America Had a Problem With Its Nuclear Warheads Freezing
The U.S. Air Force is once again pushing for a nuclear-armed cruise missile to “fill the gap” between heavy bombers and ballistic missiles. The W-80 warhead will be the missile’s business end. The flying branch’s push comes during the largest planned overhaul of America’s nuclear arsenal in decades. Aside from the... Read more
Hellburners Were the Renaissance’s Tactical Nukes
Some of the largest non-nuclear explosions on record — in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1917, Port Chicago, California in 1944 and Texas City, Texas in 1947 — involved huge accidental blasts at harbors and aboard ships. But what if a similar explosion occurred by intent rather than accident? A really... Read more
This U.S. Navy Warship Shot Down MiGs and Pranked the Soviets
Originally published on April 13, 2015. During the Cold War, many lesser-known confrontations occurred at sea — away from the headlines and major crises. This was certainly true for the crew of the U.S. Navy’s Belknap-class guided-missile cruiser USS Biddle. The warship sailed into the thick of the Vietnam... Read more
Remember When Australia Pretend-Nuked a Rainforest?
During the Cold War, nuclear states tested atomic weapons in almost every conceivable environment — deserts, oceans, space, islands. Scientists already knew nukes’ effects on cities. But how would they affect jungles? The Australian government wanted to know. So in July 1963 Australia conducted a simulated nuclear test in... Read more
These Weird Warplanes Didn’t Need Runways
Originally published on July 29, 2013. Warplanes’ biggest vulnerability is their runways. Modern airfields are no match for modern weapons; bunker-busting munitions can crater the thickest concrete. There was a brief period after World War II when the U.S. military thought it had a solution: simply design planes that... Read more
How America’s Airline Went to War
Originally published on Jan. 4, 2015. Now only a distant memory, Pan American Airways once flew so high that even the moon seemed within its grasp. Its advanced technology, skilled workforce and global reach were the envy of its competitors. It had such a wide reach around the world,... Read more
Her Majesty’s Nuclear Seaplane
Originally published on Oct. 22, 2013. She was a dazzling aircraft, a great winged hope of postwar Britain, the largest all-metal flying boat ever built. Her design incorporated brand-new technologies: a pressurized cabin, all-hydraulic controls and turboprop power. Yet even as she took to the skies over the 1953... Read more
For a Brief Inglorious Moment, the U.S. Navy Had a Nuclear-Powered Wetsuit
Originally published on Nov. 26, 2014. You get pretty cold pretty fast when you’re wet. Water absorbs more heat than air—and absorbs it 20 times faster. Without some kind of protection, people can suffer hypothermia even in warm tropical seas. There are several ways to stay warm in the... Read more
How to Find a Missing H-Bomb
When a routine Cold War operation went terribly wrong, two planes and seven men died, a village got contaminated and a hydrogen bomb disappeared. The search and cleanup required 1,400 American and Spanish personnel, a dozen aircraft, 27 U.S. Navy ships and five submarines. It cost more than $120... Read more
Disarming an Atomic Bomb Is the Worst Job in the World
In the spring of 1952, the U.S. government tested tactical nuclear weapons at the Nevada Proving Ground as part of Operation Tumbler-Snapper. It was the third nuke test series in 18 months at the Nevada site in an era of breakneck atomic development. At 4:00 in the morning on... Read more
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