During the Cold War, the American nuclear deterrent strategy required coming up with ways to guarantee the survival of nuclear weapons if the Soviets managed a surprise first strike. The surviving devices would then be used to destroy Soviet civilization.
Keeping U.S. nukes out of Soviet crosshairs required a lot of imagination. The Americans had to keep the nukes deeply buried or constantly on the move. Then they had to make sure the surviving devices could be used effectively.
One such scheme was outfitting a full-size Minuteman III Inter-continental Ballistic Missile to fit in the back of a U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy aircraft, dumping the nuke out the back and triggering the ICBM’s full ignition sequence.
Minuteman III ICBMs carry multiple warheads bound for separate targets. This makes the Minuteman III the ideal missile for the mobile nuclear weapon strategy. At 60 feet long and 78,000 pounds, the missile is easily carried by the gargantuan aircraft.
The C-5 Galaxy’s maximum payload is an amazing 285,000 pounds and the aircraft itself is just under 248 feet long. With an operational range of 5,250 nautical miles, the C-5 can fly from Dover Air Force Base to the Middle East without having to refuel.
Launching a fully functional ICBM out the back of an aircraft inflight might sound crazy, but the Air Force first tested this concept successfully in 1974.