The ’50s saw some wild military procurement, such as the Davy Crockett recoilless nuclear rifle. Soldier mounts nuclear “bullet” in general direction of Soviet tanks, fires the damn thing, runs like hell. It was part of the “Pentomic Army,” and all I need to say about that is, it’s a good thing we didn’t find ourselves in any land wars at the time of that little reorg project.
However, I’d somehow missed the AIR-2 Genie nuclear air-to-air missile:
Hurled into a mass formation of Soviet Tupolev Tu-95 bombers, the W-25’s 1,000-foot blast radius and potent radiation flux were more than enough to do its job.
Missile guidance systems in the mid-1950s were primitive. Efforts to develop and miniaturize missile sensors and electronics would produce transistors, printed circuits and other game-changing technologies, but these advances lay in the future.
Instead, the Genie was a short-range unguided missile. With the W-25 attached, the huge blast compensated for the missile’s inaccuracy. As long as it got within a quarter-mile of its targets, the weapon would destroy them.
To get this unguided atomic weapon away from the pilot and into the enemy’s bomber formations as quickly as possible, the Genie’s solid-rocket motor accelerated the missile to Mach 3.3 during its two-second burn, putting about six miles of distance between its launch point and detonation.
The total flight time was 12 seconds.
During those precious seconds, the interceptor pilots had to get away from the weapon as fast as they could—while the enemy bomber crews dealt with the incoming nuke.
The back-flips and tight turns involved made for stimulating mission profiles.
I bet it did.
We made over 3,000 of the things, and kept them in service until 1988.