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Project Alberta was a section of the Manhattan Project which developed the means of delivering the first atomic bombs, used by the United States Army Air Forces against the Empire of Japan during World War II. Also known as Project A, the mission of Project Alberta was three-fold: (1) design a bomb shape for delivery by airplane, then procure and assemble it; (2) continue the testing work of Army Air Force Projects W-47 (ballistic testing of atomic bomb design) and Silverplate (modification of B-29s to perform the mission); and (3) train aircrews and ordnance crews in preparation for deployment overseas. Project Alberta consisted of approximately 55 scientists, engineers and military personnel who worked in conjunction with the 509th Composite Group, commanded by Colonel Paul W. Tibbets.

Project Alberta began in the October 1943 as Group E-7 of the Ordnance Division at Los Alamos under Dr. Norman F. Ramsey, with parallel military work being conducted by the USAAF 216th Base Unit at Wendover Army Air Field, Utah, under the name Project W-47. Initial work included designing the exterior casings for the bombs, and discerning the ballistics information necessary to achieve reasonable accuracy and develop delivery tactics for protection of the crew from the resulting blast. For this task the initial Silverplate B-29 modification, known as the Pullman B-29, was used in flight tests at Muroc Army Air Field in March and June 1944.

Much of its work, particularly from March 1945 forward, consisted in training aircrews, using B-29 Superfortresses modified to "Silverplate" specifications, and in training members of the 1st Ordnance Squadron (Special, Aviation), a highly classified unit of the 509th CG created March 6, 1945, whose function was to assemble the bombs on Tinian. Project Alberta was also responsible for developing the radar altimeters, timing clocks, and barometric switches placed in the weapons to keep them from prematurely detonating aboard the aircraft, before reaching detonation altitude, or remotely by emissions from Japanese equipment.

After completion of its development and training missions, Project Alberta assigned 51 of its members designated as the 1st Technical Service Detachment (but referred to as the Destination Team) to the 509th CG at North Field, Tinian. Selection of Tinian had been made by Cdr. Frederick L. Ashworth in February 1945 after an on-location visit, and under his command the Destination Team was responsible for the preparation of facilities to assemble and load the weapons, and to supervise their use during the actual missions.

Key personnel

SOURCE: Project Alberta/Destination Team roster of personnel

Project Alberta members on the Hiroshima mission were:

Project Alberta members on the Nagasaki mission were:

  • Cdr. Frederick L. Ashworth weaponeer, on Bockscar (weapon delivery plane)
  • S/Sgt. Walter Goodman on The Great Artiste (instrument plane)
  • Lawrence H. Johnston on The Great Artiste
  • William G. Penney British observer on Big Stink (observation & photography plane)
  • Dr. Robert Serber was meant to go on Big Stink, but was left behind by Hopkins as the scientist had forgotten his parachute, reportedly after the B-29 had already taxied onto the runway. Since Serber was the only crew member who knew how to operate the high-speed camera, Hopkins had to be instructed by radio from Tinian on its use.

Lawrence H. Johnston observed the Trinity test, and went on both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions, so saw all three nuclear explosions.

The physicist Bernard Waldman, a member of Project Alberta, was assigned to the crew of Necessary Evil, the B-29 that photographed the explosion of Hiroshima. Waldman was responsible for the Fastax camera that could take 7000 frames per second.

Sources

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