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Police find rocket from nuclear missile in Washington home

The AIR-2 Genie was meant to carry nuclear warheads. Somehow one ended up inert in Bellevue.
Nicholas Slayton Avatar
(Photo courtesy Bellevue Police Department)

A Bellevue, Washington man had a conundrum. He had acquired a the rocket of a missile built to carry a nuclear bomb during the Cold War from his deceased neighbor and was looking to donate it. He had called the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio about giving it to them. The museum then called the police. That’s according to the Bellevue Police Department, which this week shared that they had sent the bomb squad to the man’s home to discover he was in possession of an air-to-air munition. 

Photos shared by the Bellevue Police Department make it clear the device is obviously a rocket. But what the bomb squad found when they inspected it was that it wasn’t just any rocket. It was an AIR-2A Genie — a Cold War-era air-to-air rocket.

According to the very museum the man tried to donate the rocket to, the AIR-2A Genie “is an air-to-air rocket with a nuclear warhead designed for use against formations of enemy bombers. It has no guidance system and is powered by a solid-propellant rocket motor.”

Somehow a Cold War-era air-to-air rocket meant for carrying a nuclear payload ended up in the greater Seattle area. According to the would-be donor, his neighbor had bought it at an estate sale and he acquired it after his neighbor died. The chain of custody before that is unclear. 

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Thankfully the rocket was inert. Not only was there no nuclear warhead inside of it threatening the greater Seattle area, there was no fuel either. A spokesman for the police department even described it as essentially being a gas tank for fuel when talking to the BBC. 

The AIR-2 Genie was introduced in the 1950s, being put into use by the U.S. military in 1957. It was also used by the Canadian military (with an arrangement with the U.S. that left them in American custody until needed). However it was taken out of service in 1988. It was early in its operational use that its biggest test was done. On July 19, 1957 the military did a test detonation over Yucca Flats, NV as part of Operation Plumbbob. That was a series of more than two dozen nuclear tests, with the AIR-2 (or the MB-1 as it was also known as) being fired at approximately 18,000 feet above sea level. 

“It was the first and only test detonation of a U.S. nuclear-tipped air-to-air rocket,” according to the museum. The museum itself already has at least one AIR-2 on display. 

Now here’s where the situation in Bellevue gets weird. The rocket, which again was meant for launching nuclear warheads, was left with the owner. 

“Because the item was inert and the military did not request it back, police left the item with the neighbor to be restored for display in a museum,” Bellevue police said in a statement. That means the owner is going to get another shot at sending the rocket to a museum. It’s unclear if he intends to try giving it to the Air Force Museum a second time. 

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