LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The B-17 that crashed Wednesday at Bradley International Airport has a storied past that can be traced to nuclear tests in Nevada.
On April 7, 1945, the plane came out of production at Douglas Aircraft Company in Long Beach, California, just a little too late to see action in World War II, according to The Aviation Geek Club.
Seven years later, after duty during air-sea rescues, aircraft #44-83575 provided a very different kind of service as it landed at the Nevada Test Site, now known as the Nevada National Security Site.
A Department of Energy document provides details on “Operation Tumbler-Snapper — Vulnerability of Parked Aircraft to Atomic Bombs.”
The B-17 Flying Fortress was one of 28 aircraft used to assess damage that nuclear bombs would do if detonated above an airfield. The B-17 was subjected to three nuclear blasts:
- April 15, 1952: Baker, a one-kiloton device, detonated 10,354 feet over the aircraft. The B-17 had no discernable damage.
- April 22, 1952: Charlie, a 31-kiloton device, detonated 10,000 feet over the aircraft. Substantial damage to the aircraft was recorded, but it was repairable and readied for the final test.
- May 1, 1952: Dog, a 19-kiloton device, detonated 7,792 feet above the aircraft. The B-17 was declared scrap, and towed to the edge of the Yucca Lake airstrip to cool.
When radiation had decayed by January 1965, it was sold along with 800 tons of scrap metal accumulated from the test program. It was purchased from that company, and restoration began at the test site two months later.
Parts from all over and and newly fabricated parts were brought together and tested, and the plane thundered into the air on May 14, 1965.
It was christened the “Yucca Lady.”
The B-17 was used to help fight fires from 1966 to 1986, when it was purchased by and eventually came to the Collins Foundation.
A complete restoration followed and the aircraft was renamed “Nine-O-Nine” in 1987.
While performing in an air show, a crosswind flipped Nine-O-Nine as it landed, causing extensive damage that put the aircraft out of service until another restoration was completed in 1992.