It’s A Bomb, A Thermonuclear Bomb

 

A Boeing B-47E Stratojet. Photo courtesy of Boeing Corporation.

In 1958, in the early morning hours of February 5th, a Boeing B-47E Stratojet bomber was flying off Tybee Island, Georgia, on the Atlantic coast, near Savannah.  It was one of two aircraft coming home from a successful training mission which simulated dropping a nuclear bomb on Moscow, and I don’t mean Idaho.  They didn’t know they had become the “target” of a new training mission, launched from Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina, to simulate intercepting bombers attacking the United States.  It collided with an F-86H fighter jet because the pilot of the jet, although he saw the first B-47 on his radar screen, he did not see the B-47 above him.  The pilot was able to eject from the damaged fighter plane before it crashed.  The crew of the bomber, still aloft, but barely, asked for permission to jettison their cargo in preparation for a crash landing.  Their payload was a 7,600 pound, 12-foot long, Mark 15 hydrogen bomb!  WTF

At 7,200 feet, running 200 mph, they jettisoned the bomb.  The Mark 15 landed in the water and didn’t, thank God,  detonate.  The aircraft safely landed at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah.  They searched for the  bomb for 10 days without any luck and it  has never been found.  The water around the drop site is relatively shallow and it is believed that the bomb is buried in 5 to 15 feet of mud and silt. 

 

Mark 15 Hydrogen bomb like the one dropped off Tybee Island in 1958.

A Mark 15 is 100 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb.  The nuclear capsule that detonates it was removed from the device before the training mission.  Wait a minute.  If the nuclear capsule was removed and the bomb couldn’t be detonated, why did they have to drop the bomb in the waters off of Tybee Island?  The Air Force claimed they were worried about the bomb exploding in a crash landing, but it also added a lot of weight to the damaged aircraft.  The pilot later said “if we crashed, it would come forward through the crew area like a bullet through a gun barrel.”

Yet the real danger will be if the bomb itself corrodes and leaks radioactive material in the ocean.  The Department of the Air Force insists that all the studies they’ve done show that even if the bomb starts to leak material, that material will become trapped in the mud that encases the bomb.  For that reason, they don’t believe the bomb poses any threat to the environment.  No one has seen any mutated turtles off Tybee Island in the last 53 years, so maybe it’s safe.  And, interestingly enough, the water around this area is high in radioactivity anyway.  Seems to be because of the type of sand in area, high in uranium.
 
What if some terrorists find it and detonate it, or steal the enriched uranium?  Not likely they say, because the trigger isn’t in the bomb.  But the Uranium and Plutonium are.
The pilot of the B-47 got a Distinguished Flying Cross for safely landing the plane and saving the crew.  He later said he second-guessed his decision to jettison the bomb and other reports of the incident indicate that he let the bomb drop before he got SAC approval.

The military has a code for a mishap involving a nuclear device.  They call them “Broken Arrows.”  I could have come up with a better name.  Something like “Oh My FG”

 

 

 

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