The Tu-95 bombers built to carry the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons were designed to carry much lighter weapons. The Tsar Bomba was so big that it couldn’t be placed on a missile, and so heavy that the planes designed to carry it wouldn’t have been able to take them all the way to their targets with enough fuel. And, if the bomb was as powerful as intended, the aircraft would have been on a one-way mission anyway.
Even where nuclear weapons are concerned, there can be such as thing as too powerful, says Coyle, who is now a leading member of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a think tank based in Washington DC. “It’s hard to find a use for it unless you want to knock down very large cities,” he says. “It simply would be too big to use.”
Von Hippel agrees. “These things [large free-falling nuclear bombs] were designed that if you wanted to be able to destroy the target even if you were a mile off, it could be done. Things moved in a different direction – increasing missile accuracy and multiple warheads.”