Air & Space Smithsonian - - In The Museum -

THE DESIGN FOR THE FAT MAN nu­clear bomb dropped on Na­gasaki, Ja­pan, was the ba­sis for the Mark 3, which weighed more than five tons and was a bit over 10 feet long and five feet in di­am­e­ter. Like the Na­gasaki bomb, it was less a mu­ni­tion than an elab­o­rate sci­ence project. “‘Bomb’ is a mis­nomer for this com­plex and del­i­cate mech­a­nism,” wrote Fred­er­ick Alling of the Air Ma­teriel Com­mand.

Ac­cord­ing to an Army War Col­lege pa­per writ­ten by then-lieu­tenant Colonel Trent Pick­er­ing, the Mark 3 was a “lab­o­ra­tory weapon” that took 39 men two days to pre­pare for com­bat. Then three as­sem­bly teams needed seven to nine days to load 12 bombs into 12 air­craft. The bomb’s bat­ter­ies had to be charged 48 hours prior to a drop, and its polo­nium ini­tia­tor, down in the fis­sile plu­to­nium core, had a half-life of 138 days, so a cru­cial com­po­nent was al­ways in a state of rapid ra­dioac­tive de­cay. Sev­eral days were also re­quired to unite the as­sem­bled bombs with their fis­sile cores, which were of­ten stored an ocean apart.

A jacked-up B-29 is ready to be armed with a nu­clear bomb. Be­fore this method, B-29s would roll over shal­low bomb pits, and a hy­draulic lift would push the weapon up into the bomb bay.

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