EARLY in 1952, a 160-ton American B36 “atom bomber” – at the time the world’s largest warplane – made a forced landing on the outskirts of Salisbury. It was promptly handed into the security of Boscombe Down RAF Station by four bulldozers.

High-ranking officers of the US Third Tactical Air Force, who had flown to the scene, watched specially-drafted crash crews totalling about 60 men, labour in lashing wind and rain to move the massive bomber from the side of the main Salisbury-Amesbury road where it had rested. Armed U.S. sentries had flung a wide cordon around the top-secret bomber.

It was just before midnight that many people living in Salisbury and throughout the surrounding district were alarmed to hear the B36 as it flew low overhead, apparently in trouble or having lost its way. Fortunately the red lights on the top of the 404ft high cathedral spire, acted as a guide for the pilot of the bomber and his 17 man crew. The bomber circled low over the city for two hours, causing the windows and doors to rattle and filling the air with a deep-throated roar. Eventually it made off to the north, and, narrowly missing the High Post Hotel, some four miles from the city centre, touched-down in open snow covered farm-land. “If it had been a few yards lower before it touched down, it would have taken the top off our hotel” said bar manager Frank Nelson.

The aircraft was 47ft high, 162ft long, with a wing span of 230ft. It was powered with six piston and four jet engines, giving a total of 40,000 h.p. The jets gave increased take-off power, and extra speed over the target area and it was one of five that had flown some 5,000 miles from Fort Worth, Texas. It was adapted to carry atom bombs hence its name – the atom bomber.