In 1961, a B-52 carrying two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs went into an uncontrolled spin over North Carolina.
In the cockpit of the rapidly disintegrating bomber was a lanyard attached to the bomb-release mechanism. Intense G-forces tugged hard at it and unleashed the nukes, which, at four megatons, were 250 times more powerful than the weapon that leveled Hiroshima. One of them “failed safe” and plummeted to the ground unarmed. The other weapon’s failsafe mechanisms — the devices designed to prevent an accidental detonation — were subverted one by one, as Eric Schlosser recounts in his new book, Command and Control.
Then there’s the curious case of the Titan II missile at Launch Complex 374-7, a few miles north of Damascus, Arkansas:
Plumb watched the nine-pound socket slip through the narrow gap between the platform and the missile, fall about 70 feet, hit the thrust mount, and then ricochet off the Titan II. It seemed to happen in slow motion. A moment later, fuel sprayed from a hole in the missile like water from a garden hose.
“Oh man,” Plumb thought. “This is not good.”