The Doomsday Plane With a 5-Mile-Long Antenna

The E-6B Mercury is an incredible aircraft that basically delivers commands from the National Command Authority and can send nuclear-armed ballistic missiles flying during a nuclear apocalypse. Not only were they among the last Boeing 707 planes ever built, they’re also packed full of EMP (electromagnetic pulse) systems and highly skilled crews that would literally hold the world as we know it in their hands during a major crisis. The VLF (very low frequency) communications system can pierce the ocean’s surface down to about 60 feet to connect with submarines lurking in the undersea environment. The E-6B’s primary VLF antenna is a whopping 5 miles long and is stabilized with a drogue — a funnel-shaped device that reduces speed and improves stability — on its trailing end. The idea is to get the antennas as close to vertical as possible for maximum transmission. This is done by putting the aircraft into a steep and tight banking turn at slow speed and above 20,000 feet. These turns are repeated, oftentimes for hours, as messages are sent. This can be absolutely critical to officials responding to a crisis in an entire region cutoff from normal communications infrastructure. With all this in mind, the E-6B is truly one of the most important and fascinating aircraft types on earth and it does its job with a bit of aerobatic flair.