Grand Forks Air Force Base
Sept. 15, 1980
9 p.m. CST
Four or five B-52 crews, along with their fuel tanker crews, were in a building positioned at the end of the runway. The 50 airmen were pulling an alert, meaning they were prepared to run the short distance to their B-52 aircraft, which were loaded with nuclear weapons, go through their checklists and get off the ground quickly in the event of a Soviet attack. Strategic Air Command (SAC) Air Force bases had personnel on constant alert during the Cold War, ready to respond to or initiate a nuclear strike.
For the crews on ground alert to maintain efficiency, Air Force bases like the one at Grand Forks would conduct surprise emergency drills once every week. During the drill, the Klaxon alert siren would rip through the air, crews would run to their planes and receive messages from SAC headquarters, do their checklists, start their aircrafts’ engines and sometimes even taxi to the end of the runway before coming back to the alert pad. One of those drills happened on September 15, 1980, at the Grand Forks AFB.
Inside one of the aircraft, unbeknownst to the crew, a fuel strainer was missing a nut about the size of a penny. While it was just one small piece of machinery, the nut was important—as those on the base that night would learn.
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