The United States Air Force might not learn to love the bomb, but they definitely forgot about it.
A full investigation was launched on Wednesday after reports surfaced that a B-52 bomber was accidentally armed with six nuclear warheads and flown for more than three hours across numerous states.
The missiles themselves were due to be decommissioned and were en route to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota last Thursday.
Officials speaking on condition of anonymity due to a Defence Department policy that prohibits disclosure of information regarding nuclear weapons said there was minimal risk to both crews and the public because of safety features designed into the bombs, reports City News.
Late Wednesday, the Air Force issued a statement acknowledging a "situation involving the transfer of weapons" had occurred, appointing a major general to investigate and deliver his report by Sept. 14, announcing the weapons squadron commander had been fired and ordering all of Air Combat Command to review procedures. The statement doesn't use the word "nuclear."
"All evidence we have seen so far points to an isolated mistake," says the release from Lt. Col. Ed Thomas of the office of Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne.
"ACC has directed a command-wide stand down to review processes at all of our bases. Though this incident involved elements of only two of our wings, we believe we should take an opportunity for all units to review their procedures."
The error was the warheads were to have been removed at Minot , which 2006 reports show has 1,254 nuclear weapons, 300 of them the type involved in the incident. The missile warheads were being removed as part of a Defense Department effort to decommission 400 of the ACMs, Air Force Times reported.
President Bush was immediately notified after the half-dozen missiles - with their warheads still attached - were discovered.
"It is absolutely inexcusable that the Air Force lost track of these nuclear warheads, even for a short period of time," Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, said Wednesday. "Nothing like this has ever been reported before and we have been assured for decades that it was impossible," reports Pueblo Chieftain.