When some renegade Navy SEALs discover the whereabouts of a treasure buried under 150 feet of water at the bottom of the Bosnian lake, they set out on a secret unauthorized mission to retrieve more than 300 million dollars of Nazi-stolen gold bars.
There are some important things about Harriet Tubman that your teacher forgot to mention while you were in school. Aside from helping her family (and thousands more) escape slavery, she led troops in combat, cured a disease, and was generally way more badass than history generally portrays her.
Born Araminta “Minty” Ross in Maryland around 1822, “Harriet” adopted her mother’s name after escaping slavery. She lived a remarkably full life, especially for an African-American woman of that time period. She lived to the ripe age of 91, dying at a charity home she founded in Auburn, New York. She was buried with full military honors.
1. Tubman’s codename was “Moses,” and she was illiterate her entire life.
Other Underground Railroad code names included “Canaan” for Canada and Spiritual Songs for directions along the Railroad. Since few slaves were literate, the route of the Underground Railroad had to be accessible to everyone. Tubman used the stars and mosses in the woods to guide her in aiding escapees.
2. She suffered from narcolepsy.
When she was a teenage slave, an overseer threw a metal weight at another slave, but it hit Tubman instead. As a result of the head injury, she would often go into sleeping spells and was difficult to wake. She considered the dreams she had during these spells to be religious visions and her religiosity was a guiding reason to helping slaves escape.
3. Her work as “Moses” was serious business.
She avoided cops, dogs, mobs, bounty hunters, and slave catchers. She and her escapees slept in swamps and moved only at night. Once with her on the Railroad, she threatened to kill anyone who lost their nerve to escape. She even once had to drug a baby. She once told a man”You go on or die.” Known as the “black ghost,” the bounty on her head was at least $12,000, equal to around $330,000 today.
4. She never lost a slave.
She recommended slave escape on Saturdays, as owners used Sundays as a day of rest and would not notice slaves missing until Monday, giving the slave a two day head start. She also preferred to move during winter, when the days are shorter. Estimates of slaves she helped range as high as 3,000.
5. Tubman was a Union scout during the Civil War.
She also served as a nurse, cook, and spy to Federal troops from 1862 to 1865. She received $200 for three years of combat service (roughly $5,400 adjusted for inflation). When she applied for veteran’s compensation, it took her 34 years to get it and only after the intervention of President Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward. She was 78 years old.
6. She cured dysentery.
Her knowledge of the local flora in Maryland led her to find a cure for Union troops suffering from dysentery. She also helped relieve symptoms of Chicken Pox, Cholera, and Yellow Fever.
7. She was the first woman to lead a combat assault.
While under the command of Colonel James Montgomery, Harriet Tubman led 150 black Union troops across the Combahee River in South Carolina in June 1863. Using information from escaped slaves, she led Union riverboats through Confederate torpedo traps, freeing 750 slaves and dropping off Union troops. the troops burned the estates of influential Southern secessionists who supplied Confederate forces. She didn’t lose a single troop.
8. She had brain surgery to fix her sleep problems. She refused anesthesia.
She opted instead to chew on a bullet, just like Civil War soldiers did when they had a limb amputated.
SEAL Team 6 operators who went in to attack a compound used by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula did not have a compromised mission, but instead were confronted by an enemy that was more prepared than the commandos expected.
According to a report by the Washington Times, planning for the Jan. 29 raid assumed that family members would not be able or willing to fight the SEALs, prompting them to bypass one of the houses in the compound.
The SEALs came under fire from women who picked up rifles during the raid. The unexpectedly fierce firefight meant that the SEALs were unable to collect as much intelligence as they had hoped to, the report said. Civilian casualties also occurred during the raid.
The raid has been criticized by many, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain has consistently labeled the raid in which Senior Chief Petty Officer William Owens was killed a “failure.”
Despite the unexpected firefight, the civilian casualties, and the fact that less intelligence was gathered than they hoped for, an after-action review conducted by Central Command could not identify any bad judgment, incompetence, conflicting information or other issues.
“I think we had a good understanding of exactly what happened on [the] objective and we’ve been able to pull lessons learned out of that that we will apply in future operations,” Gen. Joseph Votel, the Army officer who runs CENTCOM, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “And as a result, I made the determination that there was no need for an additional investigation into this particular operation.”
The previous special operations raid into Yemen, carried out by American forces, took place in December, 2014. The objective was to rescue an American photojournalist and a South African teacher. The hostages were executed by terrorists during the raid.
On January 28 Secretary Bob McDonald put his name to the draft master plan for the future of the West Los Angeles VA campus, a year after the agency won a settlement in a class action lawsuit brought before the courts to reverse years of encroachment on the campus. In his remarks at a ceremony marking the signing, McDonald spoke about the accomplishments of those involved in crafting the plan, crediting the veterans who’d assisted along the way.
“We know this is a team sport,” McDonald said of the process. “It has to be done collaboratively.”
The effort that gave McDonald confidence that the master plan he was signing incorporated enough input from local vets involved collaboration on a massive scale. Marine vet Mike Dowling, We Are The Mighty‘s director of outreach, and Anthony Allman of Vets Advocacy helped organize a number of veteran service organizations to get membership mobilized to create the focus of the draft master plan.
Under the guidance of Dowling and others, dozens of VSO reps met weekly after work for six months hammering out formal comments while carrying the message back to their membership to make sure the direction behind the plan was as comprehensive as possible.
Vets Advocacy, the organization formed to settle the litigation and implement the settlement agreement, created a website, www.vatherightway.org, as the primary tool to inform veterans and get their input. The site allowed veterans to learn the history of the campus and the associated encroachment issues, see the schedule of the 12 town hall events, and — most importantly — conduct a survey that asked veterans for their opinions about how the campus could better serve the veteran community. More than 1,000 vets commented and those recommendations were filed to the Federal Register, the official government record of the plan.
That result was no small feat. Veterans answered the call to see to their own well-being in the same way they might have tackled an objective during their time on active duty. It was hard work, and the vets were proud of the fact that they might actually make a difference and be part of the solution.
But during his speech McDonald also credited the leadership of UCLA for their part in making the campus better for veterans, which struck many of the veterans in attendance as odd. The university was arguably the worst offender in terms of encroachment by virtue of the fact that Jackie Robinson Stadium — home to the Bruins’ baseball team — was illegally built on VA property. What those vets didn’t know at the time was that McDonald was about to sign a document that outlined the terms of an “enhanced use” land agreement that would allow UCLA to continue to use the stadium for another 10 years, at least.
Curiously, the VA remained mum while UCLA issued a press release that outlined several million dollars worth of veteran initiatives that the university intends to carry out in the years to come in return for keeping the stadium.
Some veterans who were active in the draft master planning process expressed concerns that history is in danger of repeating itself by allowing the VA to sign deals with third parties without oversight or veteran buy-in for reasons that have no bearing on the VA’s mission.
“It feels like the VA put the cart before the horse by agreeing to terms before the enabling legislation passes and before any vets saw the deal,” said Seth Smith, a UCLA alumnus and Navy vet. “That timing leaves a bad taste in vets’ mouths. It’s a step in the wrong direction in terms of regaining the Los Angeles community’s trust.”
Richard Valdez, a Marine veteran and chairman of the VSO coalition in Los Angeles, said concerns from vets like Smith are premature because the agreement between the VA and UCLA is not legally effective and requires passage of the Los Angeles Homeless Veterans Leasing Act, which is expected this spring.
“Veterans need to understand that what was just signed isn’t a contract,” Valdez said. “It’s merely an agreement in principle.”
That fact notwithstanding, vet advocates who put a lot of work into the draft master plan question the VA’s timing and wonder why they weren’t given a heads up that the signing of terms with UCLA was going to happen. But VA officials were unflinching when asked about the circumstances surrounding the arrangement.
“We do everything with veterans in mind,” said Vince Kane, the director of the VA’s National Homeless Center. “And we got a good deal for them.”
Veteran expectations about the magnitude of change on the campus may have also been shaped by the language in the federal court’s findings in the original lawsuit (Valentini v. McDonald), which stated that all of the enhanced use land agreements on the VA campus were illegal. That may have led veterans to believe that the agreements would be terminated indefinitely (and even that the stadium might be demolished) in favor of more pressing priorities. After all, where does a Division I baseball stadium fit among the needs of homeless veterans and patients?
Valdez thinks that those who thought that would happen were naive. “Enhanced use leases are a fact of life, and that’s not going to change,” Valdez said. “If we have an issue within that reality, that’s where the vet community needs to focus.”
Dr. Jon Sherin, a physician who ran mental health services for the West Los Angeles VA hospital and serves as a senior member of the Vets Advocacy team, recommended that veterans remain vigilant and not grow cynical. “The work isn’t over,” he said.
“The master plan itself is a monumental achievement on behalf of the vet community,” Dowling said. “No matter what happens, vets in LA set an example for communities across the nation in coming together to take our future in our own hands.”
When you need help, there’s nothing embarrassing about asking for it. Especially when the pressure is on to get it right as soon as possible.
Rifles are no different. And if you have to call an arms manufacturer for a problem there, it’s probably a big deal.
That’s why Barrett Firearms Manufacturing provides service for its products long after they enter military service. Most notably, the beloved Barrett M-107 .50-caliber rifle.
Don Cook is a Marine Corps veteran who has been working at Barrett for 17 years. In an interview with National Geographic, he recalled the time he received an interesting call on the customer service line — a call from troops in an active firefight.
“It’s probably one of the biggest highlights in my life to be able to help a Marine unit in a firefight,” Cook told NatGeo.
He picked up the phone and heard what was happening in the background. Without being able to see the weapon, he was able to diagnose the problem.
The Marines bent the ears of the weapon’s lower receiver up during the previous night’s maintenance. When they saw action the next day, the rifle wouldn’t fire every time they pulled the trigger.
Cook told them they needed to bend the ears back down. Given the lack of tools and time, he suggested the Marines use the bottom of the carrier as leverage to bend the ears back and get the weapon firing again.
Within 30 seconds, the Marines had their rifle back in action. They thanked Cook for his help and got back in the fight.
Along with Flash Gordon, Joseph Campbell, and about a million other things, George Lucas was inspired by The Searchers when he created Star Wars. The director even slid a few subtle references to the film into A New Hope.
The star of The Searchers, of course, is John Wayne, so it’s cool in a full-circle kind of way that his grandson is now officially part of the Star Wars universe.
Brendan Wayne got his start in the family business in a 2001 episode of Angel, and since then he’s appeared in a lot of movies and TV shows, from Fast Furious to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to Sons of Anarchy.
In The Mandalorian, the younger Wayne appears in episodes three through six as one of the doubles for the titular character. The Wayne family is now officially part of a blockbuster world their paterfamilias helped inspire.
All in all, this is very cool, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention another less cool way the Wayne family inadvertently altered the course of Star Wars history in a way that many fans did not appreciate.
George Lucas specifically cited John Wayne in the thought process behind altering the Han-Greedo standoff in A New Hope so that Han shoots second.
Han Solo was going to marry Leia, and you look back and say, “Should he be a cold-blooded killer?” Because I was thinking mythologically — should he be a cowboy, should he be John Wayne? And I said, “Yeah, he should be John Wayne.” And when you’re John Wayne, you don’t shoot people [first] — you let them have the first shot. It’s a mythological reality that we hope our society pays attention to.
John Wayne was such an influential actor that he was synonymous with a certain rugged moral masculinity, something many fans would argue led Lucas astray when he altered A New Hope to make Solo more Wayne-like. Lucas tinkered with the scene yet again, it became one of the biggest stories on Disney+ launch day, though you could hardly blame John Wayne for either kerfuffle.
You also can’t blame Brendan Wayne, whose presence in episodes 3 through 6 of The Mandalorian is the kind of cool trivia that will make fans happy, not angry.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
Lt. Col. Megan A. Brogden was handed a flag today that was full of symbolism.
It marked her new position as a battalion commander and all the responsibilities associated with that job.
It marked the pinnacle of her U.S. Army career so far.
And it marked a milestone in the continued diversification of Army special operations.
Brogden, who assumed command of the Group Support Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, is the first woman to assume command of a battalion within any of the Army’s seven Special Forces groups.
“It was a very humbling moment,” she said after the ceremony on Fort Bragg’s Meadows Field. “It’s such a great organization.”
But while happy to take on the challenges and proud of her accomplishments, Brogden is hesitant to mark herself as breaking new ground or smashing through any so-called glass ceilings.
“I don’t necessarily see it as much of a milestone,” she said. “I didn’t go to Ranger school or selection. It’s a lot about timing.”
Officials have called Brogden’s assuming command a historic moment for 3rd Group and the rest of the Special Forces Regiment. But during the change of command, leaders made clear that she was chosen for her expertise and leadership, not because she is a woman.
“She is without a doubt the right choice to assume command of this great unit at this time,” said Col. Bradley D. Moses, the 3rd Special Forces Group commander who passed the battalion colors to Brogden, symbolically starting her time in command.
Moses said Brogden has an unwavering dedication to soldiers, and a long history of supporting and leading special operations soldiers and maintaining the force.
“You’re a great officer, Megan. Smart, humble and full of energy. It’s an honor to serve with you again,” he said. “Lead from the front. Focus on the mission and take care of your soldiers and their families. I look forward to working with you in the days ahead.”
Brogden said the Group Support Battalion has a noteworthy reputation. It’s the largest, most diverse of five battalions within the 3rd Special Forces Group, charged with supporting Special Forces teams deployed to remote and austere environments in Africa and the Middle East.
“They have an awesome reputation,” she said.
And for the next two years, she said, she’ll work to build on that reputation and innovate to better support soldiers and their missions.
In taking command, Brogden said she feels no added pressure due to her gender. She said her selection as battalion commander shows the continuing growth of women within the special operations community.
“I think the doors are already opening, and if females want to be in the Special Forces community, the opportunities are there,” Brogden said.
She noted that women are already assigned within the Group Support Battalion, have served within U.S. Army Special Operations Command as civil affairs and psychological operations soldiers for nearly two decades and have served in cultural support teams with Army Rangers and as part of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
Capt. Christopher Webb, a spokesman for the 3rd Special Forces Group, said the percentage of women serving in special operations is comparable to the active Army. The first female service members served alongside the predecessors of today’s special operations soldiers as early as World War II, he said.
But there’s little doubt that the role of women in special operations is changing. In addition to filling more leadership roles, USASOC continues to integrate women into previously closed military jobs, officials said, stressing that standards have and will remain high for any position.
Brogden took command from Lt. Col. Chris Paone, who had led the Group Support Battalion, also known as the Nomads, for two years.
Moses honored the work the battalion has done under Paone’s command, praising his role in a massive shift that saw the 3rd Group’s mission focus move from Afghanistan to Africa.
Along the way, Paone and the battalion had to adjust from the resource-rich Central Command area of operations to a more austere environment, often hours away from supply lines.
The Group Support Battalion, on any given day, has soldiers deployed to about 12 countries in North and West Africa. It also has soldiers in Afghanistan, working alongside local partners.
The battalion, formed more than a decade ago, has more than 400 soldiers assigned to more than 35 military occupational specialties, and nine officer branches. The soldiers provide communications and electronics support, military intelligence, food service, chemical reconnaissance, supply and services, transportation, maintenance, water purification, medical support, engineering, water purification, parachute rigging, unmanned aerial reconnaissance, contracting support and more.
Paone praised the soldiers and battalion leaders. The special operations community needs leaders to be team-builders, Paone said. And there’s no doubt Brogden is uniquely qualified.
“The battalion can only benefit from your strong sustainment experience,” he said. “Best of luck.”
Brogden is a native of Myrtle Creek, Oregon, and was commissioned as a quartermaster officer from Oregon State University. She has served in Korea, within the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, and at Fort Lewis in Washington.
With the 82nd Airborne, she was executive officer for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. She also served in other Fort Bragg units including as J4 plans chief at Joint Special Operations Command and, most recently, as secretary of the general staff for the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command.
According to her Army bio, Brogden served two tours with a Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan and Kuwait.
She said her past experiences have molded her into the leader she is today and will help guide her in the future.
In words of advice to younger female officers, Brogden said they will need to challenge themselves as officers and take the tough jobs that will develop them into leaders.
For Brogden, those jobs have often put her in contact with leaders who have become mentors. On Friday, many of those mentors were by her side. They included retired generals, such as Lt. Gen. Kathy Gainey, Brig. Gen. Ed Donnelly and Maj. Gen. Jim Hodge; and other leaders, including Col. Kathy Graef, Col. Geoff Kent and her most recent former commander, Brig. Gen. Chris Sharpsten.
Brogden’s military awards and decorations include the Bronze Star medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters and numerous other honors. She is also authorized to wear the Combat Action Badge, Parachutist Badge, Rigger Badge, German Parachutist Wings and a Joint Meritorious Unit Achievement Medal.
There are plenty of terrible things to say about Adolf Hitler, and here’s one more: His top-down leadership style really didn’t help his generals.
Germany had rolled over a number of European countries in late 1939 and by June 1940, its soldiers were standing in the streets of Paris. But that wasn’t enough for Hitler, who had his eye on London. In Führer Directive 16 of July 16, 1940, Hitler ordered his generals to work on a “surprise crossing” on the English Channel which he wanted to call Sea Lion.
“The aim of this operation will be to eliminate the English homeland as a base for the prosecution of the war against Germany and, if necessary, to occupy it completely,” he wrote.
But there was a big problem: His generals thought it was ridiculous. According to a study by a German operations officer in 1939, in order for it to be successful, the Germans needed to completely eliminate the Royal Air Force, all its Navy units on the coast, kill most of its submarines, and seal off the landing and approach areas from British troops.
Not exactly the easiest of tasks.
Then there were his top military leaders. In response to a soliciation for input from the German Army, the head of Germany’s Air Force Herman Göring responded with just a single page outright rejecting such an idea: “It could only be the final act of an already victorious war against Britain as otherwise the preconditions for success of a combined operation would not be met.”
The Navy responded similarly at the time. But it was in even worse shape after an invasion of Norway in 1940, and Admiral Eric Raeder knew he didn’t have nearly enough ships to take on Britain. But — surprise, surprise — Hitler didn’t care.
In a review of the book “Operation Sea Lion” by Leo McKinstry, NPR writes:
But Hitler’s hubris and poor strategic thinking ensured this never happened. McKinstry contends that three major mistakes cost Hitler dearly: his underestimation of Britain’s naval power; his lack of understanding of the British political system; and his failure to recognize that a team of intelligence operators at Bletchley Park were decoding key information about the Luftwaffe’s plans for aerial bombings.
Though a plan to invade the British mainland was finalized by August 1940, it never came to pass. German infantry began practicing beach landings while the first step of the plan — beat the Air Force — was tried. It was the three month “Battle of Britain” and it failed miserably for Germany.
Instead of Germany achieving air superiority in preparation for invasion, the Brits instead had a decisive victory that became a turning point in the war.
“The German Navy had lost a lot of destroyers by 1940 and the reality is that, if the invaders had made the crossing, they would have been annihilated by the Royal Navy,” Ian Kikuchi, a historian in London, told the Independent. “They were planning to make the journey in river barges.”
After the failure of the Battle of Britain, Hitler decided in September to postpone the operation. Then the plans were completely scrapped after Germany invaded Russia in 1941.
NATO’s secretary-general made a short announcement to the press on May 10 in which he confirmed that the organization was requesting that its member states deploy more troops to Afghanistan, but ruled out a return to military combat in that country.
Jens Stoltenberg spoke following a meeting with the United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May at her official 10 Downing Street residence in London, where the two leaders were preparing the groundwork ahead of a Brussels NATO meeting scheduled for May 25.
Stoltenberg said military authorities would use the summit to debate NATO’s petition to deploy several thousand additional troops to Afghanistan.
Exact figures would be thrashed out in the coming weeks, the NATO chief said, adding that extra soldiers would not be deployed in a combative military capacity, but would rather provide training to the Afghan forces on the ground.
Some 13,500 NATO troops stayed on as advisers in the Central Asian nation when the Alliance officially ended its military intervention against the Taliban and Al-Qaida in 2014, some 12 years after the operation was launched.
Stoltenberg said that national defense contributions would be scrutinized during the Brussels summit.
NATO has asked its members to invest 2 percent of their GDP into defense spending.
There were two new heads of state for whom the forthcoming summit was set to be their first NATO outing; United States President Donald Trump and Emmanual Macron, who is due to officially take French presidency on May 14.
American submarines have some impressive tales of taking down enemy ships – from the big one that didn’t get away to a classic revenge tale. But one of the most interesting tales involves perhaps the most decisive battle of the Pacific Theater, two Japanese cruisers, and an American submarine that damaged them both without firing a shot.
As the Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu was in her final throes in the early morning June 5, 1942, a force of Japanese cruisers — the Kumano, Suzuya, Mikuma, and Mogami — were headed towards Midway with two destroyers. These were powerful ships, nowhere near compliant with the London Naval Treaty that had been in force when they were designed and built.
CombinedFleet.com reports that they each carried ten 8-inch guns, and had 12 24-inch torpedo tubes carrying the Type 93 “Long Lance,” probably the best surface-launched torpedo in the war. The ships also carried reloads for the torpedo tubes.
As the ships were retreating from Midway, the submarine USS Tambor (SS 198) came across them. At 4:12 AM, the Japanese sighted Tambor, and the commander of the force, Takeo Kurita, ordered a turn. The Kumano and Suzuya made the turn correctly, but a mixup in signals caused a collision involving the Mikuma and Mogami.
Mogami’s bow was damaged, while the Mikuma began to trail oil.
The Tambor shadowed the damaged ships briefly before losing track, but not before a contact report was sent. Kurita left the destroyers with the damaged cruisers, but within four hours of the collision, dive bombers from Midway arrived. None of the planes scored anything more than a near-miss, but when the SB2U Vindicator flown by Marine Capt. Richard Fleming was hit, Japanese witnesses report that Fleming crashed his plane into Mikuma. Fleming became the only Medal of Honor recipient for the Battle of Midway.
On June 6, 1942, Task Force 16 launched three waves of dive-bombers. The Mikuma took five hits, while Mogami took six. Both cruisers were set ablaze. The Mikuma’s torpedo reloads exploded, causing her to sink. Mogami’s crew was able to get their reloads off the ship before that happened – and the cruiser ended up spending a lot of time being rebuilt.
The Tambor saw 12 war patrols during World War II, sinking 11 Japanese vessels. She was decommissioned in December, 1945, and sold for scrap 14 years later.
Her wartime heroics are many, but she may best be known for the shots she didn’t fire.
Before the advent of stealth technology, the variable that mattered more than any other in terms of tactical aircraft survivability and lethality was speed. So in 1955 the U.S. Air Force issued a request for a high-altitude, long-range bomber that could go Mach 3 while carrying either a conventional or nuclear payload. After a few trips to the drawing board and some mods to the Air Force’s requirements, North American Aviation was awarded a developmental contract based on their submission.
Enter the B-70 Valkyrie, a revolutionary scream-machine that was nearly four times as fast as the legacy B-52s it was designed to replace. The Valkyrie was huge — 185 feet long and 30 feet tall with a maximum takeoff weight at a whopping 542,000 pounds. The bomber was powered by six General Electric J-93GE turbojet engines that could each deliver 30,000 pounds of thrust in full afterburner. But it’s massive size and power was belied by sleek lines that made it arguably the most aesthetically-pleasing aircraft ever built.
The B-70 had a crew of four — a pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, and defense systems operator each seated in comfortable cocoons with clamshell doors. In the event of an emergency each cocoon could rocket away from the aircraft individually.
The Valkyrie used “compression lift” — a phenomenon that occurs when a conical body (the fuselage) under the center of a wing pushes air to the sides, which increases pressure and therefore lift — to travel upwards of 7,500 nautical miles supersonic. At takeoff the wingtips were straight, but a high speeds they’d angle down as much as 65 degrees to create the necessary compression.
The bomber had a number of unorthodox moving parts including movable canards on the nose and a ramp in front of the windscreen that would raise at high speed to create a more aerodynamic airframe (and it also gave the pilot very poor visibility in that regime).
Mach 3 creates a lot of air friction, and friction creates heat, so the Valkyrie was built with honeycomb stainless steel and (sparingly, like 9 percent) titanium, which was expensive and in short supply back in those days.
North American was funded to built a single test aircraft — designated the XB-70 — at a cost of $750 million. The inaugural test flight was delayed by maintenance and other technical issues by three years. All of the Valkyrie’s revolutionary subsystems came with their own problems — honeycomb structures broke, hydraulic systems hemorrhaged fluid, and control surfaces didn’t fit right.
At the same time the tactical world began to change. Better ICBMs made Air Force planners wonder whether they needed long-range bombers at all. And the introduction of the Soviet-made SA-2 surface-to-air missile rendered even the speedy B-70 vulnerable. Based on these factors as well as the projected cost of the Valkyrie, the Eisenhower administration grew sour on the program. The Air Force reduced the program funding to a single asset that would be used for experimental research testing only.
But the presidential election of 1960 changed the landscape. President Kennedy believed the Valkyrie was important in the arms race. The program budget was upped by $265 million and the test plan was reworked to include warfare capabilities and not just research.
A year later the Kennedy administration understood the Eisenhower administration’s issues with the airplane, and the Valkyrie was once again relegated to a research program — however the requirement was reworded with the caveat that if the Air Force requirement necessitated the need for the B-70 the program would be quickly modified to also test for combat operational capabilities.
The Valkyrie’s maiden flight occurred on May 11, 1964 out of Edwards Air Force Base. The plan was to take the airplane supersonic on the first flight, but a landing gear problem kept them subsonic. The XB-70 also had a minor hydraulic fire but managed to land safely.
North American XB-70A Valkyrie in flight. (Official USAF photo)
The airplane finally went supersonic on it’s third test flight and eventually broke a number of speed records including 70 sustained minutes of supersonic flight, 50 of them at greater than Mach 2.
But the test team also discovered that extended supersonic flight punished the airframe beyond its existing design limits, and they had to modify parts of the intake system and fuselage as the test plan went forward.
The first XB-70 reached Mach 3 only once — on it’s 18th test flight on October 14, 1965 — and that speed did substantial damage to the leading edge of one of the wings. (Luckily nothing was sucked into the intakes.) After that the airplane was limited to no greater than Mach 2.5.
A second XB-70 was built after comprehensive wind tunnel testing that yielded a modified design of the intake system, the hydraulics, and the wings. The new design made the airplane more stable, especially at high speeds. On May 19, 1966 the second Valkyrie flew Mach 3 for 33 minutes.
But test problems persisted. One flight forced test pilot Joe Cotton to jump a circuit breaker with a paper clip to get the landing gear to come down. (Basically, a $750 million airplane was saved with a 39 cent paperclip.)
Then one of the contractors pushed the notion of a “family photo,” an idea that proved to be the true beginning of the end for the Valkyrie. General Electric wanted to use a private Learjet to shoot both film and still photos of the XB-70 flying in formation with a T-38, F-4, F-104, and an F-5 — all GE-powered jets.
The requisite approvals were obtained, and on June 8, 1966 the four Air Force test jets launched to rendezvous with the XB-70 at the end of a test event. The five-jet formation flew around the Edwards AFB airspace for about 40 minutes without incident while the Learjet got the desired footage and photos. But as the formation was breaking up to return to base, disaster struck.
The F-104 drifted left until its left wing hit the XB-70’s right wing. At that point the Starfighter flipped over and rolled inverted over the top of the Valkyrie, striking the vertical stabilizers and left wing of the bomber. The F-104 exploded, destroying the Valkyrie’s rudders and damaging its left wing. With the loss of both rudders and damage to the wings, the Valkyrie entered an uncontrollable spin and crashed into the ground north of Barstow, California. NASA Chief Test Pilot Joe Walker (who was flying the F-104) and Carl Cross (the XB-70’s co-pilot who was on his first Valkyrie flight) were killed. Al White (XB-70 pilot) ejected, sustaining serious injuries, including one arm crushed by the closing clamshell-like escape crew capsule moments prior to ejection.
The investigation concluded that Walker was unable to properly perceive his motion relative to the Valkyrie, leading to his aircraft drifting into contact with the XB-70’s wing. The accident investigation also pointed to the wake vortex off the XB-70’s right wingtip as the reason for the F-104’s sudden roll over and into the bomber. There was also a lot of CYA and finger-pointing among Air Force leadership regarding who had actually approved the “family photo,” and ultimately the punishment for improperly vetting the event fell to the lowest levels of the chain of command.
Although the remaining Valkyrie continued to fly test events, the mishap crushed any chance of the airplane being used as an operational asset. On February 4, 1969 the XB-70 flew to Wright-Patterson AFB to be made into an exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force — the final flight for a powerful and visually stunning airplane the likes of which will never be seen again.
Nuclear blasts create fallout, which can harm you with large doses of radiation.
Cars offer little protection from fallout.
A surer way to survive in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion is to go indoors, stay put, and listen to the radio.
The first thing you’d see if a nuclear bomb exploded nearby is a flood of light so bright, you may think the sun blew up.
Wincing from temporary blindness, you’d scan the horizon and see an orange fireball. The gurgling flames would rise and darken into purple-hued column of black smoke, which would turn in on itself. As a toadstool-like mushroom took shape, the deafening shock front of the blast would rip through the area — and possibly knock you off your feet.
Congratulations! In this hypothetical scenario, you’ve just survived a nuclear blast with an energy output of about 10 kilotons (20 million pounds) of TNT. That’s roughly 66% of energy released by either atom bomb dropped on Japan in 1945.
No one could fault you for panicking after the sight and roarof a nuclear blast. But there is one thing you should never do, according to Brooke Buddemeier, a health physicist and radiation expert at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
“Don’t get in your car,” he tells Business Insider — don’t try to drive, and don’t assume that the glass and metal of a vehicle can protect you.
Why vehicles and nuclear survival don’t mix
Avoiding driving after a nuclear blast is wise because streets would probably be full of erratic drivers, accidents, and debris. But Buddemeier says there’s another important reason to ditch the car: a fearsome after-effect of nuclear blasts called fallout.
Fallout is a complex mixture of fission products, or radioisotopes, that are created by splitting atoms. Many of the fission products decay rapidly and emit gamma radiation, an invisible yet highly energetic form of light. Exposure to too much of this radiation in a short time can damage the body’s cells and its ability to fix itself — a condition called acute radiation sickness.
“It also affects the immune system and the your ability to fight infections,” Buddemeier says.
Only very dense and thick materials, like many feet of dirt or inches of lead, can reliably stop the fallout.
“The fireball from a 10-kiloton explosion is so hot, it actually shoots up into the atmosphere at over 100 miles per hour,” Buddemeier says. “These fission products mix in with the dirt and debris that’s drawn up into the atmosphere from the fireball.”
Trapped in sand, dirt, cement, metal, and anything else in the immediate blast area, the gamma-shooting fission products can fly more than five miles into the air. The larger pieces drop back down, while lighter particles can be carried by the wind before raining over distant areas.
“Close in to the [blast] site, they may be a bit larger than golf-ball-size, but really what we’re talking about are things like salt- or sand-size particles,” Buddemeier says. “It’s the penetrating gamma radiation coming off of those particles that’s the hazard.”
Which brings us back to why a car is a terrible place to take shelter.
“Modern vehicles are made of glass and very light metals, and they offer almost no protection,” he says. “You’re just going to sit on a road some place [and be exposed].”
Buddemeier says he’s asked people what their knee-jerk response to a nuclear blast might be. It wasn’t comforting.
“There was actually a lot of folks who had this notion — and it may be a Hollywood notion — of ‘oh, jump in the car and try to skedaddle out of town if you see a mushroom cloud.'” he says.
However, fallout is carried by high-altitude winds that are “often booking along at 100 miles per hour,” he says, and “often not going in the same direction as the ground-level winds. So your ability to know where the fallout’s gonna go, and outrun it, are… Well, it’s very unlikely.”
What you should do instead of driving
Your best shot at survival after a nuclear disaster is to get into some sort of “robust structure” as quickly as possible and stay there, Buddemeier says. He’s a fan of the mantra “go in, stay in, tune in”.
“Get inside … and get to the center of that building. If you happen to have access to below-ground areas, getting below-ground is great,” he says. “Stay in: 12 to 24 hours.”
The reason to wait is that levels of gamma and other radiation fall off exponentially after a nuclear blast as “hot” radioisotopes decay into more stable atoms and pose less of a danger. This slowly shrinks the dangerous fallout zone — the area where high-altitude winds have dropped fission products. (Instead of staying put, however, a recent study also suggested that moving to a stronger shelter or basement may not be a bad idea if you first ducked into a flimsy one.)
“Try to use whatever communication tools you have,” he says. He added that a hand-cranked radio is a good object to keep at work and home, since emergency providers, in addition to broadcasting instructions, will be tracking the fallout cloud and trying to broadcast where any safe corridors for escape are located.
There is only one exception to the “no cars” rule, says Buddemeier: If you’re in a parking garage with your car, the concrete might act as a shield. In that case, you could stay there and listen to a radio inside your car.
If everyone followed these guidelines after nuclear blast, he says, hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved.