U.S. Air Force Considered Building Robot B-47 Bombers for One Reason
Gone was the 10,000-pound bomb. Instead, Los Alamos told the Air Force to brace for a 50,000-pound bomb—20 feet long with a six-foot diameter. A B-47 could accommodate the change in size and still travel 4,000 miles, but only if it refueled in-flight and cruised at a lower altitude.
Long before the CIA began sending missile-armed drones to attack Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, U.S. Air Force officials mulled sending robotic aircraft against the Soviet Union.
Carrying nuclear bombs.
Starting in late 1949, Air Force officials kicked off what would become Project Brass Ring, an attempt to turn long-range B-47 Stratojet bombers into remotely-piloted nuclear-weapons delivery vehicles.
We learned about the Air Force’s quest to build an unmanned nuclear bomber—which the flying branch ultimately abandoned—from A History of the Air Force Atomic Energy Program: 1943–1953, a series of declassified internal studies on the Air Force’s early nuclear history.
The study on Brass Ring describes the 1949 drone effort as the result of a timeless problem—bureaucratic infighting.
After dropping atom bombs on Japan at the close of World War II, the United States began developing much more powerful hydrogen bombs with which to target the Soviet Union.