Chinese thermonuclear bomb accident


SinoSoldier

Colonel
A very interesting read concerning a near-accident involving a Q-5 attack aircraft and a hydrogen bomb.

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Recalling the H-Bomb that Almost Backfired
Yang Guoxiang, one of China's top test pilots, tells the story.

When your assignment is to drop a live nuclear bomb, you’d better not return to base with it. But that’s just what happened in 1971 to Yang Guoxiang, a pilot with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, who told his harrowing tale to Bob Bergin, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer who writes about the aviation history of Southeast Asia and China. Bergin interviewed Yang in Kunming, China, in early 2009, with the assistance of interpreter Zhao Gang, an instructor at Yunnan University

(Click link to read more)
Video of the test:

Photographs of the involved aircraft:
Q5_04large.jpg
IMG_4052.jpg

Photograph of the KB-1 thermonuclear weapon, which was deployed by the Q-5 jet:
174505f41blww3z1ubzp1w.jpg

Photograph of the successful 1972 test:
china_test.jpg
 
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Inst

Senior Member
Somewhat disappointing. The guy put thousands of lives at risk to save his own. He should have reported the incident, then crashed himself onto the target site.
 

Bltizo

Lieutenant General
Staff member
Super Moderator
Somewhat disappointing. The guy put thousands of lives at risk to save his own. He should have reported the incident, then crashed himself onto the target site.
I think saving the H bomb was more of a concern at the time.
 

taxiya

Major
Registered Member
Somewhat disappointing. The guy put thousands of lives at risk to save his own. He should have reported the incident, then crashed himself onto the target site.
Quite the contrary. His request to return with the bomb was approved by the program commander.

Everyone in that program believed and most people today still see that returning with the malfunctioned bomb is a heroic self-sacrifice act rather than saving his own life, because everyone in the program was committed to make a working bomb IN TIME with any cost including their own lives. The pilot just did what everyone in his position would do. A pilot without that commitment would not be assigned to that job.

Remember what Field Marshal Chen Yi, the then Foreign Minister, said? "must make the bomb even it means to sale our pants".

Things have improved in China that such sacrificed is not necessary anymore, but back then is different. We should thank our forefathers for their acts, than judging them based on 21st century's norms.

Here is a 1981 movie about it
 

taxiya

Major
Registered Member
add to #6
From a later interview, it was said that all people at the base were evacuated when the aircraft was ordered to return. Only the base commander and air controller were present in the control tower. The casualty of any events would be 3 if anything had happened.
 

Inst

Senior Member
Before taking off, I had reviewed our emergency procedures. I had three choices: I could abandon the aircraft by parachute and let it crash in a remote area of the vast desert that surrounded the Lop Nor Test site. I could crash-land the aircraft to assure that it was set down in place where it would harm no one. Or I could try to bring the aircraft back to base. I reflected on the time and the effort that went into the H-bomb project, and the great deal of money it cost the Chinese people, and I made my choice. I would try to bring the airplane and the H-bomb back to base.

There was a great risk in doing this. There were 10,000 people on the airbase, although only a few knew about the mission I was on. If anything went wrong, thousands would lose their lives. The bomb under the fuselage would be hanging just ten centimeters (four inches) above the ground as I landed.

All radio stations in northwest China had been shut down during my flight, and all flights in the area were banned. I radioed the tower of my decision to return, and asked that everyone on the base be evacuated into the tunnels that were dug underneath the base. It was Zhou Enlai himself who gave the order to evacuate.
He made the decision to return, and it was not rejected by the air control tower. That it was approved was in part because you don't want to argue with a dead man, and that he was allowed to fly again was because the bomb didn't blow.

I think he took the wrong risk. A partially-successful detonation could have been played as a propaganda victory, and the explosion would still have confirmed that the bomb worked.

===

Think about it this way, choosing to blow himself up makes the explosion his own problem and the failed detonation the problem of his superiors, who can try to learn, and try again. Choosing to return to base, on the other hand, endangers the rest of the base, and could have resulted in the deaths of many involved in the Chinese nuclear program. I can't imagine this decision going well with his peers.
 

Bltizo

Lieutenant General
Staff member
Super Moderator
He made the decision to return, and it was not rejected by the air control tower. That it was approved was in part because you don't want to argue with a dead man, and that he was allowed to fly again was because the bomb didn't blow.

I think he took the wrong risk. A partially-successful detonation could have been played as a propaganda victory, and the explosion would still have confirmed that the bomb worked.

===

Think about it this way, choosing to blow himself up makes the explosion his own problem and the failed detonation the problem of his superiors, who can try to learn, and try again. Choosing to return to base, on the other hand, endangers the rest of the base, and could have resulted in the deaths of many involved in the Chinese nuclear program. I can't imagine this decision going well with his peers.
... would it even have been possible to just detonate the bomb without separating it from the aircraft to begin with? I don't think it would've been possible.

So the alternative would be to either crash land the plane somewhere, or eject from the plane, and both of these options likely would've caused significant risk for the bomb's payload as well, either causing it to accidentally detonate (would that even be possible?), or causing significant damage to the bomb itself -- both options which would be adverse to the purposes of the test which is to test the bomb, and they would have to restart the first H bomb by producing a whole new one. In the likely case that the bomb didn't detonate after ditching or crash landing, well great, now you're left with an airplane in the middle of nowhere with an H bomb that may or may not be damaged and which will have to be recovered to not only figure out what went wrong with the plane and/or the bomb, but also to keep it from accidentally detonating after damage.

.... Or, he could try landing back at the airbase with faith that the safeties on the bomb would be secure and allow them to figure out what went wrong with the proper equipment and without the bomb being damaged.


Out of the choices he had, I think his one was correct. The risk of just crash landing or ditching the plane and complicating matters even further, along with the way that would setback the H bomb programme, I think was not worth it.
 

Inst

Senior Member
"
... would it even have been possible to just detonate the bomb without separating it from the aircraft to begin with? I don't think it would've been possible."

That is the question, at that time, did he know whether or not the bomb had actually armed and that an attempt to return home would be quite the blast? But from rereading the article, it looks like there was a 60-second timer associated with a G-event from deployment. He had a low risk of triggering the bomb, so it appears.
 

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