Hydrogen bomb RDS-37: characteristics, history

The first decade after the Great Patriotic War (WWII) laid a heavy burden on the shoulders of the Soviet people. Restoration of industry, agriculture, the transition from martial law back to civilians took place under the gradually growing yoke of the arms race and the silent opposition of the two great superpowers of that time: the USSR and the United States.

The engineering geniuses of both countries developed and implemented ever more terrible weapons of mass destruction of people every year. In this blood-chilling race, the Soviet Union broke out into the leaders even during the Second World War, and did not let go of its positions until the so-called "Caribbean crisis." It was our country that first showed the world a two-stage thermonuclear hydrogen bomb with a capacity of more than 1 Mt, namely RDS-37.

New weapons

Engineering research on the creation of a new super-powerful hydrogen bomb began in the Soviet Union in 1952 in a top-secret and closed design bureau KB-11. However, the main study of theoretical studies and performance modeling began only two years later.

In the same year of 1954, the greatest minds of that time joined the cause: Ya. B. Zeldovich and AD Sakharov. RDS-37 - a new generation hydrogen bomb - was supposed to say a completely new word in the military power of the Soviet Union. And already on May 31, 1955, Zavenyagin AP, Minister of Medium Machine Building and Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, passed a decision approving the experimental design of the new weapons proposed by KB-11.

RDS-37, the abbreviation of which, according to different sources, sounds like: "Russia is doing itself" or "Jet engine of Stalin", but in fact it is "Jet engine special", got its way into life.


Evolving from RDS-3, the new technology took away the basic theoretical ideas of implosion, the so-called explosion directed inwards, the gravitational collapse. Part of the calculations was borrowed from, among other things, RDS-6s, which was simultaneously being developed by a superbomb, although it was a single-stage type, which was successfully tested in August 1953 at the Semipalatinsk test site.

As a basis for RDS-37, the principle of hydrodynamic implosion of a two-stage charge was chosen. Precisely to calculate the sequential mechanism of reaction at that time was quite difficult. The engineering and computing capabilities of the early fifties can not even be compared with existing computer technology. Modeling of the compression mode of the secondary module, close to the spherically symmetric regime (implosion, from the English implosion - "internal explosion") was carried out on the domestic "supercomputer" of that time - on the electronic computer "Strela".

Differences RDS-37

The characteristics of the new weapons were sacredly kept secret from ordinary inhabitants. Even today it is sometimes difficult to find reliable materials about its parameters. It is precisely known that the main difference between the new bomb was the use of isotope nuclei of uranium-238. The charge was made of deuterium lithium-6, a very stable substance, which excludes spontaneous detonation.

The energy of the secondary explosion, proceeding from the principles of hydrodynamic implosion, should not be lower than the energy of the primary explosion. Observers noted a double clap when passing a shock wave with a sound reminiscent of the strongest and sharpest crackle of a lightning discharge. The light radiation was of such intensity that at a distance of three kilometers from the epicenter of the explosion, the paper immediately ignited and burned.


To test the new thermonuclear bomb RDS-37, whose capacity was estimated at approximately 3 Mt, the 2nd State Central Test Site (2 GCC) was selected in the closed city of Kurchatov, 130 km north-west of the city of Semipalatinsk (the territory of modern Kazakhstan) . In some maps and classified materials, this city was also referred to as "Moscow-400", "Bereg" (near the Irtysh river), "Semipalatinsk-21", "Terminal" (by the name of the railway station), as well as "Moldara" (A village that is part of the city of Kurchatov). The power of the charge during the tests was decided to be halved, to about 1.6 Mt.


To reduce the radiation impact on the surrounding infrastructure, it was decided to activate the RDS-37 charge at an altitude of 1500 meters above ground level. To reduce the detrimental impact of the explosion on the carrier aircraft, measures were taken to increase the distance and measures to reduce the thermal impact on it. Tu-16 was chosen as the carrier aircraft. From the lower part of the fuselage, the lacquer was washed away, all the dark surfaces were painted white, the seals were replaced with more fireproof ones. The bomb itself was equipped with a parachute, to reduce the yield to the planned height of the explosion.

The Soviet Union very carefully prepared for the test of the new bomb RDS-37. The tests were conducted with closed flight space, the MiG-17 fighter aircraft guarded the aircraft, flight and equipment control was carried out from command posts of the Armed Forces.

To collect air samples from the consequences of the explosion and observe the movement of the radioactive cloud, several IL-28 were specially allocated. November 20, 1955, in the morning, at 9.30, the plane with a bomb mounted on special suspensions started from the airfield of Jean-Semey. However, everything went wrong as planned.

An emergency situation

For the summary of the weather forecast for the duration of the tests, the chief meteorologist of the country, EK Fedorov, personally answered. The day should be clear and sunny. However, nature had plans on that score. During the idle approach to the target, the weather deteriorated, and the sky clouded with clouds. It was decided to carry out guidance on the radar installation aboard the aircraft, but it also failed. On all requests of the dispatcher the center sent only one command: "Wait".

There was a serious abnormal situation. The forced landing of an airplane with a thermonuclear bomb on board was never carried out once again. The center considered various options, including the discharge of RDS-37 away from populated areas in the mountains, in the "NOT EXPLODE" mode, ie, without initiating a nuclear charge explosion. For various reasons, they were all rejected.

When the fuel was almost at zero, the aircraft was allowed to land. This was done only after Zeldovich and Sakharov personally signed a written conclusion on the safety of landing a plane with a hydrogen bomb on board.


Two days later the tests were successfully carried out. From an aircraft carrier at an altitude of 12 km, the RDS-37 was successfully dropped, which exploded at an altitude of 1550 m. Moving at a speed of 870 km / h, the Tu-16 was already 15 km from the epicenter of the explosion, but the shock wave reached it exactly through 224 seconds. The crew felt a strong thermal effect on the open areas of the body.

7 minutes after the explosion of RDS-37, the diameter of the "fungus" reached 30 km, and its height was 14 km.

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