Title: Flying on Nuclear - The Superpowers Quest for a Nuclear Powered Bomber
Authors: Raul Colon
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At the time of the cancellation of the program, the overall state of available technology, atomic science and aerodynamic designs, had progressed to the point that if the program had run its service course, it is very plausible that the Soviet Union would had reach its goal of deploying a nuclear powered bomber platform by the late 1970s. Instead, the flow of new aerodynamic information and designs, the vast amount of economic resources needed in the program, not only to develop a nuclear powered bomber, but to maintain it were cited as the reason for the cancellation. Also the emergence of a new Soviet doctrine that would rely heavily on the new submarine launched ICBM; with improve targeting mechanism, coupled with the sheer number of Land Based ICBM that the Soviet were rapidly deploying, doomed the Soviet nuclear power bomber program. At around the same time the Soviets commenced its nuclear powered aircraft program, the other Cold War warrior, the United States, was already working at a fast pace to field its own nuclear bomber, but that story is for another time.

At the same time that the Soviet effort was taking hold. In the United States fascination about a potential nuclear power that might offer limitless energy led the US Air Forces commenced in 1944 an experimental program designed to produce an operational nuclear powered bomber. The idea of nuclear propulsion energy to power an aircraft dates back to 1942, when Enrico Fermi, one of the fathers of the atomic bomb discussed the idea with members of the Manhattan Project. For the first two years, engineers were immersed on the issue of how radiation would affect the performance of a flying platform, its avionics, materials, and more importantly, its crew. The program seemed lost in endless detailed fights and controversies, when in 1947, it received new life. The newly formed U.S. Air Forces decided to invest the necessary resources to make the program feasible. Allocation for ten million dollars was promptly made available to the program. From early 1948 to 1951, extensive research was made in reactor technologies and engine transfer systems; the backbone of the nuclear powered aircraft. Many configurations were proposed, Dual reactor, combination (chemical and nuclear) and single systems were tested. Eventually it was decided that a single reactor would provide the aircraft with the necessary flight reliability. Next came the debate about what type of transfer mechanism would be implemented. Transferring nuclear power to a conventional engine had long been seen by engineers as the main obstacle in the development of the program.

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