Jan 172018
 

The Soviet Tsar Bomb, dropped in 1961 and with a yield of around 50 megatons (backed down from the design yield of 100 megatons) is acknowledged as the biggest bomb ever tested. But is it the most powerful bomb ever designed, or ever built? I’ve discovered some snippets of evidence that the US *may* have designed, and even built, an even bigger bomb.

Several frustratingly unenlightening reports give bits and pieces of information on a bomb code-named “Flashback.” This device was apparently air-dropped near Johnston Atoll. “Flashback” was designed by Sandia Labs and flown from Kirtland Air Force Base to Oahu, Hawaii and then to Johnston Atoll. There are some Terrible Quality Photos:

The Flashback bomb was so big that it could not quite fit within the confines of the B-52 bomb bay, and required the removal of the bomb bay doors.

Of course, this could have been purely an aerodynamic shape. Or perhaps it was a large conventional bomb, a giant “Daisy Cutter.” Or perhaps it wasn’t an actual bomb as such, but just some sort of science experiment to be dropped from an aircraft. Lots of possibilities. But those possibilities drop away with some of the hints that are provided, such as:

 

This came from an electromagnetic radiation effects report, describing – seemingly – the effect of radio emissions from the B-52 upon the electronics of the Flashback bomb. Since the bomb projected well below the belly, it was subject not only to very cold temperatures but also to intense radio transmissions from the antennae below the B-52 fuselage, so it makes sense they’d test for that. You don’t want the B-52’s communications to cause the bombs fuzing to go screwy. In this particular test, the parachute was not packed within the tail of the Flashback; instead test instruments were fitted there. More tellingly, “All HE (high explosive) and nuclear components were deleted.” Emphasis mine. Additionally, “A simulator was used to replace the warhead.”

You don’t have a warhead in a science package. You don’t have nuclear components in a conventional bomb. and if this was simply an aerodynamic and mass simulator of a proposed bomb… you wouldn’t remove the nuclear materials, because you wouldn’t have installed them in the first place. You don’t fill a mockup full of jet fuel, after all.

Such details as the weight of the unit and the yield of the device are seemingly not given. But they can be guessed at. A report on testing of the tailfin has this:

I’m not quite sure how that load of 36,000 pounds would relate to any actual forces applied to an actual bomb, but it *may* indicate the weight.

Other reports list the sizes and weights of items to be shipped to Oahu (and then to Johnston Atoll) for the test. Some of them are intriguing… what is “EMPTV?” TV certainly means “test vehicle.” But does “EMP” mean Electromagnetic Pulse? If so, does that mean another bomb-like unit, or just a science package, meant to be *hit* with an EMP to see how it reacts? Or is it a specific EMP generator, to be dropped out of an aircraft? Whatever it is, it weighed 14,500 pounds and was around 221 inches long and perhaps 59 or so inches in diameter, and was quite classified (SRD = Secret Restricted Data… “Data concerning the design, manufacture, or utilization of atomic weapons; production of special nuclear material; or use of special nuclear material in the production of energy“).

And there’s 38,000 pounds of “test equipment,” which could be anything:

There was also this:

Here, the “BTV” is the “Big Test Vehicle,” 25,000 pounds, 309 inches long by up to 76 inches in diameter, also classified SRD. Big as this is, though, it’s possibly not the device hanging below the B-52’s belly; the BTV is referenced several times in a way that seems to make it distinct from the Flashback Test Vehicle. But perhaps they are the same thing.

The Flashback Test Vehicle, fortunately, was shown in a fair diagram of a wind tunnel model. Full scale, it was 297 inches long (not counting parachute pack or what appear to be antennae) and was ~96 inches in diameter. This makes it bigger, and presumably heavier, than the BTV. So 36,000 pounds is not unreasonable.

Other ill-described tests show the Flashback as a much smaller unit than the bomb. This, *perhaps,* is merely the “physics package” of the device. This test, illustrated with one of histories worst-quality photos, was carried out in a very cold high altitude chamber, and shows two more mysteries: the “Companion Test Vehicles,” or CTVs, which are unexplained. Speculating wildly, they might have been designed to have the same ballistic properties as the Flashback, so if you drop them from the B-52 along with the Flashback, they’ll fall along with it, following the same trajectory and staying reasonably close. Perhaps thy had cameras. perhaps they had sensors. Perhaps they had transmitters. Who knows.

And there was also the “UTV.” No further data.

Perhaps the Flashback, BTV, EMPTV and UTV were all different sizes of new gigantic bombs…?

Code names generally have no relationship to the subject, but are chosen essentially at random. One would never know that “Copper Canyon” was a program to develop a scramjet SSTO. Similarly, “Operation Paddlewheel” tells nothing. But perhaps, just barely, “Flashback” might have some meaning. Comparing the Flashback to the Tsar Bomb, it it remarkable how similar they are in terms of both size and shape. One might be forgiven for wondering if Flashback was the end result of someone trying to design a Really Big Bomb based on nothing more than a verbal description of the Tsar Bomb, given, perhaps, by a spy or defector. So *perhaps* this project was a “flash back” to the earlier Soviet design. If so, what was the purpose? Was it to give the United States the same insanely pointless capability? Or was it just to find out what the capabilities and limitations the Soviets had gifted or saddled themselves with?

Using the wind tunnel model diagram, I’ve reconstructed the Flashback to scale with the Tsar Bomb:

As can be seen, the Flashback had much the same configuration, but was substantially “fatter.” Impossible to say if that was because the US designers needed the extra diameter to get the same yield (theoretically 100 megatons), or if Sandia Labs went head and designed themselves an even bigger bang. What use is a 200 megaton bomb? Not much. But then, neither is a 100 megaton bomb, especially one so big that the carrier aircraft essentially has to *lumber* to the target all the while carrying the worlds largest bullseye.

As always, if anyone has any further info, I’d love to see it.

PS: I’ve taken the Flashback model and have turned it into 2D CAD diagrams, including scale comparison with the Tsar and showing it stuffed into the B-52’s belly. This diagram will be one of this months rewards for Patrons of the APR Patreon. A simplified version will be included at the $5 level; the full diagram will be in the $8 level rewards package. So if you’d like access… sign up for the APR Patreon.

UPDATE:

It’s good to get a fresh perspective. Sadly, the perspective emailed to me was that the Flashback sure looked like a missile nosecone. So I pulled up the Flashback diagram I made from the wind tunnel model diagrams and put the RV from the Titan II ICBM on top of it. It’s not an exact match, but it’s distressingly close. If it wasn’t for the noticeably larger radius of the Flashbacks nose, I’d say it was spot-on… the outer diameter and angle are incredibly close matches.

So…what would be the point of that? Some sort of science experiment, clearly, rather than a weapons test. But what point would there be in dropping a Titan RV from a B-52? Why dangle it from a chute? Why add the heavy tail & fin assembly?

If it turns out that this was an experiment with the Titan RV, that would be less interesting than the revelation that the US developed a 50 to 100 megaton nuke. But it’s still interesting. Just not *as* interesting.

 Posted by at 8:33 pm
Sep 142017
 

While looking at something else on eBay, a listing for something rather more interesting came up:

Minuteman Solid Resin Nuclear warhead MIRV Reentry Vehicle Factory Desk Model
Now, hmmm, I sez. That’s clearly a maneuverable warhead, designed to muck up the enemies defenses by scooting around them. So I decide to click on the link and see more about it and get hit with:
My paranoid lil’ mind starts to wonder… did someone have something for sale they shouldn’t have had?
As models go it looks pretty uninspiring… low detail, blocky, simple, at thos low image resolution it seems kinda amateurish. As maneuverable MIRV designs it’s not spectacular… sort of a mutant Delta Clipper (which was derived from maneuverable MIRV design work). Still, that’s pretty much exactly the sort of the the DoD gets a little twitchy about from time to time.
If anyone knows anything about it, or sees it pop up again, let me know…

UPDATE:

OK, this is strange. I still get the same “listing removed” message when I click on the link with my computer… but it pulls right up (high rez photos and all) when I view it on my *phone.* This would be a first.
So… who can see it? Who can’t?
 Posted by at 10:08 pm
Feb 232016
 

An early 1970’s photo of a “mockup” of the Rockwell B-1 bomber. Rather than building an expensive plywood mockup that accurately recreated the complex curves of the B-1, this one was vastly simpler… a “side view” diagram of the B-1 with a few interior details, with a “shadow” on the floor. If you look carefully, it looks like this photo has been censored… the bays fore and aft of the main landing gear have been blacked out. Presumably these showed the payload of SRAMs and/or cruise missiles. One engine and the wing pivot system are included as actual 3-D items, probably mockups. Note that this is not the final B-1 design as built… the nose contours are a bit off.

b-1 2d mockup

 Posted by at 3:27 pm
Nov 112015
 

Hmmm…

Putin TV: Russia’s Got a Dirty Bomb

A Kremlin-owned TV network broadcast footage of a meeting with Putin, with the camera looking over someone’s shoulder and getting a clear image of a page in a report detailing a design of a submarine-deployed “dirty bomb” designed to reduce American coastal cities to radioactive wastelands. Supposedly the Russian government had a conniption and censored the image from later airings.

The question is:
1) Is this what it presents itself as, with the Russians developing such a weapons system and somehow mistakenly letting it slip onto the air?
2) is it disinformation, intentionally aired in order to… what? Make people in coastal cities freak out for some reason?

The page in question:

subnuke

Apparently this is a translation:

“Ocean Multipurpose System Status-6” and “Developer—Rubin Design Bureau.” And, below that, some explanatory text and illustrations.

“Purpose—the defeat of the important economic facilities in the area of the enemy coast,” the text reads, “and causing unacceptable damage to… the country through the establishment of extensive zones of radioactive contamination, unsuitable for implementation in these areas of military, economic, business or other activity for a long time.”

The design appears to be a large torpedo with a large nuke in the nose. It appears that it’d be slung underneath the carrying sub rather than carried within it.

Whether or not this is a real project or just the usual Putinesque disinformation, it does point out an important difference between the US and Russia: the US has a *lot* of it’s industry, economy and population in coastal cities, Russia does not. This means that America is more vulnerable to attack from the sea; a cargo ship with a nuke in the hold, or a nuclear “mine” lurking offshore big enough to make a good tsunami, can trash a city… but only a coastal city.

 Posted by at 5:26 pm
Jan 192015
 

Project Blue Book was the US Air Force project to study UFO reports and try to make sense of them and determine if there was any sort of threat to the security of the US. In 1969 the project wrapped up with a “nope” and a shrug, but nevertheless kept a whole bunch of stuff classified. A lot of researchers have been driven to distraction by the classified status of the documentation and have spent years making FOIA requests. The National Archives has made a whole lot of these documents available on microfilm, but one feller went ahead and scanned them and has made them available as 130,000 pages of searchable PDFs.

Air Force UFO files hit the web

The files are supposedly available on the website “The Black Vault,” but right now all I’m getting is a “this page cannot be loaded” message. I’d bet good money that the site simply got swamped with an exceedingly large number of people who want to download the docs. Or, you know, reptillian overlords. Whichever.

 Posted by at 1:19 pm
Oct 292014
 

The first five issues of US Bomber Projects are now available as ebooks at Amazon. The links below not only take you to the Amazon listings, if you then buy something (*anything*, so fee free to splurge on laptops and cars and jewelry and such), I get a small commission.

I would appreciate feedback… everything from constructive criticism to reviews posted over at Amazon.

 

UPDATE: It seems at least some people can’t see the Amazon link-box thingies posted below. So… two alternatives.

1) Type “US Bomber Projects” in the Amazon search box you should see at the upper right, just above the “Tip Jar.”

2) TRY THIS

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If you dowloaded an early version of USBO01, it seems that you *can* download the latest version without re-buying it.

 Posted by at 7:22 am
Jun 162014
 

At last: Aerospace Projects Review issue V3N4 is available. This issue has 128 pages. The main article focuses on the Boeing Model 844-2050E, the final, almost-built version of the X-20 Dyna Soar spaceplane. Included are not only detailed diagrams showing the design and construction of the spaceplane, but also drawings and information on proposed operational versions, including passenger ferries, satellite inspectors/interceptors, even nuclear bomber versions.

Also included are a large number of all-new diagrams that finally show the Dyna Soar atop the Titan IIIC accurately and in detail, along with proposed variants, variant launch systems and suggested space stations.

An article by Bill Slayton on the Lockheed CL-295 design series. This was a series of tailsitter VTOL fighters including designs derived from the F-104 as well as wholly new designs.

The third article is on the McDonnell F-4(FVS),a mid-1960’s concept to replace the low-mounted fixed wing of the F-4 Phantom II with an all-new variable geometry “swing wing.” The story goes from the F-4(FVS) in its numerous incarnations through the Model 225, McDonnell-Douglas’ entry into the 1968 US Navy VFX contest which resulted in the F-14.

Also, Aerospace History Nuggets on the US Navy SCAT VTOL and the Republic Aircraft RAC-730 SSTO aerospaceplane.

23 megabyte PDF file

 

Here’s the complete issue V3N4 layout:

It is available in three formats. Firstly, it can be downloaded directly from me for the low, low price of $10.00. Second, it can be purchased as a professionally printed volume through Magcloud; third, it can be procured in both formats. To get the download, simply pay for it here through paypal.

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To get the printed version (or print + PDF version), visit my MagCloud page:

http://scottlowther.magcloud.com/

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Also available: the V3N4 Addendum. This contains 49 pages formatted for 11X17. Includes larger and improved versions of all the CAD diagrams produced for V3N4, as well as larger versions of some of the illustrations from the X-20 and F-4(FVS) articles (as well as a number of illustrations that did not appear in the X-20 article):

The V3N4 Addendum can be downloaded for only $4.00!
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 Posted by at 5:18 pm
May 142014
 

And really soon, too… next week. No point in waiting, I suppose.

As previously mentioned, I’m putting together a book titled something like “A Guide to American Nuclear Explosive Devices.” It will include accurate diagrams of American nuclear bombs, RVs and warheads, along with pertinent information for each design. I’ve made a pretty good dent in the basic layout drawings, but there is more research to be done.

In order to get this done, there are a few places I need to visit. One of them is the National Museum of Nuclear Science & Industry in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s about an 11 hour drive from here, so  it’d be the better part of a work week to get down there, photograph *everything* (with scale references) and then get back. With gas, motels, cat boarding and the like, it’d be a fair chunk of change, but it also seems a pretty invaluable resource.

Sort of along the way is the Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos. A smaller museum, but it looks pretty good as far as nukes. I am also interested in any suggestions for things to see – nuclear, military, aerospace, geological – between Thatcher, Utah, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

So,  in order to pull this off, I’m looking for funding. In the grand tradition of Kickstarter and the like, I’m using three funding levels:

$10 “Warm Glow”: You get a thank you email and a warm sense of accomplishment.

$50 “Going Ballistic”: I send you a DVD (or 2, or 3, or everything transferred via Dropbox or some such) with every single nuke-relevant photo I take on the trip.

$100 “BLAMMO”: You get the DVD & a prototype edition version of the book, which won’t be otherwise available (I’m looking at 11X17 with old-school pressboard covers, like the BoMi, Dyna Soar & BWB booklets I recently made briefly available). The final book, whether self-published by me or – who knows – by an actual publisher, will almost certainly be formatted much smaller.

So if you want a whole bunch of photos of nuclear weapons and a book of large-format detailed and accurate drawings of American nuclear weapons, or if you just want to help out… now’s your chance. This opportunity will be open for the next week or so.

 

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Here is a somewhat older image, showing a number of the nuclear weapons I’ve drawn up (more since then):

nukes3

And here are some images showing roughly what you’ll see in the 11X17 prototype of the book: multiple views of each device in large scale, with a crude mockup of what the data page will look like for each device. It will have unique charts showing the physical effects – overpressure, thermal radiation, cratering, etc. – for each device.

Nuclear warheads nukes-Model

 Posted by at 6:21 pm