Friday, May 18, 2018

Biography of Michael H. Maggelet

  U.S. Air Force retired. Nuclear weapons specialist and team chief from 1980 to 1995, certified on seven weapon systems to include the B43, B57, B61, B83 bombs, and AGM-69A Short Range Attack Missile. Certified by Sandia National Laboratories for specialized maintenance procedures.

  Living history volunteer with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks from 1995-2000 at Giant Springs Heritage State Park in Great Falls, Montana.

   Author and publisher of “Corps of Discovery Notes” research publication, bringing to light new information and documentation on the clothing, arms, and accoutrements in 120 articles on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1996-2001.

   Replicated two of the eight sections of Captain Meriwether Lewis’s iron frame boat, used as the basis for the public display at Harpers Ferry National Historic Park and reconstructed by park ranger Eric Johnson in 1999.

  Blacksmith Eric Johnson poses with a reproduction of Meriwether Lewis' iron frame boat. Michael H. Maggelet recreated two portions of the eight section iron frame (bow and center section), and donated research materials to Harpers Ferry, which was used as the basis for Johnson's effort to replicate the thirty eight foot frame. 

   Author of “Researching Lewis and Clark”, published in “On The Trail” magazine in 1998, detailing the expedition’s portable soup (glue broth), tin containers, iron frame boat, and Harpers Ferry “short rifle” (Model 1803).

   Author of “The Short Rifles of the Lewis and Clark Expedition” in the March/April 2000 edition of “Muzzleloader” magazine, proving that the expedition’s “short rifles” were not modifications of existing rifles, but new production “Model 1803” rifles which differed only slightly from later variants (in not having a brass band on the forestock). These rifles were not cut down “Model 1792 Contract Long Rifles”, fantasy “Model 1800’s”, nor did they possess slings (as many authors incorrectly presume). 

  Appeared in “Lewis and Clark, The Journey of the Corps of Discovery” by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan in 1997. Also appeared in “Lewis and Clark and Other Adventures” by the British Broadcasting Company, and a segment on period foods on the Food Network.  

  Featured speaker at the 1999 Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Sight Blackpowder Rendezvous, presenting the clothing, weapons, and accoutrements of the Corps of Discovery.

   Author of “Broken Arrow, The Declassified History of US Nuclear Weapons Accidents” with James C. Oskins. Our book brings to light previously classified information about US accidents via a three year Freedom of Information Act process.

   Author of “Broken Arrow, Volume II- A Disclosure of Significant US, Soviet, and British Nuclear Weapons Accidents and Incidents, 1945-2008), with James C. Oskins. This volume provides additional information and photographs on previously unknown incidents and accidents through the FOIA efforts of the authors. Submitted for the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2010.  

   Mike and co-author Jim Oskins interviewed by Professor Michio Kaku for his radio program “Exploration”, May 3rd, 2016.

   Author of several articles on unclassified nuclear weapons history for the Nuclear Weapons Technicians Association, to include “First Combat Atomic Weapons”, “North Korean Nuclear Weapons”, “East German Special Operations Forces”, “Soviet Spetsnaz”, “Early Soviet Nuclear Weapons”, and “Soviet Nuclear Depth Bombs”.

   Author of “North Korea’s Inevitable Nuclear Threat is Here” published in the August 2017 issue of "American Consequences" magazine, P.J. O’Rourke, Editor.

  For interview requests or historical consultation, please contact me at mhmaggelet "at"

Monday, February 19, 2018

Small Arms Maintenance, the M16, and Brownells “Retro” AR-15's.

Copyright 2018 by Michael H. Maggelet

As a nuclear weapons specialist, one of my five additional duties was unit armorer. While stationed in central Germany in the late 1980’s, myself and two fellow gun nuts (excuse me, armorers) maintained our shop’s stock of M16 rifles. These ranged from early issue Colt/Armalite stamped Model 601’s, and a decent number of Model 602’s and 604’s. It was interesting to field strip, inspect, clean, and then reassemble these rifles and note the differences in the versons, since the 601’s dated back to the earliest Colt production in Air Force contracts of 1963 and 1964. These rifles were supplied to the US Navy SEAL’s, advisors in Viet Nam, and to the USAF.

  Surprisingly, the rifles in our shop were not well worn, and retained their parkerized coating. There were a few that had typical AF “preventive maintenance” which consisted of a few dabs of black paint. Our 601’s did not have the original brown fiberglass furniture painted green (some were painted black), but had the early black non-trapdoor buttstock, standard nylon triangular handguards, and early three prong flash hider.  
  Internally, the early rifles all had chromed carriers and bolts, large firing pin, and machined firing pin retaining pin. A few I remember did have the early Edgewater buffer. All other features were typical of the 601, including dimpled take down pins, which I verified referencing a 1982 copy of “Small Arms of the World” by Edward Clinton Ezell. I wish I had copied some of the serial numbers down for future reference. On a more interesting note, we had five GAU-5/P's on order, however the first Gulf War in 1990 pretty much put a damper on that acquisition.
  The 602 and 604 rifles were a combination of parts, with some minor differences due to replacement by Combat Arms Training and Maintenance (CATM). All had birdcage style flash hiders.  Our limited maintenance included monthly inspection and cleaning, since many of the bores were not chrome lined, and we only called CATM when parts were damaged. A case in point was a damaged handguard which was found after an exercise, with a missing tooth in the handguard. Instead of handing the replacement handguards to me, the CATM specialist insisted that he replace them, and I had to sign this individual into a restricted area, escort him, and then sign him into the armory where he replaced the handguard (with my help), and of course escorting him out of the area. A simple task which I could have performed in a few minutes, but took more than 30 minutes from our schedule.

  I don’t recall any failures to feed, nor jams when we qualified after arriving in Germany. Just about everyone in our shop shot “expert”, at least by Air Force standards (standard silhouette, all rounds in the 10 ring and you were an "expert marksman"). This included firing twenty 5.56 rounds at 50 yards on semi in the standing position (right and left barricade), prone (right and left shoulder), sitting, and kneeling.  I was one of the unfortunate few who had a hot brass land inside my BDU shirt compliments of the shooter to my left, resulting in a nice 5.56 case shaped burn on my neck. We did not qualify when I was in basic in 1980, since it was “too hot” at the range (100 deg Fahrenheit temps on Lackland AFB/San Antonio, Texas that year). Also, the rifles in basic used .22LR adapters, and not the standard 5.56x45mm round.

  One of the highlights was a German/American friendship shoot, where we fired Bundeswehr weapons to include the P8 pistol and MG 3 machine gun (I don't remember the rifle, perhaps the G3). One individual in our shop received the German "Schutzenschnur" marksmanship badge. 

  While many gun enthusiasts have changed parts of a civilian legal AR-15 to resemble a semi-auto Model 601, the supply of original parts now is extremely difficult to find. Parts such as chromed bolt carriers, bolts, takedown pins, and lower and upper receivers are reproduced by Nodak Spud of Minnesota, and by Brownells of Iowa. 
   Brownells has recreated the early Model 601 with some minor variations.


Model 601 characteristics                          Brownells BRN-01


Furniture is molded fiberglass,                     Polymer, light green.

Painted an OD green.                   


Edgewater buffer.                                         Standard AR-15/M16 buffer.


Chromed bolt carrier and bolt.                     Chromed bolt carrier and bolt.


Dimple on selector switch.                           Has M16A2 indicator notch on right                                                                                side of selector.


Dimples on take down pins.                          604 type pins.


Steel lined bore.                                             Chrome lined bore. 


  With the cost of a Colt AR-15 SP1 Sporter rising significantly (one 1964 specimen sold for $4,000), acquiring Brownells civilian legal, semi only variations of the Model 601, XM-16E1, M16A1, or XM-177 may just be the thing for you. That, or their version of the 7.62 NATO AR-10. 

Retro Black Rifle- website on various models and variations of the M16, starting with the Model 601-

Brownells Retro Rifles


Brownells website-


USAF training film on the M16, 1967-

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

North Korea and Future Thermonuclear Weapons Developments

North Korea and Future Thermonuclear Developments
Copyright 2017 by Michael H. Maggelet

  While North Korea has possessed nuclear weapons since 2006, their development of a medium yield (125-250 kiloton) two stage thermonuclear warhead shouldn’t come as a surprise if we examine the test data.

  Test data figures are approximate, but the DPRK has been steadily increasing warhead yields since their first test on 9 October 2006-


Date                                   Yield Estimates
  9 Oct 2006                              500 tons  (1/2 kiloton)

25 May 2009                          2-9 kilotons
12 Feb 2013                           6-16 Kt
6 Jan 2016                              7-16.5 Kt
9 Sep 2016                            15-25 Kt
3 Sep 2017                            70-250 Kt
Comment- released photos and video show a two stage thermonuclear device.

North Korean technician connecting cable to firing unit of thermonuclear test device.
The "notches" at the bottom of the screencap are DPRK audience members.

  In fact, the DPRK may have been designing a low yield primary intended for use in a thermonuclear weapon, while fielding an emergency capability solid capsule IFI weapon (or a single stage “sloika”, or layer cake with thermonuclear fuel). If and when sampling from reconnaissance aircraft is declassified/released, the radioactive debris will show what materials were used in the weapon. Additionally, low yield nuclear warheads are preferable for battlefield use, and it is not beyond the DPRK’s capability to field enhanced radiation weapons.

  Photographic evidence of North Korea’s nuclear warheads show commonality with US, Soviet, and UK fission warheads of the late ‘40’s and early ‘50’s. The photographs of their warheads, and a short video showing preparation of a thermonuclear test device from October 2017, shows that the DPRK has the capability to produce a deliverable weapon in the form of an aircraft bomb, short range rocket warhead, or strategic missile warhead (we can also add eventual development of ground launched cruise missiles, submarine launched ballistic missiles, and multiple reentry vehicles).

  Thus, it’s not beyond the technological capacity of North Korean weapon scientists to miniaturize their warheads, and within five years deploy solid fuel ICBM’s and SLBM’s, long range cruise missiles, and strategic warheads in the high kiloton to megaton range as a deterrent against perceived threats from the US, Australia, Japan, and other nations. 
  In my opinion, DPRK nuclear tests in the near future may well be within the 500 kiloton to megaton range. While I can’t elaborate on how this is achieved, it’s obvious that North Korean scientists and weapon engineers have had some help from their “internationalist comrades” in producing a thermonuclear warhead. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Analysis of North Korea's Nuclear Weapons, September 2017

Copyright 2017 by Michael H. Maggelet

4 September 2017


  I was wondering how long it would take North Korea to publish photographs of their claimed thermonuclear warhead, and was surprised at the press release of 3 September 2017, and nuclear test soon after. According to some estimates, the yield was approximately 120-150 kilotons.

  While I can’t comment on technical features of their warheads, it’s obvious that the fission warhead displayed in 2015 with an approximate diameter of 30 inches (76.2 cm) is a production device, and very likely uses manual insertion of nuclear components. The Defense Intelligence Agency stated on March 11, 2011 that the DPRK could deliver several plutonium based warheads.

North Korean fission implosion warhead, possible manual insertion design.

  I sincerely doubt the DPRK’s implosion warheads are one point safe, and thus present a safety problem when fully assembled for strike. “One point safe” is defined in US criteria as producing a nuclear yield less than a four pounds TNT equivalent when the high explosive sphere is initiated at any point, or by one detonator. A declassified Strategic Air Command safety study estimated that the accidental detonation of the HE on a solid capsule weapon (like Fat Man, or the early fission bombs fully assembled for a combat drop) had a fifteen percent chance of producing a 40 ton nuclear contribution. [1] 
  Modern US weapons, using sealed pits of hollow shells of active material, are inherently one point safe. [2]
  An unassembled open pit weapon, with the capsule stored in a storage container, is safe from accidental nuclear detonation.

  DPRK press release on the thermonuclear weapons progress, 9 March 2016.

  The thermonuclear warhead, below, obviously shows a reduced scale primary and thermonuclear secondary (and other features I won’t discuss), and in my opinion DPRK scientists received technical assistance from outside sources and friendly countries. Thus, given the advancements in N. Korean military hardware in the missile and nuclear fields, DPRK claims must be taken seriously (along with threats of EMP attacks via exoatmospheric nuclear bursts).


  That being said, while North Korea continues to threaten their neighbors and the US with nuclear annihilation, this is nothing new, and those of us who grew up during the Cold War were only six minutes away from Soviet SLBM’s, not to mention tactical rockets and missiles, and nuclear artillery at overseas locations. I personally never lost any sleep when I was stationed in Germany in the late '80's and early '90's despite Soviet grandstanding, Stasi trained terrorists, Warsaw Treaty Organization maneuvers, nor incessant propaganda from Pravda, Tass, and East German state media.

DPRK state media photo of two stage thermonuclear warhead.

DPRK photo showing firing set/X-unit and aft cap of primary, detonator cabling, and neutron generator.

  North Korea has achieved a threshold in the field of thermonuclear technology, and in years to come the world can only expect the DPRK to produce multi-megaton weapons for strategic use, and small diameter systems to include nuclear artillery, man portable atomic demolitions, and enhanced radiation warheads. 

1. SAC Historical Study 73, Jan-Jun 1958, pp. 78-79. Declassified from Top Secret Restricted Data.  
2. DOE Restricted Data Declassification Decision, pp. 74-75.

The content of this article is the personal opinion of the author.

Contact- mhmaggelet "at"

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Rebutting the "Fake News" UK Daily Mail Article of 14 September 2016

 Copyright 2017 by Michael H. Maggelet and James C. Oskins

“Arkansas nearly wiped off the map in 1980 when a SOCKET fell down a nuclear missile silo and punctured a fuel tank, sparking a fire.” By Ariel Zilber, UK Daily Mail (14 September 2016 online article).

  The UK Daily Mail, like many other publications, has unfortunately chosen to publish Eric Schlosser’s  anti-nuclear diatribes and falsehoods without verifying the facts. 

  Eric Schlosser, a self described “investigative journalist” and anti-nuclear conspiracy theorist, has released a propaganda film on the 1980 Titan II accident which occurred near Damascus, Arkansas.
  For starters, it should be noted that Schlosser never submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the nuclear weapons accident report, nor did he conduct “exhaustive research” as he continually proclaims in interviews (he submitted a total of two FOIA requests, one of which is nothing more than reference documents copied word for word from a Rand safety study). Due to numerous inconsistencies in Schlosser's book and public statements, Mr. Maggelet FOIA'd all the logs going back seven years due to Schlosser's distortions of the historical facts surrounding nuclear weapons in general, and accidents and incidents. He simply took the easy route and contacted Mr. Maggelet asking permission to use information from our book "Broken Arrow, Volume II" a few weeks before his book was published.

  With that in mind, let’s take a look at the intentional distortions, disinformation, and fabrications made by Schlosser and quoted in the Daily Mail online article.

1. Claim- “On September 18, 1980, technicians at Titan II missile silo in Damascus, Arkansas, were trying to replace a socket on a missile.”
Facts- In actuality, two technicians were handling a heavy socket and breaker bar, in the process of  servicing a valve on the upper stage of the Titan II.

2. Claim- “When the socket fell down a 70-foot shaft, it punctured the missile's tank, causing a leakage of chemicals.”
Facts- The eight pound socket fell about 66 feet, punctured the first stage skin and propellant tank, and caused leakage of Aerozine 50 (a 50/50 mix of hydrazine and unsymmetrical dimethyl-hydrazine).

3. Claim- “A fire ensued, but, by a stroke of luck, there was no explosion that would have laid waste to much of the state.”
Facts- The explosion of liquid propellant occurred eight and a half hours after the socket punctured the missile (there was no initial fire). The explosion of the Titan II certainly did not lay waste to “much of state”, nor would its nuclear warhead have detonated in a nuclear manner (due to numerous safety features and weapon design principles).

4. Claim- “Schlosser reveals that there were about 1,200 of these kinds of accidents from 1950 to 1968.”

Facts- Schlosser's number of 1,200 includes over 1,150 minor reportable incidents that include crushed electrical cables, test set indications, dents on fins exceeding rejection criteria, and minor defects on inert training weapons. More serious incidents, such as "Bent Spears", are detailed in our book "Broken Arrow, Volume II". The fact that such small problems are reported illustrates the care and attention paid to all aspects of the nuclear weapons program.

5. Claim-
The United States narrowly avoided a nuclear disaster that threatened to obliterate the entire state of Arkansas, according to a bombshell new book.”
Facts- Since an ‘accidental” nor "intentional" nuclear detonation of the W53 on site was not possible due to safety devices, even an intentional 10 megaton detonation (by a Soviet ICBM) would not have obliterated the state of Arkansas. "The Effects of Nuclear Weapons" details weapons effects rather distinctly, not to mention historical test films showing the effects of multi-megaton yield weapons (and observers and aircraft within 30 miles are not incinerated).  According to several nuclear weapons effects computers (and asteroid impact calculators), it would take an asteroid or comet impact equivalent to approximately 2,250 megatons to "incinerate the state of Arkansas".  
6. Claim- “Command and Control", a book written by renowned investigative journalist Eric Schlosser, details how a maintenance accident in a missile silo buried underneath farmland in Damascus, Arkansas, nearly caused a thermonuclear explosion.”
Facts- Schlosser certainly isn’t renowned in the nuclear weapons community due to his numerous lies, and the accident, as previously mentioned, certainly did not nearly cause “a thermonuclear explosion". An accidental nuclear detonation, due to one point design, safety devices, and design features, was not possible. 
7. Claim- “Schlosser's book, which was made into a documentary directed by Robert Kenner, is all the more shocking since it reveals that accidents of this kind were much more commonplace than initially believed.”
Facts- Given the fact that Schlosser is the son in law of Robert Redford, his connections to Leftist activist groups and Robert Kenner aren’t surprising. The US Department of Defense has released information on many (not all, for security reasons) Broken Arrows when they occurred, and published lists in 1968, 1979, 1981, etc., and has aircraft accident reports available for anyone willing to submit the paperwork. One is not surprised by Schlosser’s “shocking” claims of 1,200 “nuclear weapons accidents”.

8. Claim- “It was a sign of the compartmentalized secrecy at the time,' Schlosser said. 'The weapons designers who knew there were safety problems didn't know how the weapons were being handled in the field, and the guys who were literally having their lunches sometimes sitting on nuclear weapons smoking cigarettes had no idea there were any safety problems with these weapons.'
Facts- The only compartmentalization involved the access to classified weapon information, not incident and accident information. The weapons labs and Sandia Corporation were notified of every incident and accident, as detailed in message routing and their response to several early accidents (they also worked with AFSWP to issue retrofit orders to replace obsolete or defective components).  As to Schlosser’s claim that weapon designers “didn’t know how the weapons were being handled in the field”, that’s a lie, since AEC custody representatives were on hand during weapon uploads and were the custodians for nuclear capsules at military bases.
  As for his statement that “guys were literally having their lunches sometimes sitting on nuclear weapons smoking cigarettes”, Schlosser again shows his complete ignorance of safety rules and procedures which were ingrained into every nuclear weapons specialist, aviation ordnanceman, load crew member, handler, missileman, torpedoman, and ordnance specialist from day one.   

9. Claim- 'The secrecy made everything more dangerous. The secrecy that was supposed to keep us safe actually endangered us.' "

Facts- What secrecy? Classified incident and accident reports were distributed worldwide to 945 organizations to include the weapons labs, military services, nuclear capable units, not to mention R&D, safety, and military contractors with a legitimate “need to know” (with a Secret Restricted Data clearance). We find it rather comical, if not the height of incompetence, for a retired employee of Sandia to proclaim that he never knew about incident reports kept in a classified tech library only a few minutes walk away.
About the authors-

Michael H. Maggelet is a retired USAF nuclear weapons team chief. As a USAF military dependent, he lived in the UK near RAF Chicksands from 1964-1965.  At the USAF nuclear weapons technical school at Lowry AFB, Colorado in 1980, Mike disassembled, tested, and assembled training weapons such as the W25/AIR-2A Genie, W28 warhead, B28FI bomb, B43, B53, B57, B61, W69/AGM-69A Short Range Attack Missile, W62/Mk 12 Reentry Vehicle, munitions handling equipment, and clip-ins. During his career he worked on the SRAM, B43, B57, B61, and B83 in numerous locations to include New Hampshire, New York, and West Germany.
James C. Oskins is a USAF retiree, and was a nuclear specialist, nuclear weapons arming and fuzing specialist, and nuclear weapons team chief from 1955-1975. Jim initially worked on nuclear capsules and pits, and maintained the Mark 6 bomb, Mark 15 Mod 2, Mark 17, Mark 21, Mark 28, Mark 36, Mark 39, W39/Snark, W53/Mk 6 RV, Mk 53 bomb, B57, and B61. He had assignments in Maine, Texas, the United Kingdom, Kansas, and Nevada.

Mike and Jim are the authors of several articles and two books on nuclear weapons history and accidents. Their book "Broken Arrow, Volume II, A Disclosure of Significant US, Soviet, and British Nuclear Weapons Incidents and Accidents, 1945-2008" was submitted for a Pulitzer Prize in History in 2010.

For contact, fact checking, and historical consultation, we may be reached at mhmaggelet "at"

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Anti-Nuclear Hysteria Versus the Historical Facts

Copyright 2014 by Michael H. Maggelet

   With the advent of the internet, the anti-nuclear movement has spurned a whole slew of new conspiracy theories on nuclear weapons accidents. These range from a supposed Broken Arrow involving a B-52 crash near Monticello, Utah, to the purported accident at RAF Greenham Common in 1958, to the W53 at Damascus, Arkansas almost “incinerating the entire state”. In such cases, a review of the aircraft weight and balance sheet, and the declassified accident reports and AEC post mortems shed more light on the bizarre world of the anti-nuclear movement, where political activism, hysteria, and disinformation are key to aping the disarmament agenda. 
  Such is the case of one Eric Schlosser, whose background as an “investigative journalist” includes a book on fast food. Schlosser, among others, has made dozens of ludicrous claims by purporting to uncover “hundreds” of nuclear weapons accidents (which of course, are nothing more than incidents and accidents detailed in two books by Jim Oskins and myself). Schlosser contacted me wishing to use the Director of Nuclear Safety report on the Damascus, Arkansas Titan II accident a few months before his manifesto was published- so much for his claims of “exhaustive research”.

  Of course, to the anti-nuclear movement and conspiracy theorists, the facts don’t matter. This is evident in statements by several media anointed “nuclear weapons experts” who wouldn’t know a gun type from a sewer pipe. While Schlosser may be the ranking King of BS (“BullSchloss”), there are others with blogs typing out utter nonsense and “facts” which are intentionally distorted from declassified documents.

  Anti-nuclear activist Hans Kristensen is a Danish researcher who has proclaimed that the B53 bomb was “unsafe”. This is based off a declassified LLNL document which gave dubious “safety ratings” to various weapons. Kristensen contends that the 53 “… did not have Enhanced Nuclear Detonation Safety (ENDS), Insensitive High Explosive (IHE), Fire-Resistant Pit (FRP), Protective Action Link (PAL), or Command Disable (CD).” In fact, the 53 was produced in 1962, years before many of these concepts were implemented- ENDS in 1968, IHE was not required by DOD until 1984, and the 53 did not require a fire resistant pit since the Type 76 pit (U-235) does not present the contamination hazard of plutonium.1  

  PAL wasn’t a requirement for the SAC only B-53 when it was fielded, nor was command disable. All SAC B-52’s required at least three crew members to arm and release weapons using Aircraft Monitoring and Control equipment, and SAC’s B-52’s were maintained on ground alert after January 1968 (the Coded Switch Set was also introduced around 1970). PAL of course means “Permissive Action Link”, not “Protective Action Link”. So much for expertise.

  The 53 system has been involved in three accidents, with one warhead HE and pit melting in a fire at Bunker Hill AFB with minor contamination.  The W53 and B53 were safe, reliable, and exceptionally robust weapon systems. 2

  Douglas Keeney is another individual who takes license with historical fact. For example, he claims that one accident weapon “in Morocco that almost certainly went nuclear if only partially.” 3   He’s made some rather ridiculous statements regarding the lost Tybee Mark 15 Mod 0, including one that a lighting strike on the bomb could result in a nuclear explosion. 4
  Weapons such as the Mk 15 Mod 0, equipped with automatic in-flight insertion mechanisms did NOT fly airborne alert with nuclear capsules in the AIFI- they only sat ground alert. Keeney also used a significant portion of James Oskins recollections as a USAF 332X0 nuclear specialist at Biggs AFB, TX without permission for his book “15 Minutes- General Curtis LeMay and the Countdown to Nuclear Annihilation.”

Mark 36 thermonuclear weapon identified in B-47 accident debris by Michael H. Maggelet and James C. Oskins (photo DOD) 


  Eric Schlosser’s recent “breaking news” in July 2014 with claims that a Sandia document is “proof” that one of the Mark 39 Mod 2 accident weapons near Faro, North Carolina (12 miles NE of Goldsboro) was “one step away” from detonation comes as no surprise. This is materially false, as the document in question, Sandia Corporation SC 81-61, clearly states that two solenoid safety switches in each of the two weapons were safe, electrically isolated and could not pass an electrical signal to the X-unit (pages 5, 11, 14, and 20). This is reiterated in documents declassified over a decade ago by the Department of Energy (“Official Observer’s Report, Air Force Accident, Goldsboro, North Carolina” by AEC/ALO rep Ross B. Speer). This myth originated from Daniel Ellsberg and has been perpetuated by others with no knowledge of the Mark 39’s sequence of operation (despite the fact such info has been declassified/sanitized and available to serious researchers for over seventeen years).  
  While the process to detonate the Mk 39 Mod 2 is complex, each weapon was individually armed through specific voltage and amperage through the DCU-47/A (T-380) readiness switch (controlled by the pilot), and the T-249 or DCU-9 monitored by the bomb-nav (or other crew member). Charging of X-unit components, to include saturable core transformers and spark gaps, could only take place after the MC-788 Ready/Safe Switch and MC-772 Electrical Arm/Disarm switches had been pre-armed via aircraft power and crew intent. The Mk 39 with an uncharged X-unit cannot be charged via the 12 volt nose impact piezo switch, nor can the piezo voltage bypass the two electrically operated solenoid safety switches in the safe position.



EOD and MMS personnel examine Mk 39 “Bomb 2” at Faro, North Carolina. This weapon was severely damaged on ground impact after falling several thousand feet. The two electrically operated safing switches were both found in a later post mortem to be “SAFE”. The weapon could not have detonated in a nuclear fashion since the high voltage thermal battery was not activated, and the X-unit and numerous other components were not activated nor fired. The bomb’s HE did not detonate and the pit was recovered, along with the full reservoir. The secondary punched through the nose of the weapon and has never been recovered. 


  Eric Schlosser’s anti-nuclear bias and political agenda are pretty evident in “independent” radio and Youtube video’s showing his disdain for the military and links to Leftist anti-nuclear organizations. Hardly a scholar, Schlosser has made dozens of ludicrous claims, a few of the most absurd I’ll address below.

Eric Schlosser Myths- “They were trying to do an emergency landing at one of our most top secret important military installations in Greenland which had a secret radar site there, and the pilot was just able to guide the B-52 away from this top secret installation and it crashed. Plutonium was spread all over the Arctic. Those hydrogen bombs could have detonated full scale!” (Jim Axelrod interview with Eric Schlosser on CBS News Online, Youtube, 21 September 2013).

Facts: The construction of Thule Air Base by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and USAF was public knowledge in 1953, and featured in numerous media outlets (“The Big Picture” television report on Thule, “Operation Blue Jay”, 1953, from the National Archives, and dozens of movie reports from Universal Newsreel on Thule AB from 1953 onwards). The BMEWS site was operational on 1 January 1961, and by November 1962 the Soviets had positioned a trawler near Thule with a history of cable cutting. 6

  The B-52G was intentionally flown over Thule where the aircrew bailed out, it then continued to fly and crashed more than 7.5 miles from the base on the sea ice. Danish AEC radiological health surveys prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Arctic is not heavily
contaminated with plutonium, nor does the dispersed plutonium oxide present a major health hazard to wildlife or the environment. The safety features in the four Mk 28 FI weapons worked as designed, and have proven time and again to be one point nuclear safe (two HE detonations at Palomares in 1966, four weapon HE detonations at Thule in 1968). 7

Mk 28 FI weapons in a clip-in assembly on MHU-7 trailer 

Eric Schlosser Myths- On Goldsboro- “What prevented the detonation was one switch, one safety switch, and a fair amount of good luck, because that safety switch was later found, in some cases, to be defective. And as the plane was breaking apart in mid air, there were so  many wires, there was so much electrical  equipment  in  that  plane,  that  if  one  of  those  wires  had crossed with the arming wire of the bomb, there would have been a full scale nuclear detonation of this hydrogen bomb...”

Facts: In actuality, as previously shown, the Mark 39 had two electrical safety switches. A defective R/S switch would have been detected via the T-249A during any safety status check (and during any post assembly, pre-load, and monitoring checks). I don’t see anything in the FOIA incident reports of “that safety switch” in the Mk 39 Mod 2 being “defective”. 8

   Specific voltage through aircraft monitoring equipment (pilot’s readiness switch and aircrew AMAC), aircraft/bomb cable, specific pins, and wiring in the shielded neoprene cable would have to occur before any rotation of the R/S switch and Electrical Arm/Disarm Switch. Since weapon electrical components are isolated and housed in electrically grounded and potted fiberglass housings, with additional protection by ESD’s, thermal fuses, resistors, etc., stray voltage has not resulted in unintentional charging of the X-unit on a war reserve weapon in DOD custody. 9

Eric Schlosser Myths- Schlosser states the Labs were “unaware that nuclear weapons in the 1950’s were being taken out of their bunkers and put on airplanes for ground alerts. They were never consulted about that” (Global Security Newswire, 23 Sep 2013), and “…the secrecy was so intense that the Air Force wasn’t telling the weapons designers problems that they were having in the field.”

Facts- Storage and security was the responsibility of AEC and the military services in the early days, as shown in several AEC/DOD site custody agreements (which also spell out incident/accident reporting). It’s obvious Schlosser and others who argue about “custody disputes” just can’t grasp the subject matter nor comprehend the content of documents such as  “The History of the Custody and Deployment of Nuclear Weapons, 1945-1977”, which has been declassified since 1999. The fact that AEC was aware of incidents and accidents is evident in the routing of messages from AFSWP to AEC, AEC observers present at several early accidents, and the fact that an AEC capsule custodian had to be present with a military capsule technician to open the AEC cap building before and during the “Bombs on Base” program in 1956. Jim Oskins states that AEC reps were also present when aircraft were uploaded.
  Weapons incident reports, and subsequent product improvement reports, are readily available from declassified government archives, and claims that weapons designers were unable to review non-compartmentalized SRD reports (Dull Swords, Bent Spears, and Broken Arrows) is pure nonsense since the classified FC DASA Technical Letter 20-3 reports (obtained by Jim and I via FOIA in 2008) were kept in the FC DASA (DTRA) Tech Library and widely distributed to the military services and AEC complex.

Eric Schlosser Myths- Regarding the Titan II accident, “The accident that I wrote about at length could have destroyed the state of Arkansas while Bill Clinton was governor.” (Rolling Stone, 16 September 2013).

Facts- As I previously noted, Schlosser contacted me since he couldn’t FOIA the report in “Broken Arrow, Volume II” for his forthcoming masterpiece. Schlosser goes on to claim in interviews that his “exhaustive research” is “meticulous”, while ignoring the fact that his footnotes are largely derived from previously published books and online sources (not only did he borrow heavily from our Broken Arrow books, but according to one online posting, his “research” into the Titan II is largely derived from “Titan II: History of a Cold War Missile Program” by David Stumpf). Schlosser never did forward a copy of his book as promised.

  The W53 warhead at Damascus was severely damaged after being blasted out of the silo and thrown 500 feet into a ditch (no HE detonation). Since the Mk 6 RV separated from the warhead, all battery power to charge the X-unit was removed.  In addition, the neutron generators were blown off the warhead, and det cables were broken and frayed.  The 53’s X-unit (capacitor discharge type) used a rotary chopper converter which required two independent signals from the arming and fuzing subsystem in the RV; one to start and run the chopper motor and another to supply continuous low power voltage to be transformed to high voltage (which would be chopped, rectified, and stepped up to the necessary voltage). The RV also required two distinct g-force inputs during the launch and reentry phases before the ESD’s could supply power to the warhead. Thus, with the warhead blown out of the RV, no electrical power was available to the warhead. A nuclear detonation at Damascus was not possible.10

  So, there you have it, a brief rebuttal to a collection of innumerable conspiracy theories promoted by individuals with zero experience in the nuclear weapons field, desiring to promote themselves as “nuclear weapons historians” and “scholars”, at the same time making a buck off their new found knowledge and sad lack of expertise.   


 1. “Los Alamos Source Data for B53 Mod 1, Nuclear Explosive Safety Study”  (FOIA’d by Hans Kristensen). One wonders if these people actually read the documents they request. Info on hazardous materials is available from the INWS brief.  

 2. “DOD Narrative Summaries of Accidents Involving US Nuclear Weapons, 1950-80”. The EOD render safe and post mortems are presented in “Broken Arrow, The Declassified History of US Nuclear Weapons Accidents”. The B53 was “ inherently one point safe”, see B53 NESS, p. 73.

 3. “On Point- Lost Nuclear Bombs: A Dangerous Place for Confusion” by L. Douglas Keeney (27 March 2011).

 4. “Lost Archives 4: Irretrievably Lost - The search for the Savannah Warhead” An exceedingly poor documentary.

 5. “History of the Mark 39 Warhead” by Sandia Corporation, declassified from SRD, 1997.

 6. By November 1962, the Soviets had positioned a trawler with a history of cable cutting near the BMEWS undersea cable (excerpt from McNamara to Pres. Kennedy, "Strategic Retaliatory Forces, 1964-1968").
 7. “History of the Mark 28 Weapon” and “Hydronuclear Experiments” (LA-10902). The 28-0 was restricted from use in the Hound Dog after hydronuclear experiments showed a very slight nuclear contribution (one-thousandths of a pound fission release); it was modified and the safety issue rectified. The 28 Mod 1 warhead used an external neutron generator. Info about Thule health surveys in “Thule Nuclear Weapons Accident Dose Evaluation Report, April 2001” and “Radio-ecological  Investigations”  by  Asker  Ankerborg,  pp.  11-12.  Danish  Atomic  Energy  Commission,  Research  Establishment  Riso, April 1969.

 8. Pre-arming incidents are detailed in “Technical Letter 20-3”, and various NWEF documents Jim Oskins and I obtained via FOIA over seven years ago.   

 9. ibid, see also “Safety of Air Delivered Nuclear Weapons Now in Stockpile”, Fowler (SNL) to Graves (DMA), no date, possibly 1974. Declassified from SRD.

10. “History of the Mark 53 Warhead”, pp. 27-28, and SC 42-41 “A Survey of Nuclear Safety Problems and the Possibility for Increasing Safety in Bombs and Warhead Designs”, p. 30, Feb 1959.  

Michael H. Maggelet is a retired U.S. Air Force nuclear weapons team chief. He has written two books on nuclear weapons accidents with James C. Oskins. While in tech school Mike trained on the early sealed pit weapons to include the W25, B28FI, and the later B53 bomb. He worked on the B43, B57, B61, B83, and AGM-69A SRAM. Mike’s research for the NWTA includes articles on Little Boy and Fat Man, early Soviet nuclear weapons, Warsaw Pact special operations forces, and Soviet nuclear torpedoes.

Mike's Note- I will be posting more material on the antics of anti-nuclear activists (not to mention some US major media outlets) deleting posts by nuclear veterans correcting their poor research, intentionally blocking our posts on their blogs ("awaiting moderation"), and posting material without proper accreditation.  

"Anti-Nuclear Hysteria Versus the Historical Facts" Copyright 2014 by Michael H. Maggelet