On August 6, 1945, the B-29 superfortress known as Enola Gay dropped the infamous “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, bringing an abrupt end to World War II and saving countless American and Japanese lives.
The pilot, Col. Paul Tibbets, had handpicked the silver bomber from an assembly line in Nebraska and had named the aircraft after his mother. He knew that this aircraft was destined for greatness, but at the time, he just didn’t know how great. The Enola Gay and its crew of 12 were poised to change history.
No one knew how a mission to drop the world’s first atomic bomb would go, so Col. Tibbets rumbled down the runway that fateful day with his Lucky cigarette case in one pocket and 12 cyanide capsules in the other.
Eight downed American airmen had been beheaded by the Japanese a few weeks before and their deaths would not go unavenged.
Two days before the mission, the United States had dropped 720,000 leaflets warning the Japanese to leave the city because it would be destroyed if the Japanese did not surrender.
“Bombs have no eyes,” the leaflets said, urging residents to evacuate. Tens of thousands already had.
On bombing mission No. 13, the lumbering, overweight Enola Gay with a 141-foot wingspan had been stripped of its armor and all defensive weaponry but its tail guns. But it still weighed 65 tons by itself and carried 7,000 gallons of fuel.
Col. Tibbets knew that he was using a lot of runway in an attempt to gain speed for take-off. Four other B-29s had crashed and exploded the night before, according to historians.
When it finally gained lift off, the strike ship was escorted by two other B-29s, the Great Artiste and Necessary Evil, which were sent to take pictures and record data.
No one knew exactly what would happen when “Little Boy” tumbled out tail first. The atomic bomb flipped over nose down and fell through what would be the last 43 seconds of life the way it used to be — and the rest is history.
The Smithsonian began restoration of the Enola Gay in 1994 and it is now housed at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.