In 1966 the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in a taut nuclear cat-and-mouse game. The U.S. Air Force's Strategic Air Command kept an arsenal of missiles and aircraft on a constant state of alert. Decades before the term 24/7 was invented, SAC embodied it with airborne patrols—under code names like Looking Glass and Chrome Dome—flown respectively by command-and-control aircraft and nuclear-armed bombers.
A mind-boggling array of measures and protocols were in place to control this airborne armada. Yet, even with all the safeguards in place, accidents—to be exact, 20—happened between 1950 and 1966 involving Air Force aircraft with nuclear weapons on board.1 Perhaps the most serious occurred in 1966 over Spain when a B-52 Stratofortress exploded while carrying four nuclear weapons. Three bombs were located almost immediately, but the fourth could not be found. What began as an Air Force tragedy rapidly developed into a Navy search-and-recovery operation distinguished by resourcefulness, perseverance, and sacrifice.