Following WWII that ended in 1945, a period of geopolitical tension between the United States and the Soviet Union called the Cold War began just two years after. While no formal war was declared by either party, the threat of nuclear warfare was enough for these two superpowers to develop their own nuclear weapons and, at the same time, develop anti-nuclear technologies. While we usually hear about the ballistic, hypersonic, and all kinds of missiles, the United States also explored using a giant, man-operated atomic space monster robot called The Beetle.
The Impossible Dream
The US military had what seemed like an impossible dream in the late 1950s. They wanted nuclear-powered bombers that were as safe as they could get, effective, could remain in the air for weeks, and ready to drop and destroy the bombs at the Soviet territory faster than saying Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB). If you can even say it.
The Long-range nuclear-powered bombers would have been huge in order to house the nuclear reactors that powered them. The way a nuclear-powered bomber would power its jet engines was rather novel. Instead of burning fuel to create the hot air that flowed over a jet engine’s spinning turbine, superheated air from the onboard 3 mega-watts nuclear reactor would be ducted into the jet engine directly. Of course, you can’t just shut off a nuclear reactor like a light switch so the nuclear-powered bomber’s reactor would always be running even on the ground because the hot air ducted away from the reactor into the engines was part of its cooling system. The reactor itself was unshielded(you read that right), instead the crew compartment itself had lead shielding and leaded windscreens. How would technicians be able to work on the aircraft or load its bombs without radiation poisoning?