(my son is the redditor for this post, but I will answer your questions)

My participation in operation Dominic as a B57 pilot began in January 1962. At the time I was flying the F89 interceptor for the 103FIS (PANG) at the Philadelphia international Airport. When a request came down from Wing Headquarters for volunteers to go on a classified mission to a small island in the South Pacific, three other pilots, and I signed up. Our first stop was Louisville KY, where we checked out in the B57. Two weeks later we were on our way to the 1211th test squadron in Albuquerque NM. Where we flew several missions learns how to do air sampling.

Then off to Hickam Air Base, Hawaii where we practiced until we learned that we would be going to Christmas Island to perform air sampling missions during the atomic bomb testing. We then flew our B57s to Christmas Island. Once the bomb testing started we took turns flying through the mushroom cloud immediately after the detonation. Most detonations took place about 20miles downwind of the island. A transport ship was moored off the island should the winds suddenly turn around during a test. . (It never did)

A typical mission went like this. Each pilot would have a specific take-off time. It could be five, ten or fifteen minutes before detonation or immediately after detonation time. We would climb to a designated altitude and toward the mushroom cloud. (If we took off before detonation we would make sure we were heading in the opposite direction at zero time). Another B57 pilot with an engineer in the back seat would join up with us for a few minutes to give us an exact heading to hold while we flew through the cloud. We would also be given an emergency exit heading should the cloud become too hot. We would know this by the reading of the radiation detection instruments, which were installed in the back seat. My navigator would read these gage numbers over the air as we flew through the cloud. I would be responsible for opening the air sampling valves on the empty tip tanks. If the gages did not max out I would hold the heading until I came out the other side of the cloud, I would immediately head back to the airstrip, land, and taxi to the decontamination area.

After shutting down the engines, I would raise the canopy. This allowed the decon specialists, who were dressed in white protective gear and wearing big gloves, to drive a forklift with a raised wooden platform on its tongs to the edge of the cockpit. An airman on the platform would first lift the navigator, then me out of the cockpit. This procedure prevented us from touching the outside of the airplane. The only protection we wore was a lead vest over our thin summer flight suit. Instead of the usual heavy flight boots, we wore light athletic sneakers. The reason for this was that after we were taken to the decontamination building we discarded all of our clothing into a large empty oil drum. I guess these were then washed and used again. We were then directed to the shower area where we used some strong hard soap to wash off any external radiation we might have accumulated. After drying off we were checked with a Geiger counter and if the numbers were too high we returned to the showers until we got the numbers down to a safe? Number. Normally two showers would suffice, but I heard the record for one crew was seven showers. Short hair was a must, as hair would trap the radiation.

To measure how much radiation each crewmember accumulated, we would wear a dosimeter attached to a string around out neck and would also swallow a radiation detection pill. It was about one inch long and shaped like a football. It was hinged in the center to allow a dosimeter in its center to be read after retrieval. The method of retrieving it was not something we looked forward to.

Meticulous records were kept and if a crewmember had high accumulations of radiation he/she would not be allowed to continue the air sampling missions. I never accumulated more than ten Roentgens. Some years later the Atomic Energy Dept sent me documentation of my radiation exposure during operation Dominic. Included was a list of possible health hazards associated with exposure to radiation received while flying through atomic bomb clouds. Fortunately, to date, I have not experienced any those symptoms.

Comments: 691 • Responses: 61  • Date: 

cdg76266 karma

here is an old 8MM movie showing the blasts and how the pilots were checked after the flights. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmsyMIRDqzU

that is me standing in the swimsuit about half way thru the movie

(redditor note: I'm sure some of you already know this but you can increase the resolution of youtube from 360 to 720p by selecting this in the bottom right corner of the video. Better but still not great...)

your_inner_monologue96 karma

gotta love the nutgrab at the 49 second mark.

cdg76187 karma

just makin' sure everything is still there and in the right place...

metalgrizzlycannon64 karma

Is it true that having a bad ass moustache is required to be a pilot?

cdg76143 karma

yes, but this is before Magnum PI ruined the look for the rest of us

npa10030 karma

Have you considered geting that digitized? The blast footage is hard to see, but could be pretty interesting if cleaned up a bit. Anyhoo, the video makes it seem like you saw a few blasts from the ground. Can you describe what that was like? Did you feel a pressure wave, any heat, etc?

cdg7666 karma

yes, working on the digitzing, obviously this was just a test. Flip HD of the projector on a wall close up. There are some comments below to another questino about ground observations. I probably saw a dozen from the ground.

cdg7628 karma

for those interested, here is another 8mm video, some shots at Hickham AFB of the pilots before we were shipped out. Then a shot of us sitting on the tarmac waiting for a bomb drop, a few good seconds of the bomb cloud but then the quality isnt so good. Light filters were tricky back then. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiZK5jucOL4 (redditor note: I'm sure some of you already know this but you can increase the resolution of youtube from 360 to 720p by selecting this in the bottom right corner of the video. Better but still not great...)

wicklowdave11 karma

there's something other-worldly about those images. The feeling I get is the fear of looking at the power of a natural disaster but knowing there's nothing "natural" about it. It's extremely powerful and there's a very distinct threat of "this can get you" in what we see

cdg7610 karma

agreed. we all deal with a lot of serious stuff every day in the news, but imagine if we had these type of videos on the news everyday....sometimes you just dont want to know what is really going on in the world every day...

timberlands19 karma

Were there any girls on the island, or were you pretty much on a base/island with all guys?

cdg7650 karma

yes, but...nothing that would make you look twice (if you know what I mean...)

gmazzola96 karma

I have a few questions, speaking as a private pilot:

  • What was it like flying through the mushroom cloud?
  • Was there much turbulence? Did you suddenly drop into IFR conditions?
  • Were there any Special Operating Procedures to minimize damage to the aircraft? I would think the mushroom cloud's temperature could melt your engine.
  • How was your aircraft configured to provide breathable air to you? Did you have on-board oxygen bottles?
  • Do you still fly nowadays? If so, what type of airplane?

Thanks for answering these questions. This is an interesting IAmA!

cdg76124 karma

The mushroom clould was pretty much like a normal cloud, VFR to the cloud then IFR out. We were in the cloud about 2 min on average per flight. No special SOP's, just a thorough wash down by the detox crew on landing. We were not allowed to touch the outside of the plane after landing, hence the forklift in the video. We were on 100% oxygen during the cloud portion of the flight, but normal air othewise. Not flying now, after nearly 30 years in planes I'd had enough. I retired with over 10,000 hours.

Kryptus33 karma

Was the 100% oxygen given to you for calming purposes? Why would you need to breathe 100% oxygen?

williamrobertbrasky30 karma

He might just have meant '100% supplied air', meaning they weren't breathing nuclear cloud air.

Or not.

cdg7640 karma

don't know for sure, but you probably right, 100% supplied air, not oxygen. Just not from outside air...

razgrez75 karma

how brightly do you glow at night?

cdg76143 karma

well we dont need night lights around our house if that is what you mean...

darksim90565 karma

Upvote for awesome job.

cdg7661 karma


metalgrizzlycannon50 karma

Wow if only you guys had the radiation technology we have today. I respect you for this. Have you or any other pilot you know recieved compensation for any radiation poisoning?

cdg7693 karma

The pilots were pretty closely monitored during the testing, anyone up to 10 renkins were stopped immediately, I ended up with 7. I have not received any compensation, but have been contacted by the VA years ago. I know of one pilot who had brain cancer in the late 60's and may have gotten a claim.

TenshiS46 karma

renkins = Roentgens

cdg7652 karma

that's Philly speak for Roentgens...correct

cdg7639 karma

btw, a really Gino's (or Pat's) cheesesteak is 2x worse than any one of these blasts...I'm just sayin'

Kryptus39 karma

Regardless of your health conditions you should / should have gotten a disability rating when exiting the service. A close friend of mine helps soldiers do this for a living. Even getting a 0% rating is worlds better than not having one. When you do suffer from health problems the 0% rating easily gets upgraded and you can recieve benefits. Without having a rating you have to go through a lot more hassle. And if you are suffering you will not feel like going through all the legwork. Just a little FYI.

cdg7659 karma

Great point, I did get a 0% rating and had that increased to 10% rating for another matter (torture box training at survival school), and have received all the health care I could have asked for (other than dental). But thank you for the information

Metropolis300034 karma

Torture box training? What's the story around those and what led to attaining compensation for having gone through it?

weissensteinburg25 karma

From what I found after googling it, it seems to be a box where you can neither stand nor sit.

cdg7648 karma

yep, that is it...with a burlap bag over your head...and hang there all night...

jhetts28 karma


cdg7627 karma

on the torture box?

Mousekewitz6 karma

What in the world is torture box training, and why did it increase your disability rating?

cdg769 karma

see above

Icreatedyou5 karma

SERE? That stuff is so cool. I want to become an AF SERE specialist, but I've got a LOT of training to do- I'm a pasty, and weak teenager.

cdg7619 karma

this is "survival Escape resistance and evasion" as I recall. 5 days in the woods of remote Idaho, think BAT 21 movie with Gene Hackman. No matter what they do they catch you anyway. Part of the process was to be in a 4x4x4 or maybe 3x3x3 box for several hours, no fun. Came out with some upper thigh injuries as a result, lost some feeling in my legs, still to this day.

catsfive11 karma

Wow, any more training like that and you'd be useless for when the actual training might come in handy!~

cdg7610 karma

there is some truth to that

Icirus42 karma

Do you feel that mankind has lost a lot of its nerve. What I mean is that during your time we put man on the moon. Obviously people flew INTO a mushroom cloud. Today we are scared to launch astronauts into space. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

cdg76108 karma

Interesting point, to be honest we didnt think this was all that dangerous. We thought this was nothing compared to landing on the beach at Normandy...that was nerve. As for now, I suspect we have people doing dangerous things every day in the military etc, we just dont hear about it...

[deleted]57 karma

...nothing compared to landing on the beach at Normandy.

This statement means so much and yet I'm afraid that in time we'll have generations that don't get it. My grandfather has talked about fighting in the trenches. In the same breath he'll dismiss it by saying it's nothing like his brother at Normandy.

Part of me feels Normandy was criminal to Americans; that it is outside the scope of what should be required of Americans. It raises an internal debate about heroes and victims.

It would matter to me to know that you've read my comment. I want you to know that there are a few of us younger folk who attempt to appreciate our WWII vets; especially among these other voluntary wars.

cdg7639 karma

this is very personal for me, I am a eighth in my family and my oldest brother was i the army. He was in Europe but wasn't in Normandy. He was in the Philippines and would have been part of the Japan invasion. So the nuclear bombs pretty clearly negated the need for my brother to go to Japan.

Rape_Van_Winkle31 karma

What, visually, sticks in your memory the most when you witnessed the explosion? I guess I mean beyond a big mushroom cloud and flash of light...Thanks for this BTW

cdg7659 karma

certainly the "wow" factor. Each bomb was different, and some were duds. Most photos of this area were black and white, but the the clouds were very colorful. Also, see the comments above about the heat, light and sound.

Valcgo34 karma

Duds!? I would hate to be in the crew that had to go check on those.

cdg7671 karma

there were at least 2 bombs that just didnt go off, I guess they are still at the bottom of the ocean.

[deleted]18 karma

anyone know what would happen if they fell into a fault? scary!

jonknee56 karma

There's actually a nuke sitting just off the Georgia / South Carolina coast that was never attempted to be detonated (a B-47 was having big trouble and ejected the bomb so as it not cause larger problems in the event of a crash).. The biggest concern there is someone finding it and stealing the very tricky to make fuel. Nuke's are pretty hard to detonate, so an accidental detonation would be extraordinarily unlikely (even more so for one that already failed to detonate once).

slashc37 karma

There's actually quite a few lost nuclear bombs just lying around on the ocean floor http://www.genecurtis.com/LostNuclearBombs.htm

catsfive12 karma

Broken arrows!

cdg768 karma


[deleted]19 karma

What do you mean by duds? Do you mean some bomb designs didn't reach their full yield, or just failed to fire at all? This seems interesting because I haven't heard much of anything about these weapons failing.

cdg7636 karma

various issues, I guess that is why they were doing all the tests. The Wiki article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Dominic lists some of the issues, launch vehicle, guidance problems, etc...

[deleted]29 karma

What was the most memorable test you witnessed?

cdg7656 karma

the biggest ones were very impressive, huge cloud and many bright colors that kept changing as the cloud grew...

Mongolor27 karma

Can you tell us how you felt when you witnessed your first atomic blast? Can you give us an impression of the power?

cdg7674 karma

I was surprised on the amount of heat hitting your back and on the brightness of the blast, these were usually just before sunrise, and then the loud blast a few seconds. If we were on the ground we sat and faced away until the flash, then we could turn around and look thru special dark sunglasses. We were 19 miles away from the blast site...

utricularian26 karma

Did you ever have any close calls?

Did you and your crew ever talk about your jobs?

I have always wanted to see one go off, but I don't think I ever will unless it means the end of the world.

cdg7648 karma

I went thru one cloud that had a red streak, we were told to get out of there ASAP, usually it was just white like a normal cloud.

Yes, we talked about the jobs, we were pretty ingnorant about the risks, they said that 50 would cause cancer, and they pulled us at 10. there wasnt much happening on the island other than the bombs, no internet...or Reddit to keep us entertained.

[deleted]48 karma

The red streak might have been nitric acid according to wikipedia. http://i.imgur.com/u1fdb.png

cdg7651 karma

wow, great reference, never knew what that was...just that it was time to get out

KousKous26 karma

Did anyone in your unit die of cancer? Have you ever read The Good War, especially the chapters on the atomic veterans? If so, what's your opinion?

cdg7647 karma

yes, see above post, I know of one pilot in my group. The bigger issues were with the navy guys in the ships, they were much more exposed and much less monitored. The winds were more of an issue.

I know of the book but have not read it, will put it on the list.

MechBear25 karma

First off, you have my admiration and respect for doing what you did.


  1. Was there ever a chance of you backing out after finding out what you signed up for?

  2. How far would you have to be away from the blast to not be affected by the EMP? (I have layman-ish knowledge when it comes to this and I know from movies and basic wikipedia than an EMP is produced during a nuclear detonation and this is obviously taken into account for your missions)

  3. What was the 'worst thing to go wrong' (if ever) during any of your missions?

Thanks in advance for answering my questions.

cdg7630 karma

  1. no, this was the military, no changing your mind without going AWOL
  2. Did not really have any issues with EMP, on the flights we were already in the air about 50 miles away waiting for the blast. once we got the ok we flew into the cloud. We were just relying on one source of electromagnitic navigation, the ADF, it was not affected by the blast that we could tell.
  3. see the comments above about the "red streak" in one of the clouds, time to turn and "high tail it out of there". We were generally at 35-50k feet depending on the mission. These were special modified B-57 with U2 like wings.

FW19010 karma

Why did they modify wings on B-57? Were they difficult to fly with such wings?

cdg7626 karma

they made the wings were even longer so they could fly even higher. This was the highest altitude plane besides the U2. The wings were almost touching the ground and the tail was enlarged. These would go to 70k feet, so they said, this is really high. Interesting note, all the B57's, engines were started with gunpowder cartridges were fired to start the engines. we had to warn the tower that if they saw fire it was ok, just the starting procedure.

TimMitchell25 karma

1) Were you apprehensive when you found out that the classified job was flying through mushroom clouds? Any second thoughts?

2) As one of the few people that has witnessed a nuclear bomb up close, what are you thoughts on their future use in the world? Do they have a purpose in war, should they only be held for deterrence, or should the world try to eliminate them completely?

cdg7648 karma

1) yes, apprehensive but this was the height of the nuclear era so was not as big a deal as it would be today. Also, this was the military so there was no option to drop. No one quit after finding out the assignement, not that I know of. 2) I would never want to see one exploded for war, only as deterrence. These were many times bigger than the WWII bombs so the devistation would be much greater.

[deleted]22 karma

When you flew through your first mushroom cloud, what was the first thing that popped up in your mind?

cdg7639 karma

we didnt really have much of an idea what to expect, but the old cliche' "how did I ever get into this situation?" I was 28 and two young kids at the time. But we had a lot of confidence in the leadership, may be unfounded, but we did.


what is the largest aircraft you have piloted?

cdg7641 karma

funny that you should ask that, about 10 yrs later I became one of the first pilots for the C5A when it first came out... here is a video of the first one at Travis AFB http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqilHRt6RDA

hybridutterance6 karma

One of my earliest memories is watching Galaxies take off for Antarctica at Christchurch Airport in New Zealand. One of my favourites.

cdg766 karma

indeed, a majestic airplane.....

[deleted]19 karma

Do you have a healthy green glow and are you as impotent as a Las Vegas boxing commissioner?

cdg7655 karma

no glow, but did have a kid a few years later, no issues...

Intr0verted17 karma

TIL about air-to-air nuclear rockets.

cdg7634 karma

wow, I did that too. We used nuclear tipped rockets on the F-89, Genie missile, talk about a great idea. We were in Philly, trained at McGuire AFB, these were intended to take out a bunch of bombers coming in from USSR. These would explode mid air in front of the bombers, take them all out...that was the theory. In case you were wondering, we had lead shielded on the bottom (or so they told us), so we could turn away after firing and be protected. We practiced but fortunately didnt have to use them...

thelightistobright17 karma

Interesting IAMA!

How were the air samples collected?

Do you know what they needed the air samples for? What was does the air sample indicate?


cdg7630 karma

Air samples were collected in the tip tanks on the wings. They were looking for the rate of radioactive composition and dispersion at various altitudes and conditions. I should note that some bombs were underwater but most were air burst, some at low altitude, others very high. We could only fly to 50k feet, if it was higher there were two special B57's with extra long wings. Those pilots had to wear space suits, just like the astronauts

porkbyproduct16 karma

Off topic, but I love 1950's era airplanes. I've never seen a B-57, but I worked on KC-135's in the Air Force which was also a 50's era design. Amazing how planes like the B-52, U-2, KC-135, and others are still in the air 50 years later. Without the benefit of modern computers, CAD/CAM, composites, etc.

And avionics without the benefit of integrated circuits are a thing of wonder.

cdg7625 karma

you might like some of my other films, I flew C-123 in Vietnam in 1964, pretty early in the war for us. This one was in Thailand where we had some bullet holes in the wings. Also some shots of the early KC-135's http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTLLdL_Vl2E

even better, this one is from the inside of a C141 during in flight refueling ( I wasnt the pilot on this flight in case you were wondering) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RFslJLqIqo

or this one of F89 and F94's at Philly airport. Side note, the baby in the picture is now a Capitan for Delta.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5yDnsFys38

wupeka15 karma

What made you volunteer for this mission? Have you had any idea that you will be flying into nuclear mushroom?

cdg7644 karma

the request was for an assignment to a "south sea island" and this was the middle of Feb in Philly. Sounded good to me! They did not tell us what we were going to due until we were there.

We got no extra pay, and got $3/day per diem. As you can see in the youtube video, the accomodations were sparse but ok. No air conditioning.

[deleted]28 karma

Were the local ladies friendly?

cdg7615 karma

some local women, but nothing to write home about

sdhillon15 karma

How old are you? If you could go back and do it again, would you?

cdg7620 karma

If I knew what I know now absolutely not, but who can tell a 28 yr old what to do...my alternative was to work in the Vertol machine shop so this sounded like an exotic adventure...go to a south sea island, get paid, fly great airplanes, what could be better?

sdhillon8 karma

Were the clouds beautiful? Did you realize how awesome you were back then, or was it just a lagged realization?

cdg768 karma

yes, it was amazing. but like many people in their youth, we didnt know how beautiful it was... until now...

[deleted]14 karma

Would/could you release one of these weapons if given the order?

cdg7638 karma

At my age now (77) I would not do it, but at 28, it was my job, I would have done it...

[deleted]14 karma

how long did it take for the mission to be declassified?

cdg7615 karma

good question, lots has been declassified, just google Operation Dominic

Xpaticus13 karma

Did you ever fly combat missions? How did you feel about the destructive potential of these weapons? How did you feel about the USSR? How do you think you would have felt about dropping the a-bomb if commanded to?

Btw my grandfather was a WW2 bomber pilot. Flew 102 missions over north Africa and Italy. I suppose mainly bombing bridges and railroads. Still I guess he knew his job entailed collateral damage. He never talked about it after the war.

cdg7630 karma

did not do combat mostly transports for the rest of my career other than the Philly National Guard where F89's.
as for the USSR, this was really a political show of force because the russians would not stop testing theirs so we had to keep testing ours. A good example of the mutually assured distruction (MAD) mentality. This was right during the Bay of Pigs activities and neither party wanted to back down and show weakness.

Pseudonymphedrin12 karma

Can you clarify if you remember what kind of soap you used in the decon showers?

cdg7623 karma

Fels Naptha ...very strong soap...lots of lye...but it was all about the brushing...(redditor: watch Gattaca)

[deleted]10 karma

The method of retrieving it was not something we looked forward to.

What kind of diet were you on? And did you poop in a special toilet?

cdg7621 karma

nope, just retrieve it your self (use your imagination), clean, put in a paper cup and take to the doctor.

[deleted]4 karma

Was that extremely painful?

cdg7616 karma

A little painful ...(wait for it...) but then it passed. The procedure was to go in a cup, then seal it and let the clinic staff do the dirty work.

hawkwings10 karma

A couple of my grandparents witnessed nuclear tests. They weren't in the military or anything. Apparently some nuclear tests were announced on the radio, so they drove out and watched. My grandmother's second husband blamed his cancer on the tests. Years later, his wife died of cancer as well.

biganthony5 karma

Was it the small boy test?

14 July 1962 Nevada

picture http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Small_Boy_nuclear_test_1962.jpg

cdg764 karma

no, but they were going on at the same time, or the year before

kukkuzejt9 karma

Did you use jars to trap the air?

Also, how many heads has your son got?

Seriously, awesome AMA!

cdg7619 karma

the air was collected in the tip tanks. We opened them when we entered the cloud, closed when we landed. Interesting side note, they were the first thing the ground crew went for when we landed, the pilots were second.

jonthedoors4 karma

That's quite surprising to think they might have valued the samples more than you fellas. Do you think they wanted to clear them out of the area first?

cdg769 karma

dont know but I suspect the former ... they were shipped that day on a flight to Lawrence Livermore Labs in Berkeley

aquapeat7 karma

when you say the clouds were colorful, what exactly do you mean? was it lots of grays or were there other colors and when you were flying through were you in complete darkness or was there visibility?

cdg7617 karma

check out the wikipedia article. They have color photos of many of the blasts. Note, we were not suppose to have cameras for security reasons, dont tell them about my 8mm video in the link above...


the flying missions were all in the day time so we had good visibility

lam3r6 karma

What temperature of water did you use for decontamination washing?

I know this question sounds weird, but half of my family works at a nuclear powerplant and I remember hearing how it sucks to shower in cold water. Apparently, warm water doesn't decontaminate you very well. Have you experienced this phenomenon?

cdg767 karma

probably cold, there was no hot water on the island other than the tank on the roof of the barracks...

wondering_person4 karma

Have you ever read the Plutonium files or at least the excerpt relating to your story? What did you think of it?

cdg768 karma

no, that's a new one, have to check that out.

oD34 karma

You Sir, define the term: "Badass".

cdg7617 karma

no, a Badass is teaching middle school typing and business math, which I did after I retired...

[deleted]4 karma

You mentioned that while on the beach you would face away from the blast then wear protective goggles to look at the cloud. What did you do when you were flying, did you have the same goggles or tinted windshields?

cdg763 karma

we would make sure we were flying away from the drop zone. We wore regular GI issue sunglasses, thats all

foamingdogfever4 karma


cdg765 karma

the heat wave was no more than 5 seconds, and they dropped every 2 or 3 days...

naic2443 karma

How did you feel when you found out what the 'classified mission' involved? Any hesitation?

cdg7611 karma

not really, as I may have commented earlier, it was a different era, and in the military when you sign up for assignments you have to take them.