The US Navy recently submitted a plan to ask the US Congress for $ 139 billion to upgrade their nuclear submarine fleet. Unlike submarines that run conventional fuels, have to float to the surface frequently to refuel, nuclear submarines can operate for several consecutive decades at high speeds under the sea. According to design drawings and calculation experts, the new version of the Ohio class submarine will be able to operate continuously for about half a century, while the USS Nautilus in operation in 1954 must be granted every two years. nuclear material once.

<USS Nautilus, the first US nuclear submarine.
The advantage of nuclear power is so obvious, leading to the question, why not have atomic planes, run on high enriched nuclear fuel for longer operation?

The first reason is not completely human safety, but creating an atomic engine light enough to equip the aircraft is the hardest thing. Next is the challenge of how to protect the pilot against dangerous radiation from the nuclear engine behind their back on the plane. But not so that during the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union did not think of the above question and planned to develop atomic planes.

Convair NB-36H, the only aircraft with an American internal reactor, but it is not connected to an airplane engine.
When the threat of nuclear war heated up in the middle of the last century, American engineers even planned to create an atomic plane, and recruited aging, aging pilots thinking they were will die for natural reasons before radiation causes severe enough effects to cause them to have cancer.

The one who proposed the atomic plane project was none other than Enrico Fermi, the father of the nuclear era. In 1942 while working for the Manhattan Project, as a result of two atomic bombs dropped on Japan, Fermi set out to think that flights were operated from enriched nuclear fuel bars. The end of World War II was also the time when the US began deploying plans to create atomic planes. From 1946 to 1961, engineering teams and strategists created a series of design drawings to turn ideas into reality.

Enrico Fermi (1901 – 1954)
The advantage of aircraft running nuclear fuel is no different from an atomic submarine. In 1945, the Ministry of War (later the US Department of Defense) said: “With radio-powered aircraft, supersonic flights around the world will become practical.” . ” A top-secret document of the US Atomic Energy Commission, now stored at the Eisenhower Presidential Library, said that nuclear energyi> “can allow the aircraft to cruise one or several rounds of earth before having to land to replace the fuel bar inside the engine’s reactor.”

With atomic planes, military engineers and strategists believe that the aircraft will only have to stop because of tired pilots but the plane does not have to worry about refueling issues.


During the cold war, refueling for aircraft was also a concern for the great powers. The bombing planes cost a lot of fuel just to fly to the target location, and after completing the mission they have very little fuel, just enough to fly back. Aerial refueling is a solution, but the solution is not as great as many of you think, especially when refueling while flying in the sky of another country.

Air defense systems will get those planes into sight right away, and both planes that are fueling each other will have to escape the sights of fighters and air defense systems below. ground. The overhead refueling was unsuccessful, could even affect the initial mission.


To reduce the risk of high fuel refueling, the US purchased or leased an entire air base system around the world. These bases were often very close to Soviet territory at the time, allowing the aircraft to have the shortest flight distance before reaching the target. However, this is expensive. There was a time when the US was ready to give up $ 100 million in the form of pure gold to buy Greenland from Denmark to build a US military base. But Denmark finally refused.


An atomic plane will solve all flying limits. But not because of that, they appear their own problems. First to fly, the nuclear reactor must be much smaller than the reactor in the submarine, and to operate efficiently it must generate more heat than normal. Overheating can lead to a fusion of the reactor, which in turn spreads to the entire aircraft. Only one accident could turn the atomic plane into a giant molten metal filled with dangerous radioactivity that plunges to the surface of the earth.


The second problem is how to protect the pilot against dangerous radiation from the reactor. Usually very thick lead shields will do that. But this means that the aircraft will be significantly heavier, not very feasible with the aircraft that need the lower weight possible.​

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