It happens so often, it is almost routine. An aircraft is trying to take out a ground target and moves in to drop its bombs. The bombs then leave the plane, head down to the ground, and blow the target into smithereens. That’s how it’s supposed to work, and it does.

B-1B Lancer cluster munitions
A B-1B Lancer drops cluster munitions. This is how it is supposed to go down. (U.S. Air Force)

Unless it doesn’t. The fact is, even routine operations can be risky. Refueling in flight is one of those – and that has seen its share of close calls in which things have gone wrong.


Watch what happens when aircraft are almost hit by their own bombs
A B-17 is struck on its stabilizer by a bomb dropped from another B-17. (United States Army Air Force)

The action of dropping bombs on target has its dangers, too. One very iconic series of photos from World War II shows a United States Army Air Force B-17 get hit by a bomb dropped by another B-17, shearing off its stabilizer. None of that B-17’s crew got out.

But those are not the only cases. When you are dropping millions of bombs, sometimes things go wrong. This is particularly likely when you have a new plane or a new bomb. To avoid this, the Air Force had an entire office at Elgin Air Force Base known as SEEK EAGLE to certify ways to carry and drop various external stores.

The video below shows some of these close calls, where bombs and external fuel tanks don’t do what one would expect in the routine action of dropping the tanks or bombs. Some of these look spectacular, like the clip featuring an F-111 Aardvark dropping what appears to be a fuel tank. Other scenes show the weapons hitting the planes as they head down, or missing them by a matter of inches.

Think of this video as yet another reminder that even in peacetime the risks are very great for those who defend their country.