The 6555th, Chapter I, Section1

Foundations of the 6555th: The Post-War Legacy

Post War Legacy Through 1949

In the tradition of great military leaders who plan for the future, heed sage advice, and never rest on the laurels of past victories, General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold (Commanding General of U.S. Army Air Forces) began planning the post-war Air Force many months before the end of World War II. As one of airpower's greatest proponents, Arnold knew the value of scientific research -- he felt the Air Force ought to employ "all the scientific minds" it could find and turn their "wondrous" theories into useful tools. The future, he believed, was tied to new technology -- without it, aviation science would stagnate. In 1944, General Arnold asked the famous aerodynamicist, Dr. Theodore von Karman, to develop a prospectus for future Air Force research. Von Karman organized a group of his fellow scientists into the Scientific Advisory Group (later known as the Scientific Advisory Board), and this group produced its initial report, Where We Stand, in August 1945. In light of the Manhattan Project and the then-recent revelations of German missile, rocket engine, jet engine and airframe technologies, Where We Stand's list of concepts for a "revolution" in aerial warfare was not unanticipated. In the interest of clarity, the concepts in the Advisory Group's report can be grouped in the following manner:1

  1. Airborne task forces will be sustained to strike targets over great distances; aircraft will move at speeds far beyond the velocity of sound.
  2. Perfect communication between command organizations and individual aircraft will be established, and operations will proceed regardless of visibility and weather.
  3. Unmanned devices will destroy targets several thousand miles distant; small amounts of explosives will cause great destruction.
  4. Target-seeking missiles will defend against present-day aircraft; only aircraft or missiles moving at extreme speeds will be able to penetrate enemy territory protected by missile defenses.

The Scientific Advisory Group presented General Arnold with a 33-volume series, Toward New Horizons four months later. This comprehensive survey of research and development options -- with applications to the Air Force of the future -- underscored the Group's belief that the Air Force would have to "draw on the technological potential of the entire nation" to acquire and maintain technological ascendancy over any potential enemy. America's monopoly on atomic weapons could not last indefinitely. (Indeed, the Soviets were only a few years away from acquiring atomic weapons, and both superpowers would have hydrogen [fusion] bombs by 1954.) An aggressive long-range research and development (R&D) program was required to keep abreast of aircraft and missile developments, even if the atom bomb and Strategic Air Command's bombers presented an entirely credible deterrent for many years to come.2


Shortly before his retirement, General Arnold created an office within the Air Staff for a military deputy for research and development. He also arranged a contract for a staff of civilian scientists and engineers to make a long-range study of intercontinental warfare concepts. The contract was awarded to the Douglas Aircraft Corporation, and it led to the establishment of the Research and Development (RAND) Corporation in 1946. The first Deputy Chief of Staff for Research and Development was Major General Curtis E. LeMay.3

Though all three branches of the military expressed an interest in aerodynamic and/or ballistic missile technology after the war, most of their early efforts in this area focused on service-directed experimentation with captured missile hardware or modest research efforts with civilian contractors to develop "home-grown" rocket motors, fuel pumps, guidance systems, etc. This piecemeal effort reflected competition among the military branches, and it defied a succinct statement of long-range research and development objectives. Despite this state of affairs, there were some early hopeful signs: in 1945, the Electronics Division of the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics was the first agency to suggest the need for a satellite test program. Under Commander Harvey Hall, the Electronics Division discussed the feasibility of such a program with the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratories at Cal Tech, and with three civilian contractors -- the Glenn L. Martin Company, North American Aviation, and the Douglas Aircraft Corporation. All four completed their preliminary analyses in early 1946, and their conclusions suggested that a 2,000-pound satellite could be boosted into orbit if the Navy was willing to pay between $5 million and $8 million to develop a sufficiently large rocket to do the job.4

Since the services' entire research budget for 1946 was roughly $500 million (i.e., approximately $100 million for the Army Air Forces and $200 each for the Army and Navy), the Navy could not afford to develop a satellite program on its own. On 7 March 1946, Commander Hall and Captain W. P. Cogswell met with three Army Air Force members of the Aeronautical Board to discuss the possibility of a joint Navy-Air Force space program. The Army Air Force reaction was generally positive: though funding might prove a problem, the Army Air Force members agreed to discuss the matter with General LeMay. The satellite proposal was also placed on the Aeronautical Board's agenda for further discussion on 14 May 1946.5

To prepare Army Air Force representatives for the joint-service satellite program discussions in May, General LeMay asked for a RAND group study on satellite feasibility on very short notice. A 321-page study was prepared in three weeks and forwarded to the Pentagon two days before the Aeronautical Board's meeting on May 14th. The RAND study concluded that modern technology made a satellite vehicle feasible, though in this instance a 500-pound instrumented payload was proposed instead of a 2,000-pound satellite. Satellites could be applied to military reconnaissance, weather surveillance, communications and missile guidance, but there would be other scientific and commercial benefits as well: the fields of gravitational research, astronomy, bioastronautics and meteorology would profit from the military's space initiatives. The geostationary communications satellite was discussed specifically, and there was even a brief mention of the satellite as a "first step" to interplanetary travel. Engineering aspects were also explored in the study, and RAND's basic calculations concerning vehicle design, fuels, orbital motion, trajectories, developmental requirements and costs were not markedly different from those presented to the American public following the launch of Sputnik more than a decade later.6

Unfortunately, shortly after satellites were discussed by the Aeronautical Board's Research and Development Committee on May 14th, the committee reported that no agreement between the Navy and Army Air Force members had been reached. The American scientific community's reaction was not particularly encouraging either, and the Chairman of the Armed Forces' Research and Development Board, Dr. Vannevar Bush, soon denounced ballistic missiles as hopelessly inaccurate and satellites as the vaporings of eminent military men "exhilarated perhaps by a short immersion in matters scientific." The Research and Development Board rejected the satellite proposal on the grounds that it did not support a military requirement, and the Board's Guided Missile Committee refused to fund it. Other missile programs also disappeared in 1947 and 1948, condemned as "too theoretical" or too far removed from existing requirements to warrant funding. Nevertheless, RAND studies on satellites and space vehicles continued, and one week after the U.S. Air Force came into being, Air Force Headquarters asked Air Materiel Command's Engineering Division at Wright-Patterson, Ohio to evaluate the RAND reports for technical and operational feasibility.7

While missile studies continued, the expansion of Strategic Air Command demanded much of the Air Force's attention in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In the constant struggle for funding, missile research and development often took a backseat to bomber and tanker force improvements at Air Materiel Command. Despite this fact, missile experimentation was not ignored at Wright-Patterson. On the contrary, when the Pilotless Aircraft Branch was created in 1946, requirements were laid down for many different missiles, as Major General Harry J. Sands, Jr. (USAF, Retired) remembers:8

That was the beginning of the Air Force missile program...getting started wasn't easy, but we knew our missiles could be broken down into four categories: surface-to-surface, surface-to-air, air-to-surface, and air-to-air. It took us a year or so to lay down requirements. We let 26 contracts with 26 contractors just to define our parameters -- we didn't need to spend much money on this...During that first year, all we really wanted the contractors to do was gather knowledgeable people in propulsion, guidance, launching, etc., and see what a reasonable set of missile requirements would be. We reduced the number of primary contractors after that first year, though just about everybody participated through sub-contracts. The (Glenn L.) Martin Company became the primary contractor in short-range, surface-to-surface missiles (e.g., the MATADOR). Boeing got the surface-to-air business with the BOMARC. General Dynamics (i.e., the Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft Corporation) had the ATLAS, and North American had the NAVAHO. Both of those were long-range, surface-to-surface missiles, though the NAVAHO was air-breathing and the ATLAS was ballistic. Northrop had the SNARK, another long-range, surface-to-surface, air-breathing missile...In the air-to-air business, we wound up with only one contractor: Hughes...In the air-to-surface business, the Bell Company produced the RASCAL...The contractor would be responsible for the requirements, and ultimately responsible for seeing that the pieces came together.

Following the definition of missile requirements, Air Materiel Command started looking for likely places to allow its contractors to launch missiles. Though the Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft Corporation conducted some static rocket engine tests at Point Loma near San Diego, the remnants of this project moved to the White Sands Proving Ground in the spring of 1948. The Air Force also relocated a portion of its JB-2 "buzz bomb" test effort to Holloman Air Force Base at White Sands. The Eglin Air Proving Ground was used for drone aircraft operations, guided bomb experiments and ordnance testing in the late 1940s, but an Air Force detachment also carried out some missile activities at the Navy's Guided Missile Test Center at Point Mugu, California. While Eglin and Wright-Patterson were the organizational "hubs" for many Air Force missile-related projects in the late 1940s, the focus began to shift to other commands and bases in the early 1950s.9


One of the first steps in that direction occurred in September 1948, when a deactivated World War II patrol base -- the Banana River Naval Air Station -- was transferred to the Air Force as a base of operations for a joint-service missile range. The Headquarters for the Joint Long Range Proving Ground was set up there on 10 June 1949, but joint management of the Proving Ground proved unwieldy, and the Headquarters was replaced by the Air Force's Long Range Proving Ground Division on 16 May 1950. Under the Air Force's management, the Proving Ground started building launch complexes, missile processing facilities and instrumentation sites at Cape Canaveral and elsewhere on the Florida mainland. Within a decade, the Proving Ground evolved into the Atlantic Missile Range (later known as the Eastern Test Range), and its instrumentation sites extended from Cape Canaveral to range ships and island stations reaching all the way to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. While ordnance activities remained at Eglin, missile units gravitated toward Cape Canaveral, the future home of the 6555th Guided Missile Wing .10
Control Aircraft At Top Right

The 6555th Guided Missile Wing's predecessors included the 1st Experimental Guided Missiles Group, the 550th Guided Missiles Wing and the 4800th Guided Missile Wing. The 1st Experimental Guided Missiles Group was activated at Eglin Field, Florida on 6 February 1946. Pursuant to an order from the War Department (dated 25 January 1946), the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces Center at Eglin Field was directed to activate the Headquarters, 1st Experimental Guided Missiles Group, the 1st Experimental Guided Missiles Squadron and the 1st Experimental Air Service Squadron. The total authorized strength for the three organizations was 130 officers, one warrant officer and 714 enlisted men. Eglin's commander was directed to supply manpower for the units from his own resources, but, given the recent postwar demobilization, his ability to do so was extremely limited. Of the four officers and three airmen assigned to the Group on February 6th, the Group Commander and two lieutenant colonels were on temporary duty with an air instrumentation and test requirement unit supporting Project CROSSROADS in the Pacific. Colonel Harvey T. Alness did not actually assume command of the Group until early August, shortly after he and lieutenant colonels William B. Keyes and Richard A. Campbell brought two B-17 drones to Muroc Air Force Base, California from Hawaii following the CROSSROADS operation in July 1946. In the interim, Captain Wheeler B. Bowen (the only officer on station when the 1st was activated) remained in temporary command until Major Frederick M. Armstrong Jr. joined the Group on February 15th. Lieutenant Colonel Wesley Werner replaced Armstrong as Commander on May 13th, and he continued in command until Colonel Alness returned in August 1946.11


During its first year of operation, the 1st Experimental Guided Missiles Group operated out of Eglin's Auxiliary Field #3. Personnel attended technical schools or supported other Air Proving Ground units, but apart from receiving nationwide attention in January 1947 for completing a drone flight from Eglin to Washington D.C. on a simulated bombing mission, the Group received little notice in its own right. Without higher supply and personnel priorities, very little else could be accomplished. The situation began to change in March 1947, when the Group moved to Eglin's main base and received its first series of test projects. The Group was given the JB-2 -- an American version of the German V-1 flying bomb -- and it got involved in VB-6 FELIX, VB-3 RAZON, and VB-13 TARZON guided bomb activities. Though most of the Group's efforts were devoted to "on-the-job" training and providing assistance to contractors who launched those weapons, the 1st began implementing its mission, which included: 1) developing tactics and techniques for guided missile operations, 2) training personnel and testing equipment used in guided missile organizations, 3) developing requirements and standards for the employment of guided missiles, and 4) conducting functional and tactical tests of new guided missiles to determine their operational suitability (i.e., readiness for adoption by the armed forces). The Group also began providing observers for guided missile tests at laboratories and factories, including those programs sponsored by the Army and Navy.12

Though preparations for another atomic test (Project SANDSTONE) engaged most of the Group's resources from July 1947 through June 1948, the 1st Experimental Air Service Squadron picked up responsibility for drone aircraft bombing tests (e.g., Project BANSHEE) and conducted a limited number of JB-2 and VB-6 tests during that period. The 1st regrouped its activities after Project SANDSTONE, and it spent several months preparing a detachment to depart for cold weather testing of the JB-2 in Alaska in November 1948. RAZON and TARZON bomb tests were underway by the end of the year.13

During the last seven months of its existence, the 1st Experimental Guided Missiles Group either supervised or participated in eleven different missile-related projects. In addition to the on-going JB-2, RAZON, TARZON, FELIX and BANSHEE projects, the Group had a detachment in training at Point Mugu to handle and operate the Navy's LARK surface-to-air missile. The Group also provided a detachment to support the MATADOR project at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. The Group's other projects included preparation for the GREENHOUSE atomic test (conducted in 1951), drone aircraft "ditching" tests (to test structural weaknesses) and drone aircraft support for high-altitude incendiary ammunition tests and infrared radiation experiments.14

On 20 July 1949, the 1st Experimental Guided Missiles Group was deactivated, and it was replaced by the 550th Guided Missiles Wing on the same date. At the time of its deactivation, the 1st had 97 officers and 523 airmen assigned to it. Those people were transferred to the 550th, and, in general, they were assigned duties identical to their tasks in the old Experimental Guided Missiles Group. However, unlike the 1st, the 550th was a wing, and it had four squadrons to carry out its functions:15

  1. The 550th Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron (drawn from the 1st Group's Headquarters).
  2. The 1st Guided Missiles Squadron (composed mainly from personnel taken from the deactivated 1st Experimental Guided Missile Squadron).
  3. The 2nd Guided Missiles Squadron (manned by personnel from the 1st Experimental Guided Missile Squadron and the 1st Experimental Air Service Squadron).
  4. The 550th Maintenance Squadron, Guided Missiles (composed of the remaining portion of the 1st Experimental Air Service Squadron, which was merely redesignated on 20 July 1949).

The 6555th: Missile and Space Launches Through 1970
by Mark C. Cleary, Chief Historian
45 Space Wing Office of History
1201 Minuteman Ave, Patrick AFB, FL 32925