How The US Accidentally Dropped Nukes On Itself And Its Allies
In August of 1957, the Soviet Union launched the world’s first successful Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). It was capable of delivering a heavy nuclear warhead to a target six thousand miles away, in under half an hour. The West was left scrambling for a solution. From what U.S. Intelligence could gather, the Soviets were quickly pulling ahead in developing missile technology. Projections showed that by the 1960s, the Soviets would likely have enough missiles to launch a preemptive nuclear attack. America needed a way fill this perceived ‘missile gap’.
Operation Chrome Dome would be the solution. Between 1960 and 1968, B-52 Stratospheres strategic bomber aircraft armed with thermonuclear weapons were kept airborne around the clock, day in and day out. Chrome Dome would send a powerful message to the Soviet Union that America was ready to respond, and help keep the scales of nuclear power balanced. Flying to points along the Soviet border, Chrome Dome missions would be as long as 24-hours each, pushing flight crews and B-52 aircraft to their limit.
There were 5 major accidents involving B-52 aircraft flying Operation Chrome Dome missions. The first came early into the program, when in 1961, two nuclear bombs fell back to earth near Goldsboro, North Carolina. Information declassified in 2013 suggests that one of the bombs came very close to detonating. The next incident occurred just a few months later near Yuba City, California when another two nukes were lost in a crash. There would be yet another incident 1964 in Savage Mountain, Maryland. In all of these incidents, 6 nuclear bombs crashed back to earth and were eventually recovered without much in the way of consequences. Neither their conventional nor nuclear explosives detonated.