the bomb load to be carried in the fuselage, beneath the wing
and near the center of gravity, and to be released through doors in the bottom
of the fuselage without interference from the structure of' the wing center
section. Further, the shoulder position of the wing allowed adequate ground
clearance for the engine nacelles.
Design of the landing gear posed a problem that led to a novel
solution not seen before on a production airplane. Wing thickness was not large
enough to house the gear and, in addition, the high position of the wing would
have resulted in long, heavy landing-gear struts. The solution of the problem
was found in an unusual bicycle arrangement in which a two-wheel bogie was
located along the fuselage centerline in front of and behind the bomb bay.
Small, retractable outrigger wheels extended from the inboard nacelles to assist
in providing lateral balance while the aircraft was on the ground. The front
bogie could be steered to give the plane the ability to maneuver on the
One of the most innovative features of the B-47 configuration,
and one that was to have a marked influence on future civil and military
aircraft of large size, was the engine mounting. The nacelles containing the
engines were attached to pylons mounted to and extending below the wings. Two
engines were mounted in each of two nacelles, one of which was attached through
a pylon to each wing well outboard of the fuselage. The other two engines were
mounted singly in nacelles nearly flush with the wing and located near the
wingtips. A number of advantages may be cited for the engine arrangement
pioneered by the B-47; namely:
The engine nacelles are widely separated from each other and
the fuselage. Thus, the danger to the aircraft and other engines that results
from the disintegration of one engine is reduced. This advantage is somewhat
nullified in the B-47 because two of the nacelles contain two engines.
The aircraft is easy to balance because the engines can be
located near the aircraft center of gravity.
The weight of the engines mounted outboard on the wing reduces
the wing bending moments in flight.
The engines are easy to maintain and can be readily removed
because of their proximity to the ground. Since the engine inlets are usually
outboard of the spray pattern from the nose and main landing gear, the outboard
wing mounting offers good protection from FOD (foreign object damage) to the
engines when the aircraft is operated on the ground.
A number of disadvantages may also be cited for the type of
engine arrangement employed on the Boeing B-47:
Failure of an engine, particularly during takeoff or climb, may
produce large yawing moments that require immediate correction by the pilot. The
magnitude of the corrective yawing moments required to counteract the
unsymmetrical  thrust in the engine-out condition may determine the
necessary size of the rudder.
A small reduction in maximum lift coefficient may result from
unfavorable interference effects in the nacelle-wing juncture and from the
impingement of the nacelle wake on the wing at high lift coefficients. The
wing-nacelle-pylon relationships must also be carefully tailored, usually in
wind-tunnel studies, to eliminate or minimize any interference drag. A positive
aerodynamic benefit, however, results from the pylons, which act somewhat like
wing fences in alleviating the pitch-up problem so often found in aircraft with
The addition of concentrated weights, such as engines or
stores, is usually thought to reduce the wing flutter speed. The relationship of
the engine center of gravity to the wing elastic axis as well as the dynamic
coupling between the engines and the wing strongly influence the effect of the
engines on the wing flutter speed. These, as well as other relationships, must
be carefully tailored by a detailed process involving mathematical analysis and
wind-tunnel tests. By this means, a reduction in flutter speed can usually be
The dynamic loads imposed on the wing structure during
operations on the ground are usually intensified by the concentrated engine
masses mounted on the wings.
The thin, high-aspect-ratio swept wing of the B-47 coupled with
its long high-fineness-ratio fuselage contributed to the high aerodynamic
efficiency of the aircraft. The maximum lift-drag ratio of about 20 was among
the highest of any aircraft of its era, and the zero-lift drag coefficient was a
low 0.0148. Maximum speed is 607 miles per hour at 16 300 feet; the
corresponding Mach number is 0.85, which is nearly 0.1 higher than that of the
The very features that contributed to the high performance of
the B-47, however, also introduced some new problems that have been present in
the development of all subsequent large jet-powered multiengine aircraft.
Aeroelasticity, the interaction of aerodynamic, elastic,
and inertial forces, has formed a branch of aeronautical engineering for many
years. Because of the flexibility of the long, thin elements of the B-47,
however, the need to consider aeroelastic effects in the basic aircraft design
process assumed critical importance. For example, in static tests the total
deflection of the B-47 wingtip was 17 feet from maximum positive to negative
deflection. Areas in which aeroelasticity are important are stability, control,
loads, and, of course, flutter.
Flutter is a phenomenon in which an aircraft or one of
its components, such as a wing or control surface, extracts energy from the
moving airstream and converts it to a harmonic oscillation of the structure that
may grow in amplitude until total destruction occurs. Flutter analysis and
prediction is an arcane science in which flutter prediction and design for its
avoidance have historically been the subject of detailed mathematical analysis.
Uncertainties as to the nature of oscillating air forces, however, as well as
the complex participation of the entire aircraft in the various structural
vibration modes made mandatory the development of new experimental wind-tunnel
techniques for studying these phenomena during development of the B-47.
Flutter tests and analyses had usually been limited to
individual components of the aircraft such as the wing plus aileron or
horizontal and vertical tail surfaces. The aircraft as an entity was usually not
considered in the determination of the critical flutter speed, nor was such
consideration necessary. However, the concentration of large masses beneath the
wings, together with the high degree of flexibility of the wings and other
components of the aircraft, required that motions of the complete airplane be
considered in determining the critical flutter speeds of the B-47. Both
symmetrical and antisymmetrical flutter modes needed to be studied. In a
symmetrical mode, each wing deforms in exactly the same way, and the motion of
the wings is accompanied by a vertical, up-and-down, and pitching motion of the
fuselage. In antisymmetrical flutter, the wings on either side of the fuselage
deform in exactly opposite directions, and the wing motion is accompanied by a
rolling and yawing of the fuselage.
Wind-tunnel techniques were devised by the Boeing Company to
deal with this complex problem. A 3/8-inch rod extended from the floor to the
ceiling of the tunnel test section. The model was attached to a gimbal joint
located at the center of gravity. The gimbal allowed freedom in pitch and yaw,
and was itself attached to the vertical rod by an arrangement of rollers that
allowed the model freedom in vertical translation. Snubber lines were used to
arrest the vertical motion of the model if it became too large or
uncontrollable. At each tunnel speed, the aircraft model was trimmed so that the
lift force balanced the weight of the model. Pitch trim was maintained as the
tunnel speed varied by remote adjustment of a tab on the horizontal tall.
Limited rolling freedom was provided by looseness in the gimbal joint and
flexibility in the mounting rod. The model was constructed in such a way as to
simulate the stiffness and mass properties of the aircraft and, accordingly, was
quite complex and expensive to design and build.
The technique was successfully employed in the development of
the B-47 as a means for identifying flutter-critical combinations of speed and
altitude and development of design fixes for flutter avoidance. The mounting rod
limits the usefulness of the technique to fairly low subsonic speeds because of
aerodynamic interference effects associated with the formation of shock waves on
the rod at high subsonic Mach numbers. The complete model flutter tests made on
the B-47 were carried out in a low-speed wind tunnel, and the results were then
adjusted for estimated Mach number effects. Later techniques developed by NACA
and NASA allow flutter tests of complete airplane models to be made at high
subsonic and transonic Mach numbers in a wind tunnel especially designed for
high-speed flutter investigations.
The aluminum skin of the B-47 varied in thickness on different
parts of the aircraft and had to be machined carefully to produce the proper
taper. The structural members, made of strong, light, heat-resisting metals such
as titanium, required extensive machining on high-powered, high-torque,
low-speed machines, because such metals were much harder to cut than aluminum.
While the techniques of assembling the aircraft had not changed much, the
process had returned to the handcrafting methods of the 1930s because the
airplanes were so complex and packed with electronic equipment. This process was
a major factor in the skyrocketing costs of the new aircraft.
The B-47 was manned by a crew of three. Two pilots sat in a
tandem arrangement under a bubble-type canopy in a manner similar to that of a
fighter; a bombardier-navigator sat in an enclosed compartment located in the
nose of the aircraft. Upward-firing ejection seats were provided for the pilots,
and the bombardier was equipped with a downward-firing ejection seat. Crew
compartments were heated, ventilated, and pressurized. As fast or faster than
most fighters, the Stratojet was equipped with only two 20-mm cannons situated
in a remotely controlled turret located in the tail of the aircraft. Aiming and
firing of these guns was the duty of the copilot whose seat could be rotated
180° to face rearward.
For assistance in the landing maneuver, the B-47 was equipped
with a drag chute that was deployed during the approach. The added drag of the
parachute aided in controlling the speed and the flight-path angle during this
phase of the landing maneuver. Once on the runway, a large braking chute was
deployed to assist in stopping the aircraft. An interesting insight into the
airport performance of the B-47 is provided by a comparison of its stalling
speed of 175 miles per hour with the cruising speed of 182 miles per hour for
the World War II B-17G. Not surprisingly, the length of hard-surface runways at
military air fields increased dramatically in the years following World War II.
Although the B-47 was equipped with six 7200-pound-thrust (with
water injection) turbojet engines, the thrust-to-weight ratio at maximum gross
weight was only 0.22, which, coupled with its high stalling speed, resulted in a
long takeoff. To reduce the takeoff field length, the aircraft was initially
equipped with 18 short-duration booster rockets. These units were an integral
part of the aircraft and were known by the acronym JATO (jet-assisted takeoff).
Nine JATO nozzles were located on each side of the fuselage. On some later
versions of the aircraft, weight was saved by replacing the integral JATO units
with an external rack containing the rockets which could be jettisoned. In this
installation, 33 rockets of 1000 pounds thrust each were provided.
By post-World War II standards, the B-47 was classified as a
medium bomber; but with a gross weight of 198,180 pounds, the B-47E was far
heavier than any bomber flown in World War II (the gross weight of the B-29 was
120 000 pounds), and it ranked second only to the 357,500-pound B-36D as the
heaviest aircraft operated by the United States Air Force in the early 1950's.
Designed as a strategic bomber, the B-47 also filled various other roles such as
photoreconnaissance. In its design role as a strategic bomber, the B-47 could
deliver a 10,845-pound weapons load at a mission radius of 2013 miles. Ferry
range was 4,035 miles. With air-to-air refueling, which became standard
operating procedure following the close of World War II, both the mission radius
and the ferry range were greatly increased, and targets in Eastern Europe could
be reached from bases in the United States with sufficient range potential to
allow safe return to friendly territory.
Development of the B-47 can be traced back to June 1943, when
an informal Army Air Forces (AAF) request led several aircraft manufacturers to
begin design studies of multi jet aircraft that could be used for fast
photographic reconnaissance or medium bomber missions. Requirements had to be
readied and money had to be found before a formal announcement could be made.
Yet the procedure followed in June 1943 was not unusual and could only benefit
the AAF. In this case, it might also have had the distinct advantage of keeping
Boeing engineers busy and preventing them from drifting to Navy projects upon
completion of their work on the development of a long range bomber. The AAF
already knew that Convair had pretty well clinched the long range bomber program
(a B-36 production order had just been issued) and that the concurrent
procurement of a similar bomber was out of the question. (Boeing did not receive
a study contract for its “long range” XB-52 until mid 1946.)
General Electric's successful development of an axial flow jet
engine, easier to install in wing nacelles than previous jet types, came at the
same time as the manufacturers began design studies. This undoubtedly was
important. Boeing and several other companies quickly included the new engine in
their planning. But more crucial to the aircraft's development was Boeing's use
at war's end of captured German research data on the design of swept back wings.
This led in 1947 to the sensational XB-47.
The informal requirements of 1943 became official on November
17, 1944. The AAF issued military characteristics for a jet propelled medium
bomber with a range of 3,500 miles, a service ceiling of 45,000 feet, an average
speed of 450 miles per hour, and a top speed of 550. Besides the Boeing Airplane
Company of Seattle, Washington, the other firms North American Aviation,
Convair, and the Glenn L. Martin Company entered the design competition prompted
by these requirements. The Boeing entry (Model-432), designated the XB-47 by the
AAF, was a straight wing design resembling a B-29 with much thinner wings and
carrying 4 of the new General Electric axial flow jet engines. To overcome
problems experienced with the engine pod nacelles of a previous design, Boeing
had buried the new engines inside the fuselage of Model 432. All designs
submitted by the other companies featured wing nacelles for housing the jet
engines. Letter contracts for development and mockups of the 3 designs were
awarded in the fall of 1944, resulting in the North American XB-45, Convair
XB-46, and Martin XB-48. Of these, only the North American XB-45 ever went into
The letter contract came on 1 February 1945. This letter
contract authorized Boeing to spend up to $150,000 (against an estimated $1.5
million set aside for development) in a Phase I (wind tunnel) study of Model
432, Boeing's first entry in the recently opened medium bomber competition. The
model nevertheless was rejected on the grounds that the location of the engines
could be unsafe. The AAF actually thought that Boeing engineers should do more
research in the basic jet problems associated with high speed bombers. To
achieve superiority in the air would require a new concept superior to any of
the current bomber designs. Early in September, Boeing revised the original
configuration of Model 432 and proposed its first swept wing bomber design.
Labeled Model 448 (the AAF designation remained XB-47), the new aircraft
featured a thin wing swept back and 2 more engines--a total of 6 engines. The
AAF liked the wing configuration of Model 448, but still insisted that housing
engines inside a fuselage created a fire hazard. Besides, externally mounted
engines were easier to maintain and replace, which could add years to the
service life of an aircraft. Boeing's hasty return to the drawing board resulted
in Model 450, which carried 6 jet engines hung under the wings in pods--2 pairs
in strut mounted inboard nacelles and single units attached directly under the
wing, at a distance of 8 feet from the wing tip. The AAF promptly approved Model
450 in October 1945.
In December, a technical instruction authorized contractual
negotiations for the development of two experimental aircraft. The AAF endorsed
Boeing's proposal to build and test two fully operational XB-47's for
$9,357,800, counting the $1.5 million that had been set aside for development of
the straight wing design (Model 432) initially submitted by Boeing. The proposed
planes would be bare of any tactical equipment, but necessary space would be
provided. The subsequent discovery that more equipment space was needed and that
some structural changes had to be made raised Boeing's original quotation to
$9,441,407. This figure also was approved, after the Wright Field price control
experts concluded that the XB-47's cost of $95 per airframe pound was reasonable
and considerably lower than the corresponding costs of the XB-45 and XB-48
bombers. Nonetheless, the letter contract of February 1945 was not officially
amended until 17 April 1946 (after completion of the XB-47 mockup).
The XB-47 mockup was completed, inspected, and approved in the
spring of 1946. Army Air Forces personnel attending the XB-47 mockup seemed
impressed. Just the same, the Mockup Committee suggested major changes in the
nose compartment, pilot and co pilot seating, and landing gear arrangement. The
Chief of the AAF Requirements Division cautioned that any additional weight
would cut down the speed of the XB-47, thus defeating the purpose for which the
plane was designed.
Even though the XB-47 mockup had been well received,
development of the experimental plane took longer than expected. Actual work
began in June 1946, but progress was hampered by problems with the aircraft
landing gear (The XB-47's thin swept wing eliminated any possibility of
suspending a landing gear or retracting one into it. The problem was solved,
however, with the installation of a tandem gear, fairly similar to the type
previously tested on a Martin B-26. The new arrangement had an additional
advantage: reducing the XB-47's weight by 1,500 pounds), control surfaces, as
well as bottlenecks in power plant installations. The initial lack of overtime
pay for the Boeing personnel did not help. All told, a 6 month slippage
It took a year and a half to complete the contractual
negotiations initiated by the technical instruction of December 1945. The
definitive fixed price contract (W33-038-ac-8429) of July 1947 called for two
stripped XB-47s, spare parts, mockups of the completed airplane and fuselage,
wing tunnel tests, and research data at a total cost of almost $9.7
million--about $25,000 more than the cost of the amended letter contract of
April 1946, which the fixed price contract superseded. Moreover, the AAF
estimated that post test flight changes most likely would raise the aggregate
cost of the contract to more than $10.5 million—a prediction that did materialize. By February
1950, numerous change orders had brought total costs near the $12 million mark.
The first XB-47 rolled out of the Seattle factory in the same
month that the United States Air Force was established. The plane was even more
startling than the spectacular B-17 Flying Fortress had been 12 years before.
The swept wing had already been used experimentally by the Bell Aircraft
Corporation on two modified P-63 King Cobras and by North American on the XP-86,
first flown in October 1947, but this was the first time the design appeared on
a large American jet.
The experimental B-47 was flown from Seattle to nearby Moses
Lake Air Force Base, Washington, to begin a series of extensive flight tests.
Bad weather delayed the flight until 17 December 1947. 44 years to the day after
the Wright brothers' first manned flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
The Air Force flew the first XB-47 (Serial No. 46-065) for
about 83 hours, including nearly 38 hours of Phase II flight tests that were
accomplished between 8 July and 15 August 1948. The contractor tested the XB-47
during most of the aircraft's 6 years of life, accumulating more than 330 hours
of test flights in the process. In 1954, having been stripped of wings and
engines, the experimental B-47 was cut in two and exhibited at Palm Beach Air
Force Base, Florida.
The Boeing pilots that first flew the XB-47 liked it. After
completion of the first phase of testing, a Boeing pilot remarked, “The plane
still is doing much better than anyone had a right to expect. We‘re still
exploring one thing at a time, but every door we've kicked open so far has had
good things inside.” Just the same, the XB-47's overall performance proved
disappointing. Its maximum altitude was 2,500 feet below the 40,000 foot ceiling
proposed by Boeing and 7,500 feet lower than originally required by the AAF. Its
speed was also slower than expected. In fact, in mid 1949 the XB-47 exchanged
its six J35-GE-7/9 engines for the larger 5,200 pound thrust J47-GE-3s that
equipped the second XB-47 from the start.
The Air Force accepted the first XB-47 conditionally (minus
certain equipment to be installed later by Boeing) on 29 November 1948. The
second XB-47, first flown in mid 1948, was accepted the following month, under
the same conditions. The Air Force took delivery of the experimental planes in
December 1948, but lent them to the contractor in subsequent years. Like its
predecessor, the second XB-47 was extensively tested. Boeing logged almost 100
hours of test flights; the Air Force logged more than 237.
This haste in the long run hampered both development and
production. By August 1950, the Air Force had recommended some 2,000 changes,
making it almost impossible to settle on an acceptable production type.
Meanwhile, Boeing had begun to step up production. By mid 1951, B-47Bs were
flowing in ever increasing numbers from the Wichita line but had to await the
modifications and equipment that would make them suitable for combat. Despite an
overall production slippage of nearly a full year, components subcontracted by
Boeing as well as government furnished equipment and parts were still behind
schedule. General LeMay was adamant in pointing out that failure to develop
component systems in phase with production of the new bomber was an indication
of bankruptcy in United States Air Force procurement policy. The Strategic Air
Command Commander also thought that the United States Air Force Armament
Laboratory was not capable of satisfying the Air Force's needs.
By mid 1952, the B-47’s development was still under way.
Requirements kept expanding, special mission modifications were requested, and
the Air Force again considered various redesigns of the aircraft's propulsion
In view of the B-47's sweeping new features, it was envisioned
from the start that development and testing would be involved as well as
lengthy. (The development and test phase, mostly completed in mid 1953 (after
some 50,000 flight test hours), exceeded the original time estimate by almost 4
years) The XB-47's early flight tests quickly confirmed this expectation. Hence,
the Air Force on 7 April 1950 endorsed an unusual operational suitability test,
known as Project WIBAC (Wichita Boeing Aircraft Company). This meant that before
the B-47 could be delivered to Strategic Air Command's operational units, the
aircraft and its equipment would be thoroughly tested at Wichita by Air Proving
Ground Command and Strategic Air Command personnel. Early WIBAC appraisals of
the B-47 gave the Air Force something to think about. In mid 1951, Strategic Air
Command observers liked the airplane, but noted that the airframe and engines
were much more advanced than the component systems. Moreover, designers and
manufacturers of component parts, as well as the numerous subcontractors
producing such items as relays, fuel selector valves, booster pumps, and the
like, were not in tune with the sophisticated designs necessary for such a high
performance aircraft. As a result, Boeing was forced to fit the B-47 with the
same type of equipment that had caused so much difficulty in the B-29s and
Besides, WIBAC promised to provide statistics on parts
consumption, parts failures, and engine life. Guiding data on service testing,
maintenance procedures, base facilities, and training needs were also part of
the deal. The ambitious WIBAC task soon proved overwhelming. While no B-47Bs had
reached WIBAC by mid 1951, the project was already in trouble. In August, WIBAC
requested review of the whole B-47 program production, allocation, requirements,
and operational deficiencies. In September 1951, United States Air Force test
pilots pointed out that many of the modifications made to the B-47Bs had
negatively impacted flying qualities, making the plane unstable at high
altitudes and hard to maneuver.
The impasse reported by WIBAC led to a conference in October
1951, attended by many top Air Force generals. Most conferees seemed to believe
that WIBAC, and more specifically the office of the B-47 project officer, had
been given an impossible job. Opinions differed, however, on how some of the
difficulties encountered could have been avoided or at least reduced. Maj. Gen.
Bryan L. Boatner, Commanding General of the Air Proving Ground, thought better
results could have been secured had Air Research and Development Command and Air
Materiel Command (AMC) contributed technical personnel and stationed them
permanently at WIBAC as Strategic Air Command (Strategic Air Command) and Air
Proving Ground did. Lieuktenant General Earle E. Partridge, who headed the
research and development command, commented that the concentration of all B-47
tests at Wichita had been a mistake. Generals Partridge and Boatner agreed that
the B-47 was a very complicated piece of equipment and that the production
problems were the greatest ever experienced. Then, General Twining (Vice Chief
of Staff since October 1950) said that the B-47 problem fell to the Air Staff
and that it would be solved. To this end, a so called refinement program was set
to begin in early 1952 at the United States Air Force Grand Central Plant in
Tucson, Arizona. The minimum modifications to make the B-47 combat ready were
lined up, Strategic Air Command alone suggesting close to 50. Maj. Gen. Thomas
S. Power, Strategic Air Command's Vice Commander, pointed out that his command
was more familiar than most with the bomber's deficiencies. He announced that an
engineering operational program in the 306th Wing would get under way in early
1952. This program, General Power stated, should help significantly in speeding
Advanced procurement plans were finalized in November 1951 on
the heels of the October conference by a definitive contract for 445 additional
aircraft. This number was reduced to 395 in March 1952, after more realistic
production schedules were endorsed.
As the B-47 bomb bay was designed to carry atomic bombs, no
additional framework installation was required. Bomb racks, sway braces, hoists,
and other equipment items were attached from the start to the airframe,
specifically to the bomb bay fuel tank floor. Just the same, production and
operational difficulties with the aircraft itself prompted a further cutback in
the B-47B's atomic capability in April 1952. The Air Force decided at the time
that the first 89 B-47Bs would not be required to carry any atomic bombs, and
that the next 80 aircraft would only be expected to handle two specific types of
bombs. While some of this early planning changed, a directive that all
subsequent B-47Bs would be able to carry low density atomic bombs could not be
satisfied. Despite all efforts, the high speed B-47s proved unable to release
subject bombs at altitudes below 30,000 feet.
Explosive decompression tests in 1951 proved the B-47's
original canopy unsafe for high altitude combat operations. A sectionalized
canopy was the answer, but would not be available for some time. Another major
problem was the lack of ejection seats in the B-47B. Strategic Air Command had
long believed that ejection type seats were the safest method of egress from
high speed aircraft. Boeing studies on the subject had shown it would be
impossible to get out of an uncontrolled B-47 without ejection seats. Escaping
under controlled flight conditions would even be hazardous without them.
Although the 10 B-47As had ejection seats, these were operationally marginal.
Therefore, in the interest of saving weight at least until the B-47 reached a
4,000 nautical mile range a group of senior officers (including some from
Strategic Air Command) had decided to dispense with the seats. Strategic Air
Command's ensuing objections were to no avail, but its request in mid 1950 for
reinstatement of the seats was finally approved. Still it became obvious in
December 1951 that ejection seats would not be incorporated in production for
quite a while.
Providing satisfactory ejection seats for the B-47's three man
crew entailed the relocation of important pieces of equipment. Air Material
Command estimated this might require as many as 26,000 engineering man hours. In
addition, much more was involved to ensure crew safety. In fact, high speed
testing of the approved seats (upward for pilot and co pilot; downward for the
navigator) was still going on in December 1952.
As many as 400 B-47s would not have any ejection seats, and
this was far more than Strategic Air Command had been prepared to accept. Since
retrofit of the aircraft then seemed economically impossible, the only
alternative was to settle for the next best means of egress. To begin with, this
called for development of a redesigned dinghy. It was difficult to maneuver from
the crew positions to the escape hatch with the present dinghy attached to the
parachute harness. Yet, in an emergency, there seldom was time to attach the
raft after leaving one's seat.
The K-2 bombing and navigation system, like the early K-1 of
many B-36s, was unreliable and hard to maintain. The 1,600 pound K-2 contained
41 major components, totaling some 370 vacuum tubes and close to 20,000 separate
parts. Since the B-47 was compact, the K-2 equipment had been scattered
throughout the aircraft. Many of the system's parts were outside of the plane's
pressurized area. Hence, no in-flight maintenance was possible and high abort
rates were to be expected. Maintenance on the ground was nearly as difficult.
Preflight checking took too long, 8 hours, compared to 1 hour for checking
almost the same system on the B-36.
By mid 1952 the K-2 had been made to work somehow, but still
needed improvement even after additional modifications had brought about its
redesignation as the K-4. The Emerson A-2 tail defense system, earmarked for the
B-47, was canceled before the end of the year in favor of the General Electric
A-5. Development of the system could be traced back to 1946, when the XB-47 was
first reviewed by the AMC's armament laboratory the same laboratory General
LeMay still took to task in 1951. Engineers believed that the Emerson built tail
turret, referred to as the A-1 fire control system and intended for the North
American B-45, could be fitted into the B-47 without altering the turret's basic
mechanism. With Boeing's concurrence, the Air Force in June 1948 asked Emerson
to design for the B-47 a turret gunner cab similar to that of the B-45, but
providing sufficient comfort for missions of long duration. The project quickly
became so complicated that it was given up. A remote controlled system that
would be operated by one of the flight crew members appeared more feasible. This
gave way to the A-2 fire control system, a system eliminating the need for a
tail gunner. This A-2 was due to provide accurate defensive fire for protection
of the B-47 and to perform, although not simultaneously, both search and track.
The A-2, after being fitted into the tail of a B-29, was successfully tested
under Project Hornet. Moreover, in theory, the A-2 was superior to the APG-32
built by the General Electric Company for the B-36. In practice, however, while
major APG-32 problems could be solved, the A-2's basic suitability for the B-47
remained too questionable to warrant its retention.
The decision, based on Project WIBAC's recommendation, proved
sound but posed an immediate problem. No A-5 fire control systems were available
and none were to be expected prior to 1953. In the meantime, it was mandatory
for Strategic Air Command that a makeshift system be devised. Retrofit of early
B-47s with a 2 gun turret and an N-6 optical sight was the chosen solution. This
would at least give the aircraft some kind of defense. Although contrary to
plans, the extra modification was included in the refinement program that had
been endorsed during the conference of October 1951. Not surprisingly, further
pioneer difficulties were encountered. One was fuel boil off and fuel purging,
found more critical in jet bombers. The B-47 was designed for maximum speed and
range at a high altitude, and the sooner it reached that altitude, the better.
Yet, at high altitudes fuel boil and loss of fuel occurred, reducing the
aircraft's range which, in any case, remained far shorter than required in early
1944. Development of JP-4 fuel, after numerous experiments, appeared to solve
much of the problem, but production quantities would not be available until
January 1952. Again, purging fuel tanks required the use of dry ice, which would
be difficult to purchase in areas where the B-47s were expected to operate,
especially when the aircraft would be operating overseas. Development of
portable dry ice manufacturing equipment was a partial answer. A new exhaust gas
purging system, being devised by AMC, would be more dependable and less
hazardous. It would require no additional maintenance and provide greater and
longer protection for more fuel volume than the dry ice system. This was all for
the best but, as with every new system, the AMC development would take time.
There were extenuating circumstances for the ailing B-47
program. As Maj. Gen. Albert Boyd, the Wright Air Development Center's
Commander, explained in 1952:
“There is a limit to what we can do, or for that matter, what
anyone can do, toward developing a radically new airplane in record time, and
we, no more than anyone else, are capable of pulling a rabbit out of our hats or
cranking out a new aircraft that meets all the desires of the operating
Yet, the impact of the B-47 slippage was serious from the
start. To prepare for, operate, and maintain a weapon system as revolutionary as
the B-47 presented a tremendous challenge.
Strategic Air Command confronted numerous problems, some of
them crucial. Bases had to be prepared for the B-47, particularly by lengthening
runways. Since the aircraft's range did not meet requirements, air refueling was
a necessity. This complicated matters. Extra troop housing, maintenance
facilities, equipment and supply were needed to support B-47 squadrons and their
accompanying KC-97 tankers. Training problems came to the fore. Briefly stated,
the all jet B-47, with its crew of 3, played havoc with Strategic Air Command
personnel policies. Large numbers of people became excess, whereas hundreds of
others were needed to fill specialties peculiar to jet aircraft. All kinds of
mechanics and supervisors had to be retrained for the B-47. Moreover, Strategic
Air Command and other United States Air Force commands never had used pilot
observers. Since the B-47 demanded quadruple rated air crewmen, ATC had to turn
pilots into proficient navigators, bombardiers, and radar operators.
The production delay meant that conversion plans had to be
shuffled many times over. Strategic Air Command was told in 1949 to get ready
for the early conversion of certain units to B-47 aircraft. It learned in
September that 108 B-47s would be forthcoming during the years 1950 and 1951. In
the spring of 1950, if the Air Force was in a jam, it was because of the B-47,
Strategic Air Command refused to get into further trouble programming for
conversions too far in advance of aircraft delivery dates. The command chose to
go ahead with the 306th and 305th conversions, but to postpone deciding which
other wings would convert to B-47s and in what order. Meanwhile. Strategic Air
Command had inherited a new problem. After both air and ground crew training had
been rushed, Strategic Air Command wondered how to keep crew proficiency when it
had no planes to fly or to look after. Of small consolation, no such coverages
existed in the K system and armament category where, besides technical factors,
personnel training lagged behind due to lack of tools, test equipment, and
Then, slippage of the refinement program, which now appeared
unavoidable, would further dilute the command's readiness. Each month lost
forced Strategic Air Command to be ready to fight with even more outmoded B-29s
and B-50s. To make it worse, everyone knew that when at long last available, the
modified B-47Bs would give Strategic Air Command only a basic combat aircraft
and that considerable modifications were still to come.
The program, due to begin in January 1952, involved the
modification of 310 B-47Bs. Instead of 400, the first 90 aircraft went to Air
Training Command as they were. The command later received 90 other B-47s. These
planes had been through the refinement program, but their modification did not
include the addition of the interim B-4 fire control system that was fitted in
every B-47 modified for Strategic Air Command. Strategic Air Command expected
its first modified planes in July and a monthly input of 75 by year's end. This
was optimistic. As predicted by AMC, the Grand Central Depot of Tucson could not
possibly handle such a workload without greatly expanding facilities and
manpower. This would take time and money, and neither could really be spared.
The Air Force found a way out of its new dilemma. Boeing agreed to modify 90 of
the aircraft (for about $10 million) and Douglas was also asked to help. Douglas
agreed to modify 8 aircraft per month in Tulsa. Boeing promised to fix the
planes in Tucson, but saturation of the existing facilities changed this
planning. To keep its commitment, Boeing shifted the work to Wichita. The
contractor was actually able to modify 40 of the planes directly on the assembly
The original modification schedule nevertheless slipped. First,
it proved difficult to assemble the necessary modification kits. Then, there
were not enough kits. In September 1952, Strategic Air Command's few B-47s were
grounded because of serious fuel cell leakages. This again slowed the refinement
program, since it obviously required an extra inspection of the aircraft being
Yet, despite its shaky start, the program fulfilled its
requirements. Strategic Air Command received its first batch of modified B-47s
in October, a 3 month slippage that was to prove of slight importance. The last
modified B-47s flowed from the Douglas modification center in October 1953.
Back in late 1951, mechanical failures and a myriad of minor
obstacles had caused the B-47 production to slip again. Yet, in the face of
persistent shortages of contractor furnished equipment and government furnished
parts, production took a turn for the better in the spring of 1952. The
improvement soon gained momentum. By mid 1953, production was running smoothly
and Boeing was rolling out new configurations (B/RB-47Es). Just getting started,
Douglas, Tulsa, had already built 10 B-47Bs; Lockheed, Marietta, 7. In addition,
two projects were in progress since January 1953. The first and most important
one was Baby Grand. It was conducted by Boeing and would add the A-5 fire
control system in 54 new B-47s (units 400-454). The other, Field Goal, was in
the hands of Douglas. It would improve 86 (units 1-86) of the 90 unmodified
B-77s, first allocated to Air Training Command.
Even though all modifications covered by the refinement program
were incorporated into the production line of the 410th and subsequent B-47's,
much remained to be done. Despite the Baby Grand modification, these aircraft,
as well as the modified B-47Bs, did not meet the Air Force's expectations. There
were other problems. In the hope of improving performance quickly, complex
engineering changes had been introduced into the production line at
approximately every fifth aircraft. This had essentially resulted in making the
aircraft's maintenance far more difficult and its logistical support almost
nightmarish. A standardization conference was held at Wichita in April 1953.
There, Boeing's 731st B-47 production, a B-47E referred to as WIBAC Unit 731,
was established as the Strategic Air Command standardization bomber.
In June the Air Council reaffirmed the April decision and
officially endorsed Boeing's WIBAC Unit 731 as the “improved combat
configuration.” It took the other two contractors little more than a year to
follow suit. Douglas Unit 125, delivered in September 1954, and Lockheed Unit
128, delivered 1 month before, were the same as WIBAC Unit 731.
In the same month, Headquarters United States Air Force
approved Turn Around, an AMC modification plan that would bring 114 new B-47s
(units 617-730) to the 731st configuration. The Turn Around plan was clever. The
Air Force would conditionally accept the 114 aircraft, but leave them at the
Boeing plant for modification. The same procedure could be followed on other
occasions. In this first case, it would save more than $7 million by eliminating
the costly process of bringing back 114 aircraft for modernization after
delivery. Turn Around, however, did not address the problem presented by in
service B-47s. This was to be covered by High Noon, a major modification and
IRAN (inspect and repair as necessary) maintenance program, approved before the
end of May.
Strategic Air Command was always the first to seek further B-47
improvement. In the meantime, however, the command intended to make ample use of
its newly assigned planes. After testing exhaustively in early 1953 the modified
B-47B under simulated combat conditions, Strategic Air Command decided the 306th
(its first fully equipped wing) was ready for a 90 day rotational training
mission to England. The 306th's deployment originated at MacDill Air Force Base
and involved equal flights of 15 B-47s on 3, 4, and 5 June. Establishing a
precedent that would be followed many times in the future, the B-47s staged
through Limestone Air Force Base, Maine, where they remained overnight before
going on the next day. They landed at Fairford Royal Air Force Station on the
4th, 5th, and 6th of June. The 306th Air Refueling Squadron's KC-97s, crammed
with support personnel and equipment, deployed on the same dates as the B-47s.
MacDill Air Force Base’s 306th Air Refueling Squadron was the
first unit to begin equipping with the KC-97 tanker. Its first aircraft, a
KC-97E, was delivered on 14 July 1951. Outfitted with a flying boom and loaded
with fuel tanks, the 4 engine, propeller driven KC-97 could fly fast enough to
match the minimum speed of the B-47. It transformed the B-47 into an
intercontinental bomber. Each KC-97 squadron was authorized 20 aircraft.
As far as Strategic Air Command was concerned, proper support
of the B-47s was of prime importance. In this regard, past production slippage
had alleviated anticipated problems. Lagging supply programs had been able to
pull abreast, and in some cases exceed wing requirements. For instance, the
306th had on hand nearly 90 percent of its equipment items by the end of 1951.
Later, Snowtime, a project conceived by Strategic Air Command, minimized supply
difficulties. Snowtime required storage in only 1 depot (Rome, Griffiss Air
Force Base, N.Y.) of parts and equipment that would be needed at B-47 bases at
the time of conversion. Sea Weed, a similar project for the overseas B-47 bases,
after a tough debut, also helped.
The 306th stopped overnight at Ernest Harmon Air Force Base,
Newfoundland, and then flew on to Mildenhall Royal Air Force Station.
Maintaining one or more bomb wings in the United Kingdom was nothing new. B-29
and B-50 wings had been rotating there since 1948. Just the same, the 306th
rotational deployment was a milestone. Although a handful of specially modified
B-45s had arrived in England in 1952, the move of the 306th there was the first
routine deployment of a fully operational jet bomber wing. Moreover, the policy
of maintaining at least 1 B-47 wing in England at all times would continue until
early 1958. Once started, the deployments were uninterrupted. When the 306th's
90 day rotation was over, the 305th was ready. By the time the 305th's tour was
nearing its end, the 22nd Bomb Wing had completed the transition to B-47s and
was poised for departure.
Although modified B-47Bs were indispensable either at home or
overseas, the Air Force did not lose sight of its April 1953 standardization
decision. Yet, Strategic Air Command operational priorities made it necessary to
adjust the High Noon program that was due to modernize the bulk of the early
airplanes. As finally approved in June 1953, 165 (units 235-399) of Strategic
Air Command's 289 modified B-47s would first go to High Noon. High Noon was the
code name assigned to the major modification and maintenance program, approved
in May 1953. To the maximum extent possible, the rest of the early planes,
including those remaining in Strategic Air Command's inventory, would also be
brought to the 731st configuration. This would be done under Ebb Tide, now
organized as High Noon's second phase, but would not affect the AMC's 2 year
IRAN maintenance program that had been attached to High Noon from the start. Ebb
Tide was another code name, the use of which, like that of High Noon, simplified
matters when dealing with a complicated standardization project of exceptional
The High Noon contract was assigned to Boeing. The choice was
logical since the first 399 B-47s had all been assembled by Boeing from Boeing
parts. Moreover, AMC was confident Boeing could do the work better, faster and
cheaper than anyone else. High Noon was essentially a retrofit kit installation.
Nevertheless, it was a complicated task, calling for removal, rebuilding, and
reinstallation of many component systems, as well as major revisions of the
aircraft nose and cockpit. B-47s earmarked for High Noon began arriving at WIBAC
in June 1954, and 36 of them had entered the modification line by February 1955.
The first renovated B-47 emerged from its “face lifting” operation on 2 March.
It featured ejection seats for all crew members [Editor’s Note: this was long
past due], a bombing navigation system with improved reliability (still the K
system, but more dependable as a result of Reliable, a separate modification
project that had simplified installation and maintenance), water-alcohol
injection for thrust augmentation, an expanded rack for rocket bottle take off
assist units, a modified bomb bay that could house the single sling, high
density, thermonuclear bomb as well as more general purpose bombs, a reinforced
landing gear for increased take off weight (202,000 pounds), the A-5 fire
control system (in place of the B-4), and the AN/ARC-21 long range liaison
There were no major problems during the High Noon modification
of Strategic Air Command's 165 B-4711s. The Boeing contract met its early 1956
completion date and was immediately replaced by Ebb Tide, which also took place
in Wichita. Ebb Tide addressed itself to the first 324 B-47s built by Boeing.
The program did not cover all the aircraft. Only specific lots, or about two
thirds of the 324 planes, went to Ebb Tide. 3 Of these, selected from units
135-234, would undergo the same transformation as the High Noon planes and
return to Strategic Air Command in the configuration of WIBAC Unit 731. Another
108 of the early productions, out of units 1-134, would be modernized for Air
Training Command. [The Air Training Command planes, subsequently known as
TB-47s, closely resembled Strategic Air Command's B-47s, but they carried no
defensive armament or electronic countermeasures equipment. They could not be
air refueled and could not drop bombs. Also, take off and range had not been
improved by modifications.] In the process, they would exchange their J47-23
engines for the more powerful J47-25s of the other B-47Bs. Finally, 30 planes
would be brought to the High Noon standard and be converted to director aircraft
(DB-47Bs) for the forthcoming Rascal missiles. The DB-47Bs would carry the
missiles to within 90 nautical miles of the target before launching and guiding
Early in 1953, just as the B-47 program was being revitalized,
it seemed new and much bigger problems were on the way. President Eisenhower's
defense and fiscal policies did affect the Air Force's development and
procurement plans. In September, the 143 wing program was reduced to an interim
120 wings. As anticipated, the B-47 did not emerge from the crisis unscathed.
Yet, all things considered, it fared well. Peak procurement, once expected to
reach almost 2,200, was cut by 140 (Ten contracts, 7 negotiated and 3 pending,
had projected total B-47 procurement to be 2,190. Naturally, as design prime
contractor, Boeing had the major portion of the business—four contracts versus Douglas‘s one and
Lockheed‘s two. The three companies similarly farmed out 50 percent of the B-47
parts to various subcontractors scattered throughout the country). But a further
reduction of 200 aircraft, considered in October, was avoided. Instead the Air
Force instituted a 20 month stretch out of production, pending full scale
rolling of the B-52 lines. In contrast to the B-36 program so often on the verge
of collapse, no significant attempt was ever made to cancel production of the
The production improvement, achieved with the B-47B in 1953,
did not falter. Once underway, B-47E deliveries stayed on schedule. By December,
Strategic Air Command had 8 B-47 Medium Bomb Wings; 1 other wing was partially
equipped; 5 more had no B-47s assigned, but were scheduled to receive the new
aircraft. In December 1954 (The 3 contractors achieved monthly peak production
in 1954 Boeing rolled out 29 planes in September; Douglas, 11 in March, and
Lockheed, 13 in May), three months after total retirement of the B-29 bombers,
the inventory counted 17 fully equipped B-47 wings. Marking the beginning of an
all jet medium bomb force in Strategic Air Command, the last propeller driven
bombers (B-50s of the 97th Wing) were phased out in July 1955. Six months later,
22 medium bomb wings had received their B-47 contingents, and another 5 wings
were getting ready for the new bombers. Conversion of the Strategic Air Command
forces did not necessarily mean that the B-47s were totally free of problems.
Nevertheless, it only took until December 1956 for Strategic Air Command to
accumulate 27 combat ready B-47 wings, a phenomenal increase from 12 wings in
July of the same year (In December Strategic Air Command had 1,204 combat ready
B-47 crews and 1,306 B-47 aircraft assigned).
In addition to materiel failures and component shortages,
training problems limited the combat readiness of Strategic Air Command's B-47
wings. Some argued that the B-47—be it the
earliest B-47A or the latest B-47E was not inherently hard to fly. Others more
realistically emphasized that the flying techniques for the new jet aircraft
differed vastly from those for conventional bombers. By 1954, the B-47 had the
lowest major accident rate per 100,000 flying hours of any jet aircraft. Still,
55 percent of the B-47 accidents were traced to human error, 43 percent to
pilots, and 12 percent to maintenance crews. First, the size of the crew was
unusually small for this type of aircraft with 3 men performing the functions of
pilot, copilot/gunner, and bombardier/navigator. And, although the 10 or 12
crewmembers of a B-29 worked with 130 instruments, the B-47's 3 man crew
confronted more than 300 gauges, dials, switches, levers, and the like.
Moreover, as a true expert noted, the B-47 was relatively difficult to land and
terribly unforgiving of mistakes or inattention. Although often admired,
respected, cursed, or even feared, the B-47 was almost never loved (These
observations were made in 1975 by Brig. Gen. Earl C. Peck, Chief of the Office
of Air Force History. He knew the B-47 well, having achieved the unusual tour de
force of saving his B-47 on take off despite the crucial loss of one of the
plane's 6 engines. Promoted to 2 star rank in 1976, General Peck became
Strategic Air Command's Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations in April 1977).
Even so, training progressed. In June 1954, Boeing indoctrination teams began
keeping crews up to date on the B-47's limitations and stresses, and teaching
techniques that would assure maximum performance under safe conditions. This new
program was received with such enthusiasm that it was promptly expanded.
About the time the much improved heavyweight B-47E IV entered
the inventory, more requirements were levied on the aircraft. Early in 1955 (The
year started auspiciously. The B-47E IV was available, and the first B-47 for
thermonuclear weapons had been delivered in January. Although the production
line modification of the aircraft had been made without awaiting the results of
a concurrent flight test, the Air Force was not overly concerned. Most of the
essential equipment had been installed on the aircraft, and only minor changes
would be needed to ready it for combat. Justifying the Air Force's confidence,
more than 1,100 B-47s could handle the new thermonuclear bombs by the end of
April 1956), after initial escape maneuver tests had convinced Strategic Air
Command that the B-47 might be rugged enough for low level bombing, the command
requested a further immediate check. There were many potential benefits. High
speed B-47s, flying at low level, would be less vulnerable, more difficult for
enemy radars to track and less likely to be intercepted by fighter aircraft,
ground fire, or surface to air missiles. Increasingly sophisticated enemy
defenses would be double tasked, facing both high and low level attacks. The Air
Staff swiftly endorsed Strategic Air Command's request, but testing came to an
abrupt halt after the loss of a low flying B-47 over Bermuda. Low level flight
tests were not resumed until Boeing and the Air Research and Development Command
assured Air Proving Ground Command that the B-47's structural integrity was not
in doubt. In June a 6,000 pound dummy bomb was successfully released during a
2.6G pullup from level flight, and an 8,850 pound practice bomb was properly
dropped from a 2.5G pullup in another flight. In both instances, release took
place during the early portion of an Immelmann turn and the low altitude bombing
system functioned respectably (Development of the low altitude bombing system
dated back to 1952, and the low level bombing tactic was not new. Strategic Air
Command's fighter bomber pilots had been trained to fly at low level and the
command's F-84s had been modified for this purpose. But this did not really
create a precedent. One could hardly compare the 200,000 pound (design loaded
weight) B-47 with aircraft of the F-84 type. The B-47's thin wings covered a
span of more than 116 feet. Empty, the B-47E weighed almost 80,000 pounds. In
contrast, the F-84 had a wing span of about 36 feet and its empty weight was
under 12,000 pounds). In December 1955, Strategic Air Command asked that 150
B-47s be modified by Boeing for low level flight. This was authorized in May
1956. At the time, however, the Air Staff reserved approval of the same
modification for other B-47s, even though Strategic Air Command pointed out that
AMC might do the work as part of the aircraft's IRAN program.
One year later, the Air Force made public its revolutionary
strategic bombing tactic. Use of the B-47 for “toss bombing” was revealed at
Eglin Air Force Base in May 1957, during aerial firepower demonstrations before
a joint civilian orientation getup. [In a toss bombing attack, the plane entered
the run at low altitude, pulled up sharply into a half loop with a half roll on
top, and released the weapon at a predetermined point in the climb. The bomb
continued upward in a high arc, falling on the target at a considerable distance
from its point of release. Meanwhile, the maneuver allowed the airplane to
reverse its direction and gave it more time to speed away from the target.]
The B-47's low level flying task entailed special training
requirements. These had been anticipated by Strategic Air Command in
Hairclipper, a training program begun in December 1955. Adverse weather,
excessive maintenance requirements due to low level flying, and personnel losses
to other training programs combined to hamper progress. Unexpected and serious
LABS deficiencies in the low altitude bombing systems, as well as several
accidents in December 1957, were the final blows. General Power, Strategic Air
Command's Commander in Chief since 1 July 1957, officially discontinued
Hairclipper on 5 March 1958. Yet, demise of the training program did not signify
the end of low level flying. Pop-Up, a related training program that took
advantage of concurrent advances in weapons developments, fared better (The Pop
Up tactic also put much less stress on the B-47's flexible wings than low
altitude toss bombing. In the Pop Up maneuver, the aircraft swept in at low
level, pulled up to high altitude, released its weapon, then dove steeply to
escape enemy radars). Interrupted in April 1958, when fatigue cracks in the wing
structure of some B-47s led to severe flying restrictions, Pop-up resumed in
September after the aircraft had been thoroughly checked. Going strong in 1959,
this program had practically reached its training goal by year's end.
The discovery of fatigue cracks in the B-47's wings and a rash
of new flying accidents in early 1958 triggered an immense inspection and repair
program. Nicknamed Milk Bottle and started in May 1958, the program involved all
3 manufacturers, although AMC manpower and facilities carried the largest load.
More likely to suffer fatigue because of extensive low level flying training,
B-47s of the 306th and 22d Bomb Wings were the first to enter the Milk Bottle
program receiving an interim fix in advance of the permanent repair being
devised by Boeing. The interim fix called for a major inspection of suspect
areas. After disassembly to reveal the affected structures, each bolt hole was
reamed oversized. A boroscope and dye penetrant were used to locate possible
cracks. If any were found, the holes were reamed again. The same kind of
procedure was used on the milk bottle fittings. B-47s with no further
problems were returned to service after receiving the
interim fix, which generally required about 1,700 man hours per aircraft.
Optimistically, as it turned out, Boeing estimated these planes would last about
400 hours before requiring further modifications. The so called “ultimate” or
permanent Milk Bottle repairs were far more involved, leading to no less than 9
technical orders. Briefly stated, the repairs covered primarily the splice that
joined outer and inner wing panels; the area where the lower wing skin met the
fuselage and, finally, the milk bottle pin (for which the program was named) and
surrounding forging located on the forward part of the fuselage, near the
navigator's escape hatch. The entire endeavor proved time consuming as well as
expensive—fund obligations reaching $15
million by mid year. But there were results. By the end of July, 1,230 B-47s had
been through Milk Bottle, and 895 of them had already been returned to
operational units. Considering its magnitude, Milk Bottle proceeded remarkably
well, with most of the fleet modified by October. When the program ended in June
1959, only a few of the interim repaired aircraft still needed work, which could
be done during the regular inspect and repair as necessary cycle. While Milk
Bottle did not solve all problems, it put safety back into the workhorse B-47,
an aircraft badly needed at the time.
The engineering fixes devised by Boeing for Milk Bottle showed
that it was possible to identify the parts in an aircraft that were most likely
to fail, but left many questions unanswered. No one could explain why primary
structures in the B-47 were affected by maneuvers that the aircraft was designed
to perform. General Power saw no use in turning to other aircraft unless
Strategic Air Command was assured they would survive low level flying. General
Power insisted that despite Boeing's evaluation of the B-47's structural life
since 1956, not enough was known about aircraft service span. General LeMay
agreed that weapon system producers had to give the Air Force more information
on operation and its effect on metal fatigue. In addition, the Air Force and
aircraft industry needed to combine their efforts. They had to expand existing
programs to collect statistical maneuver loads data, to conduct cyclic testing,
and to develop better instrumentation and analytical techniques (Wright Air
Development Center was already considering the B-47's fatigue problem in May
1958 and was flight testing a Douglas B-66 light bomber to learn more about low
altitude turbulence. Moreover, closely related projects were either in being or
soon to start). The knowledge to be gained, General LeMay thought, together with
judicious application of engineering skills and maintenance funds would prevent
the early retirement of aircraft, an extremely expensive alternative (Some 15
years later, low flying B-52s continued to attest to the concept's value.). Yet,
in any aircraft's life cycle, there was a point beyond which further repair
became uneconomical. Perhaps, General LeMay noted, all that could be done to
keep the aged B-47 combat ready was to correct anticipated problems.
Devising the Milk Bottle repairs was just a beginning. While
the repairs were underway, Boeing had to develop a broad structural integrity
program to determine the modification's impact on the B-47's service life.
Moreover, any other potential problem areas had to be uncovered. The collapse of
Boeing's cyclic test aircraft in August 1958 revealed for instance that the
B-47's upper longerons, the beams running lengthwise along the fuselage, were
susceptible to fatigue when the aircraft approached 2,000 hours of flying time
(This led to further inspections, the identification of 11 B-47s with defective
longerons, and the Air Material Command's eventual modification of all the
aircrafts' support beams). Similar cyclic tests by Douglas and the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) did not disclose any serious
deficiency until December, when NASA ceased testing after a fracture appeared
near one of the B-47's wing stations. Boeing tests continued until January 1959,
without duplicating NASA's discovery. But when Douglas stopped in February,
after almost 10,000 test hours, its B-47 had also developed a 20 inch crack. If
the cyclic testing of the late fifties truly simulated flight conditions, NASA
and Douglas's findings were relatively important, since Strategic Air Command's
B-47s had never been individually tagged for 10,000 flying hours. In any event,
there were gaps in other crucial research. The low altitude flying program,
using oscillograph recorders to track the stresses and strains of lower levels
on the B-47, was far from complete. Still a decision had to be made without
delay, if only to justify the purchase of other aircraft. In mid 1959, the Air
Force cautiously assigned the B-47 a life expectancy of 3,300 hours. Implied was
the requirement for regular rigid inspections. In addition, the Wright Air
Development Center admitted that this figure was based on technical
consideration only. It could change, because service life did not reflect
economic or operational factors.
Strategic Air Command initially wanted 1,000 B-47s modified for
low-level flying. This meant fitting the aircraft with absolute altimeters,
terrain clearance devices (The kind Strategic Air Command needed to fly low at
night or during periods of reduced visibility did not even exist in 1956), and
doppler radars, the type of new equipment that would require extensive testing
and lots of money. In 1959, it became evident that the B-47 would survive the
Milk Bottle crisis only to face other severe problems. Because of development
testing slippages and the money saving phaseout of some B-47 wings, Strategic
Air Command scaled down its low altitude requirements by half. The command did
stress, however, the urgency of modifying the 500 B-47s now earmarked for low
level flying. Strategic Air Command again pointed out that the aircraft lacked
missile penetration aids and was marginally suited for high altitude strikes.
Against improved enemy defenses, the B-47 would be obsolete in 1963 if not
properly equipped for low level flight. The Air Staff did not question Strategic
Air Command's justifications, but fund shortages dictated harsh decisions.
Hence, in lieu of 500, only 350 B-47s would be modified for low level flying,
and the aircraft would receive simpler and much less costly equipment than asked
for by Strategic Air Command (The Air Force had canceled in late 1958 the B-47's
use of the GAM 72 Quay, a short range decoy missile, mainly because of dollar
limitations. Procurement of the GAM 67 Crossbow had already been dropped, and
modification of the B-47 to protect it from infrared missiles was abandoned in
mid 1959). Obviously, the end of the B-47 was in sight.
The B-58 Hustler
The Convair B-58 Hustler was the first bomber to be both
designed and produced on the West Coast. The aircraft was developed for the
Strategic Air Command of the United States Air Force during the late 1950s as a
high-speed, low altitude jet bomber capable of Mach 2 supersonic flight and was
in service from 1960 to January 16, 1970. Only two wings had the B-58: the 43rd
and the 305th. The 43rd was originally at Carswell Air Force Base and
later expanded to Little Rock, whereas the 305th was only at Bunker Hill Air
Force Base (which subsequently was renamed Grissom Air Force Base).
It received a great deal of negative publicity due to its sonic
boom, which was often heard by the public when it passed overhead in supersonic
flight, rattling windows and generating irate phone calls from hordes of
inconvenienced housewives who presumably cared more about their favorite soap
operas than they did about national security.
The B-58 had a delta wing with a leading-edge sweep of 60°.
Although its large wing made for relatively low wing loading, it proved to be
surprisingly well suited for low-altitude, high-speed flight. It seated three
(pilot, bombardier/navigator, and defensive systems operator) in separated
tandem cockpits, equipped with a novel ejection capsule that made it possible to
eject at an altitude of 70,000 feet at speeds up to Mach 2 (1,320 mph),
something impossible with standard ejection seats of the period.
The B-58 typically carried a single nuclear weapon in a
streamlined MB-1C pod under the fuselage. From 1961 to 1963 it was retrofitted
with two tandem stub pylons under each wing, inboard of the engine pod, for B43
or B61 nuclear weapons for a total of 5 nuclear weapons per airplane. A single
M61 Vulcan cannon was mounted in a radar-directed tail turret for defense.
Although the USAF explored the possibility of using the B-58 for the
conventional strike role, it was never equipped for carrying or dropping
conventional bombs in service. A photo-reconnaissance pod, the LA-331, was also
fielded. Several other specialized pods for ECM or an early cruise missile were
considered, but not adopted.
The B-58 crews were elite airmen who were carefully selected
from other strategic bomber squadrons. Due to some unique aspects of flying a
delta-winged aircraft, the pilots used F-102 Delta Daggers to transition to the
Hustler. The aircraft was difficult to fly and its three-man crew was kept busy
but the exceptional performance was well worth the extra effort. A lightly
loaded Hustler could climb at nearly 46,000 ft/min—comparable to the best contemporary
fighters—and it could cruise with a nuclear
payload at 85,000 feet. Nevertheless, it had marginal weapons load and limited
range compared to the B-52 Stratofortress. It had been extremely expensive to
acquire (in 1959 it was reported that each of the production B-58As was worth
more than its weight in gold). It was a complex aircraft that required
considerable maintenance, much of which required specialized equipment, which
made it three times as expensive to operate as the B-52. Also against it was an
unfavorably high accident rate: 26 aircraft were lost in accidents, 22.4 percent
of total production. SAC had been dubious about the type from the beginning,
although its crews eventually became enthusiastic about the aircraft because its
performance and design were appreciated, despite not being very easy to fly.
By the time the early problems had largely been resolved and
Strategic Air Command interest in the bomber had solidified, Secretary of
Defense Robert McNamara decided that the B-58 was never going to be a viable
weapon system. Its early retirement, slated for 1970, was ordered in 1965, and
despite efforts of the US Air Force to earn a reprieve, proceeded on schedule. A
total of 116 B-58s were produced: 30 trial aircraft and 86 production B-58A
models. Most of the trial aircraft were later brought up to operational
standard. Eight were equipped as TB-58A training aircraft.
A number of B-58s were used for special trials of various
kinds, including one used for testing the radar system intended for the Lockheed
YF-12 interceptor. Several improved (and usually enlarged) variants, dubbed
B-58B and B-58C by the manufacturer, were proposed, but never built.
Crew: 3: pilot; observer (navigator, radar operator,
bombardier); defense system operator (DSO; electronic countermeasures operator
and pilot assistant).
Length: 96 ft 9 in (29.5 m)
Wingspan: 56 ft 9 in (17.3 m)
Height: 29 ft 11 in (8.9 m)
Wing area: 1,542 ft² (143.3 m²)
Airfoil: NACA 0003.46-64.069 root, NACA 0004.08-63 tip
Empty weight: 55,560 lb (25,200 kg)
Loaded weight: 67,871 lb (30,786 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 176,890 lb (80,240 kg)
Powerplant: 4× General Electric J79-GE-5A turbojets, 15,600 lbf
(69.3 kN) each
Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0068
Drag area: 10.49 ft² (0.97 m²)
Aspect ratio: 2.09
Maximum speed: Mach 2.1 (1,600 mph, 2,600 km/h) at 40,000 ft
Cruise speed: 610 mph (530 knots, 985 km/h)
Combat radius: 1,740 mi (1,510 nm, 3,220 km)
Ferry range: 4,720 mi (4,100 nm, 7,590 km)
Service ceiling: 63,400 ft (19,300 m)
Rate of climb: 2,700 ft/min (13.7 m/s)
Wing loading: 44.01 lb/ft² (214.9 kg/m²)
Lift-to-drag ratio: 11.3 (without weapons/fuel pod)
Guns: 1× 20 mm (0.787 in) T171 cannon
Bombs: 4× B-43 or B61 nuclear bombs; maximum weapons load was
19,450 lb (8,823 kg)
The F-86 Sabrejet
The F-86, the US Air Force's first swept-wing jet fighter, made
its initial flight on October 1, 1947. Originally designed as a high-altitude
day fighter, it was subsequently redesigned into an all-weather interceptor
(F-86D) and a fighter bomber (F-86H). Armed with six 50 caliber machine guns,
the Sabre jet pilot had to be in visual contact with the enemy in order to
attempt a shoot-down, thereby making it the last true 'dogfighter' in the Air
Force inventory. Before production ended, nearly 10 000 Sabres had been produced
in 20 different variants (including the Navy FJ series known as the Fury), with
five different engines. Some of these variants had major design differences;
consequently, the F-86 must be considered as a whole family of related aircraft.
During its long service life, the F-86 formed a part of the air
forces of 24 different countries. As late as 1980, eight Developing nations
still included a number of F-86 fighters in their inventories. Production lines
were established in four foreign countries, with the last aircraft coming from
the Japanese line in 1961. The Sabre saw extensive service with the USAF during
the Korean war, in which it achieved an outstanding exchange ratio of nearly 14
to I in combat with the Soviet-built MiG-15. Surely the F-86 must be ranked,
along with its illustrious World War 11 ancestor the P-51 Mustang, as one of the
great fighter aircraft of all time.
The F-86 Sabre was originally designed for the
US Navy in 1945 as a straight-winged jet fighter, and was derived from the XJ
Fury. North American Aviation, already famous for its P-51 Mustang and B-25
Billy Mitchell bomber, was put under contract by the US Army Air Force to
produce a new jet fighter. Utilizing information captured from the Germans,
innovative technologies were employed in transforming the straight-winged XFJ-1
into the swept-wing F-86 Sabrejet that would dominate the skies over Korea in
The Sabrejet represented many innovations in technology and
design. Swept-wing configuration has become a standard for jet-powered aircraft.
The then revolutionary but now commonplace 'flying tail' allowed the aircraft
excellent maneuverability at high altitudes. In addition, the Sabrejet employs a
hydraulic system for the movement of the flight controls, eliminating the
excessive control stick forces necessary to maneuver other types of airplanes at
Identifying features of the F-86 are the graceful sweptback
wing and the nose inlet located in the fuselage. The 4.78-aspect-ratio wing of
35 degree sweepback was derived from captured German data for the advanced
Messerschmitt fighter under design study at the time hostilities ended.
Streamwise airfoil-section thickness ratios varied from 9.5 percent at the root
to 8.5 percent at the tip.
Pitch-up was prevented on many versions of the
aircraft by full-span leading-edge slats. As on the Messerschmitt Me 262,
deployment of the slats was automatically initiated at the correct angle of
attack by aerodynamic loads acting at the leading edge of the wings. On some
versions of the aircraft, the slats were replaced by a sharp, extended-chord,
cambered leading edge. Single-slotted high-lift flaps and outboard ailerons were
incorporated in the trailing-edge portions of the wing. The ailerons were
hydraulically actuated, as were the horizontal-tail surfaces, which, on the
F-86E, consisted of a movable stabilizer with linked elevator. Some versions of
the F-86 had an all-moving, slab-type horizontal tail with no elevator. Greater
control effectiveness is possible at high-subsonic and supersonic Mach numbers
with the all-moving horizontal tail, and this arrangement was to become standard
on future transonic/supersonic fighters. The hydraulically actuated controls of
the F-86E were of the fully powered, irreversible type with artificial control
feel provided for the pilot. Fully powered, irreversible controls aid in
eliminating such instabilities as aileron and rudder buzz, in addition to
permitting maximum deflection of the control surfaces without requiring excess
physical effort on the part of the pilot. These controls differ from the
hydraulically boosted  controls used on some early versions of the F-86, as
well as on other aircraft. In a boosted control system, the pilot is still
directly linked to the aerodynamic control surfaces, but his strength is
augmented by a hydraulic booster. Dive brakes were mounted on either side of the
fuselage behind the wing.
Another identifying feature of many versions of
the F-86 was the fuselage nose-inlet installation. Inlet air was ducted under
the cockpit and delivered to the turbojet engine located behind the pilot; the
exhaust nozzle was at the rear end of the fuselage. To minimize the depth of the
fuselage in the cockpit area, the shape of the duct leading from the inlet to
the engine was changed from a circular to an elliptical shape with the long axis
being in the horizontal plane. In the all-weather interceptor versions of the
aircraft, notably the F-86D, K, and L models, the distinctive nose inlet was
replaced by a chin installation to provide space in the nose for the necessary
radar gear. In contrast to other F-86 variants, the all-weather interceptor
models were equipped with afterburning engines to provide the high rates of
climb and high-altitude capability necessary to execute interception missions.
Armament of the fighter versions of the
aircraft consisted of 3 .50caliber machine guns buried in each side of the
fuselage near the nose and provisions for carrying 2 1000-pound bombs or 16
5-inch rockets on the wings. Interceptor versions of the aircraft carried 24
2.75-inch rockets mounted on a retractable tray contained in the bottom of the
fuselage. The tray extended only long enough to launch the rockets.
Environmental control in the cockpit consisted of air-conditioning, heating, and
pressurization; in addition, the pilot was equipped with an ejection seat. The
thrust-to-weight ratio of the F-86E was about the same as that of the P-59A.
Yet, as compared with the earlier aircraft, the Sabre showed a speed advantage
of nearly 300 miles per hour at sea level. A smaller wing area, wing sweepback,
and thinner airfoil sections, together with careful attention to aerodynamic
design, were responsible for the large increment in maximum speed between the
two types. Also, improved engine performance, not reflected in the values of
static thrust given in the table, no doubt played a role in the superior
performance of the F-86. Drag area was a little greater for the F-86 than for
the P-80 by an amount that corresponds closely to the difference in wing area of
the two aircraft. As would be expected, the zero-lift drag coefficients were
about the same for both aircraft. Comparison of values of the maximum lift-drag
ratio shows the P-80 to have had the advantage by about 17 percent; this
difference is primarily due to the lower wing aspect ratio of the F-86. Although
the Sabrejet was strictly a subsonic aircraft, low-supersonic speeds could be
achieved in a shallow dive. Flight through Mach 1.0 first took place on April
26, 1948. The Sabrejet was delivered to the Air Force in 1948. The first
production model flew on May 20, 1948, and on September 15, 1948, an F-86A set a
new world speed record of 670.9 mph. Originally designated as the F-86A, the
Sabre would undergo a number of changes resulting in a variety of model
Known for its combat role in the Korean
conflict, this aircraft was single-handedly responsible for turning the tide of
the air war in favor of the United States. As a day fighter, the airplane saw
service in Korea in three successive series (F-86A, E, and F) where it engaged
the Russian built MiG-15. The F-86 Sabre was introduced in November 1950 and
rushed to Korea to challenge the tactical edge of the MiG-15. The MiG's pilots
were very good, being (for the most part) veteran Russian fliers. But the USF
soon had a counter to the MiG-15—the superb F-86A (and later, F-86E/F) Sabre.
Many of the Sabre pilots were veterans of World War II and their expertise
showed. Soon the Sabres and MiGs were mixing it up over northwest Korea, an area
that became known as “MiG Alley.” On December 17, 1950, Lt. Col. Bruce Hinton
was the first Sabre pilot to score the first of an estimated 818 MiG-15 kills.
A General Electric J47-27 engine powered the
F-86F; producing 6,000 pounds of thrust the aircraft can achieve a speed of 695
mph and can exceed the speed of sound in a shallow dive. It is capable of climb
rates up to 10,000 feet per minute and can fly as high as 50,000 feet. The -F
was used both as an air superiority fighter and fighter-bomber during the latter
stages of the war; replacing the F-80 and F-51 aircraft still being used in the
Korean combat in 1952.
While the war turned into a stalemate on the
ground, MiG Alley remained a hot spot throughout the war. For a time the B-29s
continued bombing targets in northwest Korea by day, but when MiG-15s shot down
five Superfortresses in a week in October 1951, the big bombers began attacking
only at night. Day after day, though, the Sabres (joined by F-84 Thunderjets or
F-80s) swept into MiG Alley to meet the MiG-15s rising from their fields in
Manchuria. Although the U.S. government directed that these fields were “off
limits” to the FEAF aircraft, some of these planes occasionally strayed across
the border in “hot pursuit” of enemy aircraft.
By the end of hostilities, the F-86 had shot down 792
MiGs at a loss of only 76 Sabres, a victory ratio of 10 to 1. In the hands of
skillful pilots, the Sabre‘s 10-1 Kill ratio over the MiG-15 was the best
achieved in any sustained fighter campaign. Of the 40 pilots to earn the
designation of ‘ace’ (five or more kills) during the Korean war, all but one
flew the F-86 Sabrejet. By July of 1953, no fighter aircraft in the world could
take on the Sabrejet without being at a disadvantage. It is no wonder the F-86
Sabrejet is widely acknowledged along with the P-51 Mustang and the F-4 Phantom-
as one of the three great fighter aircraft in US history.
Over 9,800 F-86s were manufactured during the years of 1947
through 1957, making it the most prolific jet fighter ever produced. More than
5,500 Sabre day fighters were built in the U. S. and Canada. The airplane was
also used in the air forces of twenty other nations, including West Germany,
Japan, Spain, Britain, and Australia.
Warner Robins Air Logistics Center (WR-ALC) had
logistics management responsibility for the guns, communications, fire control
and bombing-navigational equipment installed on F-86 aircraft. From 1953 to
1958, under Project High Flight, more than 500 F-86s were processed through the
WR-ALC maintenance shops to prepare them for ferrying across the Atlantic to U.
S. Air Forces in Europe and our NATO allies.
The Sabrejet was continuously improved throughout its 10-year
production run. Each model performed better than the last. There were two major
variations of the craft. The F-86C was renamed “YF-93” and was intended to be a
“penetration fighter”. However, it eventually came to a dead end. The second
variation was known as the F-95 until July 1950, when it was renamed the F-86D.
It was labeled an “all weather interceptor.” Some experts are of the opinion the
“D” was so different from the basic model it should have retained its F-95
designation. For one thing the J47-GE-17 engine was equipped with an afterburner
which delivered a total of 7,500 pounds thrust for take-off, giving the “D” an
initial climb rate of 12,150 feet per minute. The nose was shaped like a shark
snout with an open mouth for an air intake. Above the mouth and projecting
forward was the shark’s nose, which housed a radar antenna for the Hughes E-4
automatic fire control system. More than anything, the F-86D resembled a shark
right down to the fins, and should have been named so. But the Air Force Brass
was reluctant to pick a name with such a nautical connotation. The F-86D was the
first USAF night fighter to carry only one airman and have only one engine. The
fire control system was so automatic, a second airman was considered
unnecessary. A pod containing twenty-four 2.75 “Mighty Mouse” air-to-air rockets
was located in the belly. The pod was lowered into the airstream in order to
fire the rockets, then quickly retracted so as not to affect the speed or
handling characteristics any more than necessary. The pilot had to take great
care to insure each rocket had cleared its tube when fired. If a rocket was
hanging halfway out the tube and the pod were retracted, the rocket would
explode. If the pilot wasn’t absolutely sure of the position of the rocket, he
landed the Sabrejet with the pod extended.
The F-95A was an early designation for the F-86D. The prototype
aircraft (S/N 50-577 & 50-578) were originally designated YF-86D, changed to
YF-95A and finally redesignated YF-86D. Similarly, the production aircraft were
designated F-95A, but changed to F-86D before production began.
F-86A, the F-86B and C were cancelled. In terms
of time, a few F-86Ds came out of production between the F-86Es and F-86Fs. In
actuality, the F-86D was virtually a new machine, retaining only the wing common
to other F-86s. Its concept was unprecedented-an all-weather interceptor in
which the second crew member (standard in all aircraft of this category) was
supplanted by highly sophisticated electronic systems. The F-86D was also the
first single-seat fighter in which the classic gun armament gave way to
Air intake repositioned under nose, which enclosed radar
scanner; stronger wing (the wing slats of earlier F-86s were retained) and
enlarged vertical tail surfaces to compensate for the additional fuselage area.
Vortex generators (small tabs) fitted around the fuselage and tail-plane to
ruffle the air flow around these areas and prevent air on the airframe surface
from separating and causing drag. Hughes Aircraft Company's interception radar
and associated fire-control system. These electronic devices could compute an
air target‘s position, guide the fighter on to a beam attack converting to a
collision course, lower a retractable tray of 24 rockets (2.75-inch Mighty
Mouse, each with the power of a 75mm shell) and within 500 yards of the targets
fire these automatically in salvos. More than half of the F-86Ds were powered by
either the J47-GE-17 turbojet or by the -17B. Later productions received the
higher-thrust J47-GE-33. All had afterburners. Engine control was an added
feature of every F-86D. An electronic device to control fuel flow, it relieved
the lone pilot of another responsibility.
Slippage of the F-89 program which prompted the decision to
procure the F-94 also led to conversion of the F86 to interceptor configuration.
Other proposals were considered, but selection of the F-86 as the basic airframe
for elaboration was almost automatic. It was the best of the current jet
fighters. Moreover, it would require little structural modification to
accommodate the necessary nose radar and afterburner. Doubts of a single-seat
interceptor's feasibility caused a slight delay, but production availability and
tooling clinched the January selection. The F-95, as the one-man interceptor was
then designated, went on the drawing boards in March 1949 at about the same time
the F-86A entered operational service. In May North American began to modify two
F-86A aircraft in line with the tentative interceptor specifications drawn
during the intervening months.
The Secretary of the Air Force formally
endorsed the Board of Senior Officers' recommendations 3 weeks after the Hughes
Aircraft Company had been issued a contract for developing the new interceptor's
fire-control system. The Secretary's approval was accompanied by the
authorization to spend $7million for conversion of the F-86 to the interceptor
An engineering inspection of the experimental
aircraft in August 1949 and the ensuing flight of September favorably impressed
the Air Force. In the latter month, $79 million were made available for the
purchase of 124 aircraft. The new interceptor, designated as the F-95 during the
early stage of development, reverted to the F86D designation soon afterwards.
This order covered two prototypes and 122
production articles. Two months later, concurrent with the December decision
that Soviet possession of the atomic bomb dictated prompt creation of a modern
interceptor force, the F-86D was chosen to be the backbone of that force until
the advanced “1954 Interceptor” became available. Another procurement order for
31 F-86Ds was issued in June 1950.
The YF-86D was powered by a J47-GE-17 turbojet.
Its afterburner boosted its 5,000-1b static thrust to 6,650 pounds. The second
prototype, fitted with a similar engine, was completed in March 1950.
North American used the second YF-86D to test a
prototype of the Hughes 50-kw E-3 fire-control system (developed in advance of
the more sophisticated 250-kw E-4). In October 1950, after numerous engineering
changes, the E-3-equipped YF-86D moved to Hughes for further testing. The number
and extent of the changes that ensued delayed until July 1951 delivery of the
E-3 productions that eventually equipped some 35 F-86Ds. Meanwhile, fabrication
of the E-4 prototype proceeded. When completed in November 1950, however, no
F-86Ds were available to flight test it and a B25 had to be used. E-4 production
systems reached North American in December 1951, after a 3-month delay. Still,
the new E-4s did not properly perform. In addition, deficiencies in components
shared by both the E-3 and E-4 fire-control systems continued uncorrected. The
Air Force earmarked for testing the first F86D deliveries because the F-86D had
been committed to production before receipt (or even development) of its
fire-control system and of the first electronic engine fuel control. Too, the
Air Force could expect a number of problems simply due to the aircraft's overall
complexity. Nonetheless, there was still hope in mid-1951 that the F-86D would
reach the operational units by the spring of 1952.
In March 1951, 341 F-86Ds were on order. Two
months later this total jumped to 979 aircraft. The growth to 2,500 planes by
January 1953 underlined the F-86D program's urgency and scope. Yet, by that
time, the Air Force had accepted less than 90 F-86Ds.
Delay of the F-86D program stemmed from two principal problems.
First, the E4 fire-control system had deficiencies not detected until service
tests were run, and the development period was unusually long (in 1952 alone,
Hughes had to make 150 changes to the system). Second, the General Electric
J47-GE-17 turbojet engine-chiefly its electronic fuel control system was far
from ready. By early 1952, GE had fallen 18 months behind in engine deliveries
and the J47-GE-17 did not pass its 150-hour qualification test until the latter
part of 1952. Meanwhile, after an initial production slippage, airframes had
begun piling up around the North American plant for lack of engines.
The Air Force received more F-86Ds in March 1952. Although no
longer considered test aircraft, they (and a few more—delivered during the summer) did not fully
satisfy the Air Force requirements. They lacked the Lear F-5 autopilot and the
E-4 fire-control system. The former had failed its qualifying environment tests
and the latter was not reliable enough for inclusion in production aircraft
until August 1952. The Air Force allocated these early F86Ds to the Air Training
The F-86 was nearly two years behind schedule and six months
past the revised date of November 1952. However, several ADC squadrons were
quickly equipped and later buildup was rapid. The Air Defense Command had 600
F-86Ds by the end of 1953. In June 1955, 1,026 (or 73 percent) of the command's
1,405 tactical aircraft were F86Ds-the remainder were F-94Cs and F-89Ds.
These F-86’s had more than their share of operational
problems. In 1953-1954, engine malfunctions dogged the F-86Ds almost as soon as
they became operational. When engine fires and explosions destroyed 1.3
aircraft, the entire F-86D fleet was grounded in December 1953. Most of the
aircraft were back flying by the end of February 1954, after hastily formed
teams of North American and General Electric technicians corrected the faulty
fuel system. This was merely a stop-gap measure, however. Soon afterward, 19
more accidents occurred in 1 month, this time because of poor maintenance of the
complex weapon system (a situation which had been predicted in early service
tests of the F-86Dsingle-man concept). Meanwhile, despite other deficiencies,
production rates increased significantly.
The Air Force knew the F-86D needed improvement. Back in
January 1953, 40 mandatory engineering fixes had been identified along with
required changes to bring the aircraft to peak capability. Nevertheless, the
F-86D was still a better interceptor than the other two in service and its
immediate availability was crucial. The Air Force deemed the F-86D “almost as
important as the B47” and the rash of operational troubles in 1953 only hastened
the aircraft improvement. Project Pullout would embody in all F-86Ds the fixes
accumulated piecemeal thus far, as well as the more important modifications
previously intended for the future.
Cold War pressure forced the Air Force to ship 52 F-86Ds to
the Far East Air Force in the fall of 1953. These aircraft were known to be
deficient. Of those sent to Korea (where only short landing strips were
available), few ever flew. The contingent soon returned to the United States and
went through the pullout modifications as part of FEAF's retrofit program. FEAF
received in exchange modified or new P-86D productions. In 1959, 6 years after
the first F-86D oversea deployment, two squadrons of F-86D interceptors (the
431st and 437th FIS), recently placed under the Strategic Air Command's control,
stood on alert at Torrejon and Zaragoza Air Bases in Spain.
The pullout modifications, started in March 1954, were
completed at a cost of some $100 million after a purposeful year-and-a-half
schedule. It was important that the 1,128 aircraft involved (plus 53 spare aft
fuselages) be modified as rapidly as possible. Still the Air Force could not
chance endangering the nation's air defenses by pulling too many F-86Ds out of
service at once. Each aircraft underwent close to 300 modifications, some
involving major changes. These included: correction of the autopilot and fire
control systems (accomplished by Lear and Hughes, respectively); installation of
a radar tape system to record radar-scope data during flight; modification of
the stabilizer control system; installation of a 16 foot, ring-slot type drag
chute in the aircraft tail (expected to reduce landing roll as much as 40
percent); and replacement of the J47-GE-17 engine by the much improved -17B
(predecessor of the J47-GE-33 which powered the last 987 F-86D productions). The
Sacramento Air Materiel Area (SMAMA) at McClellan AFB, Calif., was charged with
the entire pullout program. A large part of the work, however, was done under
contract by the North American plants at Inglewood and at Fresno, Calif. Upon
completion, the Air Force had a modern, all-weather interceptor, but problems
still loomed ahead.
An F-86D squadron operational suitability test (OST),
Project Lock-On, was conducted at George AFB, Calif., during February 1954-1
month before the beginning of Pullout. As anticipated Lock-On concluded that an
ADC F-86D squadron could not perform its assigned mission until elimination of
the aircraft malfunctions by the .forthcoming Pullout modifications. The Lock-On
findings also confirmed ineffectiveness of the F-86D squadron's air-ground
control team and known requirements for additional ground-support equipment,
better maintenance personnel, and increased pilot training. Other tests
disclosed that the F-86D‘s 2.75-inch folding-fin serial rockets were marginal in
accuracy and effectiveness. Use of the Falcon missile (given up in 1952) was
reconsidered, but again discarded because it would require refit ting the
aircraft with the E--9 fire-control system. In early 1955 the Air Force also
decided not to arm the F-436D with Ding Dong rockets, since the Air Defense
Command's two-missile load requirement would drastically reduce the aircraft's
radius of action.
The new J47-GE-33 fitted in the last 987 F-86Ds was much
more powerful than the -17 engine of the earlier productions. The -33's static
thrust with afterburner reached 7,650 pounds, a 1,000-1b increase over the -17,
under similar conditions. The -33 had better cooling and afterburner ignition.
It also featured several detail changes which eliminated the flaws that had led
to replacement of the original -17 by the improved -17B. Yet, 65 of 209
accidents in the 15 months preceding mid-1956 were attributed to the aircraft‘s
-17B or -33 engine. Of these 65 accidents, 22 were caused by engine fuel
control malfunctions; 17 by defective engine parts, and the remaining. 26 (most
occurring in early 1955) by turbine wheel failures in-the -17B power plants. The
Air Force thought of retrofitting all -17B engines (as well as the -17 which
still powered several F-86Ds) with a redesigned “locking strip” model. This
project's $20 million price tag shaped the ultimate decision of installing the
redesigned turbine wheels only upon attrition. Insistence on accurate records of
turbine wheel use would assure adequate protection.
In addition to engine problems and despite the remarkable
overall achievement of Pullout, the F-86D needed further improvement. Its E-4
fire-control system remained unreliable and difficult to maintain. Various
engineering changes could still be made to increase reliability, ease
maintenance and, perhaps, raise the F86D's kill capability. However, the gain
would not justify the cost. The Air Force, therefore, reconsidered providing the
aircraft with additional armament. Two F-86Ds were prototyped, one with GAR,-1B
Falcons, the other with infrared homing Sidewinder missiles. Budgetary
limitations, nevertheless, ended the two projects in September 1957. The Air
Force concurrently altered several plans. It decided to phase out the F-86D as
soon as possible and its converted version, the F-86L, tentatively by mid-1960.
The F-86D was phased out of the Air Defense Command in April
1958. By mid-1959 two ANG squadrons (the 122 and 182 FIS) were fully equipped.
However, the Guard's F-S6Ds were also quickly supplanted by F-86Ls (converted
F-86Ds). By June 1961 the F86D no longer appeared on either the USAF or ANG
rolls. Yet, the interceptor's operational life was not over. Of 300 F-86Ds
reaching MAP countries, Japan received 106.
The F-86L, converted from the F-86D had many new features
including, electronic equipment (AN/ARR-39 Data Link receiver, AN/ARG 34 command
radio, AN/APX 2b identification radar, and new glide slope receiver) that
permitted the aircraft to operate in conjunction with the SAGE ground
environment and with the GPA-37, electronic heart of an advanced system of
ground control interception which immediately preceded SAGE. Also,
slat-equipped, extended-wing leading edges (similar to those of the F-,86F and
F86H), which brought the aircraft's empty weight to 13,822 pounds (a 1,352-1b
increase), but improved maneuverability at high altitudes.
Conversion of the F-86D to the F-86L was more a matter of
modification than development, but delays arose. In January 1955 deficiencies
were noted in the control surface tie-in (CSTI) equipment, the signal data
recorder (NADAR) slipped, a coupler for the data link (AN/ARRr39) was needed,
and modification of the E-4 fire-control system to accept inputs from the
coupler remained to be done. Despite such uncertainties, the Air Force hoped to
have a completed electronic prototype by December 1955.
The Air Force conducted a development engineering inspection
of the F-86D cockpit mockup readied for the new electronic configuration. The
inspection, held at the North American Fresno plant on 1 May 1955, was a
success. The Air Force found the new cockpit satisfactory and only minor changes
were forecast. The ensuing lack of installation data, lack of flight test data,
and nonavailability of the equipment to be installed, torpedoed North American's
optimism that the electronic modification - program might well start earlier
In the fall of 1955 when the modification program was
officially announced, the Air Force intended to modify 1,240 ADC F-86D aircraft,
but the number actually converted amounted to about half that number. Conversion
of the F86D to the L configuration was accomplished by the Sacramento Air
Materiel Area and North American's Inglewood and Fresno plants. Known as Project
Follow-On, the modification program did not begin until May 1956. Once started,
however, the Follow-On outputs accelerated rapidly.
The first to receive the new aircraft was the 49th Fighter
Interceptor Squadron at Hanscom Field, Mass. By the end of 1957, only 18 months
after the beginning of Follow-On, ADC had received 576 F-86L aircraft. The
F-86L, being a converted F-BFD, carried that aircraft's price tag of
$343,839.00. This amount did not reflect the significant cost of the Follow On
With the advent of more modern interceptors of the
F-101B and F-106 types, the need for the F-86L declined. Two ANG squadrons (the
111th and 159th) already had flown the F-86L by mid-1959, and by the end of that
year the ADC inventory of F-86Ls was down to 133. The last F-86L left the Air
Defense Command in June 1960, but the interceptor remained a valuable Guard
asset until mid-1965.
So, when we boil down the information we have about
these two aircraft, what’s left? As good as they were—the best of their day—they had built-in flaws. It was these flaws (not
pilot error, as some have alleged) which led to the mid-air collision over
Savannah and left Colonel Richardson with no other option other than to jettison
the hydrogen bomb.
Once a Soldier, Always a Soldier
No doubt a few of you are wondering what is this geezer’s problem; he’s retired, isn’t he?
Why doesn’t he leave well enough alone?
It doesn’t work that way. Once a soldier, always a soldier. In the military profession, responsibilities do not end with retirement. My oath of allegiance still applies. Were I—God forbid—to disgrace my country, I would very likely be stripped of my pension and benefits. And, should the need arise (something like Pearl Harbor), I could be back in uniform. The contributions to America by retired military personnel have been enormous. General Dwight D. Eisenhower served as President. Most recently, General Colin Powell served as Secretary of State. Besides, I’m not ready to be put out to pasture.
* * *
No, we didn’t find the Savannah loose nuke—not yet, anyway. But it certainly wasn’t from lack of trying. When we came up empty-handed in the 2004 expedition with DTRA, everyone was disappointed, including the U.S. Air Force. On a personal, superficial level, there were probably individuals who were glad to see a rogue Colonel who had the unmitigated gall to challenge the experts come up short, but deep down inside I think everyone involved wanted to dispose of the nuke and thereby bring closure to the Cold War. That it didn’t happen; that Evil incarnate would be alive and ticking at the bottom of Wassaw Sound after 50 years of fruitless searching is disturbing to say the least. For the sake of our children and our children’s children, we need to find #47782 and its kindred loose nukes before its too late. The nuclear genie is out of the bottle. We either put an end to them or they will put an end to us.
What people don’t seem to understand is that these Doomsday Devices won’t go away by themselves. With radioactive half lives measured in hundreds of thousands of years, their species just might outlive ours. It is conceivable that a nuke could rest on the continental shelf for hundreds of years before leaking (or, worse yet, detonating). High explosives tend to sweat nitroglycerine—they become more dangerous with each passing year. All it would take to set the shaped charges off in unison and implode the plutonium core is the tiniest pulse from the thermal battery.
When it comes to nuclear weapons, what we have for the Cold War era is a policy of not telling the public the truth. Our leaders thought it was best to keep us in the dark. So whenever something went wrong, such as happened at Tybee, their first instinct was to downplay the danger. They couldn’t find the bomb, therefore they had to say that it did not need to be found. That is important. It covers the current people from wrongdoing. That is their story and they are sticking to it.
Upon rereading the manuscript version of this book for the umpteenth time, I was struck by how neat and orderly I made it appear. The events proceeded in logical progression, Point A led in a straight line to Point B, much like the flight plans that commercial pilots file with the FAA. Nothing of this sort occurred. We were constantly being blown off course by unforeseen impediments such as Hurricane Jeanne and the War on Terrorism or being distracted by short-circuited psychics, opportunistic bunko artists, and would-be Steven Spielbergs looking to cash in on loose nukes. I even took some heat for having dared to suggest that the Air Force should pay me for my time. Pundits with six figure salaries berated me for having made money an issue. But the truth of the matter is that I could not possibly come up with the $945,290 it would take to properly outfit a 90 day expedition to search for the lost Savannah nuke.
Where to go from here? You may recall that Earl’s magic box made it possible to narrow the 2004 search. It turned out that Earl wasn’t the only one working on this type of device. I received several proposals for assistance from reputable inventors who were at various stages in the development of a portable instrument that could prospect for anything and everything.
Scientists have determined that the universe is composed of 92 natural elements (plus a small number of manmade elements such as plutonium). Astronomers and astrophysicists have wavelength spectrometers that can analyze the makeup of objects that are light years away. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that we are not that far from being able to set a dial on a portable unit that would “dowse” (passive detection as opposed to projecting a beam) for minerals. In fact, that is precisely what these magic boxes do. The good part is that the higher energy elements are the easiest to determine. Because the spark plug and capsule of #47782 are composed of plutonium, they would stand out like a sore thumb if they weren’t shielded by 15 feet of seawater and 20 feet of sand.
One proposal that looked particularly promising had come from a former oil company engineer, a serious-minded World War II veteran who subsequently talked me into signing a non-disclosure agreement. As is often the case with cutting edge technology, the device and its inventor are top secret. All I can say is that I’ve seen it work. In fact, we tested for plutonium and came up positive. And, just to make certain, I used it to detect some hidden explosives.
As for me and the ASSURE team, we are aging about as gracefully as a Mark 15 nuke. At times, I am sorely tempted to drag a grappling hook along the bottom like Art Arseneault did in the original 1958 search. But snagging the Savannah loose nuke would be the last thing I did. They would slap me in jail and impound my boat for needlessly endangering the public. Consequently, there will be no grab for glory. The day when pilots lived “in fame or went down in flames” is gone forever. We will find #47782 and we will do it by the book. The chase doesn’t always go to the fleet of foot. By careful preparation and repeated calculations we are determined to rid the planet of abandoned nukes. God willing, WE WILL GET RID OF THEM BEFORE THEY GET RID OF US. There is no other way. We have no other choice. Want to do your part? Contact me, Colonel Derek Duke, online at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll put you to work getting out the word.
The late comedian George Burns commented: “You can’t help getting older but you don’t have to get old.” I can readily assure you that there is no danger that I will slow in my pursuit of loose nukes; I could no more do that than I could lose my lust for life. That the elusive Savannah nuke survived our last encounter does not mean that it has attained some kind of victory. This Doomsday Device’s inevitable demise has simply undergone a delay which will be remedied in due course. Although other WMD issues—such as port security—demand our immediate attention, we are very much aware that the bomb is still there. Its methods—fear and intimidation—are not ours. And that, no doubt, will be its undoing. Nuclear insanity is incompatible with our children’s tomorrows. We cannot and will not permit it to happen.
My heartfelt thanks to Mr. Don Ernst, Tybee Island, Georgia—owner of tybeebomb.com for his technical support, his personal contribution in time and equipment to the hunt, and being there for me when I needed him. Don got the ball rolling and I, the ASSURE team, and Chasing Loose Nukes took it from there.
Nor would this book have been possible without the help of many munificent media people whose professional approach to coverage of this news item connected people and information with this story. It truly became a “connect the dots” exercise. In particular I wish to thank:
THE TYBEE NEWS
THE SAVANNAH MORNING NEWS
THE ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION
THE CHARLESTON POST
THE STATESBORO HERALD
SAVANNAH WSAV TV3
SAVANNAH WJCL TV 22
SAVANNAH WTOC TV 11
SAVANNAH WBMQ RADIO
LOU DOBBS MONEYLINE
ABC—GOOD MORNING AMERICA
NBC TODAY SHOW
NBC TONIGHT SHOW, JAY LENO
CBS EVENING NEWS
ABC EVENING NEWS
NBC EVENING NEWS
Being a military man of few words, it is difficult for me to express how very grateful I am to all the private citizens who stepped forward with assistance. In particular, I wish to thank Mr. Chester Williams who as a young US Navy Lieutenant was one of the first on the scene to witness the devastation caused by the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, an event which affected him so greatly that decades later he can recall it as if it happened yesterday.
Having spent hours on the phone interviewing the main players of the first two decades of the Savannah loose nuke’s 50 year saga—Colonel Howard Richardson, Bob Lagerstrom, Clarence Stewart, Howard Dixon, and W. J. Howard—I can’t thank them enough for their kind consideration. They are America’s best—fine gentlemen, fine citizens—outstanding individuals whose courage, integrity and honor set the standards for today’s military. I especially appreciate the photographs and documents they sent me, and that they put up with me when I asked them to revisit stressful—often traumatic—events and incidents from the past. Without the benefit of their oral and written statements, I would have been as lost as the Savannah nuke. They let me know where to start. If I don’t locate and recover the menace, it’s my fault, not theirs.
I would be remiss if I failed to thank all those within the government, citizens really, who helped me research, gather information, and assess its impact upon Georgia today. And I only wish that I had some means to adequately repay all the caring people within our government who extended a welcome helping hand on what the Air Force maintained was an old, better forgotten, issue. In particular:
The Savannah Office, US Corps of Engineers
The US Coast Guard, Savannah, Georgia
The Savannah, Chatham County Department of Emergency Management
The US Air Force
The US Navy
The US Army
The National Weather Service
The State of Georgia, DNR
The Skidaway Institute of Oceanography
The Tybee Island Museum, Tybee Island, Georgia
The 8th Air Force Museum, Savannah, Georgia
If I have left anyone out, I apologize profusely. There have been so many selfless, and often anonymous, individual contributors to the search for loose nukes that I could not possibly mention them all within the confines of this book.
There was a time when the Air Force could cite security reasons for not telling the public the truth about the lost nukes. That time has has long passed. The public has the right to decide what we should do about these weapons. I'm not an alarmist and I don't want to get people unnecessarily upset. However, I urge you to pass this book on to a friend when you finish reading it so that they too can learn a little more about what is going on concerning the real and present danger from Weapons of Mass Destruction than some people in the government would like them to know. You do that and maybe, just maybe, we can make this planet a better, safer place to live.
Appendix Alpha a
The Proposal below was presented to the USAF as a cost
effective Solution utilizing a highly qualified “Top Secret Security Clearance”
cleared group. The proposal was prepared by the very best professional firm
specializing in such proposals. It is an intensely serious offer. Prior to this
publication it has been a restricted document.
9 August 2000
PROPOSAL FOR IMMEDIATE NON-INTRUSIVE SITE INVESTIGATION TO
LOCATE LOST AIR FORCE ORDNANCE
This proposal is being submitted as an offer to the U.S.
Government for specific scientific and technical research services for a
non-intrusive site investigation to locate specific ordnance lost by the U.S.
Air Force off the coast of Savannah following a mid air collision in 1958. The
specific ordnance being sought is a Mark 15 Thermonuclear device.
The purpose of this investigation is to research all known
information related to the incident, identify the most probable jettison area
and area of impact for the search, and conduct an extensive passive
non-intrusive search of the area using current state of the art technology for
locating buried and/or underwater objects. The search is intended to identify
potential targets in the area through passive detection and remote sensing,
verify targets found by physical non-intrusive inspection, and precisely and
clearly locate the target device or determine the device does not exist within
the search area.
1. Offeror’s Name and Address:
This proposal is being submitted by:
American Sea Shore Underwater Recovery Expedition, Inc.
A Georgia Corporation
Derek L. Duke, President (nominee)
[address and phone number deleted for purposes of publication]
2. Type of Organization:
This corporation was formed for the express purpose of
providing the investigation services noted above. Derek Duke is one of the
principals and President (nominee) of ASSURE. As such, he has assembled the
scientific investigative team and the physical plant to perform the services
described above. The qualifications of each team member are described in
attachment A. The proposed physical plant, the primary search vessel, is
described in attachment B. ASSURE has contracted for the services of this vessel
during the search period. The cost estimates are detailed in attachment C. The
Résumé's of key people of are included in Tab D. This proposal and the data
contained herein are proprietary and are the result of extensive research
efforts by ASSURE in assembling the assets needed for this effort.
3. Names and telephone numbers of personnel to be
contacted for evaluation and/or negotiation purposes:
[Editor's Note: All personal information on the ASSURE
team has been deleted]
4. Name of Federal, state, and other agencies receiving
this proposal or funding this effort:
Proposal is only being made to the Federal Government
at this time.
5. Date of Submission:
9 August 2000
6. Signed By:
__________Derek L. Duke
1. Abstract of Proposal:
SEARCH FOR MARK 15 THERMONUCLEAR DEVICE
This proposal is for an immediate passive search and
non-intrusive site investigation to locate a Mark 15 thermonuclear device
jettisoned following a mid air collision in 1958. This investigation will
include assimilation and analysis of all known information related to the
incident by a team of experts experienced in weapons and other hardware recovery
in a marine environment, identification of the most probable area of jettison,
development of a comprehensive search plan for the area based on analysis of
conditions at the jettison area, and an extensive passive non-intrusive search
of the area using current state of the art technology for locating buried and/or
underwater objects. The search area may include near shore marsh and upland
areas as well as shallow and deep-water environments. The search will cover all
areas identified by the team. The search is intended to identify potential
targets in the area through passive detection and remote sensing means using
mainly magnetometer, side scan sonar, and similar detection devices, to
physically identify any targets found by non intrusive inspection, and, if
found, precisely locate the device for subsequent removal by the Government. The
search results will be thoroughly mapped and all hits marked and identified for
future reference. Electronic data files of the search and findings will be
reviewed during the search by the investigative team to determine any needed
adjustment in the search pattern and/or area. A detailed report of the search
efforts and results will be prepared and furnished to the Government within 15
days of search conclusion.
2. Statement of Work:
a. Objectives: The objective of this effort is to
locate the missing Mark 15 device for subsequent removal/disposal by others; or,
determine that the device does not exist in the most probable impact area and
does not pose a threat to the surrounding development and environment. In either
case a detailed report of the search and investigations will be furnished to the
Government for ultimate closure of the incident.
b. Method of Approach:
ASSURE will, upon award and notice to
1) Assemble the principal investigators and advisors as
described in Tab A at the search site within 48 hours.
2) Mobilize the search vessel described in Tab B to the
site within 72 hours.
3) Define the area and initial pattern of search to be
conducted based on existing data. Provide a copy of the analysis and initial
search pattern to the Government for review.
4) Initiate search operations within 72 hours of Notice
5) Provide daily status report to the Government on
search operations and results obtained to date, proposed changes in search
operations. ASSURE will also allow the government to uplink electronic data for
real time use and analysis by agencies that the government desires.
6) Physically investigate targets found in the search
area in non-intrusive manner to determine identity of object found.
7) Electronically mark, identify, and catalog targets
found in the search area.
8) When subject device is found, immediately notify
government liaison officer and secure site.
9) At the end of the base 30 day period, provide
written report summarizing results of operations to date, to include cataloging
targets found, location, and identification, and recommendations for further
10) At end of contract period, provide final report on
operations and findings with electronic and hard copy files of targets found,
location, and identification.
c. Extent of effort to be employed:
ASSURE will deploy the personnel listed in Tab A and
the search vessel identified in Tab B. These resources will be deployed to the
search area for the contract period or until the device is located.
d. Anticipated Results:
The unique nature and characteristics of the team and
vessel provide the greatest possibility for detection of the device in the area.
If there, the location of the device will be accurately notated and furnished to
the Government for removal. If ASSURE is unable to locate the device in the
search area, because of the methods and expertise deployed, the area can be
determined clear of the device with substantial surety.
e. Benefit to the Government:
The benefit to the Government will be the location of a
very hazardous device lost in a location near a large population and in an
environmentally sensitive area. Whether or not the device is actually found, the
Government will be able to accurately respond to the numerous enquiries that
would be forthcoming under public disclosure of the event.
3. Key Personnel: See Tab A.
4. Support needed from Government:
a. Liaison Officer to provide direct liaison with
contractor and any public officials or other agencies that may become
knowledgeable of, or involved in the operations throughout the search planning
b. Site security to avoid interference with search
operations should such be required.
1. Proposed price:
The proposed cost of the operations described above is
$328,430 for a minimum base period of 30 days. Unless the device is found or
unless otherwise instructed by the Government to discontinue search operations,
the contractor will continue up to a maximum search period of 90 days with a
total maximum cost of $945,290. Search efforts beyond the 90 day period will be
at the direction of the government. Costs beyond the 90 day contract period will
be based upon the daily rates for the base contract.
2. Period of time proposal is valid:
This proposal and pricing information is valid for 90
days from the date of this proposal.
3. Type of contract preferred:
Due to the increasing awareness of the situation, the
impending public release by other parties (namely the big national television
and print media), and the non-secure location, time is of the essence.
Therefore, a Letter Contract is recommended to expedite initiation of the search
effort. Due to the research, investigations, collective experience of contract
team with similar type searches, and the unique nature of the search vessel
proposed, a sole source contract is recommended. A justification and approval
for other than full and open competition will be required. However, given the
nature of the device lost, the closeness to a large civilian population, the
impending release of information regarding the mishap to the news media by
others, the unique qualifications of the contract team, the extensive research
and collaboration already performed by the principal of the firm, and the
singular existence of the proposed vessel for the shallow and deep water
operations proposed, sufficient justification is believed to exist.
4. Proposed duration of effort:
The minimum base contract period is 30 days. The
estimated maximum period of performance is 90 days.
5. Description of relevant experience:
The principal of the company, Derek Duke, is a retired
Air Force Lt Colonel. His past experience with military operations makes him
well qualified to lead this investigative search to locate this device. He was a
Combat Select Lead Instructor Pilot in Strategic C141B Air Operations and
supervised loading and flew nuclear weapons. He also served as Chief Pilot for
the National Security Agency ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) EC-47 operation in
the Southeast Asia/Vietnam Theater in 1972 during the height of that war. He
then served in Air Search and Rescue operations as a pilot in this coastal area.
He has personally spent hundreds of hours researching specific information
regarding this incident, the device, and the personnel involved, potential means
of discovery, and assembling the team and vessel necessary to find the device.
He has performed site surveys of the jettison area numerous times both by boat
and air and is intimately familiar with the location. As a current commercial
airline captain, Mr. Duke is extremely knowledgeable of flight operations in all
The remaining team members have been assembled based on
their unique and direct experience in recovery of other weapons and items
similar to the target device. Their individual experiences are contained in Tab
A. Their qualifications are among the best of the best.
The search vessel is a heavily modified 1983 NATO
constructed LST. It is ideally suited for this near shore, shallow water search
area. The entire vessel, particularly the hull, has been reworked with composite
material turning into part of the elaborate array of sensors. This is
undoubtedly one of world's outstanding platforms for near shore operation. It is
a one a kind vessel with its GPS synchronized, computer controlled search mode
and just over 2 foot draft coupled with a propulsion system for 360 degree
travel and station-keeping. The bridge tracking party is enabled by a wide array
of imaging CRT's that locate contacts, electronic tag them, and allow total
target prosecution to solution. The search devices and integrated computer
system have been used on numerous search missions with outstanding results as
noted in Tab B.
6. Other Relevant information:
The unique nature of this device, the non-recovery of
the device, the pending disclosure by others of the incident, and the proximity
to a large civilian population makes this search effort a very time and publicly
Derek L. Duke
President, ASSURE, Inc
Note varied military service involving air transport of
nuclear weapons, Air-Sea Rescue and Recovery Helo experience in this region,
ELINT experience for National Security Agency in Vietnam, and over 200 combat
missions across span of 25 years.
Dr. Stephen Schlock
Note Dr. Schlock's outstanding history in developing
advanced programs for the discovery and recovery of underwater munitions for the
US Navy. He also experienced nuclear weapons and submarine reactor operations
under the famous Admiral Rickover.
Bruce David Salati
Note Mr. Salati's outstanding abilities in the
electromagnetic sensing arena with both analytical and creative skills, as
applied to the maritime environment. He was a key to the tremendous software
development and application that has turned the DEEP SCAN into a powerhouse
Mr. J. Paulsen Helmken
Note Captain Helmken's remarkable sea career in
Savannah and the south really began when he first accompanied his Grandfather to
work at the 1st Savannah tugboat company, which his Grandfather founded and
operated. Captain Helmken acquired a natural ability to operate substantial
vessels in tight, near shore conditions. Of comment is his excellence with
extensive projects. He worked as a consultant with the US Coast Guard in the
1996 Olympic Sailing Event in Savannah for safe mooring in Wassaw Sound of the
more than 1200 sailboats. (This is the very site of the weapon's loss in 1958)
He invented numerous commercial safety devices for safe mooring of smaller
vessels displaying his mastery of ocean and storm pulses.
Mr. R. Harris Parker
Note Mr. Parker's vast experience from his childhood
days when MR. HENRY FORD played with him on Mr. Ford's Savannah plantation. (Mr.
Parker's Father was Henry Ford's Plantation Overseer) His professional Sea
Captain experience is enhanced by his diving expertise. Both the Dept of Justice
and the FBI cite him with highly laudatory letters in the 1980's for his work in
a Lear jet crash involving a known mob figure. The jet mysteriously disappeared
into the depths of the ocean 60 miles east of Savannah. It was Mr. Parker alone
who located the small jet's wreckage, planned, and executed the highly
successful retrieval dives. Mr. Parker maintains a production facility in
Savannah to create maritime assets for major Hollywood studio to use in their
feature films. He is unequalled in his ability to adapt mechanical devices to
the needs of a seaman in any maritime environment.
R/V Deep Scan
This vessel is unique unto itself in the
The original LST design was transformed into a highly
modified shallow draft, station-keeping vessel that has become the ideal
platform for the most precise underwater or under-seabed object sensing
The exceptional capabilities of its state of the art
sensors are enhanced beyond any other known capability by using innovative hull
construction techniques that turn the entire vessel structure into a sensor.
Coupled with the computer modeling created by the technical staff, the vessel
has unmatched capabilities.
The highly computerized, GPS synchronized vessel can
search with unerring accuracy, target the most elusive of objects regardless of
composition at depths beneath the seabed that seem impossible. These targets are
prosecuted with electronic marking and vessel station keeping that allow total
sensory analysis. The tracking system provides total recall of all imagery and
In summary, for finding a 42 year lost nuclear weapon
in a shallow maritime environment where its present existence beneath the seabed
is almost a certainty, this vessel is the World's leading
R/V Deep Scan, History:
Plans for the modification of the original vessel were
developed late in 1991. The hull was a 1983 standard NATO design
Deep Scan was originally intended to serve as a remote
sensing and recovery platform for archeological projects on the Florida East
Coast. The design objectives included the ability to detect submerged objects on
the coastal seafloor using acoustic imaging techniques (side scan sonar), detect
metallic objects buried below the coastal seafloor using electromagnetic
techniques (magnetometer and search coil gradiometer) and detect objects below
the seafloor using acoustic imaging techniques (sub bottom profiling
Additionally, R/V Deep Scan was required to support the
operation of these imaging and detection techniques at the surf line, often in
depths as shallow as three feet. The operational requirements were unique, no
vessel existed at that time that could support the required detection sensors
and operate in a shallow coastal environment.
A landing craft hull was selected based on the need to
conduct operations in shallow water. The selected hull was composed of wood and
composite fiberglass materials, with small quantities of aluminum and stainless
steel in some fittings. The amount and location of metals had to be tightly
controlled to allow the search coil gradiometer to “see” through the
non-conductive hull of the ship, and to keep the magnetic signature of ship low
enough so that hull mounted magnetometers could be utilized.
Shallow water operations are supported through the use
of a nearly flat bottom hull capable of sustaining repeated contact with coastal
sand. The primary propulsion system consists of a diesel powering a water jet
drive. Two gasoline engines, which drive retractable propellers, provide
secondary propulsion; these propellers are retracted during survey operations to
prevent contact with the sea floor and marine life.
The diesel primary propulsion system serves another
important function: unlike a gasoline engine, a diesel has no spark ignition
system and cannot generate undesired impulsive electrical noise. Controlling
electrical noise generated by shipboard equipment was essential to allow the use
of hull-mounted sensors. All wiring within the ship is also configured to
minimize the generation and radiation of undesired electrical noise that could
interfere with operation of the various remote-sensing systems.
Construction of R/V Deep Scan began early in 1992 with
the addition of the propulsion systems, superstructure, electrical systems and
the original detection systems. Research into the operation of the various
detection systems continued through 1992 and 1993. Early research results
demonstrated the following:
Deep Scan could conduct operations in water at depths as shallow as three feet
under proper sea conditions.
The search coil gradiometer could reliably detect non-ferrous metals (aluminum,
brass, bronze...) in a coastal environment, provided that smooth sea conditions
existed. The search coil gradiometer was susceptible to disruption by hull
flexure and by roll and pitch with respect to the surface of the sea. It could
only be operated under near perfect sea conditions.
Magnetometers could be hull mounted and provide useful data in shallow water.
This was only possible due to the low magnetic signature of R/V Deep Scan’s hull
and the electrical noise suppression techniques applied to the various shipboard
Sub bottom profiling sonar systems produced useful results for geologic studies, but
were not useful as a search tool for submerged objects in a large search area.
The limited “footprint” of these systems would require a very difficult and time
consuming search for most objects.
R/V Deep Scan, Present Capability:
Early research results led to many improvements in R/V
Deep Scan’s capabilities. Hull mounted magnetometers were moved to extendable
booms mounted forward on the hull. Towed magnetometers were added to extendable
booms mounted aft on the hull. Sonar experiments continued with sub bottom
profiling and side scan sonar systems. Navigation was upgraded to include a
differential GPS receiver supplying data to the digital mapping system. Hull
stiffness was increased and the search coil gradiometer coils were replaced to
improve search coil gradiometer reliability. Proton precession magnetometers
were replaced with cesium vapor magnetometers to increase operating speed and
sensitivity. High-resolution side scan sonar capability was added. Improvements
were made to software to enhance the ability of the ship’s crew to make real
time decisions about a target’s identity. Research results up to the present
demonstrate the following:
Side scan sonar images can be collected in very shallow water by using R/V Deep
Scan’s forward center boom as the transducer tow point. This allows the
transducer to be clear of all hull and propulsion generated air bubbles. (Air
bubbles reflect high frequency acoustic energy and can seriously degrade image
quality) Deep water towing is possible using the aft tow point. R/V Deep Scan’s
side scan sonar system generates high quality images of objects on the sea
floor. Present side scan sonar systems can not be reliably used in a practical
search for objects buried below the seafloor.
The cesium vapor magnetometers can be operated in shallow water from the hull
(forward) or from the aft booms. Three magnetometers can be operated
simultaneously from R/V Deep Scan, giving the ship a very large data collection
“footprint”, even for relatively small objects. (With aft booms fully extended,
R/V Deep Scan could be expected to detect the magnetic disturbance created by a
mass of steel equivalent to a small car at a distance of 150 feet from either
side of the ship. Further, the multi-sensor magnetometer system is capable of
determining if the disturbing object is to the left or right of the ship.) The
magnetometers are a very valuable tool; they can reliably detect objects on or
below the sea floor provided that the objects contain a sufficient quantity of
steel or iron.
The search coil gradiometer remains as the only practical system that can reliably
detect long buried metallic objects on or below the sea floor that do not
contain magnetic materials. (Examples of such objects include bronze artifacts
from colonial period wrecks, aircraft components, and missile components...)
Increasing the hull’s stiffness improved gradiometer performance, improving
coil-mounting structures reduced the mechanical stress on the coils during hull
flexure. Even with these modifications, the search coil gradiometer must be used
in near perfect sea state conditions due to roll and pitch sensitivity and hull
The ship’s navigation and remote sensing systems perform together reliably. Objects
detected during a grid search can be relocated on a repeatable basis. During
search operations for recoverable objects, the navigation system is configured
to run a methodical grid pattern. All anomaly indications are manually entered
into the navigation system in real time as the grid search continues. Following
grid search conclusion, or during periods when conducting the grid search is not
practical, anomaly site locations can be revisited. These visits are used to
confirm the existence of a repeatable anomaly and to investigate the identity of
the anomaly. This process is continued until desired object is located,
determined to be outside of the search area, or assumed to be in a condition,
position, or attitude which precludes detection.
R/V Deep Scan’s capability as a coastal/shallow water
remote sensing platform is unique in the recovery industry and represents the
culmination of eight years of research and development. Research into
improvements in remote sensing capability is continuing. R/V Deep Scan is a
dynamic platform that is well suited to modifications for unique remote sensing
See Attached Excel Document
SUPPLIES OR SERVICES AND PRICES/COSTS
1. Prices include Overhead and Profit and are
valid for a period of 90 days from proposal.
2. The final contract price will depend on the
number of days of service as directed by the government.
3. The minimum number of days ordered by the government
shall be 30 days.
4. This contract is effective for the period stated in
the contract/purchase order document.
Abbreviations: DY=Day HR=Hour LS=Lump Sum MD=Man Day EA=Each CD=Crew Day Item
Description (See Note 1)
Senior Search Advisor
Senior Data Analyis
Historical Data Researcher
Search Vessel (Assumes 24hr/day use)
Boat Captain (Assumes 2 Crews)
Vessel Crew (2 Crews @ 4 Each)
Search Team (4)
Contract Divers (2)
(Includes Typing and Copying)
Man Day Rate
Total Daily Rate
Senior Search Advisor
Senior Data Analysis
Historical Data Analyzer
1) All admin costs, telephones, copies, mailing, secretarial support, admin support are included in the
General and Administrative (G&A) overhead.
2) Fringe Benefits include all additional costs for insurance, etc., on labor costs.
3) Profit is calculated on base labor rate.
Depreciation @ 5 yrs.
(Based on 300 days per year available)
(Based on 100 gal/day@$1.65/gal)
Total Daily Cost
(Based on 60% Salvage after 90 day search)
(Based on 20 gal/day@$1.65/gal.
Total Daily Cost
Appendix Beta b
This is the receipt that Colonel Howard Richardson signed for
the Savannah nuke:
Appendix Gamma c
Air Force Search & Recovery Assessment of the
1958 Savannah, GA B-47 Accident
AF Nuclear Weapons and Counterproliferation Agency
12 April, 2001
· On 5 February 1958, a B-47 returning from a simulated combat
mission suffered a midair collision with an F-86. The B-47 was carrying a Mk 15
Mod 0 nuclear bomb in a training configuration (no nuclear capsule was on
board). Because the bomb was incapable of a nuclear explosion, permission was
granted to jettison the bomb, permitting the disabled B-47 to land without
conventional explosive on board. The bomb fell into the waters off the coast of
Georgia. An intensive, nine-plus week search failed to locate the bomb, and the
bomb was declared irretrievably lost on 16 April 1958.
· The bomb contained approximately 400 lbs of conventional
explosive as well as uranium (considered to be a heavy metal).
· In early August 2000, Congressman Jack Kingston (R-GA)
requested the Air Force
reinvestigate the accident following inquiries from
constituents and the media.
· The Air Force consulted the Navy, the Department of Energy
(DOE), the Savannah District Army Corps of Engineers, and the Skidaway
Oceanographic Institute to investigate the details surrounding the incident, the
most likely current condition of the bomb, associated hazards, and to determine
whether search and subsequent recovery operations should be attempted.
· Assuming the bomb did not detonate on impact, the Department
of Energy analysis concluded the bomb probably survived the accident intact and
is believed to be resting 5-15 feet under the seabed. If the bomb did not
survive intact, its components would have been dispersed and location/recovery
is not possible.
· Assuming the bomb is intact, the DOE evaluated its status
given the accident and subsequent 40 years of exposure to ocean water, silt and
mud. The DOE determined that there is no current or future possibility of a
nuclear explosion; the risk associated with the spread of heavy metals used in
the bomb is low; and if undisturbed, the explosive in the bomb pose no hazard.
However, intact explosive would pose a serious explosion hazard to personnel and
the environment if disturbed by a recovery attempt.
· Cost estimates for search and recovery operations are
difficult to pinpoint due to the
uncertainty of the impact point and the uncertainty in the
condition of the bomb. Search and recovery costs would most likely start at over
· Based on the available data, the suspected orientation of the
bomb, the search methods and available equipment, the Navy Supervisor of Salvage
estimates there is a very low possibility of successfully locating the bomb.
· Recovery operations could not begin until after an
approximate 2 plus year environmental decision making process.
· Disposition costs following a successful recovery are also
difficult to quantify and would need to be determined by the Department of
· There could be substantial economic impact to the region if
an accidental detonation of the conventional explosive occurred during search or
recovery operations. The shipping, fishing and recreation industries in the area
account for over $28 million in annual economic activity.
· Impact to the regional aquifer and the local drinking water
supply due to search and
recovery operations could be significant.
· The Air Force concurs with expert conclusions that it is in
the best interest of the public and the environment to leave the bomb in its
resting-place and remain categorized as irretrievably lost.
· There may be unacceptable environmental impact associated
with search and recovery
· On 5 February 1958, a B-47 bomber was on a simulated combat
mission fromHomestead AFB, FL.
§ The B-47 was carrying a single transportation configured (see
Bomb description section below) Mk15 Mod 0 nuclear bomb.
- The bomb weighed approximately 7600 lbs. The B-47 had a
10,000-lb. maximum payload capacity.
§ It was common practice to train with transportation
· The B-47 had a mid-air collision with an F-86 fighter at
approximately 2:00 AM on 5 February 1958.
§ The F-86 crashed after the pilot successfully bailed out.
§ The F-86 was not directly involved with the B-47 simulated
§ The B-47 was damaged but flyable.
- Three attempts to land at Hunter AFB, GA were
- The Mk15 Mod 0 bomb was jettisoned to avoid possibility of
conventional explosive detonation caused by a crash landing at Hunter AFB,
- The jettison location was several miles from Savannah, GA in
Wassaw Sound area of the Atlantic Ocean.
- The drop elevation and air speed were approximately 7200 feet
approximately 200 knots respectively.
- The B-47 crew did not see an explosion upon impact.
- The B-47 landed safely at Hunter AFB, GA.
· Recovery efforts were conducted from 6 February 1958 until 16
§ A three square mile area was searched using the Air Force
2700th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Squadron and approximately 100 Navy personnel
equipped with hand held sonar and galvanic drag and cable sweeps.
- Water depth in the search area was approximately 8-40
- The Air Force declared the bomb irretrievably lost on 16
· The bomb contained approximately 400 lbs of conventional
explosive as well as uranium (considered to be a heavy metal).
· The Mk15 bomb type utilized a removable nuclear capsule,
which was required for a nuclear explosion, but was not present in this
· An Atomic Energy Agency (AEC) to Air Force "Transfer of
Custody" receipt, dated
4 February 1958, confirms no nuclear capsule was present,
therefore no nuclear yield was possible.
· The Mk15 bomb was produced in two versions; the Mod 0 and Mod
2. The Mod 2 version of this bomb type replaced the removable nuclear capsule of
the Mod 0 with a
non-removable nuclear capsule, thus making the Mod 2 version a
self-contained fully functional nuclear bomb.
· Concern has been raised as to which version of the bomb was
present. The AF and DOE have concluded that the bomb was a Mod 0, based on the
§ Maintenance records for this specific bomb indicate the only
maintenance activity during which the Mod 0 to Mod 2 conversion might have been
completed took place in July 1956.
§ AEC production records indicate Mod 2 conversion kits were
not ready until December 1957.
§ AEC production records indicate Mod 0 to Mod 2 conversions
did not begin until March 1958.
§ As the accident occurred in Feb 1958, the evidence is
conclusive that the bomb involved was a Mod 0.
DOE BOMB IMPACT ASSESSMENT
A team of engineers from Sandia and Los Alamos National
Laboratories developed the best estimate of the possible condition of the bomb.
The analyses and calculations were based upon detailed bomb design information,
reports on the accident and information provided by the Army Corps of Engineers
and the Skidaway Oceanographic Institute. There are many sources of uncertainty
in the initial conditions, the aerodynamic and hydrodynamic models developed,
and soil conditions; hence, these results should be viewed as "reasonable
estimates," the best that could be done with the information and time
· Bomb Condition Assessment is dependent on several
§ Aerodynamic and hydrodynamic trajectory calculations.
§ Structural analysis of the response of the bomb case to these
impacts and potential damage to bombs internals.
§ Evaluation of the expected penetration depth into the
§ Potential corrosion of the case and the internals from
prolonged exposure to the seabed environment.
§ Evaluation of the condition of the explosive and the
potential for explosion.
§ Evaluation of the potential for criticality.
· The bomb is predicted to have survived the accident, assuming
it did not explode on impact.
· Based on the expected depth of water in the impact region,
the 12-foot long bomb is expected to be buried nose-down, probably 5-15 feet
below the seabed (depth from the seabed to the tail of the bomb). See appendix
§ Substantial internal damage is expected.
§ It is possible portions of the bomb internals could have
breached the nose of the case and have been separated from the case in the
§ The seabed/seawater environment has minimal effect on the
- Corrosion rates are such that the integrity of the case would
currently not be compromised but instead the case would merely be pitted.
- The internal components would be fully saturated in a
salt-water environment and would also be subject to corrosion. Leaching of the
materials is expected to remain within a few feet of the bomb.
- Selected components within the conventional explosive are
water-soluble; however, the explosive is expected to remain viable but somewhat
less sensitive than the original formulation.
NAVY SUPERVISOR OF SALVAGE SEARCH ASSESSMENT
The Supervisor of Salvage was requested to assess the
technologies available for a future search of the lost bomb.
· Three technologies were considered for use in search
operations - 1) Side Scan Sonar (high frequency acoustic waves), 2) Magnetometer
(magnetic signature) and 3) Sub-Bottom Profiler (low frequency acoustic
§ Side-scan sonar, although widely used as a primary search
tool, is not applicable due to the belief that the bomb is buried beneath the
§ The magnetometer would not be well suited due to the lack of
ferrous materials in the bomb and the impact orientation of the bomb.
§ The Sub-Bottom Profiler was deemed to be the most effective
technology due to the likely burial depth of the bomb and the lack of ferrous
- Sub-bottom profiling utilizes low frequency "acoustic image"
of content below the seafloor. A range of equipment within this category is
readily available and commonly utilized for applications at depths of
penetration well beyond the depths believed involved with this search.
- The disadvantage of sub-bottom profiling is the narrow swath
or width covered with each sweep.
· Search operations with a sub-bottom profiler are estimated to
cost $10,000 per day with a search rate of 1 square mile per 12 days. This
estimate only includes the search activities (based on 24-hour operations) and
does not include the time and resources required for personnel and equipment
mobilization. Weather related delays would extend the search time. The $10K per
day search cost accrues whether searching or not.
· Based on the data reviewed, the suspected physical condition
and orientation of the bomb, the search methods and available equipment, the
Navy Supervisor of Salvage estimates there is a very low probability of
successfully locating the bomb.
· In addition, such a search would undoubtedly indicate the
presence of many targets, which would then need to be characterized and
prioritized for follow-up investigation.
§ These targets would need to be sufficiently uncovered and
investigated by divers to allow for clear identification. This could cause an
unacceptable environmental impact and would be dangerous to personnel
· Navy Supervisor of Salvage Conclusion
§ Completing a search for the lost bomb is certainly within the
capabilities of the U.S. Navy. However, given the limited amount of information
available, the area to be searched and the number of false targets that would
have to be prosecuted would be unreasonably large when compared to an average
§ From a technical standpoint, the Navy Supervisor of Salvage
does not recommend undertaking this effort.
CONSIDERATION OF OPTIONS
There are a number of general issues to consider as well as
option specific issues prior to recommending a course of action.
· Given the previously discussed information, there are two
possible courses of action: § Leave the bomb in its resting location.
§ Pursue a search and subsequent recovery attempt.
· The following criteria should be used to determine the most
prudent path forward.
§ Economic - The potential economic impacts to the region (e.g.
tourism, shipping, fishing) of the various courses of action.
§ Environmental - The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
implications (e.g., the potential impacts to human and natural environments)
associated with each course of action.
§ Costs - The costs for each course of action as well as the
likelihood of success.
§ Disposal—If recovered, how will the bomb be disposed of and
what are the costs associated with disposition.
EVALUATION OF OPTIONS
· General Public Safety Considerations—There is no
possibility of nuclear explosion due to conclusive evidence of the absence of a
§ Four primary hazards were identified for consideration.
1. Conventional Explosives
2. Potential for environmental contamination
3. Safety hazards to personnel
4. Potential for criticality
§ Situations in which the bomb might be disturbed were
- Hurricane - Hurricanes typically only disturb the first 2 to
3 feet of the seabed. Initial assessment of this scenario does not indicate a
- Dredging activities - The area in question supports local
fishing and pleasure boating. There are no current or planned dredging
activities in this area to support either the fishing industry or the
- Fishing and pleasure boating - Due to the estimated depth of
the bomb in the seabed, and the weight of the bomb (7600 lbs), fishing and
boating activities are unlikely to disturb the bomb. Los Alamos scientists
believe that even if the bomb was accessible and a boat anchor was dropped on
it, a violent reaction of the explosive is very unlikely.
· General Environmental implications and issues.
§ Search and recovery operations could cause unacceptable
§ NEPA requires Federal Agencies to make environmentally
informed decisions prior to any irrevocable or irretrievable commitment of
resources (resources are defined as personnel, facilities, or money).
- The NEPA process would involve creation of either an
Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement.
§ Regional Aquifer (Floridian)
- In the Wassaw Sound area, the top of the Floridian aquifer
(limestone) would generally be expected to be encountered at about 90 to 100
feet below mean low water (MLW). The Floridian aquifer is overlain by about 40
to 50 feet of Miocene layer confining material (clayey sand), depending on water
depth. The top of the Miocene layer would be expected to be encountered about 40
feet below MLW, with the exception of areas where the Miocene may have been
scoured away by old river channels. In the scour areas, the Miocene could be
encountered as deep as 60 to 70 below MLW. Dredging or removal of the Miocene
confining material above the aquifer would need to be limited, to insure minimum
impact on the aquifer from salt-water intrusion due to a thinned confining unit.
The vertical hydraulic conductivity of the Miocene unit is currently under
further investigation, but in no case should the entire thickness of the
confining material be completely removed.
- Should invasive search or recovery operations entail
dredging, either by clamshell or cutterhead dredge, the maximum depth will be
restricted by the presence of the Floridian aquifer.
- If the confining material above the aquifer is breached, it
will allow seawater to enter the fresh water aquifer. The degree of damage to
the aquifer would depend on the aerial extent and depth of the breach. Since
water in the aquifer is under a downward gradient, due to the cone of depression
from pumping at Savannah, seawater would be pulled down into the aquifer, where
it would then travel toward Savannah. Since the Floridian aquifer is the
principal source of fresh water in coastal Georgia, the potential effect could
· General Economic Impact Factors
§ Activities along the Georgia coast include commercial
fishing, recreation (both general and specialized), and deep and shallow draft
navigation. Any event occurring in Wassaw Sound would likely impact the entire
coastal region of Georgia as the expected event site is in the upper coastal
region and littoral drift would carry the impact southward. Specific impacts are
as follows and only represent a portion of potential economic impact.
- Economic impact to the local shipping industry (deep and
shallow draft vessels) is unlikely. However, it cannot be completely ruled out
and the impact would depend on the context and extent of an accidental
detonation of the conventional explosive.
- The local commercial fishing industry would likely be
impacted by search and recovery operations.
- In 1997 commercial fishing on the Georgia coast produced
$28.5 million in seafood. The heart of the Georgia seafood industry occurs near
or south of the site of concern. Shrimp made up the largest portion of this
value with an estimated value of $22.3 million.
- With littoral drift, dredging activities and/or an explosion
or leakage could impact a significant portion of the fishery. The Georgia
fishery supports no less than 75 local, regional, and national seafood
- The following local recreation will be impacted during search
and recovery operations and certainly be impacted in the event of an inadvertent
St Simons Island
Coastal Island and main use or purpose (north to south along
Tybee Residential, Recreation
Little Tybee State controlled natural area
St Catherine’s Island State controlled natural area
Sapelo Island State controlled natural area
St Simons Island Residential and recreation
Jekyll Island State controlled recreation
Cumberland Island National seashore and wildlife management
Other areas of concern
Kings Bay Submarine facility, St Mary’s, Georgia
§ Impact to the regional aquifer and the local drinking water
supply due to search and recovery operations could be significant.
Leave Bomb in place
Experts considered the current state of the bomb, the range of
possible damage states, and the technical risks associated with leaving it in
place, recovery and ultimate disposition; but did not consider legal or
sociopolitical aspects of any such operations.
· Specific environmental & regulatory considerations
§ There is no possibility of contamination of the drinking
water supply given the region’s hydrology.
§ If left undisturbed, there is no reason to expect the
explosives to spontaneously explode.
§ There will be continuing doubt surrounding the bomb should it
not be recovered.
§ Left undisturbed in its current state, the principal risk to
the environment is from localized heavy metal contamination due to corrosion and
leaching of materials.
§ With regard to potential criticality, it is judged that there
are no practical criticality concerns with this bomb under any foreseen
· Cost Considerations -
§ None identified except for avoidance of economic impacts to
shipping, fishing and local recreation industries from an accidental explosion
during search and recovery operations.
Search and Recovery
· Specific Environmental & Regulatory Considerations
§ Should the explosive detonate the shock wave and debris would
be limited to less than 1000 feet.
§ There are potential environmental and safety hazards
associated search operations.
§ Subsequent invasive search operations to distinguish between
the Mk 15 bomb and other identified targets, may create cultural resource, and
public safety concerns. Completion of the NEPA process and documentation as well
as obtaining all Federal (Corps) and State permits or approvals would be
required. For instance, all of the ocean south of Tybee Island is subject to the
Coastal Barrier Resources Act (COBRA). Also, it is a certainty that coordination
under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act will have to be completed due to
the presence of Right Whales and various endangered sea turtle species such as
the Loggerhead, Kemps Ridley and Green turtles.
§ Assuming all hazards were characterized and controlled,
complete mitigation of risk would be unlikely; the bomb would still be hazardous
to recovery personnel.
§ Recovery would entail the potential for explosion due to the
unpredictable response of the explosive to being disturbed during recovery
§ Impact to the Floridian aquifer could be substantial if the
bomb’s conventional explosives detonated during search and/or recovery
§ Subsequent to recovery, the materials would need proper
- The conventional explosive is the primary hazard for recovery
- Assuming the nuclear materials (uranium categorized as a
heavy metal) could be separated from the explosive, it is expected they could be
safely packaged and disposed of. However, safe separation of the nuclear
materials is questionable.
- An approved method for packaging and shipping the damaged
bomb would also be required.
· Cost Considerations - see Appendix B for Rough Order of
Magnitude (ROM) cost estimates
§ None identified
§ Environmental Assessments/Impacts are complex, lengthy and
expensive - on the order of several years and involving several hundred thousand
dollars. If a full Environmental Impact Statement is required, the cost could be
in the million-dollar range.
§ Cost estimates for a search operation are difficult to
quantify due to the uncertainty in the impact point and the likely vertical
- Estimated search area is at least one square mile and could
easily be as large as 20 square miles. See Appendix B for breakdown of costs for
§ The Navy Supervisor of Salvage estimates there is a very low
probability of successfully locating the bomb.
§ Recovery and disposition related costs cannot be accurately
estimated until the bomb is positively identified and its condition assessed.
ROM cost estimates are included in Appendix B.
§ Costs for disposition of the bomb would also have to been
taken into consideration.
§ Once a search operation is initiated, will it be possible to
stop it? Identification of the stoppage criteria (e.g., cost, time) will be
§ If the bomb were located, site monitoring and protection
would be required to prevent unauthorized recovery efforts prior to recovery if
§ A complete site protection, recovery and disposition plan
would have to be developed and approved prior to initiating search
· For the following reasons, the Air Force recommends the bomb
be left in its resting place and remain categorized as irretrievably lost.
§ No possibility of nuclear explosion.
§ No risk to public.
§ Avoids potential for unacceptable impact to the
APPENDIX B - Table of ROM Cost Estimates
$10 - $20
Search activities w/boat
12 - 220 days
$120 - $2200
NEPA related activities
Target core samples
25 - 100
$1,250 - $5,000
>$1,695 - $7,525
Dev. Recovery options
NEPA related activities
To be determined
1 - 3 yrs
$250 - $750
Recovery & Disp total
>$5,065 - $11,425
Appendix Delta d
Air Force Assessment of Reported Elevated Radiation Resulting from a 1958 B-47 Accident
AF Nuclear Weapons And Counterproliferation Agency
This is a textual summary. The full report is available through
the Air Force Nuclear Weapons and Counterproliferation Agency.
31 May, 2005
The Air Force has reaffirmed that the lost incomplete bomb is
the property of the United States Government, and has consistently asserted that
the best course of action in this matter is to not continue to search for it and
to leave the property in place. Due to the concerns previously expressed, the
Air Force continues to reject any offer of salvage.
This report contains the findings of the Air Force coordinated
multi-agency inquiry into the possibility that the location of the Air Force
nuclear weapon lost in 1958 in the vicinity of Wassaw Sound near Savannah, GA,
had been identified. Information had been provided to the Air Force from local
Georgia residents that elevated radiation readings and abnormal magnetometer
readings may have indicated that the location of the weapon had been discovered.
A team composed of personnel from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, National
Nuclear Security Administration, and Georgia Department of Natural Resources,
led by Headquarters United States Air Force, was sent to determine if elevated
radiation readings were in fact present; if so, was the radiation indicative of
the lost nuclear weapon; and if not, what was the source of the elevated
radiation levels. In addition, the team was to evaluate available magnetometer
data, and all data acquisition methods to determine if the lost nuclear weapon
had been discovered. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY On 5 February 1958, a B-47 bomber,
carrying a single transportation-configured (no nuclear capsule on board) Mk15
Mod 0 nuclear bomb, had a mid-air collision with an F-86 fighter. Three attempts
to land at Hunter AFB, GA were unsuccessful. The Mk15 Mod 0 bomb was jettisoned
several miles from Savannah, GA in the Wassaw Sound area of the Atlantic Ocean.
Search efforts were conducted from 6 February 1958 until 16 April 1958. A three
square mile area was searched using the Air Force 2700th Explosive Ordnance
Disposal Squadron and approximately 100 Navy personnel equipped with hand held
sonar and galvanic drag and cable sweeps. The Air Force declared the bomb
irretrievably lost on 16 April 1958.
In 2001, in a study led by the Air Force Nuclear Weapons and
Counterproliferation Agency, the Air Force concurred with expert conclusions
that it is in the best interest of the public and the environment to leave the
bomb in its resting-place and remain categorized as irretrievably lost.
The Air Force considered the case to be closed until 2004, when
media reports indicated a citizens group named ASSURE (American Sea Shore
Underwater Recovery Expedition) had discovered enhanced levels of radiation and
were concerned that the elevated readings were associated with the lost bomb. In
response, the Air Force organized a team of experts to evaluate these reports,
with representatives from several organizations. It was determined that the next
step was to conduct a radiological survey of the area to ensure valid survey
methods, equipment, and readings.
Using sodium iodide detectors, the Air Force-led team surveyed
the Wassaw Sound area identified by ASSURE, detecting variations in
radioactivity, although the magnitudes reported by the ASSURE team were greater.
By utilizing high purity germanium detectors, the source of the radiation was
identified as naturally occurring radioactivity. Specific emphasis was placed on
determining the presence of the two isotopes of uranium that would indicate
presence of the Mk15. These two uranium isotopes were not detected using
gamma-ray spectral analysis.
Sediment samples were retrieved from the Wassaw Sound bottom
for radio-chemical analysis using a chain-of-custody procedure. In this much
more sensitive laboratory analysis, primordial uranium (uranium deposited at the
creation of the earth’s crust) was detected. Uranium isotope ratio analysis
confirmed that the small quantities of uranium present were from natural
sources, and not anthropogenic (human influenced). No traces of reactor waste or
any effluent from sources such as the Department of Energy Savannah River Site
were detected in any of the samples.
A wide area survey was performed using an array of six sodium
iodide detectors towed behind one of the team boats. This allowed a larger area
to be covered during the radiation survey. The broad area survey results
detected approximately the same radiation levels found by a second team boat,
but no indication of the Mk15.
No new information was uncovered that would lead the Air Force
to modify the conclusions reached in 2001. Valuable experience was gained in
utilizing modern radiation detection methodology in this endeavor.
In April 2001, the United States Air Force Nuclear Weapons and
Counterproliferation Agency compiled a report on the current feasibility of
recovery options, in the event that the location of the bomb was uncovered. This
was undertaken in response to a request from Representative Jack Kingston
(R-Ga), who had received information from a group of concerned constituents. The
Background and Executive Summary sections of the 2001 report are reproduced here
to provide background for this report.
On 5 February 1958, a B-47 bomber was on a simulated combat
mission from Homestead AFB, FL. The B-47 was carrying a single
transportation-configured (see Bomb description section below) Mk15 Mod 0
nuclear bomb. The bomb weighed approximately 7600 lbs. The B-47 had a 10,000-lb.
maximum payload capacity. It was common practice to train with
The B-47 had a mid-air collision with an F-86 fighter at
approximately 2:00 AM on 5 February 1958. The F-86 crashed after the pilot
successfully bailed out. The F-86 was not directly involved with the B-47
simulated combat mission. The B-47 was damaged but flyable. Three attempts to
land at Hunter AFB, GA were unsuccessful. The Mk15 Mod 0 bomb was jettisoned to
avoid possibility of conventional explosive detonation caused by a crash landing
at Hunter AFB, GA. The jettison location was several miles from Savannah, GA in
the Wassaw Sound area of the Atlantic Ocean. The drop elevation and air speed
were approximately 7200 feet and approximately 200 knots respectively. The B-47
crew did not see an explosion upon impact. The B-47 landed safely at Hunter AFB,
Recovery efforts were conducted from 6 February 1958 until 16
April 1958. A three square mile area was searched using the Air Force 2700th
Explosive Ordnance Disposal Squadron and approximately 100 Navy personnel
equipped with hand held sonar and galvanic drag and cable sweeps. Water depth in
the search area was approximately 8-40 feet. The Air Force declared the bomb
irretrievably lost on 16 April 1958.
The bomb contained less than 500 lbs of conventional explosive
as well as uranium (considered to be a heavy metal).
The Mk15 bomb type utilized a removable nuclear capsule, which
was required for a nuclear explosion, but was not present in this
An Atomic Energy Agency (AEC) to Air Force “Transfer of
Custody” receipt, dated 4 February 1958, confirms no nuclear capsule was
present, therefore no nuclear yield was possible.
The Mk15 bomb was produced in two versions: the Mod 0 and Mod
2. The Mod 2 version of this bomb type replaced the removable nuclear capsule of
the Mod 0 with a non-removable nuclear capsule, thus making the Mod 2 version a
self-contained fully functional nuclear bomb.
Concern has been raised as to which version of the bomb was
present. The AF and DOE have concluded that the bomb was a Mod 0, based on the
• Maintenance records for this specific bomb indicate the only
maintenance activity during which the Mod 0 to Mod 2 conversion might have been
completed took place in July 1956.
• AEC production records indicate Mod 2 conversion kits were
not ready until December 1957.
• AEC production records indicate Mod 0 to Mod 2 conversions
did not begin until March 1958.
• As the accident occurred in Feb 1958, the evidence is
conclusive that the bomb involved was a Mod 0.
In early August 2000, Congressman Jack Kingston (R-GA)
requested the Air Force reinvestigate the accident following inquiries from
constituents and the media.
The Air Force consulted the Navy, the Department of Energy
(DOE), the Savannah District Army Corps of Engineers, and the Skidaway
Oceanographic Institute to investigate the details surrounding the incident, the
most likely current condition of the bomb, associated hazards, and to determine
whether search and subsequent recovery operations should be attempted.
Assuming the bomb did not detonate on impact, the Department of
Energy analysis concluded the bomb probably survived the accident intact and is
believed to be resting 5-15 feet under the seabed. If the bomb did not survive
intact, its components would have been dispersed and location/recovery is not
Assuming the bomb is intact, the DOE evaluated its status given
the accident and subsequent 40 years of exposure to ocean water, silt and mud.
The DOE determined that there is no current or future possibility of a nuclear
explosion; the risk associated with the spread of heavy metals used in the bomb
is low; and if undisturbed, the explosive in the bomb pose no hazard. However,
intact explosive would pose a serious explosion hazard to personnel and the
environment if disturbed by a recovery attempt.
Cost estimates for search and recovery operations are difficult
to pinpoint due to the uncertainty of the impact point and the uncertainty in
the condition of the bomb. Search and recovery costs would most likely start at
over $5 Million.
Based on the available data, the suspected orientation of the
bomb, the search methods and available equipment, the Navy Supervisor of Salvage
estimates there is a very low possibility of successfully locating the bomb.
Recovery operations could not begin until after an approximate
2 plus year environmental decision-making process.
Disposition costs following a successful recovery are also
difficult to quantify and would need to be determined by the Department of
There could be substantial economic impact to the region if an
accidental detonation of the conventional explosive occurred during search or
recovery operations. The shipping, fishing and recreation industries in the area
account for over $28 million in annual economic activity.
Impact to the regional aquifer and the local drinking water
supply due to search and recovery operations could be significant. The Air Force
concurs with expert conclusions that it is in the best interest of the public
and the environment to leave the bomb in its resting-place and remain
categorized as irretrievably lost.
There may be unacceptable environmental impact associated with
search and recovery operations.
The full report is available through the Air Force Nuclear
Weapons and Counterproliferation Agency.
2004 SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
The Air Force considered the case to be closed until late July
2004, when media reports indicated a citizens group named the American Sea Shore
Underwater Recovery Expedition (ASSURE) had detected enhanced levels of
radiation and were concerned that these elevated readings were associated with
the lost bomb. According to these media reports, radiation readings of 7 to 10
times normal levels had been discovered, and together with additional
information and conclusions drawn by the ASSURE team, ASSURE’s estimation of the
location of the missing bomb had been narrowed down to an area the size of a
football field in the waters of Wassaw Sound. The Air Force organized a team of
experts to evaluate these reports, with representatives from several
organizations including Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National
Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Navy Supervisor of Salvage
and Diving, Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), plus several Air Force staff
offices in the fields of safety, environmental protection, legal affairs,
Congressional liaison, and public affairs. Additionally, liaison was established
with the appropriate experts at the Savannah District Army Corps of Engineers
and the U.S. Coast Guard. Team members reviewed the original accident
information, the actions taken in the 2000-2001 time frame and the recent media
reports, and determined they needed further information to evaluate the
Senior military personnel contacted the ASSURE team leader
requesting additional information, including specific information on the
reported radiation readings and the equipment and methodology used to collect
those readings. The ASSURE team provided magnetometer readings and location
information. Additionally, one of the ASSURE team members who had collected
radiation data met with Air Force team members at the Pentagon, including the
Air Force Associate Director of Strategic Security, an Air Force nuclear
engineer, and representatives from the three national laboratories. The ASSURE
member provided specific information on radiation readings, the radiation
detection equipment, and the methodology used; however, the information could
not be correlated with the magnetometer and location data previously provided by
the ASSURE team. After evaluating all available information, the Air Force-led
team determined that further clarification on the radiation readings and
methodology was required. It was determined that the next step was to meet
directly with the ASSURE team. In conjunction with the meeting, the Air
Force-led team conducted a radiological survey of the Wassaw Sound area.
Planning and preparations began in late August 2004 to organize
a highly specialized technical team to visit the Savannah area. Led by the Air
Force Associate Director of Strategic Security, the technical team consisted of
Navy Salvage and Diving experts, radiation experts from the National Nuclear
Security Administration (NNSA), an Air Force nuclear engineer, an Air Force
health physicist and safety officer, a DTRA technical collection team,
radiological experts from the Georgia State Department of Natural Resources
(GaDNR), and public affairs experts. The GaDNR members served as independent
data collectors and evaluators. Planned team visits were twice delayed by
inclement weather, and the team finally traveled to Savannah on September 28,
2004. A marine security and safety officer from the US Coast Guard (Port of
Savannah), and a liaison from the Department of Energy Savannah River Site also
joined the technical team in Savannah. Hosted by the Savannah District Army
Corps of Engineers, this team, together with staff members from the local
Congressional delegation, met with ASSURE team members at the Army Corps of
Engineers building in Savannah on September 29, 2004. They provided interviews
and answered questions for local and national media and gathered information on
the ASSURE team's previous data collection efforts. Additionally they completed
planning for the next day's on-water radiological survey in Wassaw Sound.
DATA COLLECTION AT WASSAW SOUND, 29-30 SEP 04
The 29 September meeting started with an introduction of
attendees, their professional qualifications, and a review of Air Force goals.
The purpose and goals of the two-day meeting were discussed
with all participants to maximize the effectiveness of both the meeting and the
data collection efforts planned for the next day.
At the conclusion of the two-day trip (and subsequent analysis
of data) the Air Force desired to answer three questions:
1. Has the ASSURE team identified an area of enhanced
2. If yes, is the enhanced radiation attributable to the Mk15?
3. If it is not from the Mk15, can the radiation source be
The face-to-face meeting was to clarify information previously
provided by ASSURE. The meeting included technical discussions aimed at
understanding all aspects of the information provided by ASSURE, their
collection techniques, and any other information pertinent to comprehending what
the information truly indicated.
Around the midpoint of the meeting, a break was taken to
accommodate a press conference. The press opportunity was used to fully explain
to the media the goals of the Air Force in this endeavor. Air Force and ASSURE
team leaders, organizational public affairs representatives, and Congressional
Staff representatives from the offices of Senator Miller, Senator Chambliss, and
Congressman Kingston were in attendance.
At the conclusion of the meeting, plans were confirmed for the
next day’s activities, which would include on-water data collection in and
around the area identified by the ASSURE team. DTRA, NNSA, Georgia, and ASSURE
radiation experts agreed that three initial reference background measurements
(to be made at marker buoys 1, 3, and 14) would be adequate.
On September 30, 2004, team members set out to make
measurements in Wassaw Sound. The DTRA technical team utilized two boats and was
accompanied by a radiation expert from NNSA. These boats were equipped with
radiation detectors for a wide-area survey and for conducting full-spectrum
(gamma) radiation sampling at specific locations on the ocean floor. The DTRA
technical team possessed the capability to collect sediment samples from the
ocean floor for subsequent laboratory analysis. A third boat was used by a joint
ASSURE, NNSA and GaDNR team. This boat was equipped with radiation detectors
belonging to NNSA and the state of Georgia for more detailed point measurements;
additionally, this third boat was equipped with the ASSURE radiation detection
equipment used during their previous efforts. The personnel on this third boat
became know as the radiation detection team. All three radiological survey boats
were equipped with global positioning system (GPS) equipment to provide precise
location data. A fourth boat was used by leadership from the various
organizations— including ASSURE. An
additional boat was leased by the Air Force for media members to visit the
survey site and conduct an on-water interview with the team leaders. An Air
Force shore team provided logistical support and helped manage media activities.
The reasoning behind formation of these teams and their
particular members was to assign technical tasks to those most qualified and
experienced in the respective fields, while providing a single “Command Team” to
help coordinate efforts. The ASSURE team had previously indicated they would be
unable to utilize their boat so a decision had been made to accommodate ASSURE
members on government-leased boats. This decision proved most useful as the Air
Force was able to have direct communication with the ASSURE leadership and thus
was able to address all concerns as they arose.
Weather was fair, partly overcast with mild temperatures and
light and variable winds. Seas were calm for most of the day but increased to
approximately 2-foot swells in the late afternoon. Water depths in the survey
area varied from 5 to 17 feet, including tidal variation throughout the day.
DESCRIPTION OF THE RADIOLOGICAL SURVEY OPERATIONS
The missions of each survey team varied. The primary mission of
the radiation detection team was to establish a background reference by taking
gamma radiation measurements at the three predetermined locations outside the
area identified by ASSURE using both sodium iodide (NaI) and high purity
germanium (HPGe) detectors. The secondary mission of the radiation detection
team was to perform any additional point measurements at locations indicated by
the command team. The DTRA team mission was to map the gamma radiation in the
area identified by ASSURE and collect seabed samples for further analysis.
Samples were collected from predetermined locations as well as at any location
that real-time analysis indicated may be of interest.
Upon arrival at the morning meeting location, buoy 1, both the
DTRA team and the radiation detection team made initial background measurements.
The radiation detection team continued making reference
background measurements using a NaI detector for count rate measurements and a
stationary HPGe detector, which was placed on the seabed for 30-minute duration
measurements. After completing the reference background measurements, the
command team was to direct the radiation detection team to specific spots
(primarily areas of interest to be identified during DTRA’s wide-area survey)
for detailed measurements.
Meanwhile, the DTRA team mapped an area measuring approximately
800 feet by 300 feet and oriented along and centered upon the same axis as the
“football field” described by ASSURE. The entire command team agreed upon the
corners of the box to be mapped. The mapping performed would identify areas of
interest that the radiation detection team would further evaluate utilizing more
precise instrumentation. Additionally 12 seabed samples were collected by the
DTRA technical team, 10 coinciding with the magnetometer readings provided by
ASSURE and two identified by the command team.
As the day progressed, the ASSURE leader indicated an
uneasiness with the GPS coordinates provided to the Air Force and that the
survey may be in the wrong area. The Air Force asked the ASSURE leader what
measurements or survey areas would make him feel more confident that the proper
area was being surveyed. As a result, the radiation detection team’s mission was
modified to include using ASSURE’s equipment, methods, and techniques in an
attempt to locate the elevated radiation described by ASSURE. The initial
technique requested by the ASSURE lead was to drift with the tide through an
area of interest making measurements. The ASSURE lead identified the starting
point of four drifts. These measurements had two goals: 1) provide data for
later comparison to DTRA measurements, and 2) provide a simplified contour which
should show the radiation feature anecdotally reported by the ASSURE team. After
completing the drifts and a short meeting between the Air Force, the ASSURE
lead, and the ASSURE radiation expert, it was decided that the DTRA mission was
progressing favorably (the DTRA team was just reaching the quadrant of the
survey area where ASSURE believed the Mk15 to be located). However, the ASSURE
lead then requested a particular “line” along which he would like the radiation
detection team to take measurements. The Air Force agreed to this request as
well as two other requests (described below) so that all parties could feel
confident the survey was thorough.
After measurements were made along this line, the ASSURE lead
requested he personally guide the radiation team to an additional location. The
ASSURE lead and an Air Force member boarded the radiation detection boat for
these readings. The ASSURE lead then guided the boat to the desired location.
After a few readings for orientation, measurements were made along a direction
back towards the original survey area. At this point the ASSURE lead indicated
he was confident the Air Force-led radiation teams had measured the ambient
radiation in all areas of concern. However, since low tide was expected within
30 minutes and since ASSURE made their best measurements at low tide, one more
“line” of measurements was requested and performed.
At approximately the same time, the radiation detection team
completed the low tide measurements and the DTRA boat finished their tasks; both
came alongside the command boat. All parties verified that measurements had been
made to each other’s satisfaction, and preliminary review of the data indicated
nothing out of the ordinary or that required further investigation. The ASSURE
team affirmed that all the areas had been surveyed to their satisfaction. The
ASSURE team was asked if they would like the DTRA team to survey a modified area
the next day. After consultation the ASSURE team replied that a modified survey
would not be necessary.
The data collection teams were then released from the mission
and to return to their home stations. Each collection authority (DTRA, NNSA, and
GaDNR) would evaluate their data independently and provide technical input to
the Air Force. The Air Force would then consolidate information from each into
an overall report to be released upon completion of the evaluation, report
writing, and required management outbriefs.
In the days following the survey ASSURE and the Georgia State
Department of Natural Resources personnel determined that the survey area was
correct— partially due to the Air Force-led
team purposely covering an area larger than the specific spot identified by
ANALYSIS OF THE RESULTS
The reports and data communicated from the ASSURE team to the
Air Force fell into two primary areas: magnetometer data and radiation data.
The ASSURE team magnetometer data consisted of ten GPS
positions with corresponding magnetometer readings (Table 1). The U.S. Navy,
through a representative of the Supervisor of Salvage, evaluated the data. The
equipment described by ASSURE was consistent with the type of equipment that the
U.S. Navy would use in a magnetometer search. However, the evaluation indicated
the ten magnetometer readings were very low and not large enough to be
distinguishable from “noise” levels. The Navy provided technical experts to
augment the deployed team to Wassaw Sound to better evaluate the equipment used,
and to discuss methods and results with the ASSURE magnetometer expert. The
ASSURE magnetometer expert was unable to attend the meetings, and no further
evaluation of the data, equipment, or data collection methods could be
Table 1. Magnetometer readings and positions provided by ASSURE.
31 deg. 55 min.
80 deg. 55 min.
In subsequent e-mail exchanges, the ASSURE magnetometer
expert indicated that the ten points provided to the Air Force were a randomly
selected subset of 2700 data points collected by the ASSURE team. The method of
selection of these particular ten points was unclear and no indication was given
as to the relative significance of these points as compared to the others of the
data set. However, the 2700 points were obtained by expanding in a spiral
pattern out from a center point judged by ASSURE to be the position of the Mk15.
The ASSURE team provided anecdotal radiation
information, with no specific radiation readings or locations. ASSURE reported
that they observed a factor of ten increase in their radiation detection
readings using a 2x2 sodium iodide (NaI) detector, but these readings and the
positions where they were taken was not provided. The ASSURE team indicated the
locations would be provided when the team was on the water. To attempt to
replicate the measurements described by the ASSURE team, and to analyze the
radiation present, the Air Force team took several sets of equipment to Wassaw
A subsequent meeting with the ASSURE radiation expert
provided additional insight into the radiation detection methods and was very
helpful. The Air Force experts were satisfied that the ASSURE data measurement
methodology was valid, even though the data was not recorded. The ASSURE
radiation expert described readings 5 to 7 times higher in the area of interest
than in adjoining areas but he was not able to characterize the source of the
radiation. He provided the specifications of the equipment used to gather the
data so the Air Force team could procure comparable equipment to attempt to
replicate the data.
Two boats were deployed to take radiation measurements
on Wassaw Sound. The first boat was designated the radiation boat, and was
manned by the boat captain, two Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GaDNR)
experts, two NNSA National Laboratory radiation detection experts, and the
ASSURE team radiation expert. The radiation boat was equipped with two types of
radiation detection equipment. The first detector was the same 2x2 NaI detector
used by the ASSURE team in their previous measurements. The second piece of
equipment was a 40% efficiency high purity germanium (HPGe) detector, capable of
energy resolution of radiation spectra, which is used in the identification of
radionuclides. The detector was provided and operated by the GaDNR and was
equipped with a watertight housing for making in situ measurements underwater,
on the seabed floor.
The second boat for radiation detection was a Defense
Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) boat equipped with a towed array of 6 3x3 NaI
detectors, summed together to record radiation levels at a rate of one data
point per second. Figure 3 depicts the 6-detector array. This array would allow
a wide-area survey and possibly detect localized points of higher radiation. The
DTRA boat also possessed an HPGe detector for detailed radiation
characterization. In addition to the DTRA personnel on the boat, an NNSA
radiation detection expert was present to analyze data in real time.
The radiation boat took several series of data points,
which are shown in Figure 4. These data were taken with a Ludlum Model 3 Survey
Meter, using a Ludlum Model 44-10 2x2 NaI Gamma Scintillator. This was the same
instrument that was used by the ASSURE team in their previous measurements. The
gamma scintillator is able to provide integral count rates at a position. This
instrument allowed the Air Force-led team to attempt to replicate the anecdotal
data provided by ASSURE and helped answer the first question identified in the
task force mission. The complete set of data taken by the radiation boat is
listed in Appendix 1.
The first data sets acquired by the radiation boat
consisted of three widely spaced positions well away from the ASSURE identified
area of interest at which representative background readings were acquired. The
points selected were at fixed channel markers in the Bull River channel. These
three positions, and their respective detector readings, are shown in Figure 5.
The three readings varied by a factor of 1.8. Figure 5 also indicates the area
identified by the ASSURE team as the possible location of the Mk15.
Once the area was identified by the ASSURE team, the
DTRA team marked the area with temporary buoys and collected data, which is
described later. The radiation boat then took a series of data points at the
request of the ASSURE team lead.
The count rates ranged from 600 counts per minute (cpm)
to 2000 cpm. While the DTRA team was working in the buoyed area, the radiation
boat took a series of data in the general area of the magnetometer positions
given by the ASSURE team, shown in Figure 6 (a). The ASSURE team leader then
directed the radiation boat to perform a series of drifts to mimic the method
previously employed by the ASSURE team. Four drifts were conducted in this
manner, as shown in Figure 6 (b). The radiation boat then returned to the
position that had produced the highest reading of 2000 cpm in drift 2. The
count-rate recorded at this time was 1700 cpm, and is shown in Figure 6 (c). At
this point, the ASSURE team leader was taken to the radiation boat and directed
a series of measurements. This series is shown in Figure 6 (d). After the ASSURE
team leader returned to the command boat, the radiation boat returned to the
position where the highest readings had been measured, and took two additional
measurements of 1900 and 2000 cpm, shown in Figure 6 (e). The final series of
data points is comprised of two separate drifts directed by the ASSURE team,
closer to the sand bar shallows. Both drifts are shown in Figure 6 (f). Figure
6(g) depicts all NaI data collected by the radiation boat.
If a simple linear interpolation routine is used to
construct a contour map of the count-rate data shown in Figure 6 (g), variations
in radiation readings can be seen. These variations support ASSURE’s anecdotal
description of an area of enhanced radiation readings. This simple contour map
of the readings is shown in Figure 7.
By doing so, the Air Force-led team was able to
replicate the general radiation trends reported by ASSURE. Although the
variations in radiation readings support ASSURE’s description of varied
readings, the highest reading measured by the Air Force team, 2000 cpm, was not
of the magnitude that ASSURE had reported. Also, the range of readings taken by
the Air Force team, 600-2000 cpm (a factor of 3.3) was not as large a range as
reported by the ASSURE team. Nonetheless, the presence of varying levels of
sufficient to address the first question of the Air
Force mission, and to proceed to the second question, to determine if the
enhanced radiation comes from the Mk15.
High Purity Germanium Detector Spectra
The radiation boat identified an area of enhanced
radiation readings, and then employed a much more sensitive radiation detector
to characterize the radiation coming from the identified areas. The 40%
efficiency high purity germanium (HPGe) detector uses energy resolution of the
detected radiation to identify the suspected source of the radiation. The
resulting spectra uniquely identify the source of the radiation. The radiation
boat returned to the position of highest radiation readings and took a 30-minute
spectrum using the HPGe detector. It also collected a 30-minute spectrum at the
position of the highest radiation reading taken in the buoyed area of interest
(1300 cpm). Again for comparison, 30-minute HPGe spectra were also collected at
the three channel markers in the Bull River channel, where the NaI background
readings were taken. These positions are shown in Figure 8.
Each energy spectrum was analyzed to identify the
energy peaks present, thus identifying the radioisotopes that are emitting the
radiation. Spectrum sample 2, SAM02, was taken at the position of the highest
radiation reading identified by the NaI detector. This spectrum is shown in
Spectral analysis software compares peak energies
against the known energies of gamma rays from radionuclides. It then searches
for gamma-ray peaks from the same isotope, or from daughter isotopes that would
corroborate the presence of that isotope. The first, and most prominent isotope
identified, is a component of seawater, potassium-40 (40K). 40K emits a gamma
ray at 1460.8 keV. Figure 10 shows the 40K peak in SAM02. The peak occurs at
1461.8 keV due to spectral energy calibration shift.
Uranium-238 (238U) occurs naturally in the earth’s
crust at an average concentration of 4 parts per million. It decays through many
consecutive radioactive daughters including 226Ra. The gamma-ray spectra of
separated 226Ra and natural 238U, each in equilibrium with its daughters, are
nearly the same and are dominated by gamma rays from the daughters bismuth-214
(214Bi) and lead-214 (214Pb). Three of these gamma ray energies are listed in
Table 2, and shown in Figure 11.
The same spectral analysis is used for the
identification of thorium-232 (232Th). 232Th is present in the Earth’s crust and
is identified by its daughters. Table 3 lists the daughter gamma rays that
identify 232Th and Figure 12 depicts the spectral peaks from SAM02 that are from
Table 2. Spectral identification peaks for
226Ra, as shown in Fig. 11.
Gamma Ray Energy (keV)
Spectral Peak Energy (keV)
No other isotopes could be identified from the spectrum
taken. The spectral analysis software attempts to identify a list of over 60
isotopes, such as cobalt-60 (a common isotope used for radiation sources);
molybdenum-99 and tecnecium-99metastable (used in medical radioisotope imaging);
iodine-129 through iodine-135 (common reactor products and fallout components);
cesium-136, -137, -138 (another reactor byproduct); and the actinides
uranium-235 (235U), 238U, and americium-241. None of these isotopes were found
in the spectral data.
Uranium, as a component of nuclear weapons, is one of
the main elements for which the spectral analysis software used searches.
Natural uranium is composed of 99.2745% 238U, 0.72% 235U, and 0.0055%
uranium-234 (234U). Natural uranium that has been separated from ore, and
depleted uranium (which has much of the 235U and 234U removed), are identified
by the presence of gamma-rays from 234mPa but an absence of gamma rays from
Ra-226 and later daughters. It would take thousands of years for these daughters
to build back up to their natural concentrations. Enriched uranium would be
identified by the
Table 3. Spectral identification peaks for
232Th, as shown in Fig. 12.
Gamma Ray Energy
Spectral Peak Energy (keV)
presence of the isotope of 235U in elevated amounts. 238U emits
only low energy gammas, so gamma detectors typically cannot detect pure 238U
directly. 238U is most easily identified by the gamma radiation of its daughter
234mPa, which builds up through decay of 238U. It takes two to three months for
detectable quantities of 234mPa to accumulate, well within the 50+ years since
the Mk15 was lost. The energies of the two primary gamma rays of 234mPa, which
indicate of the presence of 238U, are 766.4 keV and 1001.0 keV. Figure 13 shows
the points on the spectrum that the analysis software searches for the presence
of 238U. The peaks occur at 765.5 keV and 1001.0 keV due to spectral energy
Similar spectral analysis techniques are used to identify the
presence of 235U. 235U does emit easily detectable gamma radiations, so it can
be detected directly. Unfortunately, the three primary gamma rays are of
relatively low energy, and therefore more difficult to detect. The three
energies are 143.8, 185.7, and 205.3 keV. The corresponding peak energies in the
spectrum are shown in Figure 14. Table 4 identifies the gamma ray and peak
energies used to search for the presence of uranium in the spectra.
Table 4. Spectral identification peaks for 235U and
Gamma Ray Energy (keV}
Spectral Peak Energy (keV)
Table 5. Attributes of the Computed Source Spectrum in Gamma
Designer. • 16 ppm for thorium-uranium-potassium compounds
o 75.0% Th-232
o 0.175% U-235
o 24.8% U-238
o Sufficient K-40 to match
• Decayed 1 million years
• 15 gm/cm2 attenuation coefficient/absorber (to match
To offer a comparison of the spectra that would be seen by the
detectors in the presence of 235U and 238U, NNSA has provided calculations of
representative uranium sources. These computed spectra show the general position
and relative magnitudes of peaks coming from the two uranium isotopes. Figure 18
shows the portion of the collected spectrum below 430 keV and a calculated
spectrum from a 1-kg ball of highly enriched uranium (HEU). The HEU calculation
also used 15gm/cm2 attenuation coefficient/absorber to match the continuum. The
inset shows clearly where the three low energy peaks (and relative magnitudes)
from 235U would be present. The collected spectrum shows no sign of the isotope
235U, which is the more difficult isotope to detect, due to the low energy of
its radiation, and it’s very small abundance compared to 238U.
The same has been done in Figure 19 for a 2-kg ball of depleted
uranium (238U enriched, or 235U depleted). The 766.4 and 1001.0 keV
characteristic peaks of 238U are not present in the collected spectrum, as
compared to the calculation. This indicates no 238U (the most prominent isotope
of uranium) is present in the spectrum taken at this position in Wassaw Sound.
No depleted uranium or highly enriched uranium was found at the
survey location. The absence of the characteristic radiation that would form the
signature of the Mk15 leads to the conclusion that no evidence of the Mk15 was
found in any of the measurements taken. However, the data cannot prove that the
Mk15 is not present in this general location. This effectively answers the
second question set out in the Air Force mission; the variations in measured
radiation are not attributable to the Mk15.
SEDIMENT SAMPLING ANALYSIS
The DTRA technical team provided an additional method of
analysis to the Air Force team by collecting sediment samples from the sea floor
and entering them into a chain-of-custody system for analysis. One sediment
sample was taken from each of the ten magnetometer positions given by the ASSURE
team, and two additional samples were taken as directed by the command team from
the survey area. The locations, from which the sediment samples were taken, are
shown in Figure 20. These samples were then sent to NNSA laboratories for
Two methods of analysis were employed for sample
characterization. Mass spectrometry was performed to analyze for anthropogenic
uranium in the samples. Gamma spectroscopy was performed to attempt to identify
the source of the radiation in the same manner that spectral analysis was done
on the GaDNR and DTRA HPGe spectra.
The isotopic composition of uranium in the collections was
determined by plasma-source mass spectrometry after radiochemical processing of
both aqueous and solid collection fractions. Criteria for presence of
anthropogenic uranium (depleted or enriched) were: (1) a statistically
significant deviation in the 238U/235U atom ratio from the invariant natural
ratio, or (2) the presence of 236U, which does not occur naturally. Within the
suite of twelve collections, there would be evidence for a localized source if
individual collections were to differ from the population as a whole.
Analyses for all collections displayed natural uranium isotopic
composition— considering the 238U/235U and
236U/235U ratios— within measurement
uncertainties, which were quite low. No one collection or set of collections
stood apart from the others in its uranium isotopes.
Figure 21 shows the 238U to 235U ratio for the twelve samples
taken in Wassaw Sound. The nominal natural uranium composition ratio is 137.88;
the twelve samples taken do not differ significantly from this value. The
average of the twelve samples is 137.9, which is equivalent to the nominal
The other criterion for anthropogenic uranium is the presence
of 236U, which is not present in nature. No 236U was detected outside of
measurement uncertainties. The results of the mass spectrometry on the twelve
sediment samples are shown in Table 6.
Table 6. Final Results for Savannah Survey sample.
URANIUM ATOMIC RATIOS
The observed 234U/235U, 238U/235U, and 236U/235U ratios for all
twelve collections form a consistent suite of data, with no one collection or
set of collections standing apart outside of uncertainties. No variations from
natural uranium isotopic composition outside the limits of analytical
uncertainty were detected for any sample for 234U/235U, 236U/235U or 238U/235U.
In Table 6, “not detected” for 236U reflects that no mass spectrometer counts
were detected above instrumental background.
To determine any degree of Savannah River Site (SRS) regional
background present in the collections, gamma spectroscopy of solid collection
fractions was performed to assay for 137Cs content. In this geographic area,
elevations in 137Cs beyond natural marine levels have been determined to be a
reliable indicator of the regional background from the SRS. Had there been any
observed departures from natural uranium, 137Cs assay levels would become
important in determining whether the cause was the SRS regional background or an
actual local source. Notionally, however, any SRS effluent present would be
expected across the collection suite, whereas a localized source could stand out
Analysis of the gamma spectroscopy results for solid-fraction
portions of all twelve collections showed that all detected nuclides are those
commonly found in natural soil decay chains and the naturally occurring 40K. The
observed variation is expected for sediment collections such as these. No
evidence was found for detection of any fission products, including 137Cs.
Minimum detection limits of 137Cs were estimated for the spectra in hand, and
these limits were all found to be lower than 10 Bq/kg, which is the threshold
for non-natural 137Cs content in the Savannah River estuary.
Figure 22 shows the intrinsic gamma emission spectrum of
Collection A-5001, which is representative of the twelve samples. A
long-duration spectrum with high-purity germanium spectroscopy displays the
presence of anticipated natural sediment nuclides: 226Ra and daughters,
thorium-228 and daughters, and potassium-40. The absence of detectable
cesium-137 at 661.6 keV was especially noted. No evidence for any SRS effluent
signatures, either fission products or actinides was observed.
The mass spectrometry analysis confirmed the analysis of the
HPGe spectra collected in the sound by both the DTRA team and the radiation
boat. Only traces of natural uranium were found using two distinctly different
analysis methods. This corroboration allows the conclusion that only naturally
occurring radioisotope chains are present in the areas sampled in Wassaw Sound.
The long-duration gamma spectroscopy produced the same results,
while also eliminating the possibility of SRS effluent as a source of the
This effectively answers the third question of the Air Force
mission to Wassaw Sound. The radiation measured from the sound is from natural
COMPARISON TO OTHER TABULATED RADIATION DATA
In order to determine if the radiation detected in Wassaw Sound
is unique to the area or a feature common to a much larger area, these
measurements can be compared to other data taken at other points along the
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources maintains a limited
database of HPGe information taken in and around the Savannah River, and in
King’s Bay, GA. Several sites in King’s Bay have been sampled (Figure 23), and
several samples have been taken from four sites in the Savannah River system
(Figure 24). This data provides a baseline for comparison to the Wassaw Sound
In the spectral analysis of the HPGe data, each peak can be
analyzed to estimate the amount of the isotope that would need to be present to
create the peak shown in the spectrum. This analysis has been done by GaDNR and
is shown in Table 7.
The Wassaw Sound measurements can be compared to the previously
recorded data statistically. Figure 25 shows the statistical analysis done for
the 226Ra daughters. The mean activity for the GaDNR data, exclusive of the
Wassaw Sound data, is 481 pCi/kg. One standard deviation is shown in the graph
by the dashed red line. Statistically speaking, one-third of the measurements
will tend to fall outside of one standard deviation if the value is distributed
normally. This is the case for the three background measurements. Two fall
within one standard deviation, and one falls outside. The 226Ra activity in the
two sample spectra collected by the radiation boat fall outside one standard
deviation. This is not unexpected, because these points were specifically
selected due to the increased radiation signature of the positions.
When the 232Th data is analyzed, as shown in Figure 26, the
Wassaw Sound samples are shown to be more in line with the compiled data. As in
the 226Ra data, two background activities fall within one standard deviation,
and one lies outside. But one of the sample activities, SAM02 (taken at the
position of the highest radiation identified by the NaI detector) falls within
one standard deviation of the mean. It is in fact equal in magnitude to the
232Th activity measured at the third background measurement. Statistically, the
Wassaw Sound data does not appear to be significantly different than the
previous data measured by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
These enhanced radiation levels can be attributed to monazite
deposits, which are rich in thorium sand. The Blue Ridge and Piedmont Provinces,
which lie inland of the coast, contain monazite deposits. The Savannah and
Ogeechee river basins carry monazite sand to their estuaries on the coast of
Georgia.4 Wassaw Sound lies between these two estuary systems. These monazite
deposits are common in parts of the southeastern coast of the United States.
DTRA NaI BROAD AREA SURVEY
The DTRA team provided the ability to perform a broad-area
survey using a 6-detector array towed behind a boat. The detectors were 3x3 NaI
gamma ray detectors, ganged to integrate total counts from all six detectors.
Each was spaced two feet apart on centerline. If the acceptable range of
detection is taken to be one foot on either side of each detector, this total
width comes to twelve feet of coverage. The array was moving at a reported speed
of 2 knots, or approximately 3.38 feet per second. A total count from all
detectors was recorded each second, which on average results in a count rate
averaged over an area of 40.5 square feet. This area coverage would deviate as
speed fluctuated, and when the detector array planed above the seabed surface.
Once the measurements were started, it was noticed that one detector was not
functioning. This was a detector on the end of the array, which decreased the
area coverage to 33.8 square feet, but increased the dead space between each
track by an additional two feet. The distance between tracks was approximately
thirty feet. This gives an approximate distance not covered by the detectors of
twenty feet between each track.
Figure 27 provides a qualitative view of the broad-area survey.
Any instances where the count rate fell below 100 cps (marked in dark green in
Figure 27) were reported to be the times that the detector array planed off the
bottom of the seabed.
The highest count rates reported by DTRA were 1100 cps. A
definitive comparison between the radiation boat NaI count rates and the DTRA
count rates is difficult, due to the differences in measurement techniques. The
radiation boat readings were point measurements as opposed to the integrated
counts measured by dragging the DTRA array.
The ASSURE magnetometer expert did not attend the meeting or
provide additional data. This report can draw no conclusions about the
magnetometer data other than it appeared to the Air Force-led team of experts to
be indistinguishable from "noise". The first question that the Air Force set out
to answer was whether or not there were areas of enhanced radiation present in
Wassaw Sound. The Air Force led team identified variations in radiation readings
which were consistent with the anecdotal radiation descriptions provided by
ASSURE, although the reported magnitudes related by the ASSURE team were
greater. The same equipment used by the ASSURE team in their previous
measurements was used in the Air Force survey, under the guidance of the ASSURE
radiation expert. Measurement variations of a factor of 3.3 (600cpm to 2000cpm)
were enough to lead the Air Force team to conclude that the phenomena of a
radiation feature observed by ASSURE was indeed present in Wassaw Sound.
The second question asked if the enhanced radiation levels
could be attributed to the Mk15. Detailed spectral analysis of the radiation at
three points within the survey area (and three “background” reference points
outside the survey area) showed only natural primordial decay chains. There is
likelihood that any enhanced radiation levels could be attributed to the
presence of monazite deposits containing thorium carried to the sound by the
river estuary systems. There was no evidence of the Mk15 in any of the
In order to answer the final question, if the radiation source
could be identified, radiochemical analysis of twelve sediment samples was
performed. Samples were collected from the ten reported magnetometer positions
and two additional samples were collected from positions directed by the command
team. The radiochemical analysis confirmed the spectral analysis, showing only
natural isotopes, in ratios that are consistent with natural sediment.
Additional gamma spectroscopy found no evidence of Savannah River Site effluent,
or any other unnatural nuclear waste as the source of the enhanced radiation.
Areas of varying radiation levels were observed in Wassaw
Sound, but no evidence of the Mk15 was found. Detailed analysis of the data
concluded the varying radiation was from natural elements contained in the
sediment of the southeastern coast (i.e., background radiation).
No new information has been uncovered that would lead the Air
Force to modify the conclusions reached in 2001. Valuable experience was gained
in utilizing modern radiation detection methodology to attempt to locate the
Appendix Epsilon e
The following is the official policy of the Department of
Defense in regard to reporting Broken Arrows and similar nuclear
SORT: 5230.16 DOCI: DODD 5230.16 DATE: 19931220 TITL: DODD
5230.16 Nuclear Accident and Incident Public Affairs (PA) Guidance, December 20,
Refs: (a) DoD Directive 5230.16, subject as above, February 7,
1983 (hereby canceled) (b) Federal Preparedness Circular 8, "Public Affairs in
Emergencies," June 22, 1989 NOTE: Available from the Federal Emergency
Management Agency, 500 C Street, SW, Washington, D.C. 20429 END NOTE: (c) DoD
Directive 5100.52, "DoD Response to an Accident or Significant Incident
Involving Radioactive Materials," December 21, 1989 (d) Executive Order 12356,
"National Security Information," April 2, 1982 (e) through (h)1 see enclosure
A. REISSUANCE AND PURPOSE
1. Reissues reference (a) to update DoD policy,
responsibilities, and procedures for the prompt release of information to the
public in the interest of public safety, and to prevent public alarm in the
event of accidents or significant incidents involving nuclear weapons or nuclear
components, radioactive material, nuclear weapon launch or transport vehicles
(when a nuclear weapon is aboard), or nuclear reactors under DoD control.
2. Updates DoD policy, responsibilities, and procedures during
an improvised nuclear device (IND) incident.
This Directive applies to the Office of the Secretary of
Defense, the Military Departments, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
the Unified Commands, the Defense Agencies, and the DoD Field Activities
(hereafter referred to collectively as "the DoD Components"). The term "Military
Departments," as used herein, refers to the Airy, the Navy, the Air Force, and
the Marine Corps.
Terms used in this Directive are defined in enclosure 2.
It is DoD policy:
1. To establish efficient and effective procedures for the
release of information to the public in the event of nuclear accidents, IND
incidents, or nuclear weapon significant incidents. These procedures include
exceptions to the policy of neither confirming nor denying the presence or
absence of nuclear weapons at any specified location.
2. That in a nuclear weapon accident occurring in the United
States, its territories or possessions, the Assistant to the Secretary of
Defense for Public Affairs (ATSD(PA)) and the On-Scene Commander (OSC) are
required to confirm to the general public the presence or absence of nuclear
weapons or radioactive nuclear components, when necessary, in the interest of
public safety or to reduce or prevent widespread public alarm. Notification of
public authorities is also required if the public is, or may be, in danger of
radiation exposure or other danger posed by the weapon or its components.
3. That in a nuclear weapon significant incident that has the
potential of escalating to an accident, the Deputy Director of Operations (DDO),
National Military Command Center (NMCC), may confirm to appropriate authorities,
or the ATSD(PA) may confirm the presence of nuclear weapons in the interest of
public safety or to reduce or prevent widespread public alarm.
4. That during a nuclear weapon accident overseas, the ATSD(PA)
or the theater Commander in Chief (CINC), with concurrence of the foreign
government through the appropriate Chief of U.S. Mission, may confirm the
presence of nuclear weapons or radioactive nuclear components in the interest of
public safety. Notification of public authorities is also required if the public
is, or may be, in danger of radiation exposure or other danger posed by the
weapon or its components.
5. That in a nuclear weapon significant incident overseas
having the potential to escalate to an accident, the ATSD(PA) or the theater
CINC with concurrence of the foreign government, through the appropriate Chief
of U.S. Mission, may confirm the presence of nuclear weapons in the interest of
public safety or to reduce or prevent widespread public alarm.
6. That information releases relating to improvised nuclear
devices will follow the same general guidelines as for accidents or significant
incidents. However, the Defense Senior Representative must have the concurrence
of the Federal Bureau of Investigation as lead Federal Agency (on U.S. territory
or possessions) or of the foreign government and Department of State as lead
Federal Agency through the appropriate chief of U.S. mission.
7. With the exception of releasing information in the event of
nuclear accidents and nuclear weapon significant incidents, to respond to any
public requests about the location of nuclear weapons as follows: “ It is U.S. policy to neither confirm nor deny
the presence or absence of nuclear weapons at any general or specific
location.” This response shall be provided
even when such location is thought to be known or obvious. Regarding the release
of information on nuclear capable ships, submarines, and naval aircraft, the
following statement shall be used: “ It is
general U.S. policy not to deploy nuclear weapons aboard surface ships, attack
submarines, and naval aircraft. However, we do not discuss the presence or
absence of nuclear weapons aboard specific ships, submarines, or aircraft.” There is no exception to policy governing
release of information about IND incidents.
8. That if asked why the United States has a “ Neither Confirm Nor Deny” policy, the response should be as follows: “ The basis for the security requirement inherent
in the U.S. policy of neither confirming nor denying the presence or absence of
nuclear weapons is to deny militarily useful information to potential or actual
enemies, to enhance the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence, and contribute to
the security of nuclear weapons, especially against the threats of sabotage and
1. The Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs
a. When notified of an accident or significant incident
involving nuclear weapons, nuclear components, nuclear reactors or radioactive
materials in the custody of or under the physical control of the Department of
Defense do the following:
(1) Establish communications, as appropriate, with public
affairs officers (PAOs) of the Unified Commands, the Military Departments,
Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA), Department of Energy (DoE), and Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA). The U.S. Chief of Mission and the U.S. Department of
State (DoS) PAO shall be notified and consulted on accidents overseas or on
accidents and significant incidents near a U.S. border.
(2) Provide initial PA guidance, make news releases, respond to
news media inquiries, and hold news conferences at the national level in
coordination with appropriate DoD officials (to include the Assistant to the
Secretary of Defense (Atomic Energy) and the Director, DNA), the DoE, the FEMA,
and if overseas or near a U.S. border, with the DoS.
(3) Ensure that the DoD OSC is advised immediately of all news
releases and news conferences held at the national level addressing accident
response or recovery operations.
(4) Delegate, when appropriate, overall PA responsibility to
the Military Department or Unified Commander having primary responsibility for
the DoD accident response.
b. Issue, as necessary, a DoD PA regulation and other
discretionary instructions and guidance to ensure timely and uniform
implementation in the Department of Defense of approved exceptions to the policy
of neither confirming nor denying the presence or absence of nuclear weapons in
a specific location.
c. When notified of an IND incident:
(1) Establish communications with PAOs of the lead Federal
Agency. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the lead agency for
incidents in the United States, its territories and possessions. The DoS is the
lead agency for acts not under FBI responsibility.
(2) Establish communications with PAOs of the Military
Departments, the DNA, the DoE, the FEMA, the applicable Unified Command, and
other appropriate Federal Agencies.
(3) Act in support of the lead Federal Agency PAO by ensuring
DoD PAO representation in the joint information center (JIC) established by the
lead Federal Agency. Such support shall include jointly coordinating all press
releases and media events.
(4) Ensure the Defense Senior Representative (DSR) is advised
immediately of all news releases and press conferences held at the national
level addressing IND incident response operations.
(5) Delegate, when appropriate, overall DoD PA responsibility
to the Military Department or Unified Command having primary responsibility for
the DoD response to an IND incident.
d. Coordinate with the General Counsel of the Department of
Defense, as appropriate, when litigation is likely due to the conditions
surrounding a nuclear accident or incident.
2. The Secretaries of the Military Departments, the Chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Commanders of the Unified Commands, and the
Directors of the Defense Agencies shall implement this Directive and shall
ensure that the following PA aspects are included in their contingency
a. Comprehensive PA planning for DoD nuclear accident, IND
incident and nuclear weapon significant incidents, and comprehensive PA
operations, including adequate personnel and administrative, communications, and
logistical support for a potential DoD response force.
b. Procedures to be followed by potential OSCs under the DoD
Component's command in the United States, its territories and possessions. These
PA procedures shall be in the form of a checklist and shall include the subjects
in the example in enclosure 4.
c. Precoordinated contingency releases for nuclear weapon
accidents. Examples of contingency releases in enclosure 5 are appropriate for
inclusion in PA plans. Actual releases shall pertain to the area and situation
where they are needed; however, they should follow the examples in enclosure
d. News media support at a nuclear weapon accident or
significant incident site. If the DoD OSC designates the site a national defense
area (NDA), news media representatives shall be supported as on a military
installation. Briefings shall be given to news media representatives informing
them of the appropriate information that can be disclosed during a nuclear
accident and the procedures to be followed. A handout that provides the same
information as the briefing shall be given to news media representatives.
e. Periodic training or at least annual briefings that include
the PA aspects of a nuclear accident or incident. Briefings shall cover this
Directive and implementing instructions of the applicable DoD Component,
command, and unit. Such training is recommended for personnel who are directly
involved in operations or events or have the potential of becoming involved.
However, training shall include members from the Military Department police
agencies, base, or station security personnel; nuclear weapons security force;
and intelligence, operations, and PA personnel. In areas outside the United
States, its territories, and possessions, members of the U.S. diplomatic
mission, DoS, shall be invited to attend the annual briefings.
f. Provision for informing emergency response personnel, key
local leaders, civilians, and State officials on radiation and other hazards
that may or may not exist. For nuclear weapon or nuclear component accidents,
IND incidents, and nuclear weapon significant incidents, notification may be
accomplished early in the response process through telephone calls from or
visits by the OSC or designees. As the response force increases, this may be
accomplished with a Community Emergency Action Team (CEAT) comprising PA,
medical, legal, security, communication, administrative, logistics, or other
appropriate personnel from DoD and civil resources. As these resources become
available, they shall function under the direction of the OSC or the DSR, or the
lead Federal Agency. The CEAT shall be physically located in the JIC to
facilitate coordination. Activities of the CEAT shall be coordinated through the
senior FEMA official (SFO), under relationships established by Federal
Preparedness Circular 8 (reference (b)), with similar activities of other
agencies to ensure a unified approach in working with the community. In overseas
areas, the OSC or DSR may constitute a CEAT that shall coordinate through the
appropriate Unified Commander, or designee, and Chief of U.S. Mission and
host-government authorities. For military nuclear reactor or radiological
material accidents, State and local officials can be informed via the FEMA in
the United States, its territories and possessions, as appropriate; or through
the Unified Commander, or designee, and Chief of U.S. Mission in overseas areas
with host-government authorities who have this responsibility.
g. Expeditiously inform the ATSD(PA) on the PA aspects of
military nuclear reactor or radiological material accidents.
3. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff shall:
a. Notify the ATSD(PA), in accordance with DoD Directive
5100.52 (reference (c)), to provide timely, accurate information on the progress
of an accident response.
b. Invoke exceptions to the policy of neither confirming nor
denying the presence or absence of a nuclear weapon before the OSC arrives at a
nuclear weapon accident site in accordance with procedures in enclosure 3 when
it is necessary immediately to implement public safety actions or to reduce
public alarm. This action shall be taken with available information and the
Chief, or designee, of the responsible Military Department shall be informed.
Precoordinated information required by local and State officials to ensure
public safety and health, and necessary to aid law enforcement personnel to
secure the weapon, shall be retained in the NMCC. The DDO shall give this
information to State and local officials (if time permits, via the FEMA) when
required to reduce the hazard to life, health, or property before the initial
response force arrives.
c. Refer news media inquiries received at the NMCC to the
Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs duty
4. The Commanders of the Unified Commands shall implement this
Directive and develop nuclear weapon accident, IND incident, nuclear weapon
significant incident, and nuclear reactor or radiological accident PA planning
a. Provisions and procedures to expeditiously inform the
ATSD(PA); Chief of U.S. Mission, DoS; and the host government of emergency news
releases; and the use of the host government's public release facilities.
b. Contingency plans, announcements, and methods of release
developed by Unified Commanders, or designees, in consultation with the Chief of
U.S. Mission in the country concerned.
c. Provisions for clearing contingency announcements and
methods of release with host governments, when required by international
agreement. This process shall be accomplished by the theater CINC through the
Chief of U.S. Mission in the country concerned.
5. The Heads of the DoD Components shall comply with this
Directive and shall establish notification procedures as required by DoD
Directive 5100.52 (reference (c)).
DoD-prescribed procedures on nuclear weapon accidents and
significant incidents, nuclear components, radioactive material, and DoD nuclear
reactor and radiological accidents are in enclosure 3.
G. EFFECTIVE DATE AND IMPLEMENTATION
This Directive is effective immediately. Forward two copies of
implementing documents to the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public
Affairs within 120 days.
William J. Perry Deputy Secretary of Defense
Enclosures - 5 1. References 2. Definitions 3 Procedures on
Accidents and Significant Incidents Involving Nuclear Weapons, Nuclear
Components, Nuclear Reactors, or Radioactive Materials 4. Model PA Checklist for
DoD OSC or Designee at an Accident Involving Radioactive Materials 5.
Contingency Releases for Nuclear Weapon Accidents
(e) Public Law 93-288, "Disaster Relief Act of 1974," May 22,
1974, as amended (f) Joint Pub 102, "Department of Defense Dictionary of
Military and Associated Terms," December 1, 1989 (g) Section 142 of Public Law
83-703, "Atomic Energy Act of 1954," August 30, 1954, as amended (h) Executive
Order 12148, "Federal Emergency Management," July 20, 1979
1. Area Commander. A Military Service-designated commander with
authority in a specific geographical area.
2. BENT SPEAR. A Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff term
used in the Department of Defense to identify and report a nuclear weapon
significant incident involving a nuclear weapon or warhead, nuclear components,
or vehicle when nuclear loaded. This term includes a significant incident as
defined in DoD Directive 5100.52 (reference
3. BROKEN ARROW. A Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff term
to identify and report an accident involving a nuclear weapon or warhead or
nuclear component. (See definition 23, below, nuclear weapon accident.)
4. Classified National Security Information. Information or
material subject to the control of the U.S. Government encompassing both U.S.
national defense and foreign relations that has been determined under E.O. 12356
(reference (d)) to require protection against unauthorized disclosure and that
is so designated.
5. Combined Information Bureau (CIB). A facility established in
a foreign country near the scene of a nuclear weapon accident or significant
incident and staffed by U.S. and host-nation PA personnel. Space may also be
allocated for the media. Normally, press briefings will be conducted at the
6. Community Emergency Action Team (CEAT). A team comprising
PA, medical, legal, security, communication, administrative, logistics, or other
appropriate personnel from DoD and civil resources whose function is to inform
emergency response personnel, key local leaders, civilians, and State officials
on radiation and other hazards that may or may not exist. A team of response and
local experts that operates out of the JIC and is available to assist the local
7. Coordinate. To bring into common action so as not to
duplicate unnecessarily or omit important actions. The act of coordination does
not involve direction of one agency by another.
8. Custodial Commander. A commander responsible for maintaining
custody, guardianship, and safekeeping of nuclear weapons and their components
and of source and special nuclear materials.
9. Defense Senior Representative (DSR). A general or flag
officer provided by the responsible Military Department or CINC who acts as the
DoD single point of contact on-site in the event of an IND incident. The DSR
exercises operational control over all responding DoD assets unless otherwise
specified. The DSR provides assets, advice, and assistance to the lead Federal
Agency, and coordinates actions with the DoE senior official.
10. EMPTY QUIVER. A reporting term to identify and report the
seizure, theft, or loss of a U.S. nuclear weapon.
11. FADED GIANT. A reporting term to identify an event
involving a nuclear reactor or radiological accident.
12. Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO). The Federal official
appointed by the President upon declaration of a major disaster or emergency
under Public Law 93-288 (reference (e)) to coordinate the overall Federal
13. Formerly Restricted Data. Information removed from the
restricted data category upon a joint determination by the DoE (or antecedent
agencies) and the Department of Defense that such information relates primarily
to the military use of atomic weapons and that such information can be
adequately safeguarded as classified defense information. (For foreign
dissemination, however, such information is treated in the same manner as
14. Improvised Nuclear Device (IND). A device incorporating
radio-active materials designed to result in either the dispersal of radioactive
material or in the formation of nuclear yield. Such devices may be fabricated in
a completely improvised manner or may result from the sabotage, seizure, theft,
or loss of a U.S. or foreign nuclear weapon.
15. Improvised Nuclear Device (IND) Incident. An event
resulting from a deliberate act, involving nuclear weapons or nuclear materials
that included the sabotage, seizure, theft, loss of a nuclear weapon or
radiological nuclear weapon component, or the fabrication and employment of an
IND or a credible threat of either.
16. Initial Response Force (IRF). An element (whose
capabilities are delineated in the Nuclear Accident Response Capabilities
Listing), belonging to DoD or DoE installations, facilities, or activities, that
would take emergency response actions necessary to maintain command and control
on-site pending arrival of the Service or Agency response force. Functions that
the initial response force is tasked to perform (within its capabilities) are
rescue operations; accident site security; fire fighting; initiation of
appropriate explosive ordnance disposal procedures; radiation monitoring;
establishment of command, control, and communications; and PA activities.
17. Installation. See Joint Pub 102 (reference (f)). For PA
purposes, any Federal installation in active status.
18. Joint Information Center (JIC). A facility established at
the scene of a nuclear weapon accident or significant incident to coordinate all
PA activities. The JIC shall include representation from the Department of
Defense, the DoE, the FEMA, and other Federal Agencies, as well as State and
19. Lead Federal Agency. The Federal Agency that owns,
authorizes, regulates, or is otherwise deemed responsible for the radiological
activity causing the emergency and that has the authority to take action on
20. National Defense Area (NDA). An area established on
non-Federal lands located within the United States, its possessions or
territories for safeguarding classified defense information or protecting DoD
equipment and/or material. Establishment of an NDA temporarily places such non-
Federal lands under the effective control of the Department of Defense and
results only from an emergency event. The OSC or DSR at the scene shall define
the boundary, mark it with a physical barrier, and post warning signs. The
landowner's consent and cooperation shall be obtained whenever possible;
however, military necessity will dictate the final decision regarding location,
shape, and size of the NDA.
21. National Security Area (NSA). An area established on
non-Federal lands located within the United States, its possessions or
territories, for safeguarding classified information and/or restricted data,
equipment, or material belonging to the DoE. Establishment of a national
security area temporarily places such non-Federal lands under the effective
control of the DoE and results only from an emergency event. The senior DoE
representative having custody of the material at the scene shall define the
boundary, mark it with a physical barrier, and post warning signs. The
landowner's consent and cooperation shall be obtained whenever possible;
however, operational necessity shall dictate the final decision regarding
location, shape, and size of the national security area.
22. Nuclear Reactor Accident. An uncontrolled reactor
criticality resulting in damage to the reactor core or an event such as loss of
coolant that results in significant release of fission products from the reactor
23. Nuclear Weapon Accident. An unexpected event involving
nuclear weapons or nuclear components that results in any of the following:
a. Accidental or unauthorized launching, firing, or use by U.S.
forces or U.S. supported Allied forces of a nuclear-capable weapons system.
b. An accidental, unauthorized, or unexplained nuclear
c. Non-nuclear detonation or burning of a nuclear weapon or
d. Radioactive contamination.
e. Jettisoning of a nuclear weapon or nuclear component.
f. Public hazard, actual or perceived.
24. Nuclear Weapon Significant Incident. An unexpected event
involving nuclear weapons, nuclear components, or a nuclear weapon transport or
launch vehicle when a nuclear weapon is mated, loaded, or on board that does not
fall into the nuclear weapon accident category but that:
a. Results in evident damage to a nuclear weapon or nuclear
component to the extent that major rework, complete replacement, or examination
or recertification by the DoE is required.
b. Requires immediate action in the interest of safety or
nuclear weapons security.
c. May result in adverse public reaction (national or
international) or inadvertent release of classified information.
d. Could lead to a nuclear weapon accident and warrants that
senior national officials or agencies be informed or take action.
25. On-Scene Commander (OSC) for Nuclear Accidents. The flag or
general officer designated to command the DoD response efforts at the accident
26. On-Site. That area around the scene of a nuclear weapon
accident or significant incident that is under the operational control of the
installation commander, facility manager, or DoD OSC or DoE team leader. The
on-site area includes any area that has been established as an NDA or NSA.
27. Photograph. Any plate, negative, print, videotape, live
television transmission, or other form of graphic representation, including any
sketch or drawing.
28. Primary Commander. The Unified Commander in Chief whose
forces have possession of nuclear weapons.
29. Radiological Accident. A loss of control over radiation or
of radioactive material that presents a hazard to life, health, or property, or
that may result in any member of the general population exceeding exposure
limits for ionizing radiation.
30. Radiological Assistance. That assistance provided after an
accident involving radioactive materials to:
a. Evaluate the radiological hazard.
b. Accomplish emergency rescue and first aid.
c. Minimize safety hazards to the public.
d. Minimize exposure of personnel to radiation or radioactive
e. Minimize the spread of radioactive contamination.
f. Minimize damaging effects on property.
g. Disseminate technical information and medical advice to
31. Responsible Military Department. See DoD Directive 5100.52
32. Restricted Data. All data (information) on the
a. Design, manufacture, or use of nuclear weapons;
b. Production of special nuclear material; or
c. Use of special nuclear material in the production of energy.
The term does not include data declassified or removed from the restricted data
category under Pub. L. No. 83-703, Section 142 (Section 11w, Atomic Energy Act
of 1954, as amended) (reference (g)) (Joint Pub 102, reference (f)).
33. Senior FEMA Official (SFO). A person appointed by the
Director of the FEMA to coordinate the Federal response to a civil emergency.
(See E.O. 12148, reference (h).)
34. Service Response Force (SRF). A DoD response force
appropriately manned, equipped, and able to perform and coordinate all actions
necessary to control and recover from the effects of an accident or significant
incident. The specific purpose of a Service response force is to provide nuclear
weapon accident or significant incident assistance. Service response forces are
organized and maintained by those Services or Agencies that have custody of
nuclear weapons or radioactive nuclear weapon components.
35. U.S. Chief of Mission. The senior DoS official permanently
assigned to represent the U.S. Government within a foreign country, often the
U.S. ambassador to that country.
PROCEDURES ON ACCIDENTS AND SIGNIFICANT INCIDENTS INVOLVING
NUCLEAR WEAPONS, NUCLEAR COMPONENTS, NUCLEAR REACTORS, OR RADIOACTIVE
A. NUCLEAR WEAPON ACCIDENTS AND SIGNIFICANT INCIDENTS
1. The ATSD(PA) retains initial PA responsibility for nuclear
weapon accident and significant incidents in the United States, its territories
and possessions. In overseas areas, the appropriate theater CINC, in
coordination with the ATSD(PA) shall retain initial PA responsibility for
nuclear weapon accidents and significant incidents.
2. The presence of nuclear weapons or nuclear components at any
specified location may not be confirmed nor denied except as follows:
a. In the interest of PUBLIC SAFETY in the United States, its
territories and possessions, confirmation of the presence of nuclear weapons or
nuclear components must be made by the OSC. The DDO, NMCC, or the ATSD(PA) may
invoke this exception to policy before the OSC arrives, based on available
information and in coordination with the Chief, or designee, of the responsible
Military Department. Any statement confirming the presence of nuclear weapons
should contain information about the possibility of injury from high explosive
weapon components and/or potential radiation exposure. If necessary, the
statement may list the radiation hazards that are unclassified, such as uranium
or plutonium, but may not reveal classified technical data about the weapon(s).
The amounts of explosive or radioactive material are examples of classified
technical data. If injury or radiation exposure is unlikely, it should also be
stated. Public authorities shall be notified immediately in a candid manner to
enable them to take public safety actions. Notification of public authorities
confirming the presence of nuclear weapons or radioactive nuclear components is
required if the public is, or may be, in danger of radiation exposure or any
other danger posed by the nuclear weapon or nuclear components. Confirmation
shall be made promptly when actions in the interest of public safety must be
taken, particularly when protective action or evacuation of civilians may be
required. These actions will include releasing statements to the news media to
expedite public safety procedures. The ATSD(PA) shall be advised as soon as
practical when confirmation has been made directly by the OSC or DDO.
b. To reduce or prevent widespread PUBLIC ALARM in the United
States, its territories and possessions, the OSC may issue an official statement
of reassurance to the public that confirms or denies the presence of nuclear
weapons or nuclear components. Before the OSC arrives, the ATSD(PA) may invoke
this exception to policy with available information and inform the Military
Department responsible. The DDO shall implement this policy through the
appropriate local officials or by authorizing the DoD initial response force
commander to issue a statement in an emergency. The DDO shall notify the
responsible Military Department or Unified Commander if this authority is
granted. Any statement confirming the presence of nuclear weapons should contain
information about the possibility of injury from high explosive weapon
components and/or potential radiation exposure. If injury or radiation exposure
is unlikely, it should also be stated. The confirmation may state also that the
use of explosive ordnance disposal teams is only a precautionary measure, and
the evacuation of DoD personnel is only a precautionary measure designed to
limit the number of personnel at the accident scene. A denial should
characterize the accident or incident as a nonnuclear event. The ATSD(PA) shall
be notified in advance if practical, or as soon as possible thereafter, if this
exception to policy is initiated to enable the ATSD(PA) to continue initial PA
responsibilities and to ensure the release of timely, accurate information at
the national level.
c. In overseas areas outside the United States (and its
territories and possessions), the ATSD(PA) or the Unified Commander or
representative, with concurrence of the foreign government through the
appropriate Chief of U.S. Mission, may confirm the presence of nuclear weapons
or nuclear weapon components at the scene of an accident or significant incident
in the interest of public safety or to reduce or prevent public alarm. The
ATSD(PA) shall be advised in advance, when practical, if exception to policy is
necessary. Notification of civil authorities of foreign governments, through the
Chief of the appropriate U.S. Mission, is required if the public is, or may be,
in danger of radiation exposure or other danger posed by the weapon or its
components. (Notification of foreign governments is not considered an exception
to the neither confirm nor deny policy. It is U.S. Government policy to notify
foreign governments promptly of any U.S. incident that may create a hazard to
public health and safety.) Any statement confirming the presence of nuclear
weapons should contain information about the possibility of injury from high
explosive weapon components and/or potential radiation exposure. If injury or
radiation exposure is unlikely, it should also be stated.
d. In a nuclear weapon significant incident, the DDO, NMCC, or
the ATSD(PA) and the Unified Commander or his representative may confirm the
presence of nuclear weapons in the interest of public safety or to reduce or
prevent public alarm. Confirmation must be with the concurrence of the foreign
government through the appropriate Chief of U.S. Mission.
3. The DoD OSC, or designee, at a nuclear weapon or nuclear
component accident or significant incident site in the continental United States
shall expeditiously establish communication with the ATSD(PA) by ANY means
available, if an accident or incident affecting the public requires
implementation of public safety measures. Direct communication between the
ATSD(PA), or designee, and the OSC, or designee, ensures appropriate
coordination of PA policy matters for the Department of Defense and provides
timely, accurate information for public release at the national level until the
Military Department responsible for the weapon is delegated PA responsibility by
a. If a nuclear weapons accident or significant incident
results or appears likely to result, a JIC shall be established near the scene
as a focal point for public release of information in a timely, accurate manner,
guided by Federal Preparedness Circular 8 (reference (b)). The OSC, or designee,
shall establish the JIC in coordination with the DoE, the FEMA, and State and
local authorities without delay. If the SFO, or designee, arrives at the
accident scene before the DoD OSC, or designee, the SFO, or designee, may
establish and supervise a JIC until the OSC, or designee, arrives. JIC
capabilities shall be expanded when additional personnel and resources arrive.
The JIC shall have dedicated administrative, communications, and logistical
support for use by all participating agencies. The JIC shall include a press
center for media use and press briefings.
b. The OSC, or designee, shall assume primary leadership and
direction of the JIC until such time as transition of JIC responsibility may
occur, as described in paragraph A.3.c. of this enclosure, below. To provide a
coordinated Federal response to the public, the OSC, or designee, shall ensure
that on-scene DoD PA activities, such as news releases, briefings, or
interviews, are coordinated in advance with the DoE, FEMA, and other agencies
represented in the JIC. Other DoD Components will advise the OSC. Other agencies
also are obligated to coordinate PA activities in advance with the OSC, or
c. The ATSD(PA) and the Director of Public Affairs for the
FEMA, by mutual agreement, may transfer JIC responsibility and authority from
the OSC to the SFO at any time. However, when a presidentially declared
emergency or disaster exists, the appointed FCO, or designee, shall assume
leadership and direction of the JIC. In all cases, the Department of Defense,
through the OSC, shall retain authority on security classification matters. When
JIC responsibility and authority are delegated to the SFO or FCO, all PA matters
about the Federal technical response shall be coordinated in advance with the
OSC, or designee.
4. If an accident or significant incident, with the potential
to evolve into an accident, happens outside the continental United States, the
Unified Commander or the OSC, or their designees, shall expeditiously establish
communication with the appropriate Chief of Mission and the ATSD(PA), or their
designees, by ANY means available if an accident or incident requires
implementation of public safety measures. In the absence of international
agreements that provide specific guidance, the OSC, or designee, shall establish
the CIB in coordination with the Chief of Mission, the foreign government
military and civilian national and local authorities, and the DoE. The OSC or
designee shall ensure that on-scene DoD PA activities, such as news releases,
briefings, or interviews, are coordinated in advance with the Chief of Mission,
the foreign government, and the DoE.
5. Policy and responsibilities about DoD programs that provide
information to appropriate Federal, State, and local officials and news media on
radiological safeguards, emergency plans, and other unclassified nuclear matters
are outlined in DoD Directive 5100.52 (reference (c)).
6. In the event of losses, seizures, or thefts of nuclear
weapons, materials, or components by terrorists or other dissident groups, or in
the case of seizures of nuclear storage sites, or any site or location having a
nuclear weapon or nuclear weapon system, the ATSD(PA) shall approve and handle
release of information for the Department of Defense. However, this does not
apply in overseas areas outside the United States, its territories and
possessions, where governmental agreements exist for the release of this
7. Most information on nuclear weapons and their storage is
classified restricted data or formerly restricted data and is very sensitive;
e.g., information about the design of nuclear weapons and components, disclosing
its physical state and chemical form, and the specific location of nuclear
weapons. The OSC and other responsible persons at the scene shall follow the
contingency releases to prevent compromise of classified information. If
declassification of other information is needed, it shall be referred to the
Department of Defense for consideration and coordination with the DoE as
B. DOD NUCLEAR REACTOR AND RADIOLOGICAL ACCIDENTS
1. Detailed PA planning and guidance shall be incorporated in
the DoD Components' nuclear reactor and radiological accident plans and shall be
in effect for the United States, its territories and possessions, and in
overseas areas. This planning shall include provisions for notifying the
ATSD(PA) through the chain of command to ensure PA coordination for the
Department of Defense.
2. Within the United States, its territories and possessions,
the appropriate DoD commander (area, on-scene, or custodial):
a. Shall immediately notify public authorities in the United
States, its territories and possessions, when a DoD nuclear reactor or
radiological accident presents an immediate danger to the public, particularly
when the evacuation of civilians is considered prudent. If time permits, the
appropriate DoD commander should issue to State and local officials any
recommendations on the need to take shelter or to evacuate. In cases of imminent
peril, it may be necessary for the DoD commander to issue, directly to the
public or through the news media, a warning for individuals to take shelter or
evacuate in those areas in immediate danger of exposure. The ATSD(PA) and other
PA components shall be advised immediately of this notification.
b. May issue a public statement confirming a DoD nuclear
reactor or radiological accident to reduce or prevent widespread public alarm.
This confirmation may be beneficial when the accident requires a special team
that attracts public attention or when evacuation of DoD personnel is necessary
to prevent injury from radiation exposure.
c. When a nuclear reactor accident occurs outside the United
States, its territories and possessions, the commander shall immediately inform
the Chief of the U.S. Mission in the country (or its territory) where the
accident occurs, as well as the Chiefs of U.S. Missions in countries whose
populations might be affected. He or she also shall inform the authorities of
the host-country's government through the Chief of U.S. Mission when the local
population is in immediate danger and public announcement is necessary for
public safety. Coordination procedures for these eventualities shall be
established in advance. The ATSD(PA) shall be kept advised in all cases.
MODEL PA CHECKLIST FOR DOD OSC OR DESIGNEE AT AN ACCIDENT
INVOLVING RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS
1. Expeditiously contact the ATSD(PA) by any means available.
The ATSD(PA) duty officer phone numbers are DSN 227-5131 or commercial (703)
697-5131 and are maintained on a 24-hour basis. As a backup, communication also
may be established through the NMCC.
2. If actions have not been taken by the FEMA or the DoE to
establish a JIC, immediately establish a JIC near the scene of the accident, but
outside the NDA and the OSC operational location. A press center shall also be
established. Notify the ATSD(PA) of the locations of the JIC and press center
and phone numbers. Also advise the ATSD(PA) how to contact the PAO at the OSC
operational location. PA representation in the JIC shall include the Department
of Defense, the DoE, the FEMA, other Federal Agencies, and State and local
governments. Ensure that all public information is coordinated in the JIC before
3. When an accident occurs in overseas areas, immediately
establish a CIB near the accident site if the foreign government has not already
done so. The CIB should include representatives from the appropriate U.S.
Embassy, the Department of Defense, the DoE, and foreign national and local
military and civilian organizations. Ensure that all public information is
coordinated in the CIB before release. (Before CIB establishment, ensure all
information is coordinated with the U.S. Embassy, which will ensure coordination
with the foreign government.)
4. Activate a CEAT, as appropriate.
5. Immediately provide dedicated administrative,
communications, and logistical support to the JIC. Communication support to the
JIC shall include adequate dedicated telephone lines, fax capability, and
6. Immediately provide the press center with dedicated
communications and logistical support.
7. Do not disclose classified information, unclassified
controlled nuclear information, or critical nuclear weapons design
CONTINGENCY RELEASES FOR NUCLEAR WEAPON ACCIDENTS
CONTINGENCY RELEASE NUMBER 1
To notify the general public
"No Radiological Danger to the Public"
(Confirms to reduce public alarm)
(Format of sample release to be used initially when no danger
to the public from contamination or blast exists, but when confirmation of the
presence or absence of a nuclear weapon or nuclear components significantly
prevents or reduces widespread public alarm that will result from unusual
activity at the incident site.)
A U.S. (type) aircraft (other type of transportation) carrying
hazardous material, classified cargo, or unarmed nuclear weapon(s)) crashed (or
other circumstances) at approximately (location and time).
The public is requested to stay out of the area (add, if true:
under surveillance by guards) to prevent any remote possibility of hazard from
the accident (or conventional high explosives detonation) and to avoid hampering
removal operations. There is no need for evacuation. (There is no danger of
The cause of the accident is under investigation. Further
details will be provided as they become available.
CONTINGENCY RELEASE NUMBER 2
To notify the general public
"When Public Is Possibly in Dancer"
(Confirms possibility of contamination in a nuclear weapon
(Format of sample release to be used when nuclear weapons or
nuclear components have been involved in an accident and the possibility exists
for contamination due to fire or explosion, and details are unknown. The release
to the general public should only be used after the area has been secured.
Release can be modified as indicated below depending on audience.)
A U.S. (type) aircraft (other type of transportation) carrying
unarmed nuclear weapons or nuclear components crashed (or other circumstances)
at (location) at approximately (time).
The public is asked to stay out of the accident area in the
interest of safety due to the possibility of hazard from the accident (or
conventional high-explosives detonation) and to avoid hampering recovery
operations. (There is no danger of nuclear detonation.)
Add the following for appropriate officials:
Fire, rescue, and other emergency services personnel should
approach the area with caution from upwind and be equipped with protective
clothing and breathing apparatus. Any local official at the scene of the
accident or who has left the site who can provide details on the situation
should call this number: ( ). Current information from the accident scene will
assist response personnel in responding to the accident and providing additional
public safety guidance. If contact with the accident scene is established,
determine the following: condition of aircraft and/or vehicle (such as burning,
evidence of explosion, or extent of damage); condition of accident site (such as
fire or blast damage); or evidence of obvious cargo (such as shapes or
containers). Avoid handling any debris at the crash site.
If the aircraft is transporting nuclear weapons containing
insensitive high explosives or weapons overpacked with accident resistant
containers, there is a much lower probability of a detonation and the fire
should be fought as long as there is a reasonable expectation of saving lives or
containing the fire. The weapons, or containers, if exposed, should be cooled
Law enforcement officials should prevent unauthorized personnel
from entering the site and picking up fragments of the plane (vehicle) or its
cargo. If any fragments already have been picked up, avoid further contact or
handling. Notify (authorities) for retrieval and proper disposition.
A U.S. (Military Department) team from (name of installation)
is en route to (has arrived at) the accident scene.
We have no details yet on civilian or military casualties or
The cause of the accident is under investigation. Further
details will be provided as they become available.
CONTINGENCY RELEASE NUMBER 3
To the General Public
"When Public Is Probably in Danger"
(Format of sample release to be used when a nuclear accident
occurs. Public safety considerations require this announcement because of the
likelihood of fire or conventional high-explosive detonation of the weapon. The
following statement should be made locally or by appropriate higher authority if
no local authority is available:)
An aircraft (other type of transportation) accident occurred
(or other circumstances) approximately (location and time). The accident
involved a nuclear weapon that contains conventional explosives and radioactive
material. There is no danger of a nuclear detonation, but there is a danger from
the conventional explosives that (are burning, may detonate, have detonated).
The public is requested to stay out of (indicate the area) (under surveillance
by guards) in the interest of safety and to avoid hampering operations at the
accident scene. An experienced response team has been ordered to the scene.
(If appropriate, the following WILL be included in the
release:) Radioactive material in the form of dust may be scattered as a result
of the accident. The dust poses little risk to health unless taken into the body
by breathing or swallowing, although it is unlikely that any person would inhale
or swallow an amount that would cause illness. As a precautionary measure, you
are asked to remain calm and indoors. Turn off fans, air conditioners, and
forced-air heating units that bring in fresh air from the outside. Use them only
to recirculate air already in the building. Eat and drink only canned or
packaged food and drinks that have been inside. If you must go outside, cover
your nose and mouth and avoid stirring up and breathing any dust. It is
important to remember that your movement could cause yourself greater exposure
to any radioactive dust, should it be present, and you could possibly spread
contamination to others.
(If plutonium is involved) One of the materials involved is
plutonium, which is both a toxic and radiation hazard and chemical poison if
ingested. The radiation given off consists of alpha particles that do not have
sufficient energy to penetrate buildings, clothing, or even the outer skin.
Therefore, short-term exposure to contamination outside the body poses a
negligible health risk. The precautions mentioned earlier should be carefully
followed to prevent ingestion.
(If uranium is involved) One of the materials involved is
uranium. Uranium, depending upon the type, may be a radiological hazard or a
chemical health hazard, similar to lead poisoning. Uranium gives off alpha
particles that cannot penetrate skin and pose no health risk when outside the
The public is asked to stay out of the area (under surveillance
or closed off by guards) (and if true) until a monitoring team, now en route to
the accident site, can survey the ground and determine the exact area affected
by the accident. Any fragments found near the scene may be contaminated and
should be left in place. If fragments have been picked up, avoid further
handling and notify (authorities) for proper retrieval and disposition.
Periodic announcements will be made as more information is
known. It is expected that these precautionary actions will be modified as more
information becomes available. A U.S. (Military Service) team from (name of
installation) is en route to (has arrived at) the accident scene.
We have no details yet on civilian or military casualties (or
give the number only of civilian and military casualties) or property
The cause of the accident is under investigation. Further
details will be provided as they become available.
IN RESPONSE TO QUERY ONLY:
Question: “ Are nuclear
weapons stored at (name of facility) or (name of facility)?”
Answer: “ It is U.S. policy
neither to confirm nor deny the presence or absence of nuclear weapons at any
If asked whether nuclear weapons are aboard a specific surface
ship, attack submarine, or naval aircraft:
“It is general U.S. policy not to deploy
nuclear weapons aboard surface ships, attack submarines, and naval aircraft.
However, we do not discuss the presence or absence of nuclear weapons aboard
specific ships, submarines or aircraft.”
Appendix Zeta f
Explosions Conducted by the United States from 1945–63
World War II
||Alamogordo, New Mexico
|August 9, 1945
|April 30, 1948
|May 14, 1948
||Nevada, Frenchman Flat
|January 28, 1951
||Nevada, Frenchman Flat
|February 1, 1951
||Nevada, Frenchman Flat
|February 2, 1951
||Nevada, Frenchman Flat
|February 6, 1951
||Nevada, Frenchman Flat
|April 20, 1951
|May 8, 1951
|May 24, 1951
|October 28, 1951
|October 30, 1951
|November 1, 1951
|November 5, 1951
|November 19, 1951
|November 29, 1951
|April 15, 1952
|April 22, 1952
|May 1, 1952
|May 7, 1952
|May 25, 1952
|June 1, 1952
|June 5, 1952
|November 15, 1952
|March 24, 1953
|March 31, 1953
|April 6, 1953
|April 11, 1953
|April 18, 1953
|April 25, 1953
|May 8, 1953
|May 19, 1953
|May 25, 1953
|June 4, 1953
|March 26, 1954
|April 6, 1954
|April 25, 1954
|May 4, 1954
|May 13, 1954
|February 22, 1955
|March 1, 1955
|March 7, 1955
|March 12, 1955
|March 22, 1955
|March 23, 1955
|March 29, 1955
|March 29, 1955
|April 6, 1955
|April 9, 1955
|April 15, 1955
|May 5, 1955
|May 15, 1955
|May 5, 1956
|May 27, 1956
|May 27, 1956
|May 30, 1956
|June 6, 1956
|June 11, 1956
|June 11, 1956
|June 13, 1956
|June 16, 1956
|June 21, 1956
|June 25, 1956
|July 2, 1956
|July 8, 1956
|July 10, 1956
|July 20, 1956
|July 21, 1956
|June 2, 1957
|June 5, 1957
|June 18, 1957
|June 24, 1957
|July 5, 1957
|July 15, 1957
|July 19, 1957
|July 24, 1957
|July 25, 1957
|August 7, 1957
|August 7, 1957
|August 8, 1957
|August 23, 1957
|August 27, 1957
|August 30, 1957
|August 31, 1957
|September 2, 1957
|September 6, 1957
|September 6, 1957
|September 8, 1957
|September 14, 1957
|September 16, 1957
|September 19, 1957
|September 23, 1957
|September 28, 1957
|October 7, 1957
|December 6, 1957
|May 5, 1958
|May 11, 1958
|May 11, 1958
|May 12, 1958
|May 16, 1958
|May 20, 1958
|May 21, 1958
|May 26, 1958
|May 26, 1958
|May 30, 1958
|May 31, 1958
|June 2, 1958
|June 8, 1958
|June 10, 1958
|June 14, 1958
|June 14, 1958
|June 18, 1958
|June 27, 1958
|June 27, 1958
|June 28, 1958
|June 29, 1958
|July 1, 1958
|July 2, 1958
|July 5, 1958
|July 12, 1958
|July 14, 1958
|July 17, 1958
|July 22, 1958
|July 22, 1958
|July 26, 1958
|August 1, 1958
|August 6, 1958
|August 12, 1958
|August 18, 1958
||South Atlantic Ocean
|August 30, 1958
||South Atlantic Ocean
|September 6, 1958
||South Atlantic Ocean
|September 12, 1958
|September 17, 1958
|September 21, 1958
|September 23, 1958
|September 28, 1958
|September 29, 1958
|October 5, 1958
|October 5, 1958
|October 8, 1958
|October 10, 1958
|October 13, 1958
|October 14, 1958
|October 15, 1958
|October 16, 1958
|October 16, 1958
|October 17, 1958
|October 18, 1958
|October 20, 1958
|October 22, 1958
|October 22, 1958
|October 22, 1958
|October 22, 1958
|October 24, 1958
|October 24, 1958
|October 26, 1958
|October 26, 1958
|October 26, 1958
|October 27, 1958
|October 29, 1958
|October 29, 1958
|October 29, 1958
|October 30, 1958
|October 30, 1958
|October 30, 1958
|October 30, 1958
|September 15, 1961
|September 16, 1961
|October 1, 1961
|October 10, 1961
|October 29, 1961
|December 3, 1961
|December 10, 1961
||Carlsbad, New Mexico
|December 13, 1961
|December 17, 1961
|December 22, 1961
|January 9, 1962
|January 18, 1962
|January 30, 1962
|February 8, 1962
|February 9, 1962
|February 15, 1962
|February 19, 1962
|February 19, 1962
|February 23, 1962
|February 24, 1962
|March 5, 1962
|March 6, 1962
|March 8, 1962
|March 15, 1962
|March 28, 1962
|March 31, 1962
|April 5, 1962
|April 6, 1962
|April 12, 1962
|April 14, 1962
|April 21, 1962
|April 27, 1962
|April 27, 1962
|May 2, 1962
|May 4, 1962
|May 6, 1962
|May 7, 1962
|May 8, 1962
|May 9, 1962
|May 10, 1962
|May 11, 1962
|May 11, 1962
|May 12, 1962
|May 12, 1962
|May 14, 1962
|May 19, 1962
|May 19, 1962
|May 25, 1962
|May 25, 1962
|May 27, 1962
|June 1, 1962
|June 6, 1962
|June 8, 1962
|June 9, 1962
|June 10, 1962
|June 12, 1962
|June 13, 1962
|June 15, 1962
|June 17, 1962
|June 19, 1962
|June 21, 1962
|June 22, 1962
|June 27, 1962
|June 28, 1962
|June 30, 1962
|June 30, 1962
||Little Feller 1
|July 9, 1962
|July 10, 1962
|July 11, 1962
|July 11, 1962
|July 13, 1962
|July 14, 1962
|July 17, 1962
||Little Feller 2
|July 27, 1962
|August 24, 1962
|August 24, 1962
|September 6, 1962
|September 14, 1962
|September 20, 1962
|September 29, 1962
|October 2, 1962
|October 5, 1962
|October 6, 1962
|October 8, 1962
|October 12, 1962
|October 12, 1962
|October 18, 1962
|October 19, 1962
|October 20, 1962
|October 26, 1962
|October 27, 1962
|October 27, 1962
|October 30, 1962
|November 1, 1962
|November 4, 1962
|November 9, 1962
|November 15, 1962
|November 27, 1962
|December 4, 1962
|December 12, 1962
|December 12, 1962
|December 14, 1962
Radiation Exposure to Veterans
According to the National Association of Atomic Veterans (NAAV), over a million U.S. servicemen as well as civilian personnel took part in a variety of tests during the Cold War hen the Atomic Energy Commission working in conjunction with the Department of Defense had troops participate in and witness the detonations at the various Pacific and Nevada Test areas. Most detonations were larger than and emitted considerably more deadly radiation than the two weapons which were employed against Japan at the end of WWII. During the tests various government agencies and departments were interested in learning about the various effects of atomic and nuclear weapons, as well as how these weapons affected the immediate performance of military personnel and equipment. Troops, ships, and various types of equipment were placed from several hundred yards to several miles from the center of each detonation. On many occasions military personnel performed maneuvers in and around ground zeros without protective clothing or respiratory devices.
Various public laws, enacted between 1981 and 2003, provide the basis for medical care and compensation entitlement for veterans that were exposed to radiation as a consequence of their military service. These public laws are codified by the VA in Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 3.309 and Part 3.311 (38 CFR 3) and by the Department of Justice in 28 CFR 79. The Government Printing Office offers free online access to the Code of Federal Regulations.
Exposure from Buster-Jangle (source: DTRA fact sheet)
The three events involving the largest numbers of Department of Defense participants were Shots DOG, SUGAR, and UNCLE.
Atomic bomb experiment DOG, a nuclear weapon dropped from an aircraft, was exploded at 7:30 AM, on November 1, 1951. The nuclear bomb detonated 1,417 feet above the terrain of Area 7, Yucca Flat, at the National Test Site in Nevada. As part of Exercise Desert Rock I, the armed services fielded a troop observer program with approximately 2,800 participants, a tactical troop maneuver with approximately 880 participants, and damage effects tests with approximately 60 participants. All troops observed the shot from a location 11 kilometers south of ground zero.
The following United States Army units conducted the tactical maneuver at atomic bomb experiment DOG:
1st Battalion, 188th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 11th Airborne Division
Camp Campbell, KY
3rd Medical Platoon, 188th Airborne Medical Company
Camp Campbell, KY
Platoon, Company A, 127th Engineer Battalion
Camp Campbell, KY
Battery C, 546th Field Artillery Battalion
Fort Lewis, WA.
The Army units formed a Battalion Combat Team (BCT) for the maneuver. During the weeks preceding the shot, BCT personnel dug foxholes and built gun emplacements and bunkers in a tactical defensive position southwest of ground zero. Several hours before the shot, the BCT and observers went by truck and bus convoy into the forward area. They proceeded to the observation point about 11 kilometers from ground zero, where they were intentionally exposed to radiation when DOG exploded. After the detonation, the troops moved by convoy to their tactical defensive position, where they viewed the effects of the nuclear detonation on the fortifications. The BCT then proceeded in an attack formation to its objective. The objective was southwest of ground zero; at its closest point, it was 460 meters from ground zero. The BCT was accompanied by radiological safety monitors and was preceded by radiation survey teams who determined the limits of safe advance. After reaching the objective, the troops toured two equipment displays 900 and 1,350 meters south of ground zero. The troops were then trucked to a display position over 6 kilometers south of ground zero. During these activities, Human Resources Research Office personnel tested the troops to determine their psychological reactions to the detonation [Editor’s Note: In other words, the troops were used as human guinea pigs in an atomic experiment—not quite Josef Mengele's modus operandi, but about as close to it as the United States Army has ever come].
Atomic bomb blast SUGAR, the first surface detonation at the National Test Site (formerly known as the National Proving Grounds) was fired at 9 AM, on November 19, 1951. The SUGAR device was detonated 3.5 feet above the ground in Area 9, Yucca Flat. The initial survey detected onsite fallout to the north of ground zero.
About 550 Department of Defense personnel participated in scientific projects conducted by the two test units at Shot SUGAR. Approximately 450 SWC participants performed support missions. Perhaps an additional 100 Department of Defense personnel worked for various units coordinated by the test organization.
Atomic bomb blast UNCLE, the first underground nuclear detonation at the National Test Site in Nevada, was fired at noon on November 29, 1951. The nuclear device was detonated 17 feet beneath the ground in Area 10 of Yucca Flat. The initial survey showed onsite fallout north of ground zero. As with SUGAR, the troops observed the detonation at a distance of 5 miles. Near ground zero the radiation level was 5000 roentgens/hour at one hour after the test, with levels of 1000 R/hr extending up to 1200 yards from the burst point. Hazardous levels of 100 R/hr extended past 5000 yards in some areas.
Exposure from Dominic I (excerpt from DTRA fact sheet)
In general, Dominic I doses were as follows: Approximately 5 percent (some 1,200 military personnel) of Dominic I personnel had doses greater than 0.5 rem. Approximately 230 personnel had doses greater than 2.0 rem, with approximately 40 people receiving doses over 5.0 rem. Included in this group are 20 individuals with doses greater than 10.0 rem; the highest total dose for the entire operation was 17.68 rem.
The government claims that many of the badges worn by personnel during Dominic I were defectively sealed, which purportedly resulted in damage to the films from moisture, light and heat. Film damage typically caused optical density (darkening) in addition to that from nuclear radiation, which was, nonetheless, historically attributed to radiation. A 1979–1980 reevaluation of 1,349 Dominic I film badges showed that 45 percent exhibited some damage related to light, heat, and age, due to defective wax seals. Of the badges that had apparent readings over 0.4 rem, 98 percent were observed to have had suffered environmental damage. Subsequent research [Editor's Note: "subsequent research" is government doublespeak for statistics that have been altered ex post facto] of radiological data from Dominic I indicates that only the following categories of participants had the potential for radiation exposure:
♦ Crewmembers of SIOUX.
♦ Nuclear cloud sampler aircrews or associated ground crewmembers.
♦ Personnel involved in the recovery and handling of radioactive instrumented pods, rocket noses cones, or any other contaminated material.
♦ Radiation Safety monitors.
Exposure from Plumbbob
Plumbbob released 58,300 kilocuries (2.16 EBq) of radioiodine (I-131) into the atmosphere. Troop exercises conducted near ground zero of "Smoky" exposed over three thousand servicemen to relatively high levels of radiation.
A study in 1980 found significantly elevated rates of leukemia among the soldiers surveyed (ten cases were found, instead of the baseline expected four).
Department of Defense Personnel Exposed to Nuclear Testing
# of Tests
# of Troops
Operation Hardtack I
Operation Dominic I
Operation Dominic II
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