Tag Archives: Nevada Test Site

6 April 1955, 18:00:04.1 UTC

Operation Teapot HA fireball, 6 April 1955. (U.S. Air Force)
Operation Teapot HA fireball, 6 April 1955. (U.S. Air Force)

6 April 1955: At 10:00:04.1 a.m. local time (1800 GMT), a Convair B-36H assigned to the 4925th Test Group (Atomic) at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico dropped an atomic weapon from 42,000 feet (12,802 meters) over the Nevada Test Site, Area 1. The bomb was parachute-retarded to slow its fall so that the bomber could escape its blast effects.

The weapon was a test device produced by the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory to investigate its use as an air-to-air anti-aircraft missile warhead. The bomb detonated at 36,620 feet (11,162 meters) with an explosive force of 3.2 kilotons. Because of the altitude of the explosion, there was no significant fallout.

“All test observers (with goggles) agreed that the fireball appeared more intensely bright than in events of similar yield fired at lower altitude.”

United States High-Altitude Test Experiences by Herman Hoerlin, Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, June 1976, at Page 12.

Captain William L. Hickey, USAF, pilot of a Convair B-36 Peacemaker very long-range heavy bomber during Operation Teapot, 1955. Captain Hickey is wearing a David Clark Co. S-2 capstan-type partial-pressure suit and K-1 helmet for protection at high altitude. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Captain William L. Hickey, USAF, pilot of a Convair B-36 Peacemaker very long-range heavy bomber during Operation Teapot, 1955. Captain Hickey is wearing a David Clark Co. S-2 capstan-type partial-pressure suit and K-1 helmet for protection at high altitude. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

The warhead was designed at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (LASL) in New Mexico and was similar to the Wasp Prime device, which had been detonated earlier in the Operation Teapot test series. It used a spherical implosion device. The warhead was a 17-inch (43.2 centimeters) diameter sphere weighing approximately 125 pounds (56.7 kilograms). It was placed inside a Mark 5 bomb case which weighed 1,085 pounds (492.2 kilograms).

This was the only bomb dropped by parachute at the Nevada Test Site.

Flight crew of a Convair B-36 Peacemaker, 4925th Test Group (Atomic) during Operation Teapot, 1955. The crewmen are wearing David Clark Co. S-2 capstan-type partial-pressure suits for protection at high altitude. The two white helmets are early K-1 "split shell" 2-piece helmets, while the green helmets are later K-1 1-piece models. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Flight crew of a Convair B-36 Peacemaker, 4925th Test Group (Atomic) during Operation Teapot, 1955. The crewmen are wearing David Clark Co. S-2 capstan-type partial-pressure suits for protection at high altitude. The two white helmets are early K-1 “split shell” two-piece helmets, while the green helmets are later K-1 one-piece models. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

The Convair B-36H Peacemaker was the definitive version of the ten engine bomber, with 156 B-36H/RB-36H built out of the total production of 383 Peacemakers. It is similar to the previous B-36F variant, though with a second flight engineer’s position, a revised crew compartment, and improved radar controlling the two 20 mm autocannons in the tail turret.

The B-36H was 162 feet, 1 inch (49.403 meters) long with a wingspan of 230 feet (70.104 meters) and overall height of 46 feet, 8 inches (14.224 meters). The total area of its wings was 4,772 square feet (443.3 square meters). The wings’ leading edges were swept aft 15° 5′ 39″. Their angle of incidence was 3°, with -2° twist and 2° dihedral. The empty weight of the B-36H was 165,887pounds (75,245 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 357,500 pounds (162,159 kilograms).

Three flight crewmen don their parachutes before boarding the B-36H Peacemaker for Operation Teapot HA, 5 April 1955. The automobile behind them is a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air 4-door sedan. (U.S. Air Force)
Three flight crewmen don their parachutes before boarding the B-36H Peacemaker for Operation Teapot HA, 5 April 1955. The automobile behind them is a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air 4-door sedan. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-36H has ten engines. There are six air-cooled, supercharged 4,362.49 cubic-inch-displacement (71.49 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major C6 (R-4360-53) four-row, 28-cylinder radial engines placed inside the wings in a pusher configuration. These had a compression ratio of 6.7:1 and required 115/145 aviation gasoline. The R-4360-53 had a Normal Power rating of 2,800 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. Its Military Power rating was 3,500 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m., and 3,800 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. with water injection—the same for Takeoff. The engines turned three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed, reversible propellers with a diameter of 19 feet, 0 inches (5.791 meters) through a 0.375:1 gear reduction. The R-4360-53 is 9 feet, 9.00 inches (2.972 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.00 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter, and weighs 4,040 pounds (1,832.5 kilograms).

A smoke ring formed following the detonation of the Operation Teapot HA test. Contrails of the test aircraft are visible. (U.S. Air Force)

Four General Electric J47-GE-19 turbojet engines are suspended under the wings in two-engine pods. The J47 is a  single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with a 12-stage compressor section, 8 combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. The J47-GE-19 was modified to run on gasoline and was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust (23.131 kilonewtons).

The B-36H was the fastest variant of the Peacemaker series, with a cruise speed of  216 knots (249 miles per hour/400 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 382 knots (440 miles per hour/707 kilometers per hour) at 35,500 feet (10,820 meters). The service ceiling was 47,000 feet (14,326 meters) and its combat radius was 3,190 nautical miles (3,671 statute miles/5,908 kilometers). The ferry range was 7,120 nautical miles (8,194 statute miles/13,186 kilometers).

Convair RB-36H-40-CF 51-13741 Featherweight III. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-36H has six remotely-controlled retractable gun turrets mounting two M24A1 20 mm autocannon, each, with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun. The tail turret was radar-controlled, and another 2 guns were mounted in the nose.

The B-36 was designed during World War II, when nuclear weapons were unknown to the manufacturer. The bomber was built to carry up to 86,000 pounds (39,009 kilograms) of conventional bombs in fours bomb bays. It could carry two 43,000 pound ( kilogram) T-12 Cloudmakers, a conventional explosive earth-penetrating bomb, or several Mk.15 thermonuclear bombs. By combining the bomb bays, one Mk.17 25-megaton thermonuclear bomb could be carried.

This Convair RB-36D-5-CF, 49-2686, is similar in appearance to the B-36H used in Operation Teapot HA. (U.S. Air Force)
This Convair RB-36D-5-CF, 49-2686, is similar in appearance to the B-36H used in Operation Teapot HA. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 July 1957, 14:00:04.6 UTC

Northrop F-89J Scorpion 53-2547 fires a live MB-1 rocket during Operation Plumbbob John, 1400 GMT, 19 July 1957. (U.S. Air Force)

During 1957, a series of 29 nuclear weapons tests were carried out at the United States’ Nevada Test Site, 65 miles (105 kilometers) northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada, under Project Plumbbob. Shot John was the first and only firing of a live, nuclear-armed, air-to-air anti-aircraft missile.

On Friday morning, 19 July 1957, a United States Air Force Northrop F-89J Scorpion interceptor, serial number 53-2547, flown by Captain Eric W. Hutchison, Pilot, and Captain Alfred C. Barbee, Radar Intercept Officer, launched a Genie MB-1 unguided rocket at an altitude of 18,500 feet (5,640 meters) over NTS Area 10.

The rocket accelerated to Mach 3 and traveled 2.6 miles (4,250 meters) in 4.5 seconds when, at 07:00:04.6 a.m., Pacific Daylight Savings Time (14:00 UTC), its W-25 warhead was detonated by a signal from a ground station. The resulting explosive yield was 1.7 kilotons.

Plumbbob John fireball as seen from Indian Springs Air Base, 30 miles away from the detonation. The aircraft in the foreground is a Northrop F-89J Scorpion, a sister-ship of the launch aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)

The Northrop Corporation F-89J Scorpion was a two-place, twin-engine, sub-sonic all-weather interceptor. It was flown by a pilot and radar intercept officer in a tandem cockpit. It had a straight wing at mid-fuselage and a “T” tail horizontal stabilizer. Earlier variants of the Scorpion were armed with machine guns and rockets, but the F-89J carried only rockets and guided missiles.

The fireball of the W-25 warhead, photographed from approximately 5 miles. (U.S. Air Force)
The fireball of the W-25 warhead, photographed from approximately 5 miles. (Photo courtesy of National Nuclear Security Administration/Nevada Field Office)

F-89J 53-2547 was built as an F-89D-60-NO Scorpion, and was one of 350 D-models which were upgraded to the F-89J standard. It was a missile-armed all-weather interceptor with a two man crew assigned to the Air Defense Command.

The Northrop F-89J Scorpion was 53 feet, 8.4 inches long (16.368 meters) with a wingspan of 59 feet, 9.6 inches (18.227 meters) and overall height of 17 feet, 6 inches (5.334 meters). The leading edge of the interceptor’s wings were swept aft 5° 8′. The angle of incidence was 1° 30′, with no twist, and 1° 0′ dihedral. The total wing area was 606 square feet (56.30 square meters).

The F-89J had an empty weight of 26,883 pounds (12,194 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 47,719 pounds (21,645 kilograms).

The F-89J Scorpion was powered by two General Electric-designed, Allison Engine Company-built, J35-A-35 engines. The J35 was a single-spool, axial-flow turbojet engine with an 11-stage compressor section and single-stage turbine. The J35-A-33 had a Normal (continuous) power rating of 4,855 pounds of thrust (21.596 kilonewtons) at 7,400 r.p.m. The Military Power rating was 5,440 pounds (24.198 kilonewtons) at 8,000 r.p.m. (30 minute limit), and it could produce a maximum 7,200 pounds of thrust (32.027 kilonewtons) at 8,000 r.p.m., with afterburner (5 minute limit). The engine was 16 feet, 3.5 inches (4.966 meters) long, 3 feet, 1.0 inches (0.940 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,830 pounds (1,284 kilograms).

Cutaway illustration of J35 turbojet engine. (General Electric)

The F-89J had a cruise speed of 402 knots (463 miles per hour/745 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 528 knots (608 miles per hour/978 kilometers per hour) at 11,100 feet (3,383 meters). The service ceiling was 43,900 feet (13,381 meters). The interceptor’s combat radius was 435 nautical miles (501 statute miles/806 kilometers), and the maximum ferry range was 1,498 nautical miles (1,724 statute miles/2774 kilometers).

The F-89J could be armed with two MB-1 Genie rockets and four Hughes GAR-2A (AIM-4C) Falcon infrared-seeking air-to-air missiles; or two MB-1 Genies and 104 2.75-inch Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR).

F-89s served with the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard from 1948 until 1969. Northrop F-89J Scorpion 53-2547 was transferred to the Montana Air National Guard in 1960. It is on display at the Air National Guard Base, Great Falls, Montana.

A Douglas MB-1 Genie nuclear-armed air-to-air rocket is loaded aboard the F-89 Scorpion in preparation for Operation Plumbbob John. (U.S. Air Force)
A Douglas MB-1 Genie nuclear-armed air-to-air rocket is loaded aboard the F-89 Scorpion in preparation for Operation Plumbbob John. (U.S. Air Force)

The Douglas Aircraft Company, Missiles and Space Systems Division MB-1 Genie (AIR-2 after June 1963) was an unguided, nuclear-armed, air-to-air anti-aircraft rocket. Its solid-fuel Thiokol SR49-TC-1 engine produced 36,500 pounds of thrust (162.360 kilonewtons) and gave the Genie a maximum speed of Mach 3.3. Its range was 6 miles (9.6 kilometers). The rocket weighed 822 pounds (373 kilograms) with its W-25 warhead, and was 9 feet, 8 inches (2.946 meters) in length, with a maximum diameter of 1 foot, 5.5 inches (0.445 meters). The fins spanned 3 feet, 4 inches (1.118 meters). In production from 1957 to 1962, 3,150 missiles were produced. The Genie was in service from 1957 to 1988.

Douglas MB-1 (AIR-2) Genie. (Nuclear Weapons Archive)

The W-25 was a Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory-designed anti-aircraft warhead. It was a fission device, using implosion of both uranium and plutonium. The warhead’s diameter was 17.35 inches, and it was 26.6 inches long. The warhead weighed 221 pounds (100 kilograms). The W-25 was produced from May 1957 to May 1960. All had been retired by December 1984.

Detonation was by time delay fuse. Lethal radius of the warhead was estimated to be approximately 1,000 feet (300 meters).

Plumbbob John. The Nevada State Journal described “a weird spray trailing earthward.”

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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