The Christmas Tree Of Aviation

When December rolls around – you know it is Christmas time. Everyone is decorating their homes, preparing and wrapping gifts. Equally, airlines prepare for this period as well – trying to schedule flights for one of the busiest travel periods of the year and with the snow, ice and low temperatures causing disruption to operations, thus they try to manage the ensuing chaos. Making sure that everyone gets a chance to celebrate the most beautiful holiday of the year. But what if I told you, that there was a Christmas Tree during the Cold War that was decorated all year round?

Decorating the Christmas Tree

Tensions were high during the Cold War. Thus, both the Americans and the Russians have constructed many interesting military objects to protect their countries from the potential dangers. Because if everything boiled over – the country to strike first would come out on top. Or no one would, due to the fact that Nuclear weapons do not choose how much to destroy. Getting back to the point, the Americans came up with the plan to build air bases that were on constant alert. The Strategic Air Command used these bases exclusively. The Air Force command had to deal with a problem. Bombers were very large aircraft. Deploying them quickly enough in an emergency situation was a difficult task. So, they came up with a solution and built special alert aprons. These aprons were positioned at a 45-degree angle relative to the centerline of the metaphorical tree. The center line would help direct aircraft towards the runway, where aircraft would one by one departure and start their missions. B52 Bombers deployed on the Christmas Tree B52 Bombers deployed on the Christmas Tree

Lighting up the Christmas Tree

In the event of an alert, the crews would run out of their facilities, called Mole Holes. They would either run up to their aircraft or get into vehicles that would take them to the aircraft at the top of the tree, as the last aircraft were several hundred meters away from them. Afterward, the bombers would taxi the runway without any order. The first ones to be ready would be the first plane to depart from the Air Base. The bombers would perform an Elephant Walk if there was no danger. It is a formation where all of the aircraft are very close together. If there was a potential threat, the bombers would be launched as soon as possible, to avoid being destroyed while still on the ground.

Undressing the Christmas Tree

With the downfall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Soviet Union, the Cold War ended. As a consequence, the United States government dissolved the Strategic Air Command. However, some of the bases are still used to this day – for various other purposes, including training new pilots. But imagine that your Christmas Tree costs $400 thousand (In 1959, adjusted for inflation today it would be $3.31 million). Pretty impressive, huh?