Wendover’s Atomic Secret
How B-29 crews trained to drop the bomb.
- By Carl Posey
- Air & Space magazine, March 2011
Wendover AFB History Office
(Page 4 of 4)
Jim Price and his crew flew the first new Silverplate to Wendover in April. Paul Tibbets, now a full colonel, is said to have selected his airplane as it moved down the Omaha assembly line. In Washington, D.C., Brigadier General Lauris Norstad, chief of staff of the 20th Air Force, set the stage for the 509th’s arrival in the Pacific theater. In a top-secret note to Curtis LeMay, then commanding XXI Bomber Command, Norstad explained that the 509th had been created to deliver special bombs. "[T]he first of these bombs will be available for delivery in August 1945. [They] are of two types, each weighing about 10,000 pounds. The power of each…is of the order of several thousand tons TNT equivalent.... In order to provide facsimiles of the more bulky type of special bomb, for use in training and rehearsal, the ‘Pumpkin’ has been developed….While originally designed for training…this bomb should have very definite tactical uses...in battle."
Tibbets went to Tinian in May. The full 509th complement followed on Green Hornet C-54s and by sea. In June, after a few weeks of further rehearsals with test units, 13 of the new Silverplates headed west, finally bound for combat. Curiously, no one from the 509th was around on July 16 to witness Trinity, the world’s first atomic blast, in the New Mexico desert.
Once on Tinian, the Silverplate B-29s began flying unescorted single-airplane missions to Japan, dropping the pumpkin bombs on industrial and military targets. The desired effect may have been more psychological than tactical, according to Stan Zahn. "The enemy became accustomed to single airplanes flying over," he said. And that big object falling earthward? Just another pumpkin.
Little Boy was ready to deliver by late July. The fissile material arrived from San Francisco, aboard the cruiser USS Indianapolis. After a final test of the arming and fusing system in a simulated drop near Tinian, and a few days’ wait for better weather over Japan, the bomb was loaded aboard Tibbets’ B-29, Enola Gay, on August 6 and flown to Hiroshima.
As for Fat Man, Trinity had demonstrated that it worked on a tower. But no one knew how the bomb—vastly more complex than Little Boy—would perform during a fall from 30,000 feet. Finally, in early August, the ordnance hands at Wendover assembled a test unit complete with high explosives and hoisted the device into the forward bay of another B-29. It was a Fat Man in full, lacking only the plutonium core. Dropped on August 4, it worked as intended. A similar surrogate was tested near Tinian on August 8. Next morning, the real Fat Man destroyed Nagasaki.
Frequent contributor Carl Posey last wrote about Florida’s Albert Whitted Airport.