Nuclear Powered Aircraft: Just what it sounds like. The War in the Pacific made it abundantly clear to the American military that they needed a bomber with unlimited range, and during the cold war, both sides tried to solve the problem with nuclear powered flight. Honest, I’m not making this up. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear-powered_aircraft In the fifties, jet engines powered by nuclear reactors were tested on the ground, and the Americans got as far as flying a converted B-36 bomber with a nuclear reactor on board. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convair_NB-36H The reactor was not connected to the engines on that prototype; the purpose of the test flights was to see if the lead-lined cockpit resulted in acceptable (read, survivable) levels of radiation for the crew. This fascinating technology almost made it into production, but the ICBM offered an easier way to deliver nuclear weapons, and the program was shelved in 1957.
Tech Level: High. Cries out for Alternative History. Nuclear powered airship, anyone?
Appeared In: Nope, don’t think so.
For Your Plot: What if Werner Von Braun never developed the V-2 for Germany? Bombers would have remained at the forefront of military tech for at least a little longer. That’s all it would have taken to make nuclear aircraft essential. Imagine the civilian possibilities: non-stop flights from the US to Australia in the sixties. “Stewardesses” in lead-lined mini-skirts serving coffee laced with iodine to protect passengers against exposure. Come to think of it, airline coffee does taste funny…