THE BATTLE OF PALMDALE: A Remarkable Dogfighting Debacle That Exposed US Technological Folly

Amazing dogfight near Los Angeles in 1956 involving a Hellcat, rockets and Einstein.


This is quite interesting; I suppose the idea of the many, many small missiles concept is that of the shotgun, not that it seemed to work in this case. I suppose as the target area of a nuclear-armed Bear or Bison would be a different matter. Mind you, would a hit trigger the nuclear munition carried by the bombers? If so, I don’t think I’d want to be hanging around in my F-89.

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There are basically two types of nuclear warheads – the gun type, where a marginally subcritical mass is shot into another marginally subcritical mass (and is only viable for fission devices), and implosion types, where carefully-shaped lenses of explosive force the collapse of a shell of fissile material (which, in the case of fission-fusion devices, then sets off the fusion reaction). Of the first two nuclear devices used, Little Boy was a gun type device, and Fat Man was an implosion device. In either case, they rely on precisely-aligned components working together for the warhead to detonate. If a missile were to actually hit (or have the blast hit) a nuclear warhead, it’s possible that you would get a dirty fizzle, where the fissile material in the warhead got blown across an area, but it wouldn’t be able to set off the warhead.



Thanks; I’m up to speed on the physics - more or less. My question was devised as these early devices - and some later ones - were all a bit fraught. There was serious concern in the UK during a couple of nuclear accidents at US bases when it was thought that there just might be an initiated blast. Some of the technology employed in Britain’s own devices were hair-curlingly dangerous, which led me to considering how safe any Soviet device might be back in the day, given their propensity to cut the inevitable technological corners they may have encountered.

Sure, a couple of incoming Mighty Mouse rockets may not have been capable of triggering a Soviet nuclear explosion at x thousand feet, but I wouldn’t want to be that sure sat in my arguably, not so snug F-89 cockpit(!)

Funny thing is that those “Mighty Mouse” rockets were based off of the R4M rockets carried by and used rather successfully by Me-262s at the end of WWII.
But I suppose that hitting a bomber size target as opposed to a fighter sized target doesn’t quite require the same gunnery skills or ballistics precision…

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My impression talking to various Cold War USAF pilot’s if one is defending cities from Soviet nuclear oblivion, concern for unlikely circumstances like a dirty fizzle etc is pretty low. The concern your airbase may no longer exist is however would become fairly high as engagements continue.

No sure; I understand that an almost joke concerning RAF Vulcan pilots was that once they’d dropped/launched whatever they were carrying, they should continue east, eject and settle down with a nice Siberian woman(!)

In 1956, we - the UK - had only just managed to develop our own deliverable device (Blue Danube) - and were really in the Soviet front line if things had gotten out of hand, and in a way they almost did: Hungary 1956 was a trenchant reminder of how the Soviets could react.

Out airspace interceptors were limited to the Venom and the Javelin which had only just come into service, so there would not have been enough to go round.

Fraught itmes indeed.


I should just add that we also had the Hunter in the interceptor role; also, for some reason dyslexia seems to come with advancing age, “itmes” should read “times”. My apologies.

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This maybe if interest since you mentioned the UK was very much on the front lines of the Cold War Queen of the Sky: Meteor Night Fighters, UK Air Defence by Not A pound for Air to Ground

The UK had about 1/3 of the US population and about 1/3 of the economy but all packed in an area 1/40 of the siE of the US. In other words, a VERY target rich environment in terms of Cold War thinking :thinking:

What a fascinating video Wade - well done on that - a little gem; rational, almost understated and very informative. Ties in nicely of course, with what we’ve been discussing.

Of course, should things have turned hot in the mid 50s, we were mostly screwed; that said, the principle of nuclear deterrence was widely recognized, if not in the government, certainly amongst the military, hence our almost frenzied development and testing (of nuclear weapons).

The development of these early (jet) aircraft - both bomber and fighter - is quite interesting, not least from a modelling perspective; that said, as in model AFVs, not that many seem to indulge in Cold War '50s aircraft, although I’m happy to be corrected (!)

Jumping ahead by almost a decade, not many seem to know that the UK ended up operating some 60 Thor missiles - and they were all raised to launch status in October 1962. Funny that.

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