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The Unfriendliest Skies

March 4th, 2014 - 6:08 am

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.

Crazy.

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All Comments   (17)
All Comments   (17)
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The US Navy had nuclear warhead torpedoes. A service joke was the the pK (probability of kill) was 2.0
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
They probably got their turnaround profile from the original Japan nuclear bombings. :) It turns out the B-29s had the same problem; if they released the weapon, then flew straight & level they would be in blast range.

So what they did was develop a profile wherein as soon as they released the weapon, they executed a (IIRC) 120-degree turn to the right with throttles to the wall. That particular angle provided the maximum distance between the plane and the bomb at detonation.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
As late as '93 I was still getting training on nuclear depth charges from the Navy.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wasn't the F-102 and F-106 simply a delivery platform for the Genie?
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Dart also carried the AIM-4 Falcon for more... shall we say conventional missions. Normally 2 each, IR and semi-active radar guided. The trouble was, the weapons bay door was on a separate pneumatic system that could only be serviced on the ground, and the number of "cycles" on the weapons bay in flight was limited. Moreover, the AIM-4 was also not actually a Miss-ile, it was a Hit-ile. There was no proximity fusing, only contact. When the pilot allowed a computer-controlled optimum range attack, the computer would wait and launch the weapon at VERY CLOSE range. The fusing was the reason.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
I recall hearing a story many years ago that the Falcon was originally designed to work w/ the YF-12 (SR-71 interceptor version). The problem was that the Blackbird would outrun it's own missile.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
The AIM-47 was designed for the YF-12-- they even fired a few at very high Mach numbers (3+). They ran at something like Mach 4-5, so there wasn't much risk of outrunning the missile.

They never really amounted to much, save as serving for the design base of the AIM-54, which gave the F-14 its rather hilarious stand off range.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
That makes more sense than the story I recall. The point of which was that the actual speed of the SR-71 was north of mach 5.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mach 3.5 was pretty much the end of the world for the airframe and engines. It could only do that in very specific conditions that kept the compressor inlet temperature low enough, otherwise the engines would unstart, and at that speed probably explode. At 3.6-3.7 the hydraulic systems would fail and the wiring would start to melt, assuming it was still in one piece to begin with.

The highest recorded speed was 3.32. To go much faster you'd really need composite/ceramic leading edges and a dual engine setup with a scramjet and a conventional turbine for low speed.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes they were. And "village idiot" TANG pilots were tasked w/ delivery of the weapons.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
The "nuclear shotgun" projects of the 50s were considerably more sane than many might think. These were VERY low yield weapons that were more or less safe so long as you were some reasonable distance away from the thing when it went boom, and didn't hang around to pick daisies afterward.

The W25 on the Genie had a nominal yield of 1.5kt. The W54 in the Crockett Rocket (heh) offered up between 10 and 20 tons. It's actually a particularly ingenious design as making very small yield weapons is a lot harder than big ones, generally speaking.

To put that in perspective, observers of the Trinity test were only 20 miles away from ground zero, and they were fine. That device was somewhere around 20kt.

With a 1-1.5kt device, 1-2 miles of standoff is plenty safe so far as exposure to the initial event goes.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
"...1-2 miles of standoff is plenty safe..." Probably true, but most guys I knew wanted more, as in, as much as physically imaginable. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that after launch, you are still flying TOWARD the blast at the speed of stink until you complete 90 degrees of turn in the escape. The weapon was launched at high speed, then the pilot chopped the throttles and essentially did a maximum performance split-s, plugging the power back in to Max as soon as the magical 90 degrees turn was out of the way.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oh, don't get me wrong, had I been in that situation I probably would have bent a few redlines myself as said situation is eclipsed only by sex with Rosie O'donnel as things I'd do quite a lot to avoid.

However, the other side of that coin involves popping a control surface off or starting a turbine fire, and the net result of that is being ringside to the event you really didn't want to be around for while floating down in a parachute.

I think I'd err on the side of having more working airplane around me than getting that extra half mile up range.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Unguided missile = Rocket. That's why it is an AIR-2 and not an AIM-2. It was a mainstay of the F-106 interceptor force. That escape manoeuvre after launch was serious business. At the airport in Great Falls, MT near the entrance to the Air National Guard base, there is an F-89 Scorpion up on a pole. It was the F-89 that actually did a live fire test of the AIR-2. The pilot so overstressed the plane during the escape that it was never going to fly again. So it ended up as a gate guard.
Short range nuclear weapons of any variety are somehow not user friendly.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
That brings back memories of tooling down out of Canada in a B-52 simulating a Soviet bomber attack and being asked by Air Traffic Control to slow down so the North Dakota ANG F-89s could catch up with us.

By 1970 NORAD was already pretty much of a spent force - as, fortunately, was the Soviet bomber threat.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
My high school's mascot was a scorpion ... because that was the nickname of the F 89 and the nearby USAF strip had alert F 89's based there.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
The F-89 was rather short-lived. But even in the 70's there were plenty of Aerospace Defense Command guys sitting alert in 6's on top of Genies all along the northern tier.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
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