Posts Tagged ‘1966’

Well, this might be one of the shortest history lessons we’ve ever done.  But it’s supposed to be nice outside today (at least where I am), so I’m figuring you’ll have one eye on the window anyways.

Back in January, we learned about a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress that collided with a tanker during mid-air refueling over the Mediterranean off the coast of Spain.  The heavy bomber was carrying a quartet of Mk28 Hydrogen bombs.  We learned that three of the bombs fell on Spain itself, while one fell into the Mediterranean.  And while there was substantial fallout (both political and radioactive) from those that hit the ground, the bomb that fell into the water certainly wasn’t forgotten.

A search was immediately begun and, exactly two months later, on March 17, 1966, the DSV (Deep Submergible Vehicle) Alvin located the bomb, completely intact, in about 2,500 feet of water.  The Alvin’s first attempt to recover the bomb failed when it slipped free, but the Alvin would relocate it two weeks later, and a special recovery vehicle would successfully salvage it.  So, while a small area near Palomares, Spain would have to deal with contamination for a very long time, the Mediterranean would be spared a similar fate.

The DSV Alvin has, as deep-sea vehicles go, a rather colorful history.  There’s a solid chance we’ll check in on her again.

Recommended Reading: DSV Alvin webpage – Check out all the info about one of the longest-serving submergibles.

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It’s been almost a year since we talked about the B-52 Stratofortress that crashed near Goldsboro, North Carolina.  Time really flies.  That accident, in 1961, was something of a nuclear “near miss” as the massive bomber was carrying a pair of Mk39 Hydrogen bombs.  Back then, we kind of thought that there would be other incidents like this floating in historical space, simply because Strategic Air Command’s (SAC) readiness code required that some planes be ready on a moment’s notice.  So they carried nukes.  Today, we’ll look at another of those incidents, one with a less happy ending.

On January 17, 1966, another B-52 was in the process of in-air refueling.  Now Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans will recall Episode 612 (The Starfighters) as not only one of the funniest episodes ever, but also as the one that featured the most in-air refueling footage ever gathered in one movie reel.  And while Mike and the Bots make light of the process (for the sake of the movie), it really is one fraught with peril, with one (or more) planes trying to get really close to a tanker stuffed with flammable jet fuel.

Our subject B-52 was in the midst of a lengthy flight and preparing to refuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker in the Mediterranean not far from the coast of Spain.  But the big bomber came in a little too fast and collided with the tanker’s refueling arm.  The B-52 was heavily damaged and ultimately crashed, killing 4 of the 7 crew.  The KC-135 exploded, killing all 4 crew.

But as you know from the intro, the big Stratofortress was not cargo-less.  In its bomb bays were four Mk28 Hydrogen bombs.  This bomb was somewhat smaller than the Mk39, possessing a full yield of about 1.5 megatons, but that’s still a tremendous punch.  Three of these bombs fell near the quiet farming village of Palomares (on the southeast “corner” of Spain), and one fell in the Mediterranean itself.

Two of the bombs that hit solid ground exploded.  But we’ve briefly touched on the basics of how nuclear weapons work.  There’s a conventional explosion that serves to trigger the nuclear device.  However, the nuke only detonates if all the “kill” switches are turned off.  This mission was flown in peacetime, and so only the conventional weapon exploded.  So while there was no giant mushroom cloud and instant vaporization, the explosions served to “crack the shells” and release radioactivity into the air.

The third and fourth bombs were recovered intact and Spain had been spared a nuclear holocaust, but roughly a square mile of Spanish territory had been contaminated by fallout.  And of course, radioactivity hangs around for a long time.  Much of the affected topsoil was brought to the U.S. for disposal, but even today, radioactivity is still being discovered.  The United States and Spain continue the task of cleaning up a mess that occurred more than 40 years ago…a mess that, in 2009, Time Magazine called one of the worst nuclear disasters ever.

Recommended Reading:  America’s Lost H-Bomb

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I think the North American XB-70 Valkyrie is one of the coolest airplanes to never enter military service.  First flown in 1964, the aircraft had its roots in design and feasibility studies from the mid 1950’s.  At that time, the Strategic Air Command had Boeing’s B-52 Stratofortress as its primary heavy bomber.  It carried an enormous payload for long distances, but it was a slow subsonic aircraft.  SAC also had Convair’s B-58 Hustler coming online (it entered service in 1960), and it was a relatively small, supersonic “dash-and-blast” bomber.  It set all kinds of speed records in its day, but didn’t have good range or payload capacity.

The XB-70 was designed to be the best of both, combining Mach 3 speed with huge range and payload capacity.  North American Aviation, already famous for the P-51 Mustang (and the F-86 Sabre and F-100 Super Sabre), was selected for the project.  Every possible bit of technology was utilized to make the monstrous B-70 a reality, but the neatest was the use of compression lift.  Designers built the outer wingtips to tilt down at supersonic speeds, which trapped the shock waves between the wingtips and engine nacelle, providing even more lift.

The first prototype was beset with problems, mostly due to the advanced designs being implemented and exotic materials being used, but many of them were fixed in the 2nd prototype, which first flew in 1965.  And fly it did!!  In 1966, it flew at Mach 3 (three times the speed of sound) on several occasions, maintaining that speed on May 19th for more than 30 minutes.  The XB-70 achieved its top speed of Mach 3.05 on June 6th.

But just two days later, on June 8, 1966, disaster struck.  The XB-70 was flying in close formation with several other planes in a photoshoot for General Electric (the Valkyrie used six massive GE engines in a “six-pack” configuration), when an F-104 Starfighter flying behind it rolled over the top of bomber, clipping its wing and destroying the rudders.  The 104 exploded (killing its pilot) and the XB-70 spun out of control and crashed, and while the pilot was able to eject, the co-pilot could not and was killed as well.  The photo to the left was taken just after the mid-air collision.

But it was the mid-60s now, and missile technology had advanced to the point that even a bomber flying at 70,000 feet could be shot down, and the B-70’s prodigous cost couldn’t be justified.  The program was cancelled with just the one aircraft (prototype 1) remaining.  It flew tests for NASA for several years and was then retired.

I think the XB-70 Valkyrie was, without question, one of the most beautiful and unique aircraft ever to lift off.  If you ever get a chance, see the remaining XB-70 at the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton, Ohio.  I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed.

Recommended Reading: North American XB-70 Valkyrie – A Photo Chronicle – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve leafed through my copy.  This plane continues to fascinate me.

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I’ve been a fan of the Atlanta Braves for more than 25 years and, believe me, I’ve watched some terrible baseball.  The teams that were assembled in the mid/late 1980’s were so bad that they needed improvement just to reach the level of “stink”.

But, for anyone that’s followed them since then, it’s been a very different story.  Constant contention, a string of division titles (I just call it The Streak), a handful of World Series appearances, and one Ring (though not the One Ring).

At the center of the success was dominant starting pitching, and that could best be described with two words…Greg Maddux.  Born on April 14, 1966, and catapulted to super-stardom in the 90’s, Greg is one of the most unassuming staff leaders ever.  Just look at his picture.  He’s kind of small, he looks kind of wimpish, and has the appearance more of a school-teacher (hence one of his nicknames…”The Professor”) and less of a pitching ace.  Not possessing an overpowering fastball, nor anything really approaching what scouts would call a “plus” pitch, Greg has relied mostly on deception for his success.  Location, changing speeds, tenacity (from which comes another of his nicknames…”Maddog”), and an uncanny ability to know what to pitch are what have filled his bank accounts and awards room.

I could list statistics until I’m blue in the fingers, but that would only bore y…well, I’ll list some of my favorites.  Three hundred forty-nine wins (he got #349 last night).  Four consecutive Cy Young awards (’92-’95) and a fifth he may well have won in ’97 (except for a bullpen that cost him several wins).  Two straight years with an ERA of less than 1.65, which is totally unheard of in this era of expansion, steroids, and the “live ball”.  In 1997, Greg Maddux won 19 games while allowing just 20 walks…staggering.  A 76-pitch, 9-inning complete game.  The numbers, and the stories, could go on and on for days.  Just do an Internet search on the guy and you’ll get all the neat stuff you’ll ever want to read.

Dad and I used to sit and watch him pitch, and our mouths would just hang open in amazement.  You could almost predict what he was going to throw, and know the guy in the batter’s box didn’t have a prayer.  A fastball that looked like it would hit lefties, then tailed right back over the plate.  A change-up that simply fell off the planet.  Control, control, control.

Greg Maddux was (and still is) a scientist on the mound, opposing hitters were (and still are) his experiments, and the baseball was (and is) his instrument of precision.  Accolades are cheap, but I believe Greg may be the greatest right-handed pitcher since Walter Johnson…and one could make a legitimate case that Greg is the greatest righty ever.

Happy Birthday, Greg!!

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