9 July 1962: At 09:00:09 UTC, the United States detonated a thermonuclear warhead over the Pacific Ocean. This was part of the Operation Dominic-Fishbowl test series at Johnston Island, and was designated Starfish Prime.
At 08:46:28 UTC, a Douglas Thor DSV2E orbital launch vehicle, serial number 195, was launched from missile complex LE-1 on Johnston Island, carrying a W-49 warhead in an AVCO Corporation Mk-2 reentry vehicle. The rocket also carried three instrumentation pods which were jettisoned at pre-selected altitudes. The W-49 reached a peak altitude of 600 miles (965 kilometers) along a ballistic trajectory, and then began to descend.
The W-49 detonated 36 kilometers (22 miles) southwest of Johnston Island at an altitude of 400 kilometers (246 miles) with an explosive yield of 1.45 megatons. The point of detonation deviated from the planned Air Zero by 1,890 feet (576 meters) to the north, 2,190 feet (668 meters) east, and +617 feet (188 meters) in altitude. The fireball was clearly visible in the Hawaiian Islands, more than 800 miles (1,288 kilometers) away.
The electromagnetic pulse (EMP) damaged electrical systems in The Islands, cutting power, damaging equipment and interrupting telephone systems. Brilliant auroras were visible, lasting about 7 minutes.
Telstar, an American communications satellite that was placed in Earth orbit the following day, was also damaged by residual radiation from the detonation.
The Starfish Prime experiment was for the purpose of “Evaluation of missile kill mechanisms produced by a high altitude nuclear detonation.” The electromagnetic effects on communications were also studied.
The Thor DSV2E was an orbital launch variant of the Douglas Aircraft Company SM-75 Thor IRBM. This was a single-stage nuclear-armed intermediate-range ballistic missile, 61 feet, 3.91 (19.692 meters) long and 8 feet, 0.00 inches (2.438 meters) in diameter. With the Mk-2 reentry vehicle, the overall length of the missile was 63 feet, 7.38 inches (19.390 meters). It weighed 109,800 pounds (49,805 kilograms) at liftoff and 6,889 pounds (3,124 kilograms) at burnout.
The SM-75 was powered by one Rocketdyne LR79-NA-9 rocket engine which produced 150,000 pounds of thrust (667.23 kilonewtons). Two Rocketdyne LR101-NA-9 vernier engines of 1,000 pounds thrust (4.45 kN), each, provided directional control and thrust adjustments. The Thor was fueled with kerosene and liquid oxygen sufficient for 156 seconds of main engine burn time.
The Thor could reach a maximum speed of 11,020 miles per hour (17,735 kilometers per hour) and had a maximum range of 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers).
The W-49 thermonuclear warhead was designed by the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (LASL) and is believed to be a development of the earlier B-28 two-stage radiation-implosion bomb. It incorporated a 10-kiloton W-34 warhead as a gas-boosted fission primary, and had a one-point-safe safety system. The warhead had a diameter of 1 foot, 8 inches (0.508 meters) and length of 4 feet, 6.3 inches (1.379 meters). It weighed 1,665 pounds (755 kilograms).
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.
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.
“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.
The REDWING CHEROKEE test was the first time that a thermonuclear weapon had been dropped from an airplane.
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.
¹ See: “A Tale of Two Airplanes,” by Lieutenant Colonel Kingdon R. Hawes, USAF (Ret) at http://www.rc135.com/0000/INDEX.HTM
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.
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.
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).
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).
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).
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.
4 November 1962: A Western Electric M6 Nike Hercules air-defense guided missile was launched from Johnston Island in the North Pacific Ocean. The missile was armed with a W-31 Mod 1 nuclear warhead, and had been modified to include a command arm/fire capability, and an automatic disarm feature.
At an altitude of 69,000 feet (21,031 meters), 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) south-southwest of the island, the warhead detonated with an explosive yield of 12 kilotons.
This nuclear weapon effects test, Dominic Tightrope, was the final test of the Operation Dominic I test series, and was the last atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States.
The Nike Hercules was a long-range, high-altitude surface-to-air guided missile, designed and produced by Western Electric Company and the Douglas Aircraft Company. Douglas manufactured the missile at Charlotte, North Carolina. It was a two-stage missile with a cluster of four Hercules Powder Company M5E1 solid-fuel rocket engines as the boost stage.
The Nike Hercules had an overall length of 41 feet, 1.35 inches (12.531 meters). Its weight was 10,710 pounds (4,858 kilograms). The Hercules could reach an altitude of 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) and had a range of 90 miles (145 kilometers). The missile’s maximum speed was Mach 3.65.
The booster stage was 14 feet, 2.845 inches (4.339 meters) long and had a maximum diameter of 3 feet, 7.25 inches (1.099 meters). There were four stabilizing fins spaced at 90°. The fin span was 11 feet, 5.88 inches (3.502 meters). The leading edges were swept aft 24.23°. The booster stage produced 173,600 pounds of thrust (772.211 kilonewtons) and burned for 3.4 seconds.
The second stage was 26 feet, 10.500 inches (8.192 meters) long with a maximum diameter of 2 feet, 7.50 inches (0.800 meters). It had four triangular wings and four small “linealizer” fins, which were also spaced 90°. The maximum wing span was 7 feet, 4.00 inches (2.235 meters). The missile was powered by a Thiokol Chemical Corporation M30 solid-fuel rocket engine which produced 13,750 pounds of thrust (61.163 kilonewtons) and had a burn time of 29 seconds.
The Nike air defense missile system used multiple radars to track incoming target aircraft and the outgoing missile. Computer systems analyzed the data and signals were sent to guide the missile toward the target. This was a complex system and multiple missiles were based together at missile sites around the defended area.
The Hercules could be armed with either a M17 high explosive fragmentation warhead or a 20–40 kiloton W-31 nuclear warhead. Although designed to attack jet aircraft, the Nike Hercules also successfully intercepted guided and ballistic missiles, and had a surface-to-surface capability.
The Western Electric SAM-A-25 Nike B was renamed Nike Hercules in 1956 while still in development. It was redesignated Guided Missile, Air Defense M6 in 1958, and MIM-14 in 1963. (“MIM” is Department of Defense terminology for a mobile, ground-launched interceptor missile.) About 25,000 Nike Hercules missiles were built. Initially deployed in 1958, it remained in service with the U.S. Army until 1984.
The W-31 was a boosted fission implosion warhead designed by the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. It weighed 900 pounds (408 kilograms) and had a selectable yield of from 2 to 40 kilotons. About 2,550 warheads were produced and remained in service until 1989.
30 October 1961: At 9:30 a.m., specially modified Tupolev Tu-95V “Bear A” bomber, No. 5800302, under the command of Major Andrey Ergorovich Durnovtsev of the 409th Heavy Bomber Air Regiment, departed Olenegorsk Air Base, 92 kilometers (57 miles) south of Murmansk, at 9:30 a.m. The bomber carried a nine-man crew, including navigator Major Ivan Nikoforovich Mite.
The Tu-95 was accompanied by a Tupolev Tu-16 instrumentation ship (No. 3709), under the command of Colonel Vladimir Fedorovich Martynenko. Some sources say that the two bombers were escorted by a flight of fully-armed fighters.
Major Durnovtsev’s mission was to carry out the Soviet Union’s 130th nuclear weapons test. The Tu-95 carried a single RDS-220, a three-stage radiation-implosion thermonuclear bomb. It was 8 meters (26.25 feet) long, with a diameter of 2.1 meters (6.89 feet), and weighed approximately 27,000 kilograms (59,525 pounds). The bomb was variously known as “Big Ivan” or “Tsar Bomba” (King of Bombs).
The Tu-95 dropped the RDS-220 from an altitude of 10,500 meters (34,449 feet) over the D-II test range, 15 kilometers (9 miles) north of the Mityushikha Strait on Novaya Zemlya. The bomb was retarded by parachute to allow the Bear time to escape the blast effects. After falling for 3 minutes, 8 seconds, at 11:33 a.m., the bomb detonated 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) above the surface of Novaya Zemlya. A bright flash of light lasted for 30 seconds and finally faded away after 70 seconds.
45 seconds after detonation, the nuclear cloud reached a height of 30 kilometers (19 miles), then spread outward, reaching a maximum diameter of 95 kilometers (59 miles).
Major Durnovtsev’s Tu-95 was approximately 39 kilometers (24 miles) away for “ground zero” at the time of the explosion. As it continued to fly away from the blast, the shock waves finally caught up to bomber at a distance of 115 kilometers (71 miles), 8 minutes, 20 seconds after they had released the bomb.
At the same time, a secret United States Air Force Boeing JKC-135A Stratotanker instrumentation aircraft, Speed Light Bravo, 55-3127, had flown closer to ground zero to gather data about the air burst. It was so close that its special anti-radiation paint was scorched. (55-3127 was later converted to the NKC-135A airborne laboratory configuration to support the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963. It was returned to tanker configuration in the 1980s. Later, 55-3127 served as a test bed aircraft for the Aeronautical Systems Division at Wright-Patterson It was retired to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in 1992.)
After the nuclear explosion data was analyzed by the Foreign Weapons Evaluation Panel (the “Bethe Panel”) the RDS-220 yield was estimated at 57 megatons. This was the largest nuclear weapon detonation in history. It was also the “cleanest,” with 97% of the energy yield produced by fusion. Relative to the size of the explosion, very little fallout was produced.
All buildings in the town of Severny, 55 kilometers (34.2 miles) from Ground Zero, were destroyed. Wooden buildings as far as 200 kilometers (124 miles) were destroyed or heavily damaged.
A visible shock wave in the air was seen at a distance of 700 kilometers (435 miles). The shock wave from the explosion traveled around the world three times.
Following the test, Major Durnovtsev was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and named Hero of the Soviet Union.
Bear No. 5800302 was ordered in 1955 and completed in 1956. The Tupolev Tu-95 is a long range strategic bomber. It is 151 feet, 6 inches (46.2 meters) long with a wingspan of 164 feet, 5 inches (50.10 meters). The wings are swept at a 35° angle. The bomber is powered by four Kuznetsov NK-12M turboprop engines, producing 14,800 shaft horsepower, each, and turning 8-bladed counter-rotating propellers. It weighs 90,000 kilograms (198,416 pounds) empty, with a maximum takeoff weight of 188,000 kilograms (414,469 pounds). The Bear has a maximum speed of 920 kilometers per hour (572 miles per hour) and an unrefueled range of 15,000 kilometers (9,321 miles). (The Bear A is capable of inflight refueling.) Service ceiling is 13,716 meters (45,000 feet).
Approximately 72 of these aircraft remain in service with the Russian Federation. The current variant is the Tupolev Tu-95MS “Bear H.” Recently, individual bombers have been taken out of service to be modernized by the Beriev Aircraft Company at Taganrog, Russia. The modernized Bear is designated Tu-95MSM. It is expected that 20 Tu-95s will be upgraded.
Андрей Егорович Дурновцев (Andrey Ergorovich Durnovtsev) was born 14 January 1923 at Verkhney, a village in the Krasnoyarsk Krai of Siberia. He graduated from high school in 1940.
Durnovtsev was inducted into the Red Army 19 July 1942 and sent to the Irkutsk Military School of Aviation Mechanics, graduating in November 1943. He was promoted to sergeant. Sergeant Durnovtsev request assignment for pilot training, and was sent to the 8th Military Aviation School for initial flight training. In August 1945, he was sent to complete training in long-range bombers at the Engels Military Aviation Pilot School (VAUL). He graduated in 1948.
Lieutenant Durnovtsev next attended the Ryazan Higher Officers’ School, studying the combat application of long-ranger bombers. He was assigned as a pilot with the 330th Bomber Aviation Regiment. Durnovtsev served as an aircraft commander, detachment commnder, then deputy squadron commander.
Lieutenant Colonel Durnovtsev was named Hero of the Soviet Union by decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, 7 March 1962, “for courage and bravery shown in the development of new military equipment.”
Lieutenant Colonel Drnovtsev retired in 1965. During his military career, he had been awarded the Gold Star Medal, the Order of Lenin, the Order of the Red Star, and the Medal for Military Merit.
Lieutenant Colonel Andrey Ergorovich Durnovtsev, Hero of the Soviet Union, died in Kiev, 24 October 1976, at the age of 53 years.