The 6555th, Chapter III, Section 8

The 6555th's Role in the Development of Ballistic Missiles

The MINUTEMAN Ballistic Missile Test Program

The MINUTEMAN research and development program was the Air Force's last intercontinental ballistic missile effort at Cape Canaveral, but it involved the 6555th for more than a decade. The MINUTEMAN Project Division was activated on 1 January 1959 under the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division's Assistant Commander for Missile Tests. Major Gene R. Swant was assigned as Chief of the MINUTEMAN Project Division, and he continued in that capacity as a lieutenant colonel after the Division was assigned to the 6555th Test Wing (Development) on 21 December 1959. Unlike the 6555th's operations divisions, the project divisions were essentially liaison agencies, and Lieutenant Colonel Swant only had about a dozen officers and clerical assistants at the Division's offices at Patrick and Cape Canaveral. As MINUTEMAN facilities were completed at the Cape, however, missile contractor activity increased dramatically. An inert MINUTEMAN I missile was processed along with 90 percent of its support equipment in the spring of 1960 to insure dimensional compatibility between the Cape's MINUTEMAN facilities and future "live" missiles. Another inert missile (equipped with electrical components to test the facilities' electronic compatibility) was assembled and tested at the Cape in October and November 1960. Last-minute construction, equipment installation and launch pad preparations also required an around-the-clock effort from Boeing toward the end of 1960 to get the facility ready for the first MINUTEMAN I launch in early 1961.43

11 August 1960

The 6555th activated its MINUTEMAN Operations Division in July 1960, but, pending coordination of the Division's mission with higher headquarters, it felt compelled to restrict the unit's manpower to a division chief (i.e., Lieutenant Colonel Good), a lieutenant and one chief master sergeant. On 17 April 1961, the MINUTEMAN Operations Division and the MINUTEMAN Project Division were combined to form the MINUTEMAN Weapons Branch under Lieutenant Colonel Swant. Major J. J. DeJonghe and Major L. W. Sinclaire were chosen to lead the Branch's Requirements Section and System Section in April, and Major A. L. Taylor became the Chief of the Operations Section on 29 May 1961. Though the combined strength of the two units yielded only 11 officers, 18 airmen and 4 civilians initially, the complement of airmen tripled over the next eight months. Many of those troops were sent to technical schools to study the MINUTEMAN's various systems before the end of 1961.44

Photo Not

March 1960

As work on Silos 31 and 32 neared completion, the first MINUTEMAN I test missile was launched from Pad 31 on 1 February 1961. The flight was highly successful, and it set a record for being the first launch operation in which all stages of a multi-staged missile were tested on the very first test flight of an R&D program. Successes alternated with failures when the second and fourth MINUTEMAN I missiles were destroyed during their flights from Pad 31 and Silo 32 on 19 May and 30 August 1961, but two other MINUTEMAN flights were launched from Silo 32 and Silo 31 before the end of 1961, and they met most of their test objectives. Apart from one flight failure in April 1962, Boeing had a string of five successful flights from Silo 31 between 5 January and 9 March 1962, and the Cape recorded four more successful test flights from Silo 32 in May and June 1962. (The latter included the first all-military launch of a MINUTEMAN I missile on June 29th.) After a bad start, test results in the last half of 1962 were also somewhat mixed: two MINUTEMAN I test missiles destroyed themselves during test flights in July and August 1962, and another MINUTEMAN I had to be destroyed by the Range Safety Officer approximately eight seconds after launch on October 17th. Five successful test flights were recorded in September, November and December 1962, and the year's operations were capped by a partially successful flight from Silo 32 on December 20th.45

March 1960

May 1960

February 1961

1 February 1961

December 1962

December 1962

Before the first blue suit MINUTEMAN I launch in June 1962, military personnel from the MINUTEMAN Weapons Branch's Operations Section attended factory training courses and worked with Boeing, Autonetics and AVCO to learn the various facets of missile preparation, ground testing, launch operations and silo refurbishment. The Section's officers and airmen also participated in varying degrees on all the MINUTEMAN launch operations during the first half of 1962, and they redoubled their efforts on Complex 32 to prepare Silo 32 for the next block of MINUTEMAN missiles. As part of the Wing's reorganization in the summer of 1962, the MINUTEMAN Weapons Branch became a division and the Operations Section became a branch, but the mission did not change. Of the nine MINUTEMAN I flights registered in the last half of 1962, four were all-military launch operations from Silo 32. The contractor launched the other five MINUTEMAN I test missiles from Silo 31 on 12 July, 19 September, 17 October, 19 November and 14 December 1962.46

The MINUTEMAN Weapons Division assumed responsibility for Complex 31 in 1963, and this decision prompted the assignment of 31 additional airmen, five SAC officers and 17 SAC airmen to assist the Division with its expanded operation. Unfortunately, most of the new personnel had no previous MINUTEMAN training, so the Operations Branch had to conduct a series of orientation courses on the MINUTEMAN weapon system and R&D testing procedures before the new arrivals were allowed to move on to the on-the-job training phase on their instruction. By June 1963, the Division had 16 officers, 91 airmen and 10 civilians assigned to its various activities. Eight SAC officers and 20 SAC airmen were also attached to the Division, and all new personnel had progressed to the on-the-job phase of their training. In the meantime, Boeing launched its last four MINUTEMAN I test missiles on successful flights from Silo 31 on 7 January, 18 March, 10 April and 28 May 1963. Blue suit operations also continued from Silo 32, and five more successful MINUTEMAN I flights were launched from that facility between 23 January and 28 June 1963. The first blue suit MINUTEMAN I launch operation from Silo 31 led to a completely successful missile flight on 27 June 1963.47

While MINUTEMAN I launches continued at Cape Canaveral, other aspects of the MINUTEMAN program advanced elsewhere in the United States. On 28 September 1962, for example, a MINUTEMAN I missile was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base for the first time in that base's history. The first MINUTEMAN I (model "A") flight of 10 missiles was placed on alert at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana on 27 October 1962, and the first full squadron of 50 MINUTEMAN I missiles was on alert at Malmstrom by the spring of 1963. The first MINUTEMAN I (model "B") missiles went on alert at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota in July 1963, and Ellsworth's 66th Strategic Missile Squadron was declared operational less than three months later. Technological improvements in the MINUTEMAN had already out-distanced its deployment by that time, and the Secretary of Defense approved a program in November 1963 to gradually replace the entire MINUTEMAN I "A" and "B" force with more powerful MINUTEMAN II missiles. By July 1964, 600 MINUTEMAN I missiles were dispersed in hardened underground launch facilities at 12 operational missile squadrons in the western United States. They constituted roughly three-fourths of a mixed force of ATLAS, TITAN and MINUTEMAN missiles, but their representation increased considerably as all but 54 of the first-generation ICBMs were retired over the next 12 months. Only 54 TITAN II missiles were retained as the MINUTEMAN force continued to expand to 1,000 MINUTEMAN I and II missiles. Malmstrom's 564th Strategic Missile Squadron completed the deployment by putting the 1000th MINUTEMAN on alert in May 1967.48

September 1964


Between 1 July 1963 and 30 September 1964, the 6555th's MINUTEMAN Operations Branch launched nine missiles from Silo 31 and 10 missiles from Silo 32 to conclude the MINUTEMAN I flight test program. Fourteen of those flights met all -- or a very high percentage -- of their test objectives, and the 6555th completed a string of 12 successful launches without a single flight failure in 1964. Facilities were reconfigured for the MINUTEMAN II program during the last half of 1964, and the Operations Branch launched the first MINUTEMAN II test missile from Silo 32 on September 24th. Three additional highly successful MINUTEMAN II flights were launched from Cape Canaveral before the end of 1964, and they were followed by a string of seven near-perfect test flights from silos 31 and 32 in 1965. Only nine more missile flights were needed to conclude the MINUTEMAN II program at the Cape, so Complex 31 was put into temporary storage in the spring of 1966 pending its modification for the MINUTEMAN III program. The Operations Branch launched four MINUTEMAN II test missiles in 1966, and it launched four more in 1967. The final MINUTEMAN II was launched from the Cape on 6 February 1968. As MINUTEMAN II operations wound down, Lieutenant Colonel William E. Haynes became the MINUTEMAN Weapon Division Chief on 12 April 1966, and he was succeeded by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph M. Glasgow, Jr. on 1 January 1967. Fifteen officers, 90 airmen and seven civilians were assigned to the Division by the end of 1967, but one officer and sixteen airmen were added to the unit as the MINUTEMAN III program got underway in 1968.49

Though the Operations Branch dominated MINUTEMAN launch operations from the middle of 1963 onward, it would be extremely unfair to ignore the contributions made by Boeing and its MINUTEMAN sub-contractors throughout the flight test program. All MINUTEMAN test missiles were assembled at the Cape by contractor personnel and tested before they were turned over to the Air Force and transported to the silos. (As part of the procedure, the 6555th's MINUTEMAN Systems Branch assigned its own personnel to supervise the contractor's assembly and sub-system testing before Boeing transferred the missiles to the Operations Branch.) The contractor's participation in the MINUTEMAN program was thus quite extensive. At the end of 1967, for example, Boeing had 324 employees assigned to the MINUTEMAN program at Cape Canaveral, and MINUTEMAN sub-contractors provided 140 workers for their portions of the assembly and testing operation. TRW (formerly Ramo-Wooldridge) also provided more than two dozen people to support the MINUTEMAN II and MINUTEMAN III programs. Taken together, approximately 45 percent of the 6555th's entire missile contractor work force were involved in the MINUTEMAN program by the middle of 1968. MINUTEMAN contractor numbers dropped to 527 a year later, and they plunged from 401 to 137 as the MINUTEMAN III program wound down during the last half of 1970, but a comparison of those figures with military strengths in 1969 and 1970 clearly shows that contractors outnumbered MINUTEMAN Weapons Division personnel at least 4-to-1 during MINUTEMAN III operations at Cape Canaveral.50

The military also had an important role in MINUTEMAN operations. Once the contractors delivered the assembled MINUTEMAN to the 6555th, personnel from the MINUTEMAN Operations Branch's Pad-Silo Section drove the missile to the pad in a special vehicle known as a transporter/erector. They lowered the MINUTEMAN into the silo, installed and checked out the missile's control umbilicals, mated the guidance and instrumentation section to the missile, installed secondary ordnance and operated special test equipment required to calibrate and record silo instrumentation data. The Blockhouse Section's technicians performed pre-flight tests to insure proper control of all systems before launch, and the Blockhouse Section's officers served as MINUTEMAN test conductors. The MINUTEMAN Weapon Division's Inspection Branch monitored all phases of those operations, including the actual launch. Following lift-off, the Pad-Silo Section's people moved in to refurbish the missile suspension system and the launch tube.51

As preparations for the first MINUTEMAN III launch entered their final phase, Lieutenant Colonel Glasgow's tour as Chief of the MINUTEMAN Weapon Division ended, and he was relieved for reassignment on 22 July 1968. He was succeeded by Lieutenant Colonel Arthur E. Hendren, a veteran missileer and recent arrival from Vandenberg's 6595th Aerospace Test Wing. Under Lieutenant Colonel Hendren, the Operations Branch successfully launched the first MINUTEMAN III test missile from Silo 32 on 16 August 1968. That flight was followed by nine other test flights from Silo 32 and Silo 31 between 24 October 1968 and 13 March 1970.* Though four of those later MINUTEMAN III flights failed to meet their test objectives, the Operations Branch wrapped up the MINUTEMAN III R&D flight test program with three highly successful flights from Silo 32 between 3 April and 28 May 1970. When the 6555th became a Group under the 6595th Aerospace Test Wing on 1 April 1970,** the MINUTEMAN Weapon Division was renamed the MINUTEMAN Test Division, but the name change was a minor event compared to the termination of blue suit launch operations and the subsequent transfer of personnel to other agencies. Lieutenant Colonel Hendren's division reduced its manpower to 16 officers, 60 airmen and six civilians by 1 July 1970, and it got rid of its blue suit launch capability. Though three more MINUTEMAN III missiles were launched from Silo 32 on 16 September, 2 December and 14 December 1970, they were launched by Boeing for the Special Test Missile (STM) project -- a post-R&D effort to evaluate the MINUTEMAN III's performance and accuracy. (All three test flights were successful.) Following the final MINUTEMAN launch on December 14th, the MINUTEMAN Test Division continued to reduce its numbers, and only a handful of personnel were retained to complete the disposition of MINUTEMAN equipment after the Division was deactivated on 31 December 1970. The remaining personnel were reassigned to other duties, and the last of the MINUTEMAN contractors departed in 1971.52

16 August 1968

The 6555th's role in ballistic missile development ended with the MINUTEMAN III flight test program in 1970, but MINUTEMAN and TITAN missile tests continued under SAC and the 6595th Aerospace Test Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Many improvements in those missiles and their reentry systems were tested and verified at Vandenberg and the Western Test Range, and new Air Force ballistic missile programs (e.g., PEACEKEEPER and the Small ICBM) were added to the Western Test Range's schedule in later years. The 6555th's mission, on the other hand, was focused on space launch vehicles, payloads, and support systems during the 1970s, and the Group continued to lead the way for space operations it had pioneered in the 1960s. In the next chapter, we will look at the 6555th's involvement in space activities dating back to 1959.

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