Atomic Hangovers

Atomic Wonderland: Sitting Ducks

In 1957 the US Air Force conducted a high altititude test of a low-yield atomic weapon. This test was not that different than much of the other atomic testing occuring at that time, except that 6 individuals–5 volunteers and one photographer–were standing directly underneath the blast in order to prove how ‘safe’ these weapons were. Thanks to the ever thorough US government, there is video of the test and the reactions of these fine gentlemen.


The men in the film were:

  • Col. Sidney Bruce
  • Lt. Col. Frank P. Ball
  • Maj. Norman “Bodie” Bodinger
  • Maj. John Hughes
  • Don Lutrel
  • George Yoshitake (the cameraman, not seen)

This was the test of a 2KT (kiloton) MB-1 nuclear air-to-air rocket launched from an F-89 Scorpion interceptor. The nuclear missile detonated 18,500 ft above their heads. (According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the explosion, part of Operation PLUMBBOB, was actually at 18,500 feet and the video is incorrect in stating the altitude as 10,000 ft.) The video was recorded by the U.S. Air Force, at the behest of Col. Arthur B. “Barney” Oldfield, public information officer for the Continental Air Defense Command in Colorado Springs in order to demonstrate the relative safety of a low-grade nuclear exchange in the atmosphere.

Read more over on Krulwich Wonders, an NPR Science blog.


Video from the YouTube of  (website, via and

  • fodder650
    • Thanks for putting a link to this! If I had a better memory I would have included it myself.

      • fodder650

        Yes I was very upset when you didn't remember that Operation Plumbob was connected to this rocket. 🙂

  • CaptianNemo2001

    The concussion was crazy…

  • Mike England

    I guess I would be interested in the health of the men who witnessed the detonation with no protection. Did they each live a long life after this event. ?

    • Number_Six

      I know for sure the group experienced very high rates of leukemia, and overall death rates from various forms of cancer during these early nuclear testing years were very high. The military used its personnel as guinea pigs but seem to have gotten away with it for the most part.

      • According to the article there has been some monetary restitution:

        "…lots of people associated with Nevada Test Site operations got cancer over the years, some $150 million has been paid out in compensation to 2,000+ "onsite participants" of nuclear testing, under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

        …the U.S. government has paid some $813 million to more than 16,000 "downwinders" to compensate them for illnesses presumably connected to the bomb testing program."

        I think there were some unknowns back then, and nuclear weapons were the future, so they just ran ahead with testing without really having a good feel for the possible long term consequences.

    • NPR did some checking, here's what they found (you can find more info at the source link):

      "George Yoshitake (the cameraman, not seen)

      Googling through the list, we quickly discovered (as did many of you) that George Yoshitake, the cameraman, was alive, at least as of two years ago. In 2010, he was interviewed in the New York Times and talked about his fellow cameramen who took pictures of atomic bombs. "Quite a few have died from cancer," he told reporter Bill Broad. "No doubt it was related to the testing." Yoshitake's nephew also wrote in and didn't mention his uncle's passing, so I'm guessing that he's now 84 years old and still with us.

      As for the others, that's trickier. It's hard to know if a match in names is a real match and I didn't want to make an awkward mistake. I turned to my sleuth friend, science historian Alex Wellerstein (now at the American Institute of Physics) for help here. He told me "Military folks who have died can be found in the Department of Veteran's Affairs Gravesite Locator —and since we think all the video guys were Army and all World War II veterans, we might find some matches.

      Alex looked, and here's what he found:

      Col. Sidney C. Bruce —died in 2005 (age 86)
      Lt. Col. Frank P. Ball —died in 2003 (age 83)
      Maj. John Hughes —very common name, but I'm guessing he is Maj. John W. Hughes II (born 1919, same as the above) —died in 1990 (age 71)
      Maj. Norman Bodinger —unclear (not listed in the database), he may still be alive? Don Lutrel —I think this is a misspelling of "Luttrell." There is a Donald D. Luttrell in the DVA database, US Army CPL, born 1924, died 1987 (age 63). Seems like a possibility."

      There doesn't seem to be much information on health problems they may have had though.

      • CaptianNemo2001

        Which means the bomb didn't kill them it just made then stronger… Army Stronger…

        • I think it made most of them 'Cross into the Blue'…

  • Number_Six

    Nice to see the Northrop P-89 Scorpion and Martin B-57 Canberra in action.

  • Mike England

    I was born in 1960 and we (our generation) have pretty much been raised to believe anyone who is close enough to see a nuclear detonation automatically dies from cancer. (if not vaporized).
    It was sort of a challenge when I was a young officer in the USArmy to study tactics (armored cavalry) that involved maneuvering across a radioactive battlefield.
    Just because an atomic bomb has gone off, does not mean the Earth has evaporated.
    That said, I am very pleased there has been relatively little exchange of nuclear weapons (so far).