An excerpt from the forthcoming novel Atomic Sunrise.
by Raymond Buckland
The heavily-laden, four-engine bomber droned on through the late afternoon sky, its four-bladed propellers cutting a path high above the Pacific Ocean toward its destination. On board, the emotionless navigator checked and re-checked his calculations, assuring himself that he had the craft on course. In the tail and in the upper and lower turrets, three pairs of eyes scanned the skies for any signs of enemy interceptors. All was clear.
The pilot and co-pilot perused their instruments, conscious of the fact that they were now less than an hour away from the all-important target. The flight engineer checked the engines and gear, making sure that the flying battleship would be a solid, smooth platform for the launching of the bomb. At a speed of four-and-a-half miles a minute, the bomb had to drop from a height of more than five miles and come within 750 feet of its target.
A short, ever-smiling man moved along the tight confines of the interior, turning sideways and squeezing himself against the cold metal jacket of the monstrous weapon, destined to bring hitherto unknown death and destruction on an unsuspecting people far below. He nodded to the assistant engineer and expertly ran his eyes over the heavily-reinforced structure squeezed into the bomb bay, specially enlarged for this flight. The bomb itself, weighing nearly five tons, swung slightly as it hung over the pneumatically-operated doors below it. He noted the three red plugs screwed into the casing just an hour before. Replacing the original green plugs, they now made the bomb a viable weapon.
“What about turbulence?” the assistant engineer asked, for the fourth time since the bomb had been armed.
The smiling man patiently shook his head. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It has a complicated fusing device. Oh, a lot of bouncing around could set it off but . . . ” He shrugged. “Nothing to worry about.”
He turned and cautiously made his way back toward the front of the aircraft.
“We’re about to start the bomb run.” The pilot’s voice came over the intercom. “Put your goggles up on your foreheads so that you can immediately pull them down when I give the word. You’ll then leave them there until I say you may remove them.”
The crew of 10 dutifully pulled what looked like welder’s goggles out of their pockets and slipped them over their heads. They had all struggled into their heavy flak suits some time before. Despite the 18° C temperature at that altitude, several of the men sweated.
The smiling man gave a curt nod to the captain of the craft, indicating that all was well with their cargo. The captain took over from the automatic pilot and a final check with radar was done for wind speed and direction; for airspeed and ground speed.
The bomb had to be dropped visually from exactly 30,000 feet. They had been instructed that it could not be released aiming by radar and, consequently, the area needed to have clear visibility.
There were few clouds and the outline of the city below came up quickly. They had all familiarized themselves with its layout, using photographs and carefully constructed models. The pilot and co-pilot agreed they were over their target.
At 5:52 a.m. they came up to the I.P., the Initial Point, for starting the bomb run; exactly on schedule. The aiming point on the ground was 15 miles ahead. The Bombardier put his eye to the bomb sight and took over the airplane. At a ground speed of 285 miles per hour, they were at a height of almost six miles.
The Bombardier saw the bridge come into his field of vision. The aiming point was the center of the bridge. He quickly shouted that he had it in his sight and started the process of release.
“Goggles on!” snapped the pilot. Everyone except the Bombardier pulled down their goggles, turning the bright day into night. The pilot, after less than a second, slipped his goggles up again slightly so that he could keep an eye on the aircraft instruments, but kept one hand on them, ready to drop them at the crucial moment.
The bomb-bay doors swung open and the awesome, deadly device fell away, tumbling briefly before straightening, steadied by its fins. At its release the airplane leapt up into the air 10 feet, suddenly five tons lighter. The pilot and co-pilot both instinctively gripped the controls.
“Bomb away!” The Bombardier pulled down his goggles.
The pilot threw the great airplane into a sharp, diving turn to the right, turning 155° C and descending rapidly almost 1,000 feet. Straightening the plane, he dropped his goggles just in time. The entire sky seemed to light up with a brilliance that penetrated the purple-black lens glasses as though they weren’t there. The tail-gunner, now facing directly into the flash, let out a scream and clawed at his eyes, dragging off the goggles and finding himself blind.
Below, there was a release of power that instantaneously generated a temperature of 300,000° C. A shock wave, quickly followed by a second “echo,” hit the airplane and lifted it like a surfboard, skidding it across the sky.
When the crew finally removed their goggles they found a huge, black, mushroom of a cloud towering high above their craft.