Atomic Bomber

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Atomic engine for aeroplanesOkay, so it's an atomic bomber?  So what?  Hang around a rogue terrorist state and sooner or later you'll see B-52s galore.  Only this time "atomic" bomber does not refer to the payload, but to the power source.  Back in the late '40s, the American and Soviet military began to look into the ultimate in long-range bombers.  Never mind forward air bases or in-air refuelling, they were thinking of atomic jet engines that would allow a bomber to stay aloft for months at a time.  Gentlemen, I give you Greenpeace's worst nightmare: a flying nuclear reactor.

Amazingly, this one did not stay on the drawing board.  In the 1950s, the Americans actually mounted a small reactor in a plane and test flew it.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, it turned out that atomic reactors aren't as efficient as people thought for small jobs like powering jets.  They also weigh a hell of a lot, so in order to get the plane airborne it was necessary to cut down on the shielding.  There was protection between the reactor and the flight crew, but none on the sides or aft of the plane, so the whole rear end was one big hot zone.  That made it reeeeal popular with the maintenance crew, ground personnel, and anyone whose hat blew under the wing.

It did, however, cast a strange fascination over flight controllers, who were really, really interested in whether or not it was in the vicinity.  Preferably not.

Update:  They're baaaack!

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