The behemoth nicknamed Zero-One-Four arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware Wednesday, where it soon will be handed over to the Air Mobility Command Museum. The giant jet with 90014 painted on its tail made history in 1974 when it became the only aircraft ever to drop and ignite a live, Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile.
Yep, that's correct -- it launched the Cold War weapon that was designed to wreak unspeakable nuclear annihilation. Of course, this particular missile was unarmed.
If it seems odd that a plane would unleash a gigantic hammer like a Minuteman -- well, it is. These missiles weren't supposed to launch from airplanes. They were supposed to blast off from underground silos.
With three stages, the Minuteman measured 56 feet and weighed 86,000 pounds. Never before had the C-5 -- one of the biggest planes in the world -- ever dropped such a heavy load.
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On October 24, 1974, at Utah's Hill Air Force Base, airmen and crew from manufacturers Lockheed and Boeing, boarded Zero-One-Four.
Among them, Chief Master Sgt. James Sims, who watched the whole thing from the C-5's cargo hold -- the best seat in the house.
"There was inherent danger in it," said Sims, describing the mission. The Minuteman was attached to a special cradle designed to be released on a track leading out the plane's rear cargo exit. Parachutes would drag the missile out of the plane and then point it upward. A timer, Sims said, would spark the rocket's fiery engines.
oh what we will not do in the name of security
Approximating the size of an adult human male, American black bears and Himalayan bears were chosen to be strapped into the ejection capsules after being drugged with sedatives. The capsules were ejected at varying speeds and altitudes, and after parachuting down to Earth, the capsules were opened and the bears were examined, io9.com reports.
The 86,000 lb wasn't anywhere near the C-5's maximum load. Some versions of the C-5 can handle up to 290,000 lbs ( I think the C-5A could 'only' handle about 150,000 lb). So it probably wasn't too great a strain to carry that load.
Dropping it out of the aft cargo door, on the other hand...again, probably not too much of a strain on the airframe...but probably a *tremendous* strain on the flight crew. I don't want to think about what must've been going on up on the flight deck while they were trying to maintain trim during (and just after) the drop.