The Broken Arrow Project: Visualizing the Dangers of Maintaining the U.S. Nuclear Arsenal

October 15, 1959 - Hardinsberg, Kentucky

DOD: The B-52 departed Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi at 2:30 p.m. Central Standard Time, October 15, 1959. This aircraft assumed the #2 position in a flight of two. The KC-135 departed Columbus Air Force Base at 5:33 p.m. CST as the #2 tanker aircraft in a flight of two scheduled to refuel the B-52. Rendezvous for refueling was accomplished in the vicinity of Hardinsburg, Kentucky at 32,000 feet. It was night, weather was clear, and there was no turbulence. Shortly after the B-52 began refueling from the KC-135, the two aircraft collided. The instructor pilot and pilot of the B-52 ejected, followed by the electronic warfare officer and the radar navigator. The co-pilot, navigator, instructor navigator, and tail gunner failed to leave the B-52. All four crew members in the KC-135 were fatally injured. The B-52's two unarmed nuclear weapons were recovered intact. One had been partially burned but this did not result in the dispersion of any nuclear material or other contamination.

CDI: The B-52 entered service in June 1955 and continues to be the primary aircraft for the strategic bomber force. In 1959, the United States reached its peak bomber strength of 1,366 B-47s and 488 B-52s. In the early 1960s, as much as 15% of the B-52 force (50-70) planes) was placed on airborne alert, in the air at all times armed and ready for attack. At that time B-52s carried from 1-4 nuclear bombs with yields between 1 and 24 megatons (one megaton equals 1,000,000 tons of TNT). The present strategic bomber force includes 316 B-52s and 60 FB-111s.


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