It happens so often, it is almost routine. An aircraft is trying to take out a ground target, and moves in to drop its bombs. The bombs then leave the plane, head down to the ground, and blow the target into smithereens. That's how it's supposed to work, and it does.
A B-1B Lancer drops cluster munitions. This is how it is supposed to go down. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Unless it doesn't. The fact is, even routine operations can be risky. Refueling in flight is one of those – and that has seen its share of close calls where things have gone wrong.
A B-17 is struck by a bomb dropped from another B-17. (United States Army Air Force photo)
The action of dropping bombs on target has its dangers, too. One very iconic series of photos from World War II shows a United States Army Air Force B-17 get hit by a bomb dropped by another B-17, shearing off the stabilizer. None of that B-17's crew got out.
A cluster bomb hits the fuselage of the plane that just dropped it. (Youtube screenshot)
But those are not the only cases. When you are dropping millions of bombs, sometimes things go wrong. It's particularly likely when you have a new plane or a new bomb. The Air Force had an entire office at Elgin Air Force Base known as SEEK EAGLE to certify ways to carry and drop various external stores.
Don't you hate it when the bomb you dropped hit your centerline tank? (Youtube screenshot)
The video below shows some of these close calls, where bombs and external fuel tanks don't do what one would expect in the routine action of dropping the tanks or a bomb. Some of these look spectacular, like the clip featuring a F-111 Aardvark dropping what appears to be a fuel tank. Other scenes show the weapons hitting the planes as they head down, or missing by a matter of inches.
This mage shows a cluster bomb hitting the side of a plane. (Youtube screenshot)
Think of this video as yet another reminder that even in peacetime, the risks are very great for those who defend their country.