Strategic Air Command vet recounts nuclear weapons training mission

Charlotte, NC

As a member of the Strategic Air Command during the 1950s, I was assigned to a B-36 bomber crew as an electronic counter-measures specialist. The B-36 “Peacemaker” is one of the largest American warplanes ever built. Our mission was to be prepared at all times to counter communist aggression.

On one mission, we had complete the run-up of all the engines. We made our final turn to line up on the runway. Once we were in the air and had retracted the landing gear, I was tasked with searching the bomb bay area, concerned with possible hydraulic leaks or gas fumes.

I opened the hatch to enter the bomb bay. I was confronted with a huge nuclear bomb! I knew that SAC planes often carried nuclear weapons; however, we weren’t told in advance whether we would be armed with nuclear devices.

As I stood there with my searchlight looking at that big bomb, I was awestruck. It was about 25 feet long and six feet tall. Of course, it was unarmed, but I was very surprised.

As the mission continued, the crew settled into its routine responsibilities. Hours into the flight the radar navigator said we were approaching the initial point, and took over steering. The aircraft commander gave the command to put up the curtains. Several minutes later, came another command: “Bomb doors open.” Finally, we heard we were approaching Denver. We were at high altitude, when the next sequence of commands came: “Bomb away.”

The aircraft made a sharp left turn. The announcement of a direct hit followed. Fortunately, this had been only practice. But there has always been a red line.

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