Tag Archives: Bikini Atoll

1 July 1946

The “Silverplate” Martin B-29-40-MO Superfortress, 44-27354, “Dave’s Dream,” during Operation Crossroads, 1946. (U.S. Air Force)

1 July 1946: Operation Crossroads, Test Able. At 9:00:34 a.m., local time, a Mk 3A atomic bomb, code named “Gilda,” dropped from a Martin-built B-29 Superfortress, Dave’s Dream, flying at 28,000 feet (8,534 meters),¹ detonated over an array of warships moored at the eastern end of the the Bikini Atoll lagoon in the Marshall Islands. This was the fourth explosion of an atomic weapon.

A major purpose of Test Able was to evaluate the effects of an atomic bomb used against a fleet of warships. 93 ships ² had been moored in the lagoon as test subjects. The bomber’s target was the U.S. Navy battleship, USS Nevada (BB-36). Nevada had been painted orange to aid the bombardier in identifying it. The bomb fell 980 feet (299 meters) short and 1,870 feet (570 meters) to the left of the target. It detonated at an altitude of 580 feet (177 meters). It is suspected that a damaged fin may have caused the bomb to miss its target, though an investigation of the bomber’s crew was conducted.

Gilda had been loaded aboard Dave’s Dream at Kwajalein, at about midnight. The bomber took off from the airfield there at 5:55 a.m., 1 July, and headed toward Bikini.

Ex-USS Nevada (BB-36) was the target for the bomb in Test Able.

Gilda was a 10,213-pound (4,632 kilogram) “Fat Man”-type atomic bomb, designated Mk 3A. The egg-shaped weapon contained a 6.2 kilogram (14 pound) sphere of Plutonium Pu 239, surrounded by a high-explosive charge. The explosives were formed in “lenses” that would direct the force inward in a very precise manner. The purpose was to compress—or implode— the Plutonium to a much greater density, resulting in a “critical mass.” When this critical mass is attained, a fission chain reaction results, releasing a tremendous amount of energy. The Mk 3A was the same type weapon used against Nagasaki, Japan, 9 August 1945.

“Gilda,” the Bomb, Mk 3A, that was dropped by Dave’s Dream, 1 July 1946. (Los Alamos National Laboratory)

The yield of the Test Able detonation was 23 kilotons. Five ships were sunk, and fourteen, including Nevada, suffered serious damage. Analysis of test results estimated that if the battleship had been manned, its entire crew would have suffered a lethal dose of radiation.

Fireball of Test Able, 1 July 1946. (Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ds-02945)
The shock wave of the Test Able nuclear explosion can be seen on the surface of Bikini lagoon, underneath the condensation ring.
Test Able mushroom cloud climbing over Bikini Atoll.
Operation Crossroads, Test Able, 1 July 1946.

Dave’s Dream was a Martin-Omaha-built B-29-40-MO Superfortress, serial number 44-27354. It was a specially modified “Silverplate” B-29, given the designation Victor 90. It had been the camera ship on the mission against Nagasaki, Japan, 9 August 1945. Following that mission, its wartime crew had named it Big Stink.

The crew of Dave’s Dream preparing for a flight.

For Test Able, Dave’s Dream was flown by Major Woodrow Paul Swancutt, U.S. Army Air Forces. The co-pilot was Captain William C. Harrison, Jr. The bombardier was Major Harold H. Wood, and radar operator, Captain Paul Chenchar, Jr. 1st Lieutenant Robert M. Glenn served as flight engineer. The radio operator was Technical Sergeant Jack Cothran, and Corporals Herbert Lyons and Roland M. Medlin were scanners.

The Silverplate B-29s differed from the standard production bombers in many ways. They were approximately 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms) lighter. The bomber carried no armor. Additional fuel tanks were installed in the rear bomb bay. The bomb bay doors were operated by quick-acting pneumatic systems. The bomb release mechanism in the forward bomb bay was replaced by a single-point release as was used in special British Lancaster bombers. A weaponeer’s control station was added to the cockpit to monitor the special bomb systems.

The Silverplate B-29s were powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division R-3350-41 (Cyclone 18 787C18BA3) two-row 18-cylinder radial engines with direct fuel injection. The R-3350-41 had a compression ratio of 6.85:1 and required 100/130 aviation gasoline. It was rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m, for take-off. The engines drove four-bladed Curtiss Electric reversible-pitch propellers with a diameter of 16 feet, 8 inches (5.080 meters), through a 0.35:1 gear reduction. The R-3350-41 was 6 feet, 2.26 inches (1.937 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,725 pounds (1,236 kilograms).

With the exception of the tail gunner’s position, all defensive armament—four powered remotely operated gun turrets with ten .50-caliber machine guns—were deleted. Their remote sighting positions were also removed. The Silverplate B-29s carried 1,000 rounds of ammunition for each of the two remaining Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns in the tail.

With these changes, the Silverplate B-29s could fly higher and faster than a standard B-29, and the fuel-injected R-3350-41 engines were more reliable. They had a cruising speed of 220 miles per hour (354 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 365 miles per hour (587 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 31,850 feet (9,708 meters) and its combat radius was 2,900 miles (4,667 kilometers).

¹ OPERATION CROSSROADS 1946, DNA 6032F, Final Report, Defense Nuclear Agency, Washington, D.C., Page 87

² OPERATION CROSSROADS 1946, DNA 6032F, Final Report, Defense Nuclear Agency, Washington, D.C.Page 84

Full Disclosure: TDiA’s father, Ensign Bart R. Swopes, SC, USN, was present at Bikini Atoll during Operation Crossroads, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Shangri-la (CV-38).

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes

21 May 1956

Major David Crichlow, USAF, Aircraft Commander, Barbara Grace, 21 May 1956. (LIFE photograph via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Major David M. Critchlow, U.S. Air Force, Aircraft Commander, in the cockpit of another aircraft, B-52B-30-BO Stratofortress 53-383. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

21 May 1956: The second test of the OPERATION REDWING series was REDWING CHEROKEE.

A B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 4925th Test Group (Atomic), Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico, took off from Eniwetok Island (“Fred Island”), the main island of Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The aircraft commander was Major David M. Critchlow, United States Air Force. Other members of the bomber’s crew were Major Charles T. Smith, pilot; Major Dwight E. Durner, bombardier; Major Floyd A. Amundson, navigator; Lieutenant William R. Payne, timer; Sergeant Richard N. Bingham, radar technician. Colonel Paul R. Wignaff was an official observer.

Boeing RB-52B Stratofortress 52-013
Boeing RB-52B-10-BO Stratofortress 52-013, Barbara Grace. (The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History)

The bomber, named Barbara Grace, was a Boeing RB-52B-10-BO Stratofortress, serial number 52-013. In its bomb bay was a TX-15-X1 two-stage radiation implosion thermonuclear bomb, weighing 6,867 pounds (3,114.9 kilograms). The bomb was approximately 136 inches long (3.454 meters), with a diameter of 34.5 inches (0.876 meters). The target was a point on Namu Island, Bikini Atoll, also in the Marshall Islands.

Major Critchlow’s wife was named Barbara, and his mother, Grace. The B-52 was named Barbara Grace in their honor.

This Mark 15 nuclear bomb is similar to the TX-15-X1 used in Redwing Cherokee.
This Mark 15 nuclear bomb is similar to the TX-15-X1 used in REDWING CHEROKEE.

CHEROKEE was the first test at Bikini, a test event called for by DOD, and the only shot of the series not expressly for weapons development. The shot was rather a demonstration that the United States could air-deliver multimegaton-yield thermonuclear weapons using B-52 jet bombers. The device, designed and developed by Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (LASL), was airdropped from a B-52 and exploded at a height of 5,000 feet (1.5 km) above Nam on 21 May 1956. Although a demonstration, the shot provided a large-yield burst well above the surface, and it was therefore of considerable interest for airblast effects experiments. However, the explosion was considerably off target, lessening its value.

OPERATION REDWING 1956, DNA 6037F, by S. Bruce-Henderson, et al., Defense Nuclear Agency, Chapter 4 at Page 177

Flying at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters), the aircrew misidentified an observation facility on a different island for their targeting beacon. The bomb missed Namu Island by 4 miles (6.4 kilometers), detonating at 4,350 feet (1,325 meters) over the open ocean to the northeast at 0551 hours, local time (1751 GMT). The explosive force of the TX-15 was rated at 3.8 megatons, but because of the error in targeting, most of the test data was lost.

Redwing Cherokee target, Namu Island, Bikini Atoll, May 1956.
Redwing Cherokee target, Namu Island, Bikini Atoll, May 1956.

The REDWING CHEROKEE test was the first time that a thermonuclear weapon had been dropped from an airplane.

Redwing Cherokee fireball (Wikipedia)
Redwing Cherokee fireball, 0551 hours, 21 May 1956. (Wikipedia)
Redwing Cherokee
Redwing Cherokee condensation rings.

David Madison Critchlow was born at Durkee, Oregon, 17 February 1920, the fourth of six children of J. Ralph Critchlow, a farmer, and Estella Grace Culbertson Critchlow. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a private, 3 December 1942. He was assigned as an aviation cadet, and commissioned a 2nd lieutenant, Army of the United States, 27 June 1944. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant, 18 March 1946. He served in the Air Force during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

David Critchlow married Miss Lorraine Calhoun, 9 January 1943. He later married Miss Barbara N. Oder, 9 July 1950. They would have five children.

Major Critchlow, assigned to Detachment 1, 24th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, 6th Strategic Wing deployed to Shemya, Alaska, 31 December 1961 with Nancy Rae, a top secret Rivet Ball strategic reconnaissance RC-135S, 59-1491.¹

Colonel Critchlow would later command the 6512 Test Group at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1 October 1969–29 July 1970. He retired form the U.S. Air Force 1 August 1974.

Colonel David M. Critchlow died 11 December 2002 at the age of 81 years. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Fifty B-52Bs were built by Boeing at Seattle, Washington. Twenty-seven of these were RB-52B reconnaissance bombers. They were designed to accept a pressurized electronic and photo recon capsule with a two-man crew that completely filled the bomb bay. Without the capsule aboard, they were capable of the same bombing missions as their sister B-52Bs. The change could be made within a few hours.

The B-52B/RB-52B was operated by a six-man flight crew for the bombing mission, and eight for reconnaissance. These were the aircraft commander/pilot, co-pilot, navigator, radar navigator/bombardier, electronic warfare officer and gunner, plus two reconnaissance technicians when required.

The airplane was 156 feet, 6.9 inches (47.724 meters) long with a wingspan of 185 feet, 0 inches (56.388 meters) and overall height of 48 feet, 3.6 inches (14.722 meters). The wings were mounted high on the fuselage (“shoulder-mounted”) to provide clearance for the engines which were suspended on pylons. The wings’ leading edges were swept 35°. The bomber’s empty weight was 164,081 pounds (74,226 kilograms), with a combat weight of 272,000 pounds (123,377 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 420,000 pounds (190,509 kilograms).

Early production B-52Bs were powered by eight Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp J57-P-1W engines, while later aircraft were equipped with J57-P-19W and J57-P-29W or WA turbojets. The engines were grouped in two-engine pods on four under-wing pylons. The J57 was a two-spool, axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7-high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). These engines were rated at 10,500 pounds of thrust (46.71 kilonewtons), each, or 12,100 pounds (53.82 kilonewtons) with water injection.

The B-52B had a cruise speed of 523 miles per hour (842 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed varied with altitude: 630 miles per hour (1,014 kilometers per hour) at 19,800 feet (6,035 meters), 598 miles per hour (962 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and 571 miles per hour (919 kilometers per hour) at 45,750 feet (13,945 meters). The service ceiling at combat weight was 47,300 feet (14,417 meters).

Maximum ferry range was 7,343 miles (11,817 kilometers). With a 10,000 pound (4,536 kilogram) bomb load, the B-52B had a combat radius of 3,590 miles (5,778 kilometers). With inflight refueling, the range was essentially world-wide.

Defensive armament consisted of four Browning Aircraft Machine Guns, Caliber .50, AN-M3, mounted in a tail turret with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun. These guns had a combined rate of fire in excess of 4,000 rounds per minute. 52-013 was one of eighteen RB-52Bs equipped with two M24A1 20 mm autocannon in the tail turret in place of the standard four .50-caliber M3 machine guns.

The B-52B’s maximum bomb load was 43,000 pounds (19,505 kilograms). It could carry a 15-megaton Mark 17 thermonuclear bomb, or two Mark 15s, each with a maximum yield of 3.8 megatons.

Boeing manufactured 744 B-52 Stratofortress bombers, with the final one rolled out at Wichita, Kansas, 22 June 1962. As of 27 September 2016, 77 B-52H bombers remain in service with the United States Air Force.

RB-52B-10-BO 52-013 was delivered directly to Kirtland Air Force Base, 29 April 1955. In addition Operation Redwing, 52-013 also participated in Operation Dominic in 1962, which involved 24 air drops from B-52 bombers. The airplane carried the name Deterrent I painted on its nose, but flew missions with the call sign “Cow Slip Two.”

This individual airplane has dropped more than a dozen live nuclear bombs during weapons testing. Withdrawn from service in 1963, 52-013 was transferred to the National Atomic Museum (now, the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History) at Kirtland in 1971, where it has been restored.

Boeing RB-52B-10-BO Stratofortress 52-013 at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History. (U.S. Air Force 161010-F-ZZ999-007)

¹ See: “A Tale of Two Airplanes,” by Lieutenant Colonel Kingdon R. Hawes, USAF (Ret) at http://www.rc135.com/0000/INDEX.HTM

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes