The Navy’s Regulus I and II represented significant weapons systems in the offensive missile category of the 1950’s and 60’s, but they were far from the only ones. The Army and especially the Air Force produced a series of groundbreaking cruise missiles, drones, and decoys for use as attack weapons, and testing and research platforms. Now thanks to Mike Machat and Tony Accurso, and the staff at Wings, we’re pleased to present an overview of some of the Air Force’s mighty missiles and the steely-eved missile men of Cape Canaveral who launched ’em during some of the hottest years of the Cold War.
Under grey Florida skies, this SNARK is in position for a test launch some 5,000 miles down the Atlantic Missile Range. Note scale of missile to figures standing on the launcher. (Photo courtesy of John Hilliard via Tony Accurso)
(Originally appeared in Airpower Magazine May 2004 and reprinted with permission.)
by Mike Machat and Anthony Accurso
Author’s Note: In creating what we hope will serve as a most interesting and authoritative compilation of winged missile data and lore, we encountered a rather not-uncommon situation. While culling information from countless sources including contractor records, personal interviews, historical authorities and even active units involved in the development and operational readiness of all these weapon systems, we encountered numerous cases where specific data proved inconsistent from one source to the next. The quest for such vital information as speed, altitude, range, milestone dates, and even nomenclature of all these missiles yielded answers with wide variations for any given subject. Although many of our knowledgeable readers may have factual information differing from what you are about to read here, we now present what we feel is a most accurate representation of the amazing post-WWII era now referred to as the Golden Age of winged missile development.
Who Will Light the First Match?
This cryptic description of the Cold War has been attributed to any number of sources, but it was the great Douglas Aircraft Company artist, R.G. Smith, who first shared it with this author. Drawing an analogy to the then-current nuclear stand off between the United States and Soviet Union, R.G. explained, “Picture two men standing in a large room waist deep in gasoline. Each one has a match, and each is wondering who will light his first?” That story creates a pretty vivid mind picture of the results complete destruction of both parties in that case, or the complete destruction of life on earth in the bigger picture of global nuclear war.
What follows is the compelling story of some of the many different ‘matches’ held by the U. S. in the days before ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) became a definitive leg of America’s formidable Nuclear Triad. With the remaining components being manned bombers sitting on perpetual alert and missile-equipped nuclear-powered submarines roaming the world’s oceans, America’s military deterrent stood ready to most-importantly thwart any possibility of nuclear war, or respond in kind to the advances of a nuclear foe if called for. While the results of such a conflict were unthinkable, the cost of not addressing that threat was even more unthinkable. It was then left to America’s burgeoning aerospace industry and military services to come up with the answers.
Developed during the late-1940s in the days when manned space flight was only but a dream, the U.S. armed missile programs accelerated well into the decade of the 1950s and then ramped up in intensity after Russia’s Sputnik was launched into orbit in October 1957. A scientific achievement of lofty proportions, the successful orbiting of an earth satellite also carried a more ominous connotation, for it represented the ability to either place weapons of mass destruction in orbit for future use, or to launch them on unstoppable ballistic trajectories toward any country’s major cities or prime manufacturing centers.
Capitalizing on rocketry carried over from the closing days of WWII, the U. S. developed a series of projects based on both the winged V-1 ‘Buzz Bomb’ and V-2 ballistic missile used by Germany with such devastating effect. Both the Soviet Union and the U. S. were able to harness the expertise of German rocket scientists after the war, and both countries began their rocket programs in earnest. Starting with a horizontal track-launched V-1 knock-off called the Loon and a vertically-launched ballistic rocket based on the V-2 called Bumper 8, America’s scientists and engineers forged ahead to build both winged and ballistic missiles of ever-growing size and payload capability. Endless test launches were conducted at White Sands, New Mexico and Cape Canaveral, Florida desolate and remote locations where these early programs dealt with constant failure and tribulation, and then slowly overcame myriad technical obstacles to achieve the very beginnings of successful U. S. missile operations.
The Matador Enters the Ring
‘Massive Retaliatory Power’. Like ‘Military Industrial Complex’, ‘Supersonic Jet Plane’, and even ‘Rock Around The Clock’, this phrase was squarely rooted in the 1950s. In 1954, President Eisenhower announced that for the first time the United States had deployed its Matador missiles to Europe as part of a “massive retaliatory power to deter aggression”. An early forerunner of today’s sophisticated ground-launched cruise missiles, the Matador served as the first generation of an entire family of weapons that changed the face of long-range strategic warfare forever. Designed from the outset as a surface-to-surface tactical missile capable of carrying either a 3,000-lb. conventional or nuclear warhead, the Martin B-61 Matador was America’s first pilotless bomber.
Controlled electronically from the ground and launched by a solid-fuel booster rocket from a 40-ft.-long 20-ton mobile trailer, the jet-powered Matador somewhat resembled Martin’s new rakish three-engine T-tailed bomber design, the XB-51. The missile actually had the appearance of a Korean War-era jet fighter, only without a pilot’s canopy, and its performance specs were similar as well. Boasting a top speed of more than 600 mph and capable of going supersonic in its terminal dive to a target, the Matador could cover 600 nautical miles while flying as high as 44,000 ft. The sleek swept-wing vehicle weighed 13,600 lbs. at launch, and was powered by a 4,600-lb.-thrust Allison J33 turbojet engine augmented by a single Aerojet solid-fuel booster rocket that produced an immediate 57,000 lbs. of thrust at takeoff.
The Matador Program began in August 1945, and the first XB-61 was launched only four years later on January 19, 1949. By June 1952, eighteen of the bright red B-61s had been launched, and its designation had been changed to TM-61 (Tactical Missile) following extensive testing. Operated by the 1st and 69th Pilotless Bomber Squadrons (PBS) of the 6555th Guided Missile Wing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, Matadors were launched to both train crews and debug new and highly-classified onboard systems still undergoing development. Operational problems such as the missile’s tendency to breakup during its supersonic terminal dive were solved afterstudious investigations, with 200 lbs. of structural reinforcement providing the fix.
The first operational Matador units were then deployed overseas in 1959 operating as part of the USAF Tactical Air Command, airlifted to bases in West Germany, South Korea, and Taiwan operated by the 1st, 11th, and 69th PBS of the 38th Tactical Missile Wing . By the 1959, an unbelievable number of more than 1,000 Matadors had been built, and as the more advanced internally-guided Martin TM-76 Mace came into the inventory, a gradual phase-out of the TM-61 began. But the Matador, with its nearly 300 launches, clearly stood out as the pioneering forerunner of more advanced tactical and strategic missiles to come, and was by far, the most-flown vehicle of this new airborne era.