The "Nuclear Nav"
October 10, 2007 4:00 PM   Subscribe

The "Nuclear Nav." On March 11, 1958, Captain Bruce Kulka was the navigator on an Air Force B-47 Stratojet carrying nuclear bombs to an airfield in North Africa. Somewhere over the southeastern US, the captain sent him to back the bomb bay to check on a cockpit warning light. As he climbed through the narrow space around the Mark 6 nuclear bomb, Kulka grabbed the emergency release pin by mistake.

The 8,500-pound "pig" slowly tipped over and fell. Its weight pushed the bomb bay doors open and it dropped out of the plane.

Fifteen thousand feet below waited Mars Bluff, SC -- still the only civilian community in the US ever to have a nuclear bomb dropped on it.
posted by gottabefunky (21 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
And that, kids, is why human interface issues matter.
posted by eriko at 4:25 PM on October 10, 2007 [13 favorites]

According to Time, the townsfolk were good sports about it, too. It's a pity that at the prospect of utter destruction on the front line of a nuclear war, Britain was less stoic.
posted by topynate at 4:27 PM on October 10, 2007

"Oh! So thats what that does ?"
posted by nola at 4:36 PM on October 10, 2007

ummm... I didn't read it that way- the warning light was for a malfunction in the release mechanism, and he was trying to put a safety locking pin INTO the latch when it let go. He didn't grab the emergency release pin by mistake.

Unless there's more to the story than what's reported by Time.....
posted by drhydro at 4:45 PM on October 10, 2007

OK, from the second link, this cracked me up:

"The Mark 6 produced a far greater yield than the 23-kiloton "Fat Man" bomb, but weighed less and was more aerodynamically stable and therefore more accurate."

Precision matters!
posted by Cyrano at 4:45 PM on October 10, 2007

This whole tale would be a whole lot more entertaining if Captain Kulka had pulled a Major Kong.
posted by Ziggurat at 4:49 PM on October 10, 2007

drhydro is right, the FPP's summary is completely at odds with the article linked to.
posted by nomisxid at 4:51 PM on October 10, 2007

So wait are the wings drooping, or raised?
posted by washburn at 4:58 PM on October 10, 2007

Oops - forgot to include this excellent (and much more detailed) article, which says he pulled the wrong lever.
posted by gottabefunky at 5:00 PM on October 10, 2007

The unarmed bomb slammed down in the gummy loam near Florence (pop. 30,000) and went off with the impact and power of a 2,000-lb World War H-type RDX bomb


You gotta think that the guy in the cockpit, who heard the explosion, had to be thinking "Did we just bomb South Carolina?"

Probably closely followed by "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!"

Undoubtedly followed by restating the earlier question; "Please tell me that we did not just fucking bomb South Carolina".

Christ, and I think I have job related stress...
posted by quin at 5:04 PM on October 10, 2007 [5 favorites]

Is this the time that the people at Minot Air Force Base stole a nuclear bomb and flew it to Barksdale Air Force Base and then all of them mysteriously died within a few weeks so that the government could launch a secret nuclear strike against Iran?
posted by davidmsc at 5:09 PM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yeah, that's a big inaccuracy in the FPP. He was trying to install a mechanical pin to hold the bomb in place because the electronic holding mechanism was failing -- he just didn't get it done in time.
posted by davejay at 5:33 PM on October 10, 2007

I live in SC. Frankly the state could use a little nuking. Would do it the world of good.
posted by schwa at 5:34 PM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

We're gonna nuke houses, dude.

whoop whoop
posted by CynicalKnight at 6:07 PM on October 10, 2007

I think that we owe a big round of applause to our newest, bestest buddy, and big toe...Captain Kulka.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:20 PM on October 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

can't help but wonder why they needed to carry nukes to north africa, but hey, whatever :)

nice story. pity about those annoying sub headings
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 6:25 PM on October 10, 2007

Esquire article.
A Broken Arrow Lands in Mars Bluff has contemporaneous photos of the damaged buildings and the crater, plus recent satellite photos.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:28 PM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

From the bomb link:

This weapon was a capsule bomb, meaning that the nuclear material for the bomb was kept in a special capsule separate from the rest of the device for safety's sake. Just before the bomb was to be dropped from the delivery aircraft the capsule was inserted into the bomb casing and the weapon became armed.

So there was a 0% chance of a nuclear detonation.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:28 PM on October 10, 2007

Since it didn't have the nuclear material in it, it wasn't really a "nuclear bomb" that dropped. It was just a big, funny-shaped, conventional bomb.

It would still suck to have one fall on your house, but it's really not much of a national emergency.

There are plenty of other nuclear events far more deserving of attention, and worry, than this one.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:32 PM on October 10, 2007

Even without a nuclear detonation, the spread of nuclear material is rarely welcomed.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 2:26 AM on October 11, 2007

There are plenty of other nuclear events far more deserving of attention, and worry, than this one.

For example, not too far away lies the "Tybee Bomb", an H-Bomb dropped off Savannah, GA following a mid-air collision during a training exercise. It too supposedly had the uranium capsule removed, but at one point the pilot stated the bomb did contain the capsule. Also, since it was a hydrogen bomb it contained enriched uranium elsewhere, and since the crew did not see a detonation on impact it presumably contains a significant high explosive charge. It will be interesting to see what happens if a shrimp boat snags it. More here and here.
posted by TedW at 7:28 AM on October 11, 2007

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