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B-52 crews pull shades on nukes

USAF engineers design thermal curtain to protect aircrews from blinding nuclear explosions. The curtains resemble common windshield sunshades used in passenger cars.


Having your shadow scorched into the wall is one drawback to detonating a nuclear weapon; being blinded by the flash (PDF) and not being able to drive away in your B-52 Stratofortress is another.

Now engineers at the 540th Aircraft Sustainment Squadron's B-52 Communications Navigation and Weapons Flight have designed a thermal curtain that could protect aircrews from that blinding light (PDF).

The curtain resembles a common windshield sunshade used in passenger cars, except these cost $2,500 for a seven-shade set. Measuring about a tenth of an inch thick, 40 inches to 50 inches long, and 30 inches tall, each curtain is made up of three layers--a reflective layer, a stiffener, and a rubberized vinyl cloth.

The design is elegant in its simplicity, flight chief William Plasters said in an interview. "The new design is simple, quick to install, and can be removed easily to perform maintenance, or when not required."

When not in or around a nuclear holocaust, the curtains can be removed and stored in a bag. In fact, the Air Force wants them broken out for official use only, and not as common sunshades, which causes them to wear out sooner.

Air Force officials "suggest" that aircrews and maintenance personnel in the habit of deploying them for shade during warm weather switch to common fabric sunshades, which cost only $300.