© 2011 All Rights Reserved. Do not distribute or repurpose this work without written permission from the copyright holder(s).
Printed from https://www.damninteresting.com/rider-on-the-storm/
In the summer of 1959, a pair of F-8 Crusader combat jets were on a routine flight to Beaufort, North Carolina with no particular designs on making history. The late afternoon sunlight glinted from the silver and orange fuselages as the US Marine Corps pilots flew high above the Carolina coast at near the speed of sound. The lead jet was piloted by 39-year-old Lieutenant Colonel William Rankin, a veteran of both World War 2 and the Korean War. In another Crusader followed his wingman, Lt Herbert Nolan. The pilots were cruising at 47,000 feet to stay above a large, surly-looking column of cumulonimbus cloud which was amassing about a half mile below them, threatening to moisten the officers upon their arrival at the air field.
Mere minutes before they were scheduled to begin their descent towards Beaufort, William Rankin heard a decreasingly reassuring series of grinding sounds coming from his aircraft’s engine. The airframe shuddered, and most of the indicator needles on his array of cockpit instruments flopped into their fluorescent orange “something is horribly wrong” regions. The engine had stopped cold. As the unpowered aircraft dipped earthward, Lt. Col. Rankin switched on his Crusader’s emergency generator to electrify his radio. “Power failure,” Rankin transmitted matter-of-factly to Nolan. “May have to eject.”
Unable to restart his engine, and struggling to keep his craft from entering a near-supersonic nose dive, Rankin grasped the two emergency eject handles. He was mindful of his extreme altitude, and of the serious discomfort that would accompany the sudden decompression of an ejection; but although he lacked a pressure suit, he knew that his oxygen mask should keep him breathing in the rarefied atmosphere nine miles up. He was also wary of the ominous gray soup of a storm that lurked below; but having previously experienced a bail out amidst enemy fire in Korea, a bit of inclement weather didn’t seem all that off-putting. At approximately 6:00pm, Lt. Col. Rankin concluded that his aircraft was unrecoverable and pulled hard on his eject handles. An explosive charge propelled him from the cockpit into the atmosphere with sufficient force to rip his left glove from his hand, scattering his canopy, pilot seat, and other plane-related debris into the sky. Bill Rankin had spent a fair amount of time skydiving in his career—both premeditated and otherwise—but this particular dive would be unlike any that he or any living person had experienced before.
As Rankin plunged toward the earth, licks of lightning darted through the massive, writhing storm cloud below him. Rankin had little attention to spare, however, given the disconcerting circumstances. The extreme cold in the upper atmosphere chilled his extremities, and the sudden change in air pressure had caused a vigorous nosebleed and an agonizing swelling in his abdomen. The discomfort was so extreme that he wondered whether the decompression effects would kill him before he reached the ground.
As the wind roared in his ears, he gasped up oxygen from his emergency breathing apparatus while resisting the urge to pull his parachute’s rip cord; its built-in barometer was designed to auto-deploy the parachute at a safe breathing altitude, and his supply of emergency oxygen was limited. Opening the chute early would prolong his descent and might result in death due to asphyxiation or hypothermia. Under normal circumstances one would expect about three and a half minutes of free-fall to reach the breathable altitude of 10,000 feet. The circumstances, however, were not normal.
After falling for a mere 10 seconds, Bill Rankin penetrated the top of the anvil-shaped storm. The dense gray cloud smothered out the summer sun, and the temperature dropped rapidly. In less than a minute the extreme cold and wind began to inflict Rankin’s extremities with frostbite; particularly his gloveless left hand. The wind was a cacophony inside his flight helmet. Freezing, injured, and unable to see more than a few feet in the murky cloud, the Lieutenant Colonel mustered all of his will to keep his hand far from the rip cord.
After falling through damp darkness for an interminable time, Rankin began to grow concerned that the automatic switch on his parachute had malfunctioned. He felt certain that he had been descending for several minutes, though he was aware that one’s sense of time is a fickle thing under such distracting circumstances. He fingered the rip cord anxiously, wondering whether to give it a yank. He’d lost all feeling in his left hand, and his other limbs weren’t faring much better. It was then that he felt a sharp and familiar upward tug on his harness—his parachute had deployed. It was too dark to see the chute’s canopy above him, but he tugged on the risers and concluded that it had indeed inflated properly. This was a welcome reprieve from the wet-and-windy free-fall.
Unfortunately for the impaired pilot, he was nowhere near the 10,000 foot altitude he expected. Strong updrafts in the cell had decreased his terminal velocity substantially, and the volatile storm had triggered his barometric parachute switch prematurely. Bill Rankin was still far from the earth, and he was now dangling helplessly in the belly of an oblivious monstrosity.
“I’d see lightning,” Rankin would later muse, “Boy, do I remember that lightning. I never exactly heard the thunder; I felt it.” Amidst the electrical spectacle, the storm’s capricious winds pressed Rankin downward until he encountered the powerful updrafts—the same updrafts that keep hailstones aloft as they accumulate ice—which dragged him and his chute thousands of feet back up into the storm. This dangerous effect is familiar to paragliding enthusiasts, who unaffectionately refer to it as cloud suck. At the apex Rankin caught up with his parachute, causing it to drape over him like a wet blanket and stir worries that he would become entangled with it and drop from the sky at a truly terminal velocity. Again he fell, and again the updrafts yanked him skyward in the darkness. He lost count of how many times this up-and-down cycle repeated. “At one point I got seasick and heaved,” he once retold.
At times the air was so saturated with suspended water that an intake of breath caused him to sputter and choke. He began to worry about the very strange—but very real—possibility of drowning in the sky. He began to feel his body being peppered by hailstones that were germinating in the pregnant storm cell, adding yet another concern: that the icy shrapnel might shred his fragile silk canopy.
Lt. Col. Rankin was uncertain how long he had been absorbing abuse when he began to notice that the violence of his undulations was ebbing. He was also beginning to regain some sensation in his numb limbs, indicating that temperatures were warming. And the rain—which had previously been splashing him from every conceivable direction—was now only falling from above.
Moments later the moist Marine emerged from the underside of the cumulonimbus cloud amidst a warm summer rain. Below was a flat expanse of North Carolina backcountry, with no immediate signs of civilization. But Rankin’s parachute was still functional, and he was just a few hundred feet from the ground, so all seemed relatively well. But the storm had one last parting gift. As Rankin neared the ground a sudden gust of wind whisked him into a thicket. Helpless, he was pushed into the branches of a tree where his parachute became ensnared, and his momentum caused him to plow headfirst into the trunk. Fortunately his flight helmet kept his brain box from taking any serious damage.
Bill Rankin removed himself from the troublesome tree and assessed his situation. The time was 6:40pm. Bill’s brutalized body had spent around forty minutes bobbing around the area of atmosphere which mountaineers refer to unfondly as the Death Zone. Applying his Marine training, Rankin started walking in a search pattern until he located a backroad. He stood at the roadside and attempted to flag down the automobiles that occasionally passed, but it took some time to find a passerby bold enough to brake for a soggy, bleeding, bruised, frost-bitten, and vomit-encrusted pilot. Finally an obliging stranger stopped and drove Rankin back to a country store in the nearby town of Ahoskie, NC where he used the phone to summon an ambulance. While he awaited its arrival he took the luxury of slumping to the floor for some much-needed rest.
In the aftermath of his ordeal Lt. Col. William Rankin spent several weeks recovering in the hospital. His injuries were surprisingly minor, however, consisting of superficial frostbite and a touch of decompression shock. He eventually returned to duty, and the following year he chronicled his perilous adventures in a now out-of-print book entitled The Man Who Rode the Thunder.
No human before or since Bill Rankin is known to have parachuted through a cumulonimbus tower and lived to tell about it. Lt. Col. William Henry Rankin passed away on 06 July 2009, almost exactly 50 years after his harrowing and history-making ride on the storm. Cue epic electric piano solo.
© 2011 All Rights Reserved. Do not distribute or repurpose this work without written permission from the copyright holder(s).
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Damn interesting indeed!
Damn you simgibson. I was so close.
“No human before or since Bill Rankin is known to have parachuted through a cumulonimbus tower and lived to tell about it.”
A paraglider, Ewa Wisnierska, had a similar event to this. It may not be exact (cumulonimubs/parachuting), but the situation they were both put through is relatively analogous.
Congratulations on getting D***interesting back online Alan. Great article. Except for the decompression injury, nosebleed, frostbite, vomiting, drowning, ice pelting, numbness in the limbs, and doing an inadvertant “George of the Jungle” face plant against a tree, falling through a violent thunderhead sounds like fun. It makes one wonder why a bloody faced man wouldn’t be picked up by the first motorist to happen by. What’s the matter with those people? Don’t they know an Air Force flight suit when they see one? I’ve noted that I cannot see the previous 3 posts. There is only blackness. Is there a problem with the website, or am I suffering the after affects of reading about Colenel Rankin?
So glad you guys are back! DI indeed. Not my nature to cruise around looking for mistakes, but thought I’d mention in the paragraph next to the cloud photo you wrote “yanked hin skyward”, which I’d only assume was supposed to be “yanked him skyward”. But once again, DI, and I’m looking forward to more excellent content presented in excellent writing!
Thank you, Alan, for another amazing article! I was actually visiting this site earlier today and thought that a new article would be awesome, but that I should not rush things….
I love these articles about less known events during the cold war era.
I have thought about writing an article that would fit for this site, hummm, I guess this is as good a time as any…
Time for a small survey…
IF I were to write an article for this or perhaps another site, which of the following subjects would you be interested in?
1. The Swedish S-Tank
2. The Catalina Affair
3. When the Famicom/NES almost got a Swedish release before the U.S.
4. The technical aspects of constructing the Stockholm Underground, early safety systems, digging the central station in a pressure vessel.
If I get enough votes I will write an article of the voters choice.
Well it’s about damn time you came back!
Oops, thanks for catching that. Fixed!
That’s pretty intense. Drowning in the sky… sounds like a good band name. I hope someone baked him a pie for being so badass.
This guy was a badass if ever there was one. I was already familiar with this story because I’m a high school physics teacher and I use him as an example of endurance:
As soon as he healed he was back in the air. Amazing.
This is certainly damn interesting. The fellow must have been wondering what would happen, ejecting out of a plane 9 miles up! I wonder what the highest altitude someone has had to do this?
Today it’s would be iCloud Suck! RIP Steve…
Very excited to see new article!! I hope you will be able to continue to educated and amaze me with these great stories! I love it.
great to see damn interesting back!!
just a comment regarding Ewa the paraglider. She was the subject of one instalment of a TV series about people that survived when they shouldn’t have. what made Ewa story even more fascinating was that she was practising as part of the group’s at the 2007 Australian paragliding titles and had calibrated instrumentation to keep a record of her flight.
“Pulled up at 20 metres per second, the rapid ascent causes Ewa to pass out as she goes from 2,500 metres to just under 10,000 metres in around five minutes. When she pops out at the top of the storm she just circles, in wide arcs, completely unconscious and in a hibernation-like state. Collapsing under the strain of so much ice the glider drops 3,000 metres, at over 200kph, before reopening and waking Ewa with the jolt. Freezing and weak, she navigates herself away from the storm and down to the ground.”
Delicious, simply delicious DI!
Please keep the brain food coming.
Thank you Alan
Ah, a new DI article to start the day. Perfect! And Alan’s turns of phrase have not missed a beat. “Moist Marine”? “Absorbing abuse”? “Troublesome tree”? Simply delightful, and amusingly alliterative to boot.
I’m fairly sure that Ewa was not the only paraglider pilot to survive a thunderstorm ride. I’ve read of at least two or three others, such as this one: http://health.wikinut.com/Fly-with-wings-of-steel-and-fabric/23hi8-hc/
Another story I read, which I can’t find now, involved a hang glider pilot, like myself. He got sucked up into a storm, determined that his fate and that of his glider were best pursued separately, and bailed out. (This is not a straightforward maneuver while in flight! Hang gliders don’t come with eject handles!) After bouncing around in the storm doing his best imitation of a hailstone for an hour or so, he fell out of the bottom of the cloud, regained consciousness, pulled his emergency parachute, and landed safely. He had traveled quite far by this point, but was rescued without much difficulty. Apparently the glider eventually came down too, and wasn’t in particularly bad shape for its half of the adventure.
So stories like this get me to thinking. That kind of trip sounds like a fantastic adventure. What if one were actually prepared properly? Pressure suit, oxygen, goggles, lots of warm clothes, etc.? There’s no reason you’d have to lose consciousness, and there’s really not that much danger until you fall out of the bottom of the cloud. By all accounts there’s plenty of time to throw a reserve chute at that point, assuming you are still lucid. Who’s in? Anyone? Anyone?
This really was interesting damnit.
I loved the article, but I can’t help wondering what happened to Lt Herbert Nolan, the wingman. Is he still up there 9 miles above us, waiting for his turn to eject?
Well done Alan, damn interesting. Wonder where the aircraft fell?
Fantastic! Love that you guys are back.
I’m with Ahuva though, what happened to the wingman? I assume since Rankin’s plane malfunction seemed so rare that Nolan survived alright.
Excerpts from _The Man Who Rode the Thunder_ are reprinted in:
_Wild Blue: Stories of Survival from Air and Space_
edited by David Fisher and William Garvey
(Da Capo Press, 1999):
Portions of the excerpts can be previewed via Google Books (some pages are omitted):
(Note: The text may not appear at first. Reload the page, or click that link again.)
Lol. “Colonel mustered ”
I seriously signed up just to show my appreciation for that.
Keep up the good work.
…and DI’s back! Yay!
These stories of outrageous survival have got to become family legends,too. I can just imagine Col Rankins grandchildren; “Here goes the parachute story again, dude. Let’s head for the pie.”
Hope they gave this guy lots of pie with whipped cream while he was recovering. Damn interesting article….particularly loved the line: “Bill Rankin removed himself from the troublesome tree and assessed his situation.” Nice and probably accurate description of what someone would do after surviving such an incredible experience and not having anyone to share the moment with till later.
Several short summaries of frightfully fateful falls:
“…William Rankin heard a decreasingly reassuring series of grinding sounds coming from his aircraft’s engine.”
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard grinding sounds coming from an engine, aircraft or otherwise, that I would call “reassuring.” I understand the feeling you are trying to convey, but in order for the sounds to become “decreasingly reassuring,” they have to have, at some point, been at least slightly reassuring. It just read a little odd, to me.
Otherwise, great piece. I guess trying to ride out the descent until he reached a more suitable altitude for ejection would have put him in even greater peril than the HALO ejection. A near-supersonic nose dive ejection sounds pretty bad.
The thought of someone baking him a pie for being badass makes me smile. I want this, more than anything, to have happened. I like to imagine it was a top government official that did it too. I would like to think that he/she was told about the events and said, “No way! You can’t live through that!” and then they meet him and they say, “That is so badass! Someone should bake this crazy b@stard a pie!” and they flew in the best chefs from around the world to bake a badass pie for this badass.
Consider me tickled!
I wonder if curling up, including the chute to whatever degree, would have helped reduce the impact of the winds and resuming descent. Probably one of the most severe cases of “easier said than done” ever.
Excellent article. So glad you guys are back.
Alan – just a small point to correct.
Lt. Col. Rankin and his wingman were flying to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in SOUTH Carolina, not North Carolina.
Although there is a Beaufort, North Carolina it has no Air Station, Marine Corps or otherwise.
Interestingly enough, although spelled the same, they are pronounced differently.
Beaufort, NC is pronounced as BOW-fort, and Beaufort, SC as BEW-fort.
Not as DI as the article, but still interesting.
Welcome Back and I do enjoy your book!
Should point out that the BOW is intended to be sounded as in rainBOW – BOW and arrow.
VERY Interesting Read as always. You have a great gift for telling these stories in a captivating “Page Turner” sort of way. Have you ever tried writing fictional stories? Have you ever thought of writing a full book about one of the subjects that you have featured as an article?
Another superb article! Great to have you back Alan!
Damn interesting adventure! My brain box feels refreshingly fuller for it.
Love to see you guys back in fine form. Another damn interesting article!
That certainly was Damn Interesting! I could have sworn I read about “Cloud Suck” in High Times.
um, what happened to Herb Nolan, the forgotten wingman?
As always, superbly written.
What happened to the craft out of which he ejected?
Did it crash in a populated area?
i know im an amateur, but would this be considered one of the first HALO jumps?? and exactly how far did he land from the point he ejected? thank ya.
It depends on where his chute actually deployed, aSmego. It could have been the first HAHO “jump,” if he deployed in the 22,000+ range. HALO tends to deploy at a much lower altitude, where respiration is a bit easier. The first official/intentional HALO jump was in the early 60’s, I believe, but there had been testing done for emergency ejection circumstances such as experienced by Lt Col Rankin prior to his “jump.” Not sure if any of those tests actually involved “jumps,” though.
Thought you were gone for good, Still had you bookmarked and was happily surprised, that you have reappeared.
Anxiously Awaiting Another Article :)
@Stoy : Why don’t you start from the top? Or maybe the bottom, #4 also sounds DI..
Thanks to my father, I know this answer! Just read about it two days ago.
On Aug. 16, 1960, Air Force Captain Joseph Kittinger rode a helium balloon to the edge of space, 102,800 feet above the earth as part of Project Excelsior. Only equipt with a thin pressure suit and oxygen tank, he leaned over the edge of his gondola -probably got one more prayer in – and jumped into the 110-degree-below-zero, near-vacuum of space. Within a couple of seconds his body accelerated to 714mph in the thin air, breaking the sound barrier. The point of the experiment was to prove the a human could eject from an aircraft at extreme altitude and survive.
Broke the sound barrier without a plane. Take that Chuck Yaeger. This record still stands.
Read about it:
You should do a story Alan!!!
I’m not positive, but I think that that story did appear here a couple of years ago.
Perhaps someone with the time to search the site will let us know.
I found this blog the day before you started posting again and started reading through most of your posts! I love your blog, and actually tried to pattern my own around it! Thanks for the posts!
DrFlottum_SOB, you seem to have received a slightly exaggerated report.
You said, “Within a couple of seconds his body accelerated to 714 mph in the thin air, breaking the sound barrier … without a plane. Take that, Chuck Yeager.”
Kittinger himself wrote, in an article for the December 1960 National Geographic, “Though my stabilization chute opens at 96,000 feet, I accelerate for 6,000 feet more before hitting a peak of 614 miles an hour, nine-tenths the speed of sound at my altitude.”
(Also, falling at 1 g (with only the very small amount of air resistance at that altitude) would take more than ‘a couple of seconds’ to reach 714 mph, or even 614 mph — approximately 33 s, or 28 s, respectively. Still a rather brief time, though, to be sure!)
What’s next, Alan? (And, thanx for “getting back in the saddle”!)
Since it is the birthday of Marie Curie today I wanted to put up this story that I wrote a while back Happy Birthday Marie.
We all know the words. Uranium, Radium and Radioactivity. How did they got birth?
When Radium and Uranium got discovered these elements emitted mysterious X rays.
Marie Curie who invented the word Radioactivity (how do you invent a word? hmmm interesting subject, maybe for another article. )
Use to carry vials (small glass tubes) around in her pockets, because of the pretty blue-green light in the dark.
She died of leukemia.
Marie Curie was a pioneer in the chemist field of Radioactivity.
Because of their levels of radioactivity, her papers from the 1890s are considered too dangerous to handle. Even her cookbook is highly radioactive. They are kept in lead-lined boxes, and those who wish to consult them must wear protective clothing.
Radioactivity it sounds so innocent, we know better now.
First encounter with Atom. Radioactivity became a fad In the 1920s. Radium was used
In beauty parlors to remove warts and unwanted hair. Thousands of Americans drank or injected radium solutions as a cure-all.
von Scholocky, an amateur artist invented a radium painted crucifix that glowed in the dark. The girls who worked for him painted their teeth with radium so they would glow in the dark. They got bone cancer.
People began to wonder if all those particles in the patent medicine bottles & factory girls might not have some really useful application- say a weapon of fast and unimaginable power born from the primal energy of the Universe for starters.
Only America was willing to bet the rent and pay 2 Billion for a bunch of foreign types to go out to a secret laboratory in the New Mexican desert and sit around clapping erasers together until something blew up in their faces.
The birth of the first atomic bomb.
It was laid on a litter and brought to the site in a sedan.
Born July 16, 1945
Birthplace, Jornado Del Muerto (means journey of death) New Mexico (suits well, right?)
Weight, 19 kilotons
Hospital, Los Alamos New Mexico
Blood type, A
Father, J. Robert Oppenheimer
God Father, Albert Einstein
Legal Guardian, Harry S Truman
Trinity, is since July 16 – 2010, 65 years ago, and this August the 2 Japanese A bombs has been 65 years ago, let’s hope they were the last to be used against humanity,
perfect age for retirement.
During the countdown the Los Alamos radio stations broadcast a lullaby
Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings)
How oblivious they were in those days, to play a beautiful piece of music as a prelude to such a devastating event.
Siblings, Little boy ( Hiroshima August 6, 1945)
Fat man, (Nagasaki August 9, 1945)
Trinity was born with a blast seen for 250 miles and heard for 50 miles.
It was so bright it could have been seen from another planet.
A congeniality blind girl named Georgia Green riding in a car 20 miles distant, saw a momentary fleeting light.
“From the east came the first faint signs of dawn and just at that moment there arose as if from the bowels of the earth a light not of this world. The light of many suns in one. It was a sunrise such as the world has never seen. A great green super sun . It is possible that if the first man could have been present in the moment of creation when God said “ let there be light” he might have seen something like what we saw. “
(William Lawrence, the only news reporter allowed to witness Trinity)
“Well, It was far more violent then I expected. There was this enormous fireball, by then already turning yellow and red moving up and soon the whole sky became filled with violet radiation. I was naturally complimented that my damn machine worked. To me it seemed like the last moments of the earth, that perhaps the last human beings
then will see the same thing that we have seen. “ (George Kistiakowsky Los Alamos bomb scientist)
Hiroshima was a city the size of Houston.
US military orders had been given not to fire-bomb it as had been done to many other Japanese cities because Truman wanted a few virgin targets on which to test the new bomb’s effects.
The generals called the bomb little boy. The pilots, who didn’t understand the bomb to
well called it the gimmick or the pumpkin. Scientist who understood the bomb all to well, called it the Beast.
The entire crew was hand picked for the bombing. The pilot Paul W Tibbets named the B-29 bomber after his mother Enola Gay Haggard. The Co pilot Bob Lewis saw the words “Enola Gay” on the fuselage. Tibbets secretly had them painted on during the night. Lewis got furious but it was too late to do anything about it.
Two other planes were on the same Hiroshima mission.
One was named The Great Artiste. It was filled with scientist and measuring instruments.
The other was a weather plane, piloted by Captian Claude Eatherly
The squadron playboy.
His plane bore the name “Straight Flush“. Eatherly went mad after his mission and had to be committed to the mental ward of the Veterans Administration hospital.
When the bombs blinding purplish light exploded none of the pilots noticed any sound.
Oddly neither did most of Hiroshima’s residence. Co pilot Lewis screamed either
”My God! What have we done. “ or “My God, Look at the son of a bitch go!”
When asked later, he couldn’t remember which.
The tail gunner gave a oddly culinary description of the holocaust Fires are springing up everywhere like flames shooting up out of an huge bed of coals……It’s like a mass of bubbling molasses.
“The mushroom is spreading out” Lewis said “I looked out and saw a city boiling.”
A big welcome party had been prepared when the pilots got back to their Pacific base at Tinian. The 2000 men of the 509th composite group were allowed 4 bottles of beer per man and the events included a soft ball game, jitterbug contest, hot music and novelty acts. The party ended with showing of the 1945 movie, it’s a Pleasure starring Sonja Henie.
By some estimates 300,000 of the 344,000 inhabitants of the city were killed.
(the Hiroshima city government conservatively estimates 200,000.)
“I looked out of the window at the branch of a willow tree. Just at the moment I turned my eyes back into the old and dark classroom, there was a flash. It was indescribable.
It was as if a monstrous piece of celluloid had flared up all at once. Even as my eyes were being pierced by the sharp vermilion flash, the second building was already crumbling.” ( Kataoka Osamu, a schoolboy, caught in the Hiroshima bombing.)
It was possible to tell where people near ground zero had been standing by the thin circles of white ash on the ground or the faintly greasy grey spots of the surfaces like tile and stone.
The amount of matter converted into energy by little boy weighed about as much as a small coin.
After the bombing Truman said, “The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the far east.”
When Oppenheimer told Truman, “ I feel I have blood on my hands”.
Truman told a companion don’t let that fellow near me again. after all he only built the bomb I am the guy who shot it off.
Einstein, when he heard about Hiroshima was heard to softly exclaim, “Oy vey! “
Hiroshima is officially listed in Atomic Energy Commission records as test #2
Trinity was #1 and Nagasaki #3.
Why we had to do it
“When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after.”
“No man, in our position and subject to our responsibilities, holding in his hands a weapon of such possibilities, could have failed to use it and afterwards looked his countrymen in the face.” ( Henry Stimson, Truman’s secretary of war )
Why we have to do it
“ Christian, Jewish, and Hindu civilizations have this (nuclear) capability.
The Communist powers also posses it. Only the Islamic civilization is without it. But that position is about to change… We will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry but we will get one of our own.” ( Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, former Pakistani prime minister)
The Cold War
Mind you that because of the Cold War the U.S. started testing more and more,
American citizens had to deal with all the tests, not knowing how dangerous, this all was it is astonishing to read about how the public kept dumb or have been told not to worry.
Americans around the testing sites and far beyond would soon find out.
A message from the Atomic Energy Commission, in 1957
You people who live near the Nevada Test Site are in a very real sense active participants in the Nation’s atomic test program.
Testing and more Testing
After the United States had completed its third official atomic test (Nagasaki)
It began testing in earnest. Some of the testing was done on South Pacific islands.
A lot of it was done in Nevada and Utah, and once during operation Wigwam, an A bomb was blown up off the coast of San Diego. ???
At its height 4 bombs a month were being set off.
The AEC set up bleachers near the test ground so the site secretaries, carpenters and plumbers could watch the “pretty bangs “
When the Nevada test began, the scientist had to improvise radiation sampling devices out of Electrolux vacuum cleaners.
Residents in the path of the fall out began to find their hair was… falling out. Leukemia and Cancer was rising dramatically.
Once 4,000 sheep 50 miles away turned out dead.
And once, 150 miles away, a herd of goats caught in a cloud of fallout turned blue.
Once all the way in Rochester, New York, fallout fell on the Kodak Company plant and ruined a huge batch of film.
Two Colorado Scientists noticed their state’s radioactivity levels were going up.
The Governor said “ they had a screw loose “ and “should be arrested “
When dangerous levels of strontium 90 began turning up in milk and babies teeth,
public pressure forced a moratorium and finally a ban on above ground testing.
Okay not above ground , then let’s go underground, so about 12 bombs a year were tested underground but at least 24 of them got away and released radioactivity, above ground of course.
There was even an organization in Utah called Downwinders who would keep you posted by sending you a postcard with “site, date and explosive power
Did the Duke got Nuked?
Dick Powell began filming The Conqueror, release date March 1956.
Starring John Wayne, Susan Howard and Agnes Morehead, in the sand dunes of St. George, Utah, a year after the 1953 test shot “Dirty” Harry a 32 kiloton A-bomb had blanketed the entire area with fallout. Decades later the three actors and their director were dead of cancer, nearly have the 200 members of the film crew had also contracted the disease. When an official at the Defense Nuclear Agency got the news he murmured,
“Please, God don’t let us have killed John Wayne.”
Good evening to the nuclear shock theater, July 25th 1961
The Berlin crisis speech, your host tonight John F. Kennedy
Here you can read how high the tension between the then USSR and USA got with this speech from President Kennedy, July 25th 1961, the cold war at its highest.
The end of the Cold War
READING ALL OF THIS MAY NOT DO MUCH FOR YOUR PEACE OF MIND, BUT IT WILL SEND YOU OFF TO THE APOCALYPSE WITH A KNOWING SMILE !
Last note, if in a event we would be needed to go to a shelter and we are in, what then.
to be continued,,,
Amazing what you can find by simply utilizing a website’s “Search” feature. I had an extra five seconds to spare.
“The pilots were cruising at 47,000 feet to stay above a large, surly-looking column of cumulonimbus cloud..”
I think theres an error in this article, cumulonimbus clouds reach up to about 300,000 feet into the sky, the tops of which are cirro-type. Are you sure they weren’t at 470,000 feet?
Soooo whatever did happen to Lt. Herbert Nolan????
“The pilots were cruising at 47,000 feet to stay above a large, surly-looking column of cumulonimbus cloud…”
wordsmith11 said: “I think theres an error in this article, cumulonimbus clouds reach up to about 300,000 feet into the sky, the tops of which are cirro-type. Are you sure they weren’t at 470,000 feet?”
You’re off by an order of magnitude, wordsmith11. From the Wikipedia article on cumulonimbus clouds:
“The base of a cumulonimbus can be several miles across, and it can be tall enough to occupy middle as well as low altitudes; though formed at an altitude of about 500 to 13,000 feet (150 to 3,960 metres), its peak can reach up to 75,000 feet (23,000 metres) in extreme cases.”
The noctilucent clouds are found at 250,000 to 280,000 feet, but Lt. Col. Rankin’s Crusader could not take him above 58,000 feet in any case.
Frank G, your report contains a number of needless errors.
“When Radium and Uranium got discovered these elements emitted mysterious X rays.”
—No, they emitted gamma rays. These have equal or greater energy than X rays, but are produced by nuclear instead of electronic processes.
“Marie Curie who invented the word Radioactivity (how do you invent a word?”
—In this case, by noting that the materials were “active” (they were a source of energy) and “radiant” (the energy was emitted as rays into the environment). Simple.
“She died of leukemia.”
—No, of aplastic anemia. (It was brought on by the radiation exposure, yes, but get your terminology & history straight.)
“von Scholocky, an amateur artist invented a radium painted crucifix that glowed in the dark. The girls who worked for him painted their teeth with radium so they would glow in the dark. They got bone cancer.”
—This sounds more like the tragic Radium Girls story.
Care to tell us more about this von Scholocky, who is mentioned on the Web only by you (according to Google)?
“People began to wonder if all those particles in the patent medicine bottles & factory girls might not have some really useful application- say a weapon of fast and unimaginable power born from the primal energy of the Universe for starters.”
—Radium was not thought of as a potential weapon, if only because it does not liberate a lot of energy per disintegration (about 5 to 6 MeV). The thought of weaponry came to the studiers of uranium fission, with its release of 200 MeV per atom.
“Only America was willing to bet the rent and pay 2 Billion for a bunch of foreign types to go out to a secret laboratory in the New Mexican desert and sit around clapping erasers together until something blew up in their faces.”
—The “bunch of foreign types” included the best brains in the field of nuclear studies, who did not happen to be all Americans. Recall that fission was first observed in Europe.
Your “clapping erasers together” notion deserves only contempt. Some of the hardest intellectual (and engineering) work ever done took place at Los Alamos. Also, the detonation of plutonium was not some kind of accident: it was the culmination of a lot of careful and deliberate work.
“The generals called the bomb little boy. The pilots, who didn’t understand the bomb to well…”
—The pilots were not allowed to know the details of the bomb. Very few people were allowed that knowledge, and some of the construction details of the bombs remain classified today.
“When the bombs blinding purplish light exploded none of the pilots noticed any sound.
Oddly neither did most of Hiroshima’s residence [sic].”
—Sound does not travel instantaneously (the speed is roughly 350 m/s). The pilots were many thousands of meters away, and even the residents at the hypocenter were over 300 meters from the detonation, so no one was able to hear it at the instant that it happened. Very soon, however, the sound was indeed heard by many people. (The Japanese term for the immediate effects was “pika-don” — “flash-boom”.) Don’t misinterpret the simple physics of wave speed.
“By some estimates 300,000 of the 344,000 inhabitants of the city were killed. (the Hiroshima city government conservatively estimates 200,000.)”
—Check your sources.
From the Wikipedia article about the bombing:
“On Monday, August 6, 1945, at 8:15 AM, the Atomic Bomb “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima by an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, directly killing an estimated 80,000 people. By the end of the year, injury and radiation brought total casualties to 90,000–140,000.”
Lastly, not an error on your part but (IMHO) on the part of Pakistan:
“Only the Islamic civilization is without it. But that position is about to change… We will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry but we will get one of our own.” (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, former Pakistani prime minister)
—What a wonderful goal, and what a grand use of limited national resources. This reminds me of some of the lyrics from Tom Lehrer’s 1965 song about nuclear proliferation, “Who’s Next?”:
“First, we got the Bomb, and that was good, ’cause we love peace and motherhood.
Then Russia got the Bomb, but that’s OK — the balance of power’s maintained that way. Who’s next?
The France got the Bomb, but don’t you grieve, ’cause they’re on our side…I believe!
Then China got the Bomb, but have no fears: they can’t wipe us out for at least five years. Who’s next?”
It’s good to have you back. Been without my DI fix for far too long.
As a side note Flatfoot, even if the locals could identify an Air force flightsuit, Rankin was was a Marine. (It seems only Navy people will ever give us jarheads a ride)
Jet engines move metal parts against each other. They are always grinding. Although the word “grinding” as it pertains to engines contains a negative connotation, IMHO it remains sufficiently ambiguos that the normal engine noises could be (although they never are to my knowledge) described as “reassuringly grinding”.
When I drive my car, I listen to the engine. Some grinding noises are normal, but extreme or irregular ones are not. Sometimes you hear the hum of the engine and feel satisfied, and sometimes you hear an odd noise, which does not repeat, and feel reassured by the non-repetition. However, sometimes the odd noise repeats with increasing frequency, iregularity and oddness.
I know I’ve laboured the point too much, but this would be decreasingly reassuring ;-p
One could certainly argue that the sound of an engine operating as designed is, in fact, reassuring. And since engines are designed with the understanding that they will wear (grinding being one cause of wear), the sound of them operating within their acceptable wear parameters may be considered reassuring. Nonetheless, “grinding,” as you point out, contains a negative connotation when it comes to engines. I think when most people think of “grinding” sounds coming from an engine, their first thought is, “That’s not right.” Rarely will you find people saying the “grinding” sound emanating from their engine was reassuring because it meant it was wearing down at an acceptable rate.
Ultimately, one would presume the goal would be to produce a frictionless (thus, no grinding) engine that would last forever. Until that day, however, I will consider all “grinding” sounds from my engines to be bad, regardless of how normal they may be within the parameters of acceptable wear. Yes, the “grinding” means it’s running, but it also means it is working towards not running.
Excellent writing! Very interesting indeed.
I can think of nothing better than when you the writer, Alan, can write so clearly that the theater of the mind permits me to become the subject! Real life stories that outstrip Indiana Jones.
Well done Alan!
I wondered where he got off to….
It was Colonel Mustered, in the Storm Cloud, With the Ice Shard….
“So stories like this get me to thinking. That kind of trip sounds like a fantastic adventure. What if one were actually prepared properly? Pressure suit, oxygen, goggles, lots of warm clothes, etc.? There’s no reason you’d have to lose consciousness, and there’s really not that much danger until you fall out of the bottom of the cloud”
You forgot the lightning – the Chinese glider pilot, which was gliding along with Ewa above, was killed by the lightning.
For those wondering about Nolan, looks like he landed safely (presumably the power failure only affected Rankin’s plane) but was traumatized and was released by the Marines later that year.
“Lieutenant Nolan, who was “pretty shook up” over the incident he witnessed, was released by the Marine Corps September 1 and is living in Laguna Beach, Cal.” – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct 14 1959 (https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1129&dat=19591014&id=C8lRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=PGwDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6839,2249289&hl=en).
I recall reading this story in 2011 and being very impressed with his survival. I also recall wondering if the colonel was related to one of my students. “Rankin” is not exactly a common name, so the chance is a little stronger than average.
Bill: Thanks for the update!
Something I should have mentioned back in 2011: I like the allusion to The Doors.
They have always been my favorite group.
Did Rankin wish he had company during his ordeal with the thunderstorm to provide emotional support while he was suffering? Did he enjoy the free massage he received during this ordeal despite the inflicted injuries?