Getting out of our homes having lost something of importance, for example the keys, the phone or, even, the wallet, is undoubtedly a common occurrence for all of us. The question though is: “Do we, humans, become more responsible and aware of our belongings when climbing up ranks?”.
Let’s do a review of the times when the United States lost or forgot something of real importance… like nuclear weapons.
To start with, we should first describe what a “Broken Arrow”, incident means. Most of the people already know that this callout is about nuclear weapons itself. However, what not so many are aware of is that this callout implies an incident in which there is no risk of detonating a nuclear war, right? Because no one could argue that the nuclear bombing of a city, like Moscow or Pekin, was an accident.
Let’s start our list with one of the most well-known incidents regarding nuclear bombs: the incident of Palomares 1966:
During the Cold War, hundreds of B52 nuclear bombers with real nuclear warheads were constantly orbiting around the US and the USSR. Once, under the protocol of the Operation Chrome Dome of early warning-retaliation, one of these bombers had a planned refueling with a KC135 tanker. Unfortunately, the worst scenario came true: the two planes collided mid-air and the fuel ignited, causing the death of all KC135 crew members and of the 3 out of 7 of the B52 crew. By the end of that day, 4 nuclear weapons had been dropped over the coast of Spain, 3 on land and 1 on the sea, dangerously close to a fisherman. The incident is referred to that would be later known as “Paco el de la bomba”.
Luckily, within 3 months of search and rescue operations, the Spanish found all 4 warheads, and only had to lament a beach full of radioactive detritus (as always politicians lied about the safety and the true impact of this event in the environment). Consequently, the workers who volunteered to clean that mess, worked under precarious conditions – including a vintage photo of Fraga (the Spanish minister of Tourism of the time) – and suffered from many different diseases.
Another very well-known incident that we should include in the current list happened in the Sea of Japan in 1965. There, an A-4E Skyhawk with a nuclear warhead strapped to its fuselage fell over the deck of the US aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga. None of the remains were ever found, not even the pilot, Douglas M. Webster.
This occasion not only had it been notorious, but it also became a controversial topic. The US government had claimed that there weren’t any nuclear weapons in Vietnam, a statement that proved to be a lie. It was also one of the few warheads that was never recovered, a really handy coincidence, if you ask my opinion…
However, after all these risky and seriously hazardous events in nuclear history, one of the most WTF anecdotes ever starred by the nuclear forces of the United States was when they literally forgot how to make more nuclear weapons.
As one can see, the US stopped crafting W71 nuclear warheads in 1989. In the 2000s, the US decided that they should maintain and update these assets in order to make them last until 2040. However, one of the materials used for the interstage separation inside the warhead was too secret that there were not records of its manufacturing process. Jokingly, anyone who ever participated in this process had died or simply forgot how it was done.
Luckily, by 2009, after an investment of almost 100 million US Dollars and a decade of reverse engineering with NASA’s help, this material, named “Fogbank”, started to be produced again.