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  • Did a Minnesota Bear Almost Cause World War III? September 28, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

    minnesota bear

    The story is often told because it is a thrilling and terrifying one. In the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 a bear triggered an alarm at a US base leading personnel to believe that their airfield was under attack by Soviet saboteurs. US nuclear bombers on the airfield were scrambled and were racing for the skies when they were pulled back by a fast-thinking official who happily knew what a black bear looked like. Now is the story accurate? Beach is going to try and sort the historical grain from the legendary chaff and remind readers that humans will never let a good story be ruined by the truth.

    Problem one: It was actually another airfield. An intruder alarm was set off at Duluth Sector Direction Center in Minessota (at Duluth airport) c. midnight 25 October. This alarm also went off at all other airfields in the region, but in one airport, Volk Field in Wisconsin, the intruder alarm was set off as a scramble alert and pilots were sent running from their beds. Woops…

    Problem two: it may not have been a bear. A guard had seen, by all accounts, a figure trying to climb the fence at Duluth, and actually shot at the figure.  Subsequently rumours suggested that it was a late arrival trying to get back into the base without being noticed. An inspection of the fence latterly suggested, instead, that it was a bear. At least, this is the rather pat sounding explanation that is often trotted out and that came to light many years later. This begs a series of questions though: would a bear have climbed a fence; how would later investigators know that a bear had tried…? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com Knowing the military this may have been a cover up story for a late arrival at the base.

    Problem three: the planes that were scrambled at Duluth were not bombers but fighters: this is the detail that really deflates the story. The pilots racing towards Moscow were actually racing towards American airspace to shoot down hostiles. They were flying F106-A Delta Darts, America’s classic interceptor jet as late as the 1980s. It is true that these particular planes were each carrying a single GAR-11/AIM-26A Falcon nuclear-tipped semi-active radar (SAR)-homing missile. These missiles though were for shooting bombers or even flights of bombers from the sky and had only been loaded on the plane with the tensions of Defcon 2 and the crisis in the Carribean. Even had the fighters got up above they were not going to be bombing Russian civilians. The Delta Darts were stopped as it happened by a quick thinking official who drove a truck at the planes as they were revving up for take off.

    What was the worst case scenario here? Well the pilots knew that there was a high state of alert and ran to their planes believing that World War III had begun. That must have been terrifying enough… Once in the sky they would have shot off their nuke if there was any chance there was a Soviet plane and that could have meant a downed light aircraft or even a passenger jet and local radiation pollution. If the US had been very unlucky they may have accidentally downed a US nuclear bomber – in those grim days five times as many nuclear bombers were in the sky as normal – but the chances of that must have been relatively small. (Still what were the chances that the planes would have been wrongly scrambled in the first place?!) In the end the heart of the story is not the bear – that sounds like a very doubtful proposition. Rather it is the fool who accidentally miswired the Volk Field alarm to sound the scramble alert rather than the intruder alarm.

    If you want nuclear terror, there are other better candidates….

    28 Sept 2014: Marvin writes: ‘as an Air Force vet who worked as a weapons control system tech on the 106 I know that the nuke they carried was the aim 2A Genie, an unguided rocket. The guided weapons that the 106 carried were 4 aim 4 Falcons, two were radar guided and two were heat seeking.the Genie was designed to be fired into a formation of enemy bombers where the blast would destroy them all. After firing the weapon the pilot was to do a high G maneuver to change his flight heading as quickly as possible and hopefully get out of the blast zone before the warhead detonated.’ Thanks Marvin!