Operation Chrome Dome, initiated in 1960, was one of several United States Air Force Cold-War era airborne global alert duties or programs in which B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber aircraft armed with thermonuclear weapons were assigned targets in the Soviet Union on schedules guaranteeing that a substantial number of them were flying and fueled for their missions at any given time.
During the Cold War, General Thomas S. Power initiated a program whereby B-52s performed airborne alert duty under code names such as Head Start, Chrome Dome, Hard Head, Round Robin, and Operation Giant Lance. Bombers loitered near points outside the Soviet Union to provide rapid first strike or retaliation capability in case of nuclear war.
The missions in 1964 involved a B-52D that left Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas and flew across the United States to New England and headed out to the Atlantic Ocean. The aircraft refueled over the Atlantic heading north to and around Newfoundland. The bomber changed course and flew northwesterly over Baffin Bay towards Thule Air Base, Greenland. At this point it flew west across Queen Elizabeth Islands of Canada. Continuing to Alaska, it refueled over the Pacific Ocean again heading south-east and returned to Sheppard AFB.
By 1966, three separate missions were being flown - one East over the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, another north to Baffin Bay, and a third over Alaska.
The following military units were involved:
- Strategic Air Command Divisions:
- Homestead Air Force Base
- Strategic Air Command in the United Kingdom
The program was involved in the following nuclear-weapons accidents:
- 1961 Goldsboro B-52 crash
- 1961 Yuba City B-52 crash
- 1964 Savage Mountain B-52 crash[Notes 1]
- 1966 Palomares B-52 crash
- 1968 Thule Air Base B-52 crash
The Thule accident signaled the end of the program on January 22, 1968.
- Accident happened while the aircraft was returning to its home base, having already completed its alert mission.
- USAF: Lakenheath AFB Libery Wing
- "SAC AIRBORNE ALERT". National Museum of the United States Air Force. 14. Archived from the original on 2009-01-14. http://web.archive.org/web/20090114035353/http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=1851. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
- US Nuclear Weapons Deployments Disclosed, Nautilus Institute
History of the Custody and Deployment of Nuclear Weapons: July 1945 to September 1977
- Nautilus.org: Chrome Dome Route Map
- The Goldsboro Broken Arrow, 2011, ISBN 978-1-257-86952-7
- SAC'S Deadly Daily Dozen at Time Magazine
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