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From the moment it debuted in the early 1950’s, the Regulus I missile basked in publicity. While its mission, capabilities and nuclear payload may have been a closely held secret, the missile itself was a glamor girl. It appeared in newsreels, parades (including President Eisenhower’s inauguration), in National Geographic and on the front cover of Life magazine. It seemed inevitable therefore that dozens of models of the Regulus I would appear on the market. But although Regulus I had a long career with the Navy and was deployed aboard submarines, carriers and cruisers, it would be the racy, streamlined Regulus II which would seize the imagination of model makers. While only one Regulus I model kit would be mass produced, no less than a half-dozen Regulus II kits appeared in the 1960s — this despite the fact that the Regulus II program was canceled and the missile never deployed!
The first Regulus models to appear were not commercially available. These were created by Chance Vought, manufacturer of the Regulus I, as premiums for Pentagon brass and the officers who would deploy with the missile. Made of plastic by the Topping Company, the desktop models feature a tactical Regulus in launch position. No jet assist take-off JATO bottles were included, and while the markings and scale was authentic these models, had very little detail. Nevertheless these items were and are much prized by the persons who owned them. They rarely surface on the market today, and when they do they often command prices in the hundreds.
Apparently the only commercial Reg I model to be produced in the 50’s was Strombecker’s wood and plastic kit. This simple set included a small stand to display the missile, and required only about ten minutes to put together. The example on the right shows a typical result, although please note the paint scheme, with yellow markings, is inaccurate.
On the subject of paint schemes, it is worth noting that Regulus I missiles typically appeared in two varieties. The test version of the missile had Chance-Vought markings and was painted red, orange. or white with red horizontal stripes. Test versions incidentally had landing gear, and of course did not carry warheads. The training version of the missile typically had Navy markings and landing gear, and was red or orange. The tactical version of the missile, which had no landing gear and carried a warhead, was painted blue. On at least one occasion a blue and white Regulus I was produced, its paint scheme imitative of the later Regulus II markings. I have also seen a photo of a blue Regulus I with a red bar painted across the fuselage, denoting that it had been converted from tactical configuration to training configuration.
Another interesting detail concerning the Regulus I is that the tactical version of the missile had a “chin” added to the forward area of the missile to accommodate a W-27 thermonuclear warhead. The difference between the two fuselage styles is visible in the photo at left. I have never seen a Regulus I model that accurately shows the missile in tactical configuration. Since the Strombecker model emerged in the early era of Regulus I, it is not all that surprising that the kit lacked this modification.
Some of the best scratchbuilt models of the Reg I have been produced by Richard Saddlemire, a Regulus Guided Missile Unit veteran. Using the Strombecker model as a template, and relying on photographs from the book “Regulus: The Forgotten Weapon” and film footage from “Regulus: The First Nuclear Missile Submarines” DVD, Richard has effectively captured the Regulus I in wood and styrene. What is truly admirable about these models is the life-like level of detail, the result of painstaking study and effort. Of course it helps that Richard actually witnessed Reg I launches and recoveries at Chincoteague NAS and in Hawaii!
One of Richard’s most elaborate dioramas accurately recreates the type of launch facility used throughout the Regulus era (below). In it, a ground crew from Guided Missile Unit 50 prepares a training missile for launch. Operations of this sort were routine, as test launches occurred frequently so that crews could become skilled in handling and launching the bird. Just as important was training for the pilots who would fly the missile as part of the Regulus Assault Mission, or for those submariners or cruiser-based controllers who would fly the missile to targets by remote control during wartime.
In the photo on the left, below, a Regulus I training missile flies towards a runway under remote control by a ground based pilot. Then, in the below right photo, control is handed off to a pilot aboard a two seat “Shooting Star” aircraft, and brought to a landing. The parabrake, incidentally, was standard issue on both Regulus I and Regulus II training missiles. On the Regulus I, the parachute automatically deployed the instant pressure was applied to the landing gear.
The scene in the diorama at right actually takes place 10-20 seconds after touchdown of the bird. During a normal landing approach, the T-33 control aircraft would be slightly above and behind the Regulus, so as to monitor the missile on its way down. Landing a Regulus I could be a hazardous job, and in at least one instance a pilot and control pilot were killed when the Regulus landed short and kicked up a cloud of dust, causing them to plow in. While flying the bird could be demanding, Navy pilots had a high degree of professionalism and achieved training proficiency with the missile. So much so, that the brass ordered carrier based pilots to train for the “Regulus Assault Mission“. As RAM pilots, they would fly their own single-seat aircraft while simultaneously flying a Regulus into a target. Another of Richard Saddlemire’s dioramas (below left) depicts a milestone event in the RAM program. On September 18,1956 Lt. David Leue, flying demonstration control flights of the Regulus for an assembled group of brass, made a low level RAM pass down the main runway at Chincoteaque with the missile at less than 30 feet and at 250 knots. It was an astonishing display of virtuoso flying, with Leue controlling his own plane and the missile with perfection. Such a stunt was never repeated during the program, and with good reason. Leue probably scared the admirals half to death!
Regulus I was, for all intents and purposes, a stop gap measure for the U.S. Navy. Subsonic and with limited range, it was nearly obsolete from the moment it was deployed. (Still, Regulus remained a viable weapon in the eyes of many, as it could be carried aboard submarines, could be launched stealthily and close to its targets, and could dive to target at speeds above Mach 1.0). Regulus II, the successor to Reg I, answered many of the shortcomings of its younger brother. Capable of sustained flight above the speed of sound, it had a terrific range and capabilities that put it out of reach of all but the most advanced fighter aircraft and missiles. Regulus II’s beautiful, clean, racy design caused a sensation when it was unveiled. Within a few months of its debut, the first of many model kits emerged featuring the “Supersonic Navy Missile”. Manufacturers included Revell, Monogram, Comet, and Aurora. Cox even made a gas-powered model. Many of these kits sell for $50 to several hundred dollars today, depending on condition.
I have not seen enough assembled kits to sufficiently rate their authenticity, but the Revell version is impressive and features terrific details including realistic landing gear doors and a highly accurate decal set. As mentioned previously, versions of the missile equipped with landing gear are test and/or training variants of the bird. The Aurora kit shown below shows a tactical configuration. The box art is in fact drawn from a photo of the first-ever JATO launch of a Regulus II at Mojave.
The paint schemes on the Regulus II were never really
finalized since the missile was canceled prematurely. Concept drawings show an all-blue missile similar to the Reg I, but films of the Reg II during tests reveal a plethora of different configurations. These included the red stripe version shown on the Aurora kit, and versions similar to that shown on the Revell box but featuring a solid red or white nose. At least one Reg II was painted Army green, perhaps in a bid by Vought to ingratiate themselves to another branch of the armed services. Most likely had it been deployed the Reg II would have sported the blue and white paint scheme shown on the Revell boxart. Missiles with this paint scheme were in fact launched off the former seaplane tender USS Norton Sound, and the submarine USS Grayback just prior to cancellation in 1958. After that occurred, the remaining Reg IIs were expended as KD2U-1 target drones. For that purpose their paint scheme was entirely changed to either solid white, or what appears to be gray and white (this is somewhat speculative; I have not seen any color photos from the drone era)
While the Monogram, Aurora and Revell kits showed the Regulus II at a desert proving ground, at least one company’s boxart showed the Regulus II being launched off of a submarine. Comet’s kit, which appears to be very hard to find, seemingly stole its art direction from a Chance Vought advertisement. Amusingly, the scene depicted on the box was wholly fantastic as the missile’s flight path during a JATO launch was completely linear. Once the JATO had been expended and fallen away, controlled flight of the missile could begin.
Another interesting aspect to the Comet model is that the boxart shows the missile with a “hump” on the forward fuselage just aft of the nose. This feature, which breaks the clean lines of the missile seen on the Monogram box at left, actually was not present on tactical versions of the missile. Rather, after the Reg II was canceled, the remaining missiles were modified as KD2U-1 drones. For this role they needed to carry additional electronic equipment which was accommodated with the addition of the “hump”. Thus the Comet missile represents the Regulus II after its deployment had been curtailed, and must date from 1959 or later. Whoops!
One of the most “in demand” Regulus model kits is in fact a collection of early birds released by Monogram. This “Missile Mobile” featured the Regulus II, Bomarc, Snark, Atlas, Matador, and Rigel missiles. Perfect for hanging over your bed, or over your child’s crib, especially if you wanted him or her to become an aeronautical engineer.
While airplane and missile models may have dominated the market in the 1960’s, submarine and ship models also had their place. Owing to the top-secret nature of the Regulus I or just stupidity on the part of manufacturers, no models were commercially produced of the USS Tunny, USS Barbero, USS Growler or USS Grayback. Builder’s models of these submarines were produced, although they are the “rarest of the rare”. The USS Grayback model shown at left was in the personal collection of Capt. Bill Gunn, who served aboard that vessel. Typical of shipyard models from this era, it has minimal detail and lacks missile launching gear.
One rather bizarre anomaly from the early 1950’s or perhaps the early 1960’s is a commercially produced model of the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear powered submarine. For whatever reason, the model came equipped with launching gear and a hangar appropriate for the USS Cusk, the Navy’s first missile-firing (diesel) submarine. The weapon shown on the deck of the Nautilus is clearly a “Loon”, the Americanized V-1 missile. A bizarre, completely historically inaccurate kit that ought never have been made… (Perhaps the molds were left over from a model of the Cusk, which is purported to exist, and the marketing department got carried away?) To add insult to injury Revell re-released this model in the 1990’s as part of their “History Maker” line. That’s great Revell, except you got history 100% wrong!
Revell wasn’t alone in their muddled thinking, however. The SeaWolf Atomic Powered Guided Missile Submarine shown at right was a figment of the Aurora Co.’s imagination. Admittedly, the existence of such a model might have been inspired by Navy publicity or disinformation aimed squarely at the Soviets. For while an atomic powered Seawolf did exist, the Navy never seriously studied modifying it like the Barbero or Tunny to carry a Regulus, instead preferring to use it and Nautilus as platforms to test attack submarine capabilities and reactor functionality. There is one ray of sunlight affiliated with these kits, in that presumably they would make a good starting points for anyone looking to kitbash together a Cusk, Carbonero, Tunny, or Barbero model.
The most pathetic of all the missile submarine models in existence has to be the Nautilus produced by Lindberg. Not only does the model depict the USS Nautilus with a Snark-like missile aboard (note horizontal tail), but the submarine (like USS Carbonero) lacks a hangar to stow it. So it can’t submerge. Well at least the boat has a deck gun (also wrong) for defense! In my mind it is an outrage that Lindberg sells this kind of crappy kit to youngsters to “educate” them about the Silent Service. Not to denigrate the amazing 571 boat or its crew but Nautilus never, ever carried a missile.
What is funny is that instead of making awful Nautilus and Seawolf kits, model manufacturers should have considered taking on the USS Halibut, which actually was the world’s first nuclear powered, nuclear-missile firing submarine. The only company responsible enough to do so turned out to be the Ideal Toy Company / ITC, which produced one of the most fantastic model kits of the era: the “electric powered, diving motorized” Halibut. This incredible kit, which is the only one on this page I happen to own, was part of an advanced line of ITC models that featured battery operated motors. In theory the assembled kit would run amuck in your swimming pool or local pond, turning on the surface, diving, surfacing, and launching a Regulus II off the bow. In practice the kit’s cam-driven motor was apparently somewhat balky, the electric system tended to rust if not properly dried after each deployment, and the boat’s hull integrity subjected it to Kursk-like crash dives. Nevertheless the Halibut kit is one of the most highly desired, and due to its low production run, one of the rarest in existence.
I have never assembled my Halibut kit, and have no intention of doing so as it is all that more rare in its “mint in package” state seen on lower left. I have however seen several of these kits assembled. In working condition, the toy is one of the most amusing and fantastic model submarines you’ll ever see. For the purist, of course, there are some negatives. Despite a high degree of craftsmanship exhibited by ITC, certain compromises were made in terms of realism to accommodate the submarine’s motor and automated functions, and probably also because the 587 boat’s design parameters were classified.. The hangar door on the vessel is dissimilar from the actual version, the hull shape incorrect, and the sail height greatly exaggerated for stability. Yet there is no denying the toy’s appeal. It is without question one of the coolest models to emerge from the Cold War. Dive! Dive! Dive!
On the subject of the Halibut… Recently an affordable series of submarine models began to become available via eBay from www.emodelairplanes.com, a firm located in the Phillipines. These custom-made models offer a fair degree of accuracy (provided you supply relevant details) and are well made. As with other models cast from wood pulp, they do have a certain fragility and are allegedly vulnerable to changes in humidity, which can produce cracking. So far though mine is holding up well.
The USS Halibut model shown above was produced using a blueprint I supplied (obtained from the “Regulus: The Forgotten Weapon” book) and took about six weeks to receive after being ordered. As an afterthought I had a DSRV “simulator” added to the rear of the Halibut, to show its configuration during the Ivy Bells missions, and a special name plate declaring it to be from “Mare Island Naval Shipyard”. Sweet.
Richard Saddlemire kindly produced a Regulus I missile for my Halibut. I felt this was an appropriate choice since, while the boat was designed to carry the Reg II, in reality it never launched one. Note the realistically scaled sail that appears on this model versus the sail height shown in the ITC kit!
An even more realistic model of the Halibut was produced by Tom Dougherty (above right) who maintains a website showing off a pair of terrific 587 boat models. This one has a completely accurate hull design (my Filipino model’s aft end is technically incorrect despite the blueprints), realistic paint scheme with hull markings, and fully detailed sail. Truly a masterpiece.
There are other “classic era” models which feature the Regulus I and II missiles. The USS Lexington model by Renwal, shown above, carried two Regulus I’s aboard on heavy launchers. Although Regulus was test launched from the Lexington and other aircraft carriers in the 50’s, there was never any serious thought given to deploying them aboard ship in the arrangement depicted on the box art. The launchers were just too big and the JATO blast too powerful to contemplate it. Perhaps a model of the Hancock exists showing the STAR cart launch system, which was deployed, but if so I have never seen it. Note that in the Lexington model box art the Regulus missiles are painted orange, indicating they are training birds. Not exactly what you’d want to send into combat with Ivan!
Another model of interest is the USS Long Beach shown above. Although it is difficult to distinguish, the cruiser carries a Regulus II amidships behind the pagoda tower. While it may have helped sell lots of models, the box art turns out to be highly speculative. Based on blueprints shown in “Regulus: The Forgotten Weapon” it appears that had Regulus II been deployed aboard the Long Beach, missiles would have almost certainly been stored in a hangar near the helipad and launched from the fantail. As it happened Reg II was canceled long before the cruiser went to sea.
One last addition to the collection is not a model but a battery operated sparking Regulus II toy made in the 1960’s by Bandai, the Japanese electronics company. Measuring over 14″ long, the Bandai ‘II has full landing gear and makes quite an impression as it runs down the hallway. Obviously it was designed to appeal to a youngster. Personally I find the existence of this toy to be both amusing and poignant. Model kits of machines of war and death intended for young men are one thing, but the notion of giving your pre-teen child a toy nuclear missile (or a “Missile Mobile” for that matter) would today be almost unthinkable. During the most serious part of the Cold War however, when these weapons appeared to offer if not salvation then at least protection from America’s enemies, parents obviously perceived these things differently. Today of course the Bandai ‘II and all the models on this page offer a bit of nostalgia for an era long gone by.
Special thanks to Richard Saddlemire and all those who contributed content and photographs to this article, and to all the folks on eBay from whom I borrowed photos!