Dating to 1946, this silent, raw footage shows preparations underway to document the Operation Crossroads atomic bomb tests using drone B-17 aircraft. The Enewetak Atoll, home base for the drone operations, is seen at 1:35 from the air, with various views of the area that would be used for the later Operation Sandstone tests. At 6:30, drone B-17 aircraft are seen. These were equipped with radio controls and television cameras so that they could be flown remotely through the atomic cloud to obtain test data. At 11:36, a slate is seen “Operator monitoring for paper recorder mother ship” — the mother ship in this case is the aircraft from which the drone was flown. Practice landings are seen at 12:00.
Both the Navy and the Army Air Forces flew remote-controlled drones during Crossroads, a joint undertaking to see how much damage Navy ships, equipment, and material would incur in a nuclear blast. It took a sizeable contingent to find out: 42,000 men, 242 ships, 156 airplanes, 750 cameras, 25,000 radiation recorders, 5,000 pressure gauges, and four TV transmitters. Among the participating aircraft were Navy Grumman F6F Hellcats and Army Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses, which served as unmanned reconnaissance observers.
The first test on July 1, called Able, was an air drop explosion from a B-29 Superfortress, Dave’s Dream, on a 90-ship target fleet. After just eight minutes, a B-17 drone entered the mushroom cloud at 24,000 feet, followed a few minutes later by three other B-17 drones at 30,000, 18,000, and 13,000 feet. The Navy, meanwhile, sent in three F6F drones assigned to the carrier Shangri-La at altitudes of 20,000 feet, 15,000 feet, and 10,000 feet. All the drones were remotely operated by pilots flying in similar aircraft.
The drones collected air samples while their automatic cameras took photographs before returning to base (Enewetok for the B-17s, Roi Island off Kwajalein for the Hellcats). The samples were sent to Kwajalein for analysis. No manned aircraft flew over the center of the blast, called Zeropoint, until four hours later, although manned boats were on the scene after two hours.
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This film is part of the Periscope Film LLC archive, one of the largest historic military, transportation, and aviation stock footage collections in the USA. Entirely film backed, this material is available for licensing in 24p HD, 2k and 4k.