The US Air Force lost a nuclear bomb off the coast of Palomares, Spain. It was on Jan. 17, 1966, when a K-135 refueling aircraft collided midair with a B-52G long-range bomber carrying a payload of four 70-kiloton hydrogen bombs. Three parachutes deployed and the nuclear devices were located on land, while a fourth plummeted into the Mediterranean Sea. The Air Force asked for the Navy’s help to retrieve it.
Each time their sonar technology picked up a contact, the Navy sent divers to check it out. A fisherman who had witnessed the bomb entering the water told officials how close they were, and even used his fingers as a means of measurement. They were that close.
“So one day Admiral Guest said we would try it,” Brashear said in an interview in 1998. “So they made a replica of the bomb on the tender and then dropped it to see how it would show up on the screen, same dimension, same length, same diameter. Then we went out 6 miles, and the first pass, there the bomb was, 6 miles in 2,600 feet of water.”
The Alvin submersible was made for this type of operation. It managed to attach grapnels to the parachute shrouds connected to the bomb before it ran out of batteries and was forced to surface. Using the Cable-controlled Underwater Recovery Vehicle (CURV) developed to salvage torpedoes, Brashear began to hoist the bomb up from the deep. As Brashear was bringing it up, a lifting cable snapped and the boat broke loose. Brashear scrambled to manhandle another sailor out of the way as the boat yanked on the pipe that had the mooring line tied to it.
“That pipe came loose, flew across the deck, and it struck my leg below the knee,” he said. “They said I was way up in the air just turning flips. I landed about two foot inside of that freeboard. They said if I’d been two foot farther over, I’d have gone over the side. I jumped up and started to run and fell over. That’s when I knew how bad my leg was.”
At that time, Brashear had 18 years of service in the US Navy, joining in 1948 and becoming the first African American Navy diver in 1954. He was now in the fight for his life. Corpsmen aboard the Hoist secured two tourniquets around his leg, but by the time he got to a hospital he had no pulse or heartbeat due to blood loss. The medical staff administered 18 pints of blood, restarted his heart, and brought him back from the dead.
He was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism in saving another sailor’s life at the risk of his own personal injury. His doctors told him it would take three years before he could walk again. The infection was so bad he agreed to have his leg amputated below the knee to fast-track his grueling rehabilitation.
Brashear was outfitted with his own prosthetic leg in December 1966, but amid the inequalities African Americans faced in the military, his prosthetic was painted to match white skin. That was not out of the norm for his personal experiences, as for his entire career he was subject to discrimination, harassment, threats, and ill treatment by his fellow service members. Despite it all, he persevered to become a pioneer in the diving industry.
“It took more willpower than I ever thought I had, to accept the fact that I had lost a leg,” he later said. “Once I accepted that, I knew I would win the fight to become a master diver.”
The native of Kentucky who was raised attending segregated schools refused to submit to the medical survey board’s attempts to retire him, as they believed he was unfit for duty. Chief Warrant Officer Clair Axtell Jr., his old friend from salvage school, granted Brashear the opportunity to train at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia. Even on the weekends he practiced diving in a MK V deep-sea rig, a shallow-water diving suit, and scuba gear.
He led daily calisthenics and suffered greatly, but he did not give up. Sometimes after he returned from a run, the end of his prosthetic would have a puddle of blood at the bottom. It was evidence he pushed his body beyond his limits.
“In that year, if I had gone to sick bay, they would have written me up,” he said. “I’d go somewhere and hide and soak my leg in a bucket of hot water with salt in it — an old remedy. Then I’d get up the next morning and run.”
Against all odds, Carl Brashear qualified as the first Black Master Diver and first amputee Navy diver in US military history. He didn’t make a mistake during his evaluation. The next nine years Brashear lived out his dream as a Master Diver working on the submarine USS Hunley and on the salvage ship USS Recovery.
He struggled with alcohol before achieving sobriety and retired from the Navy in 1979 with 31 years of military service. Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. immortalized his remarkable story in the 2000 movie Men of Honor. Brashear passed away in 2006 at the age of 75. He has since received further tributes, including a 700-foot cargo ship commissioned in 2008 called the USNS Carl Brashear. The Carl Brashear Foundation exists to share his achievements with as many people as possible.
On Mar. 2, 1965, North Vietnamese guards at an ammunition storage area near Xom Bang heard the telltale sounds of massed aircraft overhead. They then learned why the F-105 Thunderchief earned the nickname “Thud” as 5,000 pounds of bombs from each of the passing planes hit the Earth around them.
The United States Air Force had just launched Operation Rolling Thunder, a bombing campaign over North Vietnam that lasted more than three years. Photographer Cade Martin set out to document and preserve the memories and images of the men who flew those dangerous missions.
Martin was just seven years old when the Vietnam War ended. What he knew about it came from movies and documentaries. Then, one day, he went to a Thud pilot reunion in San Antonio, took their portraits, and listened to their stories — the revelation of the war from their perspective rendered him speechless. Their stories were many and, as one might imagine, incredible.
“We have since learned that our target list was shared through Switzerland with the enemy to ensure no civilians were harmed. Well, that’s no way to win a war. The enemy would move out and set up somewhere else, ready to hit us on our way in and out. And, sometimes… Chiefs of Staff would send us five days in a row.” – John Piowaty, USAF
Rolling Thunder was an effort to break the will and ability of the Communists in the North and bring a negotiated end to the aggression against the non-Communist South. But, like many other aspects of the Vietnam War, it restricted the warfighter for political reasons and failed to achieve its overall strategic goals. Meanwhile, the men flying above North Vietnam were performing acts of valor and heroism without knowing what’s happening in Washington.
“In my junior year of high school, 1952, the Korean War was in full swing. Our fighter pilots were picking up where the aces of WW2 left off. Now in jets engaging in dogfights with the MiGs of North Korea and China. I wanted in. Went directly from high school to flight school. My all-time childhood dream come true.” – Gerald McGauley, USAF
Thoe pilots who flew those missions hit thousands of targets in North Vietnam, dropping more ordnance than was dropped during the bombing campaigns of World War II. The problem was that the classic targets of such a campaign were not as abundant or as vital to the North Vietnamese war effort than they were in Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. Much of North Vietnam’s weapons and materiel for the war was provided by Communist China and the Soviet Union.
“I finished first in my class, giving me first choice of assignment. I went to “Gun School” at Luke AFB in Phoenix. There, I was in a class of seven. Three years later, only three of us were still alive… and this was before the war had begun.” – John Morrissey, USAF
Even though it was a Rolling Thunder target, the main distribution network for these supplies – the Ho Chi Minh Trail – was not effectively halted, as it was a simple network of roads and trails, hidden under jungle canopy and traversing steep mountain passes. The pilots could not hit what they couldn’t see and the trail remained an effective means of distribution.
“The F-105 – It was the sweetest thing you’d ever want to wrap your hands around. Once you got it airborne the sensation was like flying a Cadillac. 52,000 pounds, 65 feet long, 38-foot wingspan. Couldn’t turn with a MiG but could outrun them. Great airplane.” – Ben Bowthorpe, USAF
A simple cost-benefit analysis of the campaign shows the failure of the strategic initiative. At a cost of 0 million, the US wreaked only 0 million worth of damage to the North. It also forced the Vietcong to increase troop levels in South Vietnam, which further escalated the war. The North came to the negotiating table as President Lyndon B. Johnson called off the campaign — but they were not cowed into a negotiated peace as the U.S. had hoped.
Rolling Thunder ended fifty years ago, on November 2, 1968 — but the war raged on in various forms until 1973.
“My heroes growing up were soldiers and pilots. They played big roles in the movies and stories of the time, making aviation look exciting and romantic. I daydreamed and sketched airplanes through my early childhood. This led to building and flying models until finally in high school I got a chance to take flying lessons.” – Ed “Moose” Skowron, USAF
The Air Force was also hamstrung by leadership in Washington over available targets. While military commanders wanted more decisive action and an unrestricted bombing campaign, political leaders wanted to humble the North Vietnamese with an impressive display of American military might. While the display was made, the North would not concede. After spending the better part of a decade ousting the French from Vietnam, the Communists knew that a war of attrition was their best chance at defeating a power like the United States.
“They had so many different kinds of guns. 37, 57, 85, 100 millimeter guns. 1,700 guns in place circling Hanoi. We had briefing, we knew where the guns were at… but you couldn’t avoid all of them. We had to go in there and take our chances.” – Cecil Prentis, USAF
In the years that followed Vietnam, photographer Cade Martin noted that the men who flew the F-105 mission during Rolling Thunder were silent in the postwar years, sitting back as the world Monday-morning-quarterbacked their performance in the war. The Thud pilots lost some 922 aircraft in the skies over North Vietnam and more than a thousand American service members were killed, captured, or wounded.
“You can’t run a war from the Oval Office. I would have loved to have McNamara or Johnson on one of those flights with me.” – Cal Jewett, USAF
Martin’s project, called Over War, seeks to document and share the history of the Rolling Thunder pilots that they have shared among themselves for the last fifty-plus years. You can check out more of their personal statements, photos, and testimonies at Cade Martin’s Over War website.
Although its opening was originally delayed due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the National Museum of the United States Army in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, houses historic Army artifacts like an M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle from the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, General Grant’s Forage Cap from the Civil War and an M4 Sherman tank from WWII. However, this Sherman is a rather special one. Its name is Cobra King and it holds the distinct honor of being the first tank to break through to the beleaguered 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.
Cobra King served with the 37th Tank Battalion, 4th Armored Division during WWII and fought through France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany, and into Czechoslovakia. Unlike regular Sherman tanks, Cobra King is an M4A3E2 “Jumbo” experimental variant. Classified as Assault Tanks, Jumbos were equipped with thicker armor than standard Shermans and were often re-armed with high-velocity 76mm M1 main guns (although Cobra King retained its factory short-barrel 75mm M3 gun during the Battle of the Bulge). The extra armor slowed the tanks down by 3-4 mph. Jumbos also featured duckbill-style extended end connectors fitted to the outside edges of their tracks for added weight-bearing and stability.
Cobra King’s name follows the tank corps tradition of naming vehicles by the company’s designation; Cobra King belonged to the 37th Tank Battalion’s C Company. According to Army historian Patrick Jennings, Cobra King had been knocked out of action in France in November 1944. The tank was repaired and returned to action in Luxembourg. There, tank commander Charles Trover was killed by a sniper on December 23 as he stood in Cobra King’s turret. Trover was replaced by Lt. Charles Boggess who commanded Cobra King during the Battle of the Bulge.
Along with Boggess, Cobra King was crewed by driver Pvt. Hubert Smith, assistant driver/bow gunner Pvt. Harold Hafner, loader Pvt. James Murphy and gunner Cpl. Milton Dickerman. The five men led General Patton’s 3rd Army’s relief of Bastogne on December 26. Driving at full speed and sweeping the road ahead with gunfire, Cobra King made a 5-mile push through intense German resistance toward Bastogne. “I used the 75 like it was a machine gun,” Dickerman recalled. “Murphy was plenty busy throwing in shells. We shot 21 rounds in a few minutes and I don’t know how much machine gun stuff.”
Cobra King came across a team of U.S. combat engineers assaulting a pillbox. The tankers were wary of the engineers since German troops had been infiltrating U.S. lines dressed in American uniforms. Finally, one of the engineers approached Cobra King, stuck his hand out to Boggess and said, “Glad to see you.” The engineers were Americans and part of Able Company, 326th Airborne Engineer Battalion, 101st Airborne Division. Together, Cobra King and the engineers destroyed the pillbox. The link-up marked the end of the German siege of Bastogne. For its relief of the city and the 101st, the 37th Tank Battalion was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
After six weeks in Bastogne waiting for a German counterattack, Cobra King and the 4th Armored Division rejoined the push into Germany. During this time, Cobra King became just another Sherman in the column of armor. Through February and March, the division broke through the Siegfried Line to the Kyll River and battled its way to the Rhine. On April 1, they crossed the Werra River and then crossed the Saale River 11 days later. The division continued to chase the Germans east and crossed into Pisek, Czechoslovakia in early May. After V-E Day on May 7, the division assumed occupation duties in Landshut, Germany until its inactivation the next year.
Cobra King remained in Germany while the 37th Tank Battalion was reactivated in 1951 and re-assigned to the 4th Armored Division in 1953 at Fort Hood, Texas. The 37th would later return to Europe; the division’s 1958 yearbook featured a picture of Cobra King (yet unidentified) on display at McKee Barracks in Crailsheim, Germany. In 1971, the 4th was inactivated and redesignated the 1st Armored Division. In 1994, Crailsheim was closed and all the units posted there, along with Cobra King, were relocated to Vilseck. The 1st was later relocated to Bad Kreuznach, but Cobra King stayed behind.
Cobra King stood in silent vigil at Vilseck as an anonymous display tank. Jennings credits Cobra King’s discovery to Army Chaplain Keith Goode, who suspected that the display tank might be the famous Cobra King. Army historians in Germany and the U.S. confirmed his suspicion after extensive research and the tank was shipped back to the states in 2009. Though the interior was damaged beyond repair by years of weather exposure, the exterior was given a full restoration at Fort Knox, Kentucky before Cobra King was put into storage at Fort Benning, Georgia. In 2017, the tank was trucked up to Fort Belvoir amidst the construction of the Army Museum. When the museum does open, Cobra King will proudly stand on display as “FIRST IN BASTOGNE”.
There were only a few places around the world more tense than in the Cold War showdown between East and West that occurred every day in divided Berlin. In the West, American and NATO guards stared down the barrels of the Soviet-backed East German border guards from the other side of the Berlin Wall. These guards were known to shoot down any East German civilian trying to cross the wall, sometimes leaving their mangled corpse in the barbed wire.
One American decided he was going to do what he could to help.
An East German border guard leaps over barbed wire and away from the East German “utopia.”
It’s a well-known fact by now that life behind the Iron Curtain wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Few places in the Eastern Bloc were more repressive than in East Germany, and East Berlin in particular. East Berlin’s proximity to the freedom enjoyed by West Germany and greater Western Europe forced the Communist regimes to be more harsh to those attempting to escape to freedom. Still, many East Germans made the attempt. Scores of people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall. Untold numbers more likely made the escape.
One of those successful escapees was Hans-Peter Spitzner and his daughter Peggy. Spitzner lived more than 100 miles from East Berlin, but when the Stasi – the East German secret police – came knocking on his door and arrested him in the middle of the night for not voting the Communist Party line, he was done. He resolved to get out of East Germany. When Spitzner’s wife was suddenly able to travel to the West for a family birthday, he decided to make his move.
Spitzner with his wife and daughter.
Spitzner read in a Communist newspaper about how American and other troops were stripping East German stores of their stocks using favorable currency conversion rates. Under the post-World War II agreements, Western allies had free and open access to East Berlin and could come and go as they pleased. The author of the article even mentioned that Western soldiers’ cars weren’t searched. Spitzner rationalized that he and his daughter could hide in one of those cars and escape to freedom.
So the man drove 120 miles to East Berlin, just to hang out at the bus stops frequented by Western troops. All day long, he asked if anyone would be willing to smuggle him and his daughter out. Eventually, a young U.S. Army troop named Eric Yaw was walking up to his black Toyota.
He agreed to smuggle Spitzner and his daughter out of East Germany.
Eric Yaw’s Toyota Corolla.
There was just one hitch: the heat sensors at Checkpoint Charlie. As soon as the family was in Yaw’s trunk, Spitzner was certain they were doomed. If they were caught, they’d be imprisoned. If they ran, they’d be shot. But as luck would have it, that day was particularly warm, and Yaw’s black Toyota retained enough heat to hide Spitzner and his daughter from the border guards. In just a few minutes, Yaw opened the trunk and informed the two they were free.
Spitzner phoned his wife on vacation in Austria and told her the news. Yaw was disciplined by the Army for smuggling the two East Germans, but repeatedly said he would do the same thing again. Today, Yaw is out of the Army but is still a family friend. The Spitzners have returned to their hometown in what used to be East Germany.
In the days of antiquity, being in the cavalry was a privilege specifically reserved for those who ranked higher in the social order than the common people. Those who were too young, too inexperienced, or too poor to have a horse, usually ended up in a type of combat unit specifically named for them: the infantry.
From the early days of warfare on up through the Middle Ages and beyond, war was a socially stratified activity, just like anything else. The leaders of a country needed able-bodied men to fight the wars, and they needed those men to already have the skills and experience necessary to fight wars. The problem is that most of those men definitely did not have the skills and experience necessary to fight wars. If a country didn’t have a standing professional army and used mostly the rabble picked from its towns and cities, chances are good, it was filled with infantry.
The word “infantry” is just as its root word suggests. Derived from the latin word infans, the word literally means infancy. Later versions of the word became common usage in French, Old Italian, and Spanish, meaning “foot soldiers too low in rank to be cavalry.
The last thing you see when you’re too poor to own a horse and no one thought to bring pointy sticks.
As if walking to the war and being the first to die from the other side’s cavalry charges wasn’t bad enough, your own cavalry referred to you as babies or children. Another possible Latin origin of the phrase would also describe infantry just as well. The word infantia means “unable to speak” or perhaps more colloquially, “not able to have an opinion.” The latter word might describe any infantry throughout history. As a conscript, you were forced into the service of a lord for his lands and allies, not given a choice in the matter.
In the modern terminology for infantry, this is probably just as true, except you volunteered to not have an opinion. At least now, you get healthcare and not cholera.
While taking enemy contact, a Chinese mortar struck a Marine bunker near where replacement Marine Cpl. Salvatore Naimo was engaging opposing forces. From this position, he heard the screams of his wounded comrades coming from inside the newly-damaged area.
Naimo, who joined the Marines to avoid being drafted into the Army, dashed over to aid his brothers, exposing himself to enemy fire.
As mortars continued to destroy the surrounding area, Naimo spotted two severely wounded Marines and scooped up one of them up, protecting him with his own body. Soon after, Naimo dropped off the first injured Marine at the aid station and headed right back for the second man as waves of incoming enemy fire blanketed their position.
After returning to the aid station with the second wounded Marine, Naimo informed the corpsmen that he was going to head back to the bunker and continue to fight.
Upon his arrival at the unmanned bunker, he was lucky to discover the Marines before him had stockpiled it with machine guns, ammo, and extra grenades. As the next wave of Chinese attacks throttled, Naimo fired the arsenal of weapons into the enemy — who closed within 15 yards of his position.
Hours later, Marine Lt. Walter Sharpe came across Naimo’s bunker, where he found 36 dead soldiers from the 65th Army Group of Mongolian laid out. Sharpe decided to recommend Naimo for the Navy Cross but sadly was killed in action two days later. He never filed the proper paperwork to get Naimo his Navy Cross.
More than six decades after his heroic efforts, then-Lt. Bruce F. Meyers (who was injured in that same battle) filed the necessary paperwork to award Cpl. Salvatore Naimo the well-deserved Navy Cross.
Kim Il-Sung, the founder and patriarch of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – known to many as North Korea – went by a lot of names, including General Secretary of the Korean Workers Party, President, Premier and Supreme Leader.
And those are just the titles he earned while he was alive. In death, Kim Il-Sung is still the leader of North Korea, as the country’s constitution was amended to proclaim him the Eternal President and de jure head of state. Forever.
Before Kim earned his “Eternal” presidency in 1994, however, he was the victim of a celebrity death hoax that got way out of hand. To this day, no one knows why.
It all began at the heavily-fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) along the 38th Parallel that has separated the two Koreas since 1953. For years, the two sides blasted propaganda at one another over large loudspeakers.
The North talked about the superiority of North Korean Communism and about Kim Il-Sung in particular. The South blasted information about the superiority of democracy and capitalism. It was an ongoing exchange every day for years.
One day in 1986, it all stopped. The North Koreans started playing music, with no words. The South Koreans were puzzled by this until the speakers began to speak: Kim Il-Sung was dead and Kim Jong-Il. The North Korean flag was lowered to half mast.
When anything major happens in the North (like a Kim dying), the South goes bonkers. !986 was no different. They never know who might take power, what their politics might be and if another Korean War is about to happen. Naturally, the South Koreans went on high alert, waiting for the outcome of the death of North Korea’s first Communist leader (and the only one since the end of World War II).
Rumors poured out of intelligence agencies, with none of the intel vetted or confirmed. Kim Il-Sung had been shot and killed. He was killed in a coup by his generals. North Korean officials around the world were being recalled as the offending officers were escaping to China. Vietnamese officials were told the elder Kim was dead as the North was rising up against Kim Jong-Il.
For almost two days, rumors around the world flared and died as everyone speculated what might happen next. Then, according to NK News, Kim Il-Sung showed up, alive and well. He met a Mongolian delegation at Pyongyang airport, as if the whole world hadn’t been talking about how he was shot and killed in a coup.
Neither Kim nor any state media agency has ever discussed the issue or reported the motivation behind the event. The only thing they know is Kim Il-Sung didn’t die from a gunshot wound in 1986, instead dying from a heart attack in1994.
In 1952, an accident at Canada’s Chalk River Laboratories near Deep River, Ontario caused a partial meltdown in an experimental nuclear reactor. Hydrogen explosions followed and hundreds of thousands of gallons of radioactive water flooded the core, heavily damaging the reactor. When the Canadian government turned to U.S. nuclear experts for help, “Father of the Nuclear Navy” Rear Admiral Hyman Rickover sent his protégé – Lieutenant James Earl “Jimmy” Carter – to lead a team of maintainers into the reactor core to shut it down.
The admiral was famous for the demands he put on the people who worked for him. His unorthodox methods almost kept him from making flag rank, but President Truman intervened on his behalf. It was a good call: the Navy’s 300 nuclear warships have never had a single nuclear incident.
Rickover’s team had access to the latest in nuclear energy technology because they were developing nuclear-powered ships for the U.S. Navy (the first nuclear submarine, the Nautilus, was completed in 1955). The Navy knew the technology the Canadians were using and how best to fix it.
Rickover volunteered Carter to the Canadians to take the failing reactor apart so it could be replaced, a testament to the extraordinary faith and training the U.S. Navy places in its sailors – and to the good judgment of Adm. Rickover. First, the reactor had to be shut down, then it could be disassembled and replaced.
Carter, then 28 years old, had been in the Navy for six years. He was assigned to the Naval Reactors Branch of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in Washington, D.C. Rickover’s demanding perfectionism was as instilled in Carter as it is today’s nuclear sailors.
Rickover (left) served 61 years on active duty and saw Carter get elected President.
In his book “Reflections at Ninety,” Carter recalls preparing for the task. The team built a replica of the reactor on a nearby tennis court to practice their next move and track the work they’d already finished. Every pipe, bolt, and nut was rebuilt exactly as it was in the damaged reactor area.
Lieutenant Carter divided himself and his 23 guys into teams of three. Each worked 90-second shifts cleaning and repairing the reactor as per what they practiced on the tennis court. A minute and a half was the maximum time the human body could handle the amount of radiation in the area.
By today’s standards, it was still way too much radiation – Carter and his men were exposed to levels a thousand times higher than what is now considered safe. He and his team absorbed a year’s worth of radiation in that 90 seconds. The basement where they helped replace the reactor was so contaminated, Carter’s urine was radioactive for six months after the incident.
It makes sense that the ship named after President Carter would be a Seawolf-class nuclear submarine, as Carter helped develop the nuclear Navy and was the only U.S. President to be qualified for submarine duty. The USS Jimmy Carter was commissioned in February 2005.
The effects of this exposure eventually caught up to him. Carter developed cancerous tumors on his liver and brain at age 91 but was screened as cancer-free a year later.
In 1793, noted French scientist Joseph Dombey departed Le Havre, France bound for Philadelphia. His mission was to meet with Thomas Jefferson and give him two of the rarest items on Earth. Unfortunately for Dombey, fate had other intentions and storms pushed the ship he was aboard well of course. And so it was that around the time he was supposed to deliver his precious cargo to Jefferson, he found himself instead at the mercy of British pirates. Being French in this situation wasn’t exactly ideal, so at first he attempted to pass himself off as Spanish, but his accent gave him away. Dombey was eventually taken to the small Caribbean island of Montserrat where he ultimately died before he could be ransomed.
So what was the precious cargo he was to have delivered as a gift to the United States? Two small copper items (of which only six sets existed on Earth at the time) — standards representing a meter and a grave, the latter better known today as a kilogram.
At the time, the United States, having already become one of the first nations in the world to adopt a decimal, base ten system for currency was strongly considering doing the same with the system of weights and measures to get rid of the hodgepodge of British weights and measures system mixed with others also commonly used throughout the young nation. Thus, with the initial strong support of then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, and thanks to a desire to continue to strengthen ties between France and the United States, adoption of the new French metric system seemed close at hand. Along with a trade agreement concerning grain export to France, Dombey was to deliver the meter and grave standards and attempt to argue the system’s merits to Congress who, at the time, were quite open to adopting these units of measure.
Of course we all know how this turned out — Dombey never got a chance to make his arguments and thanks to concerns about whether the metric system would even stick around at all in France, combined with the fact that trade between Britain and the U.S. would be hindered by such a change, the U.S. eventually decided to abandon efforts to adopt the metric system and mostly stuck with the British system, though the U.S. Customary Units and what would become the Imperial System would soon diverge in the following decades.
But as more and more nations came to adopt this new system of weights and measures, the U.S. slowly began to follow suit. Fast-forwarding to 1866 and with the Metric Act the U.S. officially sanctioned the use of the metric system “in all contracts, dealings or court proceedings” and provided each state with standard metric weights and measures. In 1875, the United States was one of just 17 nations to sign the “Treaty of the Metre” establishing, among other things, the International Bureau of Weights and Measure to govern this system.
Fast forward a little under a century later and the full switch seemed inevitable in the United States after the 1968 Metric Study Act. This ended up being a three year study looking at the feasibility of switching the United States to the metric system. The result? a report titled A Metric America: “A Decision Whose Time Has Come”recommending the change and that it could be reasonably done in as little as 10 years.
Unfortunately, the public was largely either apathetic or strongly opposed to making the switch. (According to a Gallup poll at the time, 45% were against it.) This was nothing new, however. A huge percentage of the time a given people of a nation have been asked by their government to switch to the International System of Units, the general public of those nations were largely against it, even France itself, who went back and forth for decades on the issue, contributing to the United States’ hesitation to adopt it in the early going. Brazil actually experienced a genuine uprising when the government forced the change in the late 19th century. Over a half century later, British citizens still stubbornly cling to many of the old measurements in their day to day lives, though have otherwise adopted SI units.
So why did all these governments frequently go against the will of their people? Arguments for the economic benefits simply won out — as in so many matters of government, what businesses want, businesses often get. So the governments ignored the will of the general public and did it anyway.
But in the U.S. the situation was different. Not having the pressure from being bordered and economically as bound to one’s neighbors as in Europe, and being one of the world’s foremost economic powerhouses itself, the immediately economic benefit didn’t seem so clear. For example, California alone — one of 50 states — if it were its own nation would have the 5th largest economy in the world. Texas and New York state aren’t far behind when compared to nation’s of the worlds economies at 10th and 13th respectively, let alone the other 47 states.
Seeing lesser readily apparent economic benefit, and not having the same geographic pressures as in Europe, in the 1970s many big businesses and unions were in strong opposition to the change, citing the cost of making the switch and, on the latter side, unions worried that such a change would make it easier to move jobs that formerly used customary units oversees, given that now such product could more easily be purchased from abroad.
Swayed, when the 1975 Metric Conversion Act was signed by President Gerald Ford, it had largely lost its teeth. While it did establish a board whose job it was to facilitate the nation’s conversion and put forth various recommendations, the act did not have an official timeline and made the switch voluntary.
Nevertheless, contrary to popular belief, in the decades since, the United States actually has largely switched to the metric system, just the general public (both domestic and international) seem largely ignorant of this. The U.S. military almost exclusively uses the metric system. Since the early 1990s, the Federal government has largely been converted, and the majority of big businesses have made the switch in one form or another wherever possible. In fact, with the passage of the Metric Conversion Act of 1988, the metric system became the “preferred system of weights and measures for United States trade and commerce”.
In the medical field and pharmaceuticals. the metric system is also used almost exclusively. In fact, since the Mendenhall Order of 1893, even the units of measure used by the layperson in the U.S., the yard, foot, inch, and pound, have all been officially defined by the meter and kilogram.
Speaking of the general public side, nobody in the U.S. blinks an eye about food labels containing both metric and customary units (required thanks to the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, with the majority of states since also allowing metric only). The gram is commonly used to measure everything from the amount of flour to add in a recipe to how much marijuana one buys from a shop or, where it’s still illegal, their local dealer. And if you were to ask someone to pick up a two liter of Dr. Pepper or how a person did running a 10K, most everyone in the United States would know exactly what you are talking about. Beyond this, you’d be hard pressed to find a ruler in the United States that doesn’t include both inches and centimeters and their common divisors.
Further, in school, both customary units and the metric system are taught. Yes, while Americans may generally have little practical need to learn a second language, most are, at least for a time, reasonably fluent in two very different systems of measurement.
As with languages unpracticed, however, once out of school, many lose their sense of the latter from lack of use and concrete perspective. It’s one thing to know what 100 and 0 degrees Celsius refers to with respect to water, it’s a whole different matter to “get” what temperature you might want to put on a jacket for. However, students who go on to more advanced science classes quickly pick up this perspective as they become more familiar and, thus, the scientists of America aren’t at the slightest disadvantage here, also contrary to what is often stated in arguments as to why the U.S. should make the switch a bit more official than it already is. All students that go along that path become just as familiar as their European brethren, if a little later in life.
This all brings us around to why the United States hasn’t made the switch to the metric system more official than it already is. Primarily three reasons — cost, human psychology, and, at least on the general public side, little readily apparent practical reason to do so.
As to cost, while there has never been a definitive study showing how much it would cost the United States to make the switch official and universal, general estimates range even upwards of a trillion dollars all things considered. Why so high?
To begin with, we’ll discuss a relatively small example in road signs. Installing street signs is an incredibly expensive affair in many places for a variety of reasons. For instance, in 2011 the Washington State Department of Transportation claimed it costs anywhere from ,000 to ,000 PER SIGN, though they later clarified those were worst case and most expensive scenarios and sometimes the signs and installation can ring in ONLY around ,000. Bronlea Mishler of the DOT explains,
Installing a sign along a highway isn’t quite as simple as pounding some posts into a ground and bolting on a sign — that’s why the cost is so variable. There are two ways to replace a sign. One way allows us to install it under old rules; the second way requires us to follow new federal standards… The old rules apply if we are just fixing something, not building something new. Installing a sign alongside the road counts as fixing something — basically, just giving drivers more information. If we install a sign on the side of the road, it would cost: ,000 to make the sign, buy the beams and rivets; ,000 for two steel posts and concrete; ,000 to clear brush and other landscape work before and after installation; ,000 for maintenance crews to set up traffic cones, work vehicles, program highway signs and spend the evening doing the work. Total: ,000…. The new rules apply if we’re doing a new construction project. Costs would be higher because we would have to bring everything up to the current highway code. These often involve putting up a sign bridge, a steel structure that spans the entire freeway to hold up multiple signs. Typical costs include: ,600 to make the sign, buy the beams and rivets because the sign must be bigger; ,000 for the sign bridge. Total: ,600.
WSDOT Deputy Regional Administrator Bill Vleck also stated, beyond many of these signs needing to be special ordered on a 1-off variety (think a highway sign with city name and distance marker) and often being much larger than most sign makers make, drastically increasing cost, some of the seemingly exorbitant costs are due to special features of the signs few know about. For instance, Vleck states, “If there’s an auto accident, if a car hits that sign post and there’s any kind of injury involved, the state is going to be liable, so we’re looking potentially at a multi-million dollar settlement in those kind of situations… [So] it would have to be a breakaway type sign post, and it has to be specially fabricated so that if a car hits that sign, it reacts appropriately and doesn’t come down and basically take out the occupants.”
For your reference here, in 1995, it was estimated that approximately 6 million signs would need changed on federal and state roads. On top of that, it was noted that approximately just shy of 3 million of the nations about 4.2 million miles (6.8 million km) of public roads are actual local, with an uncertain number of signs in those regions that would need changed.
That said, the rather obscene costs quoted by the aforementioned Washington State DOT would likely be grossly overestimated on a project such as this, with prices massively reduced if special laws were passed to remove much of the red tape, and given the extreme bulk orders that would be called for here, including for the signs themselves and contracts to dedicated crews to make this happen as fast as possible.
For example, in 1995, Alabama estimated they could swap out all the signs on federal highways for a mere per sign (0 today) on average.
Perhaps a better rubric would be in looking at Canada’s switch, swapping out around a quarter of a million signs on their then 300,000 miles (482,000 km) or so of road. The total reported cost? Only a little over million (about million today) or around 4 per sign in today’s dollars.
Extrapolating that out to the minimum 6 million signs would then run approximately id=”listicle-2635564449″.5 billion + whatever additional signs need swapped out on the 3/4 of the rest of the roads not accounted for in that 6 million sign estimate. Not an insignificant sum, but also relatively trivial for the U.S. taxpayer to cover at about per person + some uncertain amount for the local road signs that need changed.
Moving on to far greater expenses — industry and wider infrastructure.
While it’s impossible to accurately estimate the cost of such a change to American businesses as a whole, we do get a small glimpse of the issue when looking at a NASA report studying the feasibility of swapping the shuttle program to full metric. They determined the price tag would be a whopping 0 million for that project alone at the time, so decided it wasn’t worth the cost for little practical benefit… Now extrapolate that out to the approximately 28 million businesses in the United States, their software, their records, their labels, machinery, employee training, etc. needing switched like some sort of Y2K event on steroids. Thus, while it’s impossible to know for sure, many posit the cost could swell into the hundreds of billions of dollars, if not even creep into the trillion territory — in theory at least.
At this point, even the most ardent supporter of the metric system in the United States may be rethinking whether it would be worth it to make the switch more official than it already is. But don’t fret metric supporters the world over!
To begin with, the raw cost of making the switch doesn’t actually tell the whole story here. In fact, it tells a false story — while the gross total of making the change would be astronomical, it turns out the net cost likely wouldn’t be much, or anything at all.
You see, beyond it noted that, for example, on average Australian businesses saw a 9-14% boost directly attributed to the switch when they made it, back in the United States when companies like IBM, GM, Ford and others spent the money to make the change, they universally found that they made a profit from doing this. This was largely from being able to reduce warehouse space, equipment needs, streamline production, lower necessary inventories, as well as taking the opportunity to, at the same time, remove inefficiencies that had crept into their respective businesses with regard to these systems. They were also able to more uniformly manage their businesses abroad and domestic to the same standards and systems. As a very small example, GM reported they were able to reduce its number of fan belts they had to manufacture and stock from about 900 sizes to 100 thanks to everything that went into the switch.
In some cases the businesses also noted new international markets opening up, both in sales and ability to more easily, and often more cheaply, acquire product abroad. All of this resulted in a net profit extremely quickly from investing the money into making the switch.
As you might expect from these types of benefits, an estimated 30% of businesses in the United States have largely already switched to metric.
Granted, these are generally larger companies and various small businesses dealing mostly locally might not see such a benefit. However, with the increasing globalization of supply chains, many small businesses would likely still see some benefit.
Unfortunately, particularly when it comes to construction, that general industry has lagged well behind others in switching, and, as you might imagine, the existing infrastructure of the nation from roads to bridges to homes to drill bits to screws to the architectural plans for all of it being based on customary units would not be cheap to change and it isn’t clear here what the net cost would be. However, as in all of this, the cost could potentially be mitigated via a slow phaseout approach with grandfathering allowed, similar to what other nations did, though in most cases on a vastly smaller scale than would be seen in the United States.
All this said, we here at TodayIFoundOut would like to posit that what the international community actually finds irksome about the United States not using the metric system is not United States businesses who deal abroad or United States scientists or even the government — all of which largely use the metric system and all of which have little bearing on what Pierre sitting in his mother’s basement in France is doing at a given moment.
No, what upsets Pierre is that the U.S. general populace does not use the metric system in their day to day lives. Why is this irksome? Beyond just the human drive for uniformity amongst one’s community, in this case of the global variety, because English websites the world over, keen to get some of those sweet, sweet U.S. advertising dollars, cater to the U.S. audience and use the units that said audience is more familiar with, those not familiar are often left to Google a conversion to the units they are familiar with. The alternative is for said websites to include both, but that often makes for a break in the flow of the content, something we here at TodayIFoundOut regularly wrestle with finding a proper balance with.
This brings us around to the human side of the argument. To begin with, while the United States would unequivocally see many benefits to joining the rest of the world in some good old fashioned metric lovin’, as you might expect given the lack of immediately obvious benefit to the layperson, few among the American public see much point. After all, what does it really matter if a road sign is in kilometers or miles, or if one’s house is measured in square feet or square meters?
While some cite the benefits of ease of conversion to other units in a given system, in day to day life, this is almost never a thing that’s cumbersome in the slightest. If it was, Americans would be clamoring to make the change. The argument that ease of conversion between units should be a primary driver for the public to want the change simply doesn’t hold water in an era where, on the extremely rare occasion people actually need to make such a precise conversion in day to day life, they have little more than to say “Hey Google”. And in most cases, even that isn’t necessary when you’re reasonably familiar with a given system.
Perhaps a poignant example of how, when you’re familiar, a non base 10 system of measure really isn’t that complicated to deal with in day to day matters, consider that the world still uses 1000 milliseconds in a second, 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and 24 hours in a day. What few realize about this is that the original metric system actually attempted to simplify this as well, dividing the day into 10 hours, with 100 minutes in each hour, etc. Unfortunately, most people didn’t see the benefit in switching when also factoring in having to swap out their existing clocks. Nobody has much seen a need to fix the issue since, not even the most ardent champion of the metric system for its ease of conversions compared with imperial or customary units.
And while you might still be lamenting the stubbornness of Americans for not seeing the genuine benefits to themselves that would likely be realized here, we should point out that virtually every nation in the world that uses the metric system has holdover units still relatively commonly used among laypeople that aren’t metric, for simple reasons of not seeing a reason to stop, from calories to horsepower to knots to lightyears and many more. Or how about, have you ever flown on a plane almost anywhere in the world? Congratulations, you’ve in all liklehood unwittingly been supporting the use of something other than the metric system. You see, the pilots aboard, from French to American, use a feet based, Flight Level, system for their altitude, and knots to measure their speed. Just two standards that, much like the American public and their road signs, nobody has seen much practical reason to change.
Now to more concrete human psychology for not making the switch, which has gradually been converting more and more Americans from general apathy to the anti-switch crowd as the decades pass — when one group of humans tells another group what to do, occasionally using terms like “idiot units” and starting flame wars in comments of every website or video posted on the web that uses or discusses said units- you will universally get resistance if not outright hostility in response. This is not an American thing, as so often is purported- this is a human thing.
Try forcing the French government to mandate by law that French is dead and English is now to be universal spoken for the sake of better international trade, economics, and relations. You might argue that in a not insignificant percentage of the world English is already the standard in such international business dealings, but that is really little different than the current situation in business in the U.S. concerning the metric system. What we’re talking about is how the general populace of France would react if the government mandated such a change, and even more so if outside nations were pressuring it. Again, it’s not an American thing — it’s a human thing.
Beyond that, as anyone whose ever done anything online is well aware of — humans hate change. Loathe it. Make any change to, say, a format or style of video, no matter how small, and rest assured no matter if the change is unequivocally vastly superior and the audience universally comes to agree with that, a not insignificant number of one’s audience will complain, sometimes vehemently, at first. More directly we see this again and again throughout the history of various nations making the change to SI. Again, resistance of change is not an American thing — it’s a human thing.
But fret not world. You see, slowly but surely the United States has been converting to metric and, for most practical purposes for those outside of the United States, other than having to see it on websites (which, again, we posit is the real driver of people’s ire the world over), the switch has already been made. So much so that at this stage while the cars made in America may say miles per hour on the speedometer, the makers of those cars are using metric to measure and build the things. The very military that defends American’s right to use “Freedom Units” has long since largely converted to the un-free variety.
In the end, money talks, and, for much the same reason other big holdouts like the UK ultimately gave in, as American businesses who have interest in dealing internationally continue to make the switch, they are seeing to it that the metric system more and more creeps into the daily lives of Americans. This will only continue until the inevitable complete adoption. Slowly but surely America is inching towards metric, largely without anyone domestic or abroad noticing.
Want to make the switch take longer? Continue calling them “idiot units”, a mildly humorous statement from a certain point of view given that it takes more brainpower to use customary units than metric, making the latter far more tailored to idiots. And continue to start flame wars in comments comprising mostly of personal attacks rather than using the many and very legitimate and rational arguments that exist as to why it would be of benefit for the people of the United States to make the switch. In the end, we all know there is no better way to convince someone to do something than making the whole thing a religious war, with you on one side and they on the other…
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
After the North Koreans poured across the 38th Parallel in 1950, starting the Korean War, the United States rapidly responded. The 24th Infantry Division was ordered to quickly make their way to South Korea from Japan while American carriers began launching strikes to delay the Communist advance.
One of the first ground units to arrive was called Task Force Smith. According to official United States Army history, this unit eventually consisted of two under-strength companies of infantry, four 75mm recoilless rifles, four 4.2-inch mortars, half of a communications platoon, and a battery of six 105mm howitzers. Most importantly, this force would be the first “boots on the ground” to face the Communist hordes on the Korean peninsula.
Their mission was to delay the North Koreans, affording others the time to get spun up for combat.
As the unit moved toward battle, they were faced with all the signs that things might not go so well. American planes hit a number of supply dumps and installations controlled by friendly forces — one such incident killed over 200 South Korean troops. Meanwhile, some of the C-54 Skymasters carrying the unit had to return to Japan due to thick fog and being unable to locate airfields.
Soldiers assigned to Task Force Smith arrive in South Korea.
When they finally met North Korean troops, it was a disaster. The North Koreans, equipped with Soviet-built T-34 medium tanks, approached. At 8:16 AM on the morning of July 5, 1950, near the city of Osan, American ground troops opened fire on the Communist forces. The fight was short — it didn’t go well for the United States. Bazookas and recoilless rifle rounds did practically nothing to the T-34s.
North Korean T-34s blew through the positions held by the unprepared American soldiers.
The North Korean forces blew through the infantry and went at the artillery. By the time all was said and done, of the roughly 440 soldiers in Task Force Smith sent to South Korea, only 185 made it back to friendly lines the next morning (a few dozen others would make their way back over the next few days and weeks).
Today, Task Force Smith is remembered for their courage — and for the lessons learned from the Battle of Osan.
The experience of this brave but unprepared unit led to major changes, at least through the Cold War. The mantra became, “No More Task Force Smiths.”
In essence, the troops who fell that day are remembered by efforts to continually keep American troops ready for combat, ensuring that sacrifices made by those who came before them are not in vain.
If thousands of U.S. servicemen went missing in action over 10 years of combat, it would surely be the biggest political issue of our day.
And it was after the end of the Vietnam War.
Well into the 1980s, it was a sore point for politicians and others from all walks of life. A few enterprising Americans took matters into their own hands – once even funded by Dirty Harry himself.
American troops these days might have a hard time imagining 2,494 missing U.S. troops. But for Vietnam-era veterans, the idea is all too real. Years after the war ended and Saigon fell to the Communists, the American public was still divided over the thought – and what to do about it.
As of 1983, the Pentagon was still telling reporters at the Boston Globe that it couldn’t rule out the possibility of Vietnam War POWs left behind in Southeast Asia. After a reported 480 firsthand sightings of POWs after the fall of Saigon in 1975, many POW families and members of the veteran community were convinced the American government was just “sweeping it under the rug.”
That’s when an ex-Green Beret named Bo Gritz gained fame. Gritz is said to have made multiple incursions into Laos to find the alleged missing and prisoners. Gritz was also convinced there were American prisoners in Southeast Asia. If there were, he was determined to take the issue out of the political area and turn Indochina into a new battlefield if necessary – anything to get those troops back home.
According to the Boston Globe, the 44-year-old veteran soldier interviewed ex-POWs who were repatriated at the end of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. He was even given access to American intelligence reports on the issue. His conclusion was to form a team of ex-Green Berets to go to Laos and find these men.
Gritz’ plan was to link up with Laotian anti-Communist resistance fighters under the command of a Laotian general who sided with the Americans during the Vietnam War. He also commanded 40,000 troops as part of a secret CIA Army in Laos. According to the CIA, the effort was funded primarily through actor-director Clint Eastwood, who even informed President Reagan of Gritz’ plan (though the White House disputed the Reagan conversation).
The February 1983 rescue effort failed to return with any firsthand or photographic evidence of POWs or movement of POWs in Laos. By this time the hunt for POWs became a “growth industry” in Thailand. Nothing was found of the 568 missing troops thought to be in Laos. Even worse, Gritz’ other missions became a publicity stunt.
What was supposed to be a two-week incursion was halted after 72 hours when the group was ambushed by guerrillas from another faction. They retreated back into Thailand where they were arrested for possessing advanced radio equipment. Two Lao soldiers were killed and one American was captured.
The end result was one more American captured in Indochina and the movie “Uncommon Valor,” starring Gene Hackman. The film was based on notes taken by Gritz during his “rescue mission” to Laos.
John Glenn may be one of the United States Marine Corps’ most epic alums. And that’s saying a lot (he’s in good company).
In his 95 years on planet Earth — and his time off the planet — Glenn racked up accomplishment after accomplishment, feat after feat, do after derring-do.
It’s no wonder the U.S. and the world hail the Ohioan as a legend. He was a decorated war hero, astronaut, and senator — but he was so much more.
Here are a few interesting things you may not have known about the first American to orbit the Earth.
1. The documentary about his life was nominated for an Oscar.
The 1963 short film “The John Glenn Story” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short. That was before he was elected to the Senate.
His life was already so epic it warranted its own movie, and even then, he was far from finished.
2. He and his wife were married for 73 years.
Glenn and his wife, Anna, were married in April 1943. They had two children and two grandchildren. Anna had a severe speech impediment and he protected her from the media because of it.
3. He was also the first man to eat in space.
The first meal in space was applesauce. And it was a big deal because scientists thought humans might not be able to digest in zero gravity. He also ate pureed beef and vegetables. Other famous space feats include being the oldest man in space (age 77) and the first man to carry a knife (a 9-inch blade in a leather sheath).
4. His Korean War wingman was also famous.
Glenn flew several missions with “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived,” baseball hero Ted Williams. Williams flew half of his 39 combat mission over North Korea with Glenn.
Glenn called Williams “one of the best pilots I ever knew.”
5. Bill Clinton sent two emails as President: One was to John Glenn.
The internet as we know it was in its infancy during the Clinton Administration, yet as President, Bill Clinton sent two: one to U.S. troops in the Adriatic, and the other to Glenn, then 77 years old and in orbit around the Earth.
6. Glenn was almost an excuse to invade Cuba.
Operation “Dirty Trick” was planned if Glenn’s capsule crashed back to Earth. The Pentagon reportedly wanted to blame any mishap on Cuban electronic interference, and use his death as an excuse to invade Cuba.
7. Glenn’s Marine Corps nickname was “Magnet Ass.”
He flew a F9F Panther jet interceptor on 63 combat missions, twice returning with over 250 holes in his aircraft. His aircrews all thought he somehow attracted flak.
8. John Glenn was the last surviving Mercury 7 astronaut.
The next to last one died in 2013. Also, the five sons of Jeff Tracy in the kids show “Thunderbirds” were named after the first five American astronauts into space through the Mercury project: Scott Carpenter, Virgil Grissom, Alan Shepard, Gordon Cooper, and John Glenn.
9. President John F. Kennedy barred Glenn from further space flights.
Glenn found out by reading Richard Reeves’ biography of President Kennedy decades later.
The canvas on early planes was swapped out with this clear material. The engine, pilot, and frame were all still visible, but the target was nearly invisible when viewed from the ground given that the planes were flying at 900 feet or higher. Even at lower altitudes, they were difficult to see and target.
From the sky, however, pilots ran into a very real problem.
The material was highly reflective of direct sunlight. So, when an enemy was approaching from a variety of angles, the sunlight would reflect off the wings and light up the plane like a beacon for anyone paying even minor attention to their surroundings.
Without radar, planes were already essentially invisible at night. So, stealth was supposed to revolutionize the daytime environment — see the issue here? The stealth technology was all but useless if the sun caused it to backfire completely.
A Fokker 2 plane equipped with invisible skin.
For their part, the Germans knew that they had a problematic technology on their hands, and they largely shelved the invention, returning to a canvas body for most of their planes.
A bomber would likely be the most valuable plane to turn invisible, but cellon shrinks and expands based on humidity and temperature, things that often vary in flight. Because the bomber was massive, that shrinking and expanding greatly affected the way the bomber flew.
The problem was that the plane already ran hot; four large engines mounted on the fuselage filled it with heat. Add to this an intense amount of sunlight passing through the clear fuselage and the result was a plane that was nearly unpilotable.
Something worth mentioning, though it didn’t end up affecting the bomber, is that cellon is highly flammable. So, if anything had gone wrong, it would’ve been a Hindenburg-style conflagration.
A German Riesenflugzeug bomber with transparent panels. Pilots flew from the third deck at the front and had to deal with the horrendous heat and the shifting control surfaces.
The plane took two flights during the war. During the first, the shifting cellon made the plane controls impossible to work. The pilot tried to land the plane but couldn’t tell just how far the plane extended beneath him. He crashed and the plane was badly damaged.
The second flight went much worse — the plane’s wings just fell off. One crew member was killed.
Cellon stealth was not the wave of the future they wanted it to be — not that it would’ve helped Germany much. By World War II, radar was the new rage, and cellon wouldn’t have helped much, even given perfect conditions.
But that would’ve been great. Convincing the Nazis to fly planes made of highly flammable materials that changed size and shape during flight and sometimes just lost their wings would’ve been the a joy for the Allies.
“Hey, Luftwaffe, congrats on the invisible planes. Please, send as many pilots in as many planes as you can.”