Tibbets’s crews trained relentlessly at Wendover. So did the ground crews who assembled the bombs. None were ever let in on the secret of what the mission was, though at least a few who had science backgrounds guessed it had something to do with atomic energy. In the skies over Wendover, the aircrews practiced over and over the maneuver Tibbets had devised to shield the planes from the blast of the A-bombs—a 155-degree diving turn immediately after releasing the bomb. They also carried out a series of experiments to refine the ballistics of the bombs and make sure their complex fusing electronics worked.
Pushing open the huge door of the rusting hangar that housed the Enola Gay and the other B-29s specially modified to carry out the atomic mission, Petersen described to me his “optimistic vision” for the site. With a $75,000 grant from the National Park Service, the airfield has recently drawn up a restoration plan. The next step is to raise the necessary $5 million. Petersen hopes the Enola Gay hangar will be the centerpiece, with aircraft displays and a theater. “Most aircraft museums are in new buildings,” he says. “But this is the original location, the original setting—this is where the guys were that dropped the bomb that changed the twentieth century.”
When You Go
Historic Wendover Airfield (801-571-2907; wendoverairbase.com) is a ninety-minute drive west from Salt Lake City on I-80. Follow the signs to the field’s Operations Building, where a small museum provides an overview and a driving tour brochure.
Where to Stay and Eat
The three big casinos in West Wendover, Nevada—the Rainbow, Peppermill, and Montego Bay—offer inexpensive, garishly Vegas-style rooms (starting at $45), lavish buffets, and plenty of opportunities to lose the $200–250 a day that the average visitor drops on the slot machines and tables (800-537-0207; wendoverfun.com).
What Else to See
The famed Bonneville Speedway, the standard course for the world land speed records, is a few miles east off I-80. A monument to the 509th Composite Group, which dropped the atomic bombs, is at the West Wendover Welcome Center in the center of town. The remnants of the “Tokio Trolley,” used to train bomber gun crews with moving targets, are five miles north of town on Aria Boulevard. And “the world’s tallest mechanical cowboy,” the 90-foot-high, neon “Wendover Will” that once adorned the State Line Hotel, now stands tall in the center of West Wendover.