Carrying a Nuke to


Carrying a Nuke to Sevastopol

Carrying a Nuke to Sevastapol

“Like I said, I was a 24-year-old Marine lieutenant at the time, and I wasn’t afraid of anything” – Jay Velie, Dallas, Texas

What should you be afraid of? Well, try this on for size:

You're Breakeven Four Zero One – one man, one engine, and one plutonium bomb. The year is 1957, the month February, the hour 0200. You're sitting on your parachute in the tidy cockpit of a Douglas AD-6 Skyraider, better known as the Able Dog, checking its systems by the small gooseneck flashlight that hangs from a chain around your neck. A Wright R-3350 – the same engine that powered the mighty B-29 super-bomber of World War II – swings a four-bladed propeller through a circle almost 14 feet in diameter. Just behind the whirling blades, there hangs a slenderized version of the Fat Man plutonium bomb that on August 9, 1945, laid waste to Nagasaki. Its “yield” could be anything from ten thousand tons of TNT (half the size of the Hiroshima bomb) to seventy thousand tons, depending on what core it contains.

The MK 7 weighs 1,700 pounds and measures 15 feet long by 30.5 inches in diameter. If you need to return to USS Forrestal with it still on the centerline – tires flat and oleo struts compressed – the nuke will clear the steel flight deck with only six inches to spare. You're sweating beneath your pressure suit, flight suit, survival vest, and inflatable life preserver.

On the carrier-deck “angle” to your left, the jet pukes in their A4D Skyhawks are being shot into the night like so many rockets. Breakeven Four Zero One doesn’t rate a catapult: you circle the flashlight, the flight-deck officer gives you the okay, and you push the throttle to the stop. With a bellowing growl, that R-3350 drags you toward a marker that's invisible until you're moving fast enough to pop the tail up. Then all you can see is the red light that glows on the far end of the flight deck, which first leaps toward you and then disappears beneath the nose. The oleos thump off the end of the deck, and you descend to your cruising altitude.

World War III has come, and Breakeven Four Zero One is at the pointy end of the spear, heading for Russia at a fuel-thrifty 140 knots....

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