When lightweight nuclear bombs became available in the 1950s, the U.S. military set about to adapt them to a whole variety of warplanes designed for other uses. Instead of the lumbering B-36 "Peacemaker" or its equally gigantic successor, the B-52, both designed to carry a bomb weighing many tons, it was possible to load a nuke onto a medium bomber, a turbojet fighter, or even a propeller-driven aircraft designed during the Second World War.
This was the theory: the smaller plane would go in low, where it was invisible to ground-based radar, and before reaching the target it pulled up into a loop. Before it pointed straight up, the pilot would release a plutonium bomb of the sort that devastated Nagasaki in 1945, but smaller and more aerodynamic. The bomb would continue to rise, while the delivery aircraft continued its loop, rolled upright, and fled in the opposite direction. The bomb meanwhile would follow "gravity's rainbow," continuing to climb, leveling off, then falling to earth. If everything worked to perfection, the delivery aircraft would be beyond blast range when the bomb exploded.
In this short book, military historian Daniel Ford describes what such a mission would be like in the most improbable of all delivery aircraft: the propeller-driven Douglas AD-6 Skyraider, designed in 1945 to replace the navy dive bombers that had helped win the war in the Pacific. To research the story, he interviewed a score of "Spad drivers," as they called themselves, and their emails are included as an appendix to the book. "Crazy days!" said one of them, and when you put yourself in the cockpit of a Spad (as the AD-6 was also called) en route to Sevastopol in the Russian Crimea, you will learn just how mad the concept was. About 25,000 words, with color and black-white photos.
Douglas A-1 Skyraider