The 6555th

Chapter Three Footnotes

ballistic missile as a logical successor
Following Defense Department cutbacks in 1947, the Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft Corporation had been forced to close out its MX-744 ballistic missile flight test program in 1948. Consolidated's successor -- Convair -- continued limited research on ballistic missile technology with its own corporate funds.

Strategic Missiles Evaluation Committee
The 11-member panel consisted of three of Hughes Aircraft's top men (Allen E. Puckett, Simon Ramo, and Dean Wooldridge), Brigadier General (Selectee) Bernard A. Schriever (who was then Assistant for Development Planning under the Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Development), three professors from the California Institute of Technology (Clark B. Millikan, Charles C. Lauritsen and Louis G. Dunn), Hendrik W. Bode (from Bell Lab), George B Kistiakowski (from Harvard), Jerome B. Weisner (from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), and Lawrence A. Hyland (from Bendix Corporation). Von Neumann, Bode, Hyland, Kistiakowski, Millikan and Weisner also served on the Scientific Advisory Committee, which provided the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Air Force with expert advice on technological matters in general.

The THOR grew out of a meeting of the Scientific Advisory Committee in January 1955. The United Kingdom expressed an interest in the THOR in February 1955, so basing for the 1,500-mile-range missile would not be a problem. General Schriever opposed the THOR initially, fearing that it would take funding away from the ATLAS and TITAN. The Secretary of Defense thought otherwise, and President Eisenhower approved a National Security Council recommendation on 1 December 1955 assigning the THOR "joint highest national priority" with the ATLAS and TITAN.

solid propellant rocket
Although the WDD transferred most of its early solid rocket research to the Wright Air Development Center, the Division managed experiments involving the X-17 solid rocket reentry test vehicle. (The X-17 was used to establish a design for the ATLAS' reentry vehicle, and X-17 flights were launched from Cape Canaveral between May 1955 and the end of August 1957.) Toward the end of 1957, the Air Force appeared ready to develop large solid rockets for the three-staged MINUTEMAN ICBM, whereupon General Schriever requested the return of other solid rocket projects to his division.

ballistic missile components were being tested elsewhere
An ATLAS component test facility was established at Point Loma, and captive missile test facilities were set up at the Edwards Rocket Site north of Los Angeles and at Sycamore Canyon near San Diego. The first ATLAS propulsion system and component tests were conducted in June 1956, and the first ATLAS test missile was delivered to Sycamore Canyon in August 1956. The Air Force and the Douglas Aircraft Company jointly financed a static test (i.e., captive missile) firing facility for the THOR at Sacramento, California. The site was leased, with an option to buy, from Aerojet General Corporation. Douglas delivered its first THOR test missile on 26 October 1956, and that missile was launched from Cape Canaveral three months later.

Assistant Commander for Missile Tests
Unfortunately the Office of Assistant Commander for Missile Tests was discontinued on 21 December 1959, so the 6555th only picked up the Office's resources and mission -- not its lineage and honors.

ballistic missile testing
For the sake of clarity, we will limit our study to the THOR, ATLAS, TITAN I and II, and MINUTEMAN I, II, and III missile systems. No attempt will be made to compare those programs with the development of the Army's REDSTONE and JUPITER missiles or the Navy's POLARIS, though those missiles also had a rich history at the Cape. Some parallels between operations at Vandenberg Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral will be presented to illustrate other aspects of the Air Force programs, but our principal focus will remain with the 6555th and the Air Force's ballistic missile contractors

The ABLE upper stage was a modified Aerojet-General booster rated at 7,700 pounds of thrust. The nose cones, built by General Electric and AVCO, were designed to absorb the intense heat of atmospheric reentry by shedding thin layers of their surfaces.

Vandenberg Air Force Base
In June 1956, the ATLAS Site Selection Board (appointed by Major General Schriever) recommended an inactive Army base north of Lompoc, California as the initial West Coast base for ballistic missile operations and operational personnel training. That base -- Camp Cooke -- had been used as an armor and infantry training reservation during the Second World War and the Korean War, but it had been on inactive status between the wars and after January 1953. The Air Force went ahead with plans for three ATLAS complexes and the development of a THOR operational training capability after Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson directed the transfer of 64,000 acres of Camp Cooke to the Air Force on 16 November 1956. The 6591st Support Squadron became the first Air Force unit to move into Camp Cooke in February 1957, and the Air Force portion of the reservation was redesignated Cooke Air Force Base on 7 June 1957. Cooke Air Force Base was transferred from ARDC to SAC on 1 January 1958, and it was redesignated Vandenberg Air Force Base in honor of General Hoyt S. Vandenberg on 4 October 1958. Though SAC owned the base, the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division remained responsible for the design and installation of ballistic missile facilities.

ATLAS' development
Convair formed Astronautics in the mid-1950s to work on the ATLAS program, and General Dynamics' Board of Directors voted $20 million to acquire land and build a complex for Astronautics in San Diego, California. Astronautics transferred its operations to the new 12-building complex in 1958. Twenty-two new buildings were added over the next three years, and Astronautics tripled its work force from 9,618 to more than 27,000 employees by the middle of 1961.

X-17 program
The Lockheed Aircraft Corporation was awarded a contract to launch 1/4, 1/2, and full scale models of the ATLAS reentry vehicle and acquire data on the atmosphere's affects on the vehicle's skin temperatures, pressure, acceleration, radiation, dislocation and ion density. The X-17 - - a 41-foot-long, three-stage solid propellant rocket weighing 10,650 pounds -- was used to boost the models to ultrasonic speeds. Three 1/4 scale, three 1/2 scale, and seven full scale models were launched successfully during the X-17's developmental phase between May 1955 and July 1956. Twenty-four more X-17s were launched as part of the project's research phase beginning in July 1956, and 18 of those met all their test objectives. The flight test portion of the X-17 project was concluded successfully with the final launch on 21 March 1957. The X-17 program's final report was released on 10 May 1957, but one additional post-program X-17 launch was conducted on 22 August 1957 to gather more data on nose cone vibration.

The TITAN I was also known as the XSM-68 (Xperimental Strategic Missile 68) while it was under development. Though the TITAN trailed the ATLAS by only one year, the technological differences in the two missiles were significant.

Contracts for the Cape's TITAN I facilities
Missile assembly buildings N, T and U and launch complexes 15, 16, 19, and 20 were included in those contracts.

The BLUE SCOUT program was initiated in June 1959 with the selection of Ford's Aeronutronic Division as the system's engineering contractor. The BLUE SCOUT and BLUE SCOUT Jr. were launched by blue suit crews from Complex 18 on a variety of space research missions, but they were never intended for operational missile units like the THOR squadrons in Great Britain or the TITAN and MINUTEMAN squadrons under SAC.

officers were in charge of the divisions
A vacancy in the Chief's position at the Engineering Division was filled by Mr. Wallace R. MacGregor pending the arrival of Lieutenant Colonel Malcolm D. Hart, who was assigned as the Division's Chief on 4 August 1960. Captain (and later Major) Harold T. Blackburn was named Acting Chief of the Materiel Division on 14 April 1960, and he was succeeded by Major Douglas W. Londeree on 3 August 1960.

MACE Operations
For MACE activities, see Chapter II, Section 2.

Air Force technicians
The latter would be transferred to the 6555th for further on-the-job training. Ironically, the 6555th had to ask SAC to transfer 67 trained airmen from Vandenberg's 392nd Missile Training Squadron to fill vacancies in the 6555th's THOR Operations Division in early 1960 because only six of the 20 personnel assigned to the Division were qualified for THOR operations. The Division Chief, Major Anderson, visited Vandenberg Air Force Base in February 1960 to review personnel records for the proposed transfer, but lack of funding and personnel forced the Wing to abolish the THOR Operations Division on 20 April 1960. The 6555th's THOR space booster activities continued through its Space Projects Division, but THOR ballistic missile flights ended on the Eastern Test Range as of 29 February 1960. The Division's personnel were transferred to other divisions within the Directorate of Operations and the Directorate of Tests.

complexes 11 through 14
Complex 13 was converted to handle the new ATLAS "E" in 1960, and the first ATLAS "E" was launched there on 11 October 1960. Complex 11 was also converted for "E" and "F" Series launches later on.

test missiles
While the majority of those flights met some or all of their objectives, one ATLAS "D" exploded shortly after its lift-off from Complex 13 on 10 March 1960, and another ATLAS "D" exploded while it sat on the launch pad at Complex 11 on 7 April 1960. The first three ATLAS "E" flights were launched from Complex 13, and they were equally dismal: all three missiles broke up or lost power less than three minutes after lift-off on 11 October 1960, 29 November 1960, and 24 January 1961. Looking on the bright side, the last "D" Series flight (from Complex 12) was successful on 23 January 1961, and the fourth "E" series flight (from Complex 13) was successful on February 24th.

internal reorganization
The Wing's reorganization reflected an evolutionary process that had been going on at higher headquarters for some time. By 1960, the Air Force's ballistic missile and space programs had grown too large to be managed effectively under the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division (AFBMD). Lieutenant General Schriever had been the ARDC Commander since April 1959, and he recommended the transfer of AFBMD's ballistic missile functions from ARDC's Los Angeles complex to Norton Air Force Base where they could be combined with missile site activation offices under Air Materiel Command's Ballistic Missiles Center (BMC). Space programs would be retained under AFBMD in Los Angeles. The proposal was approved, but it was soon overshadowed by a more comprehensive reorganization of the Air Force missile and space effort. By the beginning of 1961, Soviet space accomplishments and NASA's march to absorb U.S. military space programs compelled the Department of Defense to forge a new, strong military space effort. In March 1961, Air Force Secretary Eugene M. Zuckert announced that the Air Force would be given primary responsibility for the military space mission. On 1 April 1961, Air Force Systems Command and Air Force Logistics Command were created (along with the Office of Aerospace Research in Washington D.C.) to replace ARDC and operations. Air Materiel Command and the ballistic missile and space agencies at Norton and Los Angeles were reorganized into the Ballistic Systems Division (BSD) and the Space System Division (SSD) under Air Force Systems Command (AFSC). The 6555th reorganized its Directorate of Tests, Directorate of Operations and Directorate of Support into the Ballistic Missiles Division, the Space Programs Division, and the Technical Support Division on April 17th to reflect that higher headquarters reorganization (i.e., the 6555th now served two masters under AFSC.) The 6555th's old project and operations divisions were reorganized into booster branches and weapons branches. The Wing was redesignated the 6555th Aerospace Test Wing under BSD on 25 October 1961, and it was transferred to Space Systems Division on 1 July 1963.

launched from Complex 11
The missile exploded less than one second after lift-off on April 9th. The complex sustained minor structural and major electrical damage as a result of that failure, but repairs to damaged ground equipment gave the Branch's military personnel a chance to study support systems "inside and out" while they assisted the contractor with Complex 11's refurbishment.

ATLAS Weapons Division
The ATLAS Weapons Branch was elevated to division status during the summer of 1962, though no precise date is given in the unit histories. The Systems & Requirements Section and the Operations Section both became branches when the ATLAS Weapons Branch became the ATLAS Weapons Division, and the reader may assume that all three actions occurred on or about the same date. The Systems & Requirements Branch was renamed the Test Support Branch in 1963.

new Air Force personnel
Though the Division and the Operations Branch both lost their chiefs to other AFSC Divisions in July 1964, Major Harry B. Cadwell succeeded Lieutenant Colonel Good, and Captain Daniel G. Vaughan replaced Major Pierce on 30 October 1964.

TITAN Operations Division
Lieutenant Colonel John A. Simmons was the TITAN Operations Division Chief initially, but he became the 6555th's Director of Operations on 4 January 1960, and Major Harold J. Stocks succeeded him as Chief on the same date.

plan of operation
Some of the Division's airmen participated in the ground testing and launch of Martin's first "advanced J" TITAN from Complex 20 in late December 1960, and the number of airmen gradually increased on the contractor firing teams that launched three other "J"s on 10 February, 20 February and 23 May 1961. Nevertheless, the absence of an operations plan made an effective all-military launch capability impossible. The Martin Company was also having some trouble with its test flights during the period. The first of the Lot "J" missiles was launched from Complex 20 on 1 July 1960, but the missile had to be destroyed by the Range Safety Officer 11 seconds after lift-off. Two other Lot "J" missiles were launched from complexes 20 and 19 on July 28th and August 10th, but they both failed to meet their test objectives. A "G" Lot TITAN was launched from Complex 15 on September 29th, and it did not meet its primary flight test objective either. Fortune began to smile again with the fourth Lot "J" missile, which was launched from Complex 20 on 30 August 1960. That flight met its primary test objectives, and two more "J" missile flights (from complexes 20 and 19) were completely successful on 7 and 24 October 1960.

TITAN Weapons Branch
Lieutenant Colonel Edmund E. Novotny, who had served as the TITAN Project Division Chief, became the TITAN Weapons Branch Chief. Major Stocks became Novotny's Operations Section Chief.

continued to launch TITANs
In addition to the "J" missile flights mentioned earlier, the Martin Company launched nine "J"s between 20 January and 25 October 1961. The contractor also launched the first six Lot "M" all-inertially guided TITANs in 1961.

Operations Branch's
The TITAN Weapons Branch and its sections were upgraded to a division and three branches during this period, but the unit's operations continued unchanged. Major Fountain M. Hutchison succeeded Lieutenant Colonel Novotny as the Division Chief in August 1962, but Major Stocks continued as the Operations Branch Chief until his reassignment (as a lieutenant colonel) in July 1963. Stocks was succeeded by Lieutenant Colonel Harold T. Blackburn as Operations Branch Chief.

Both missiles were launched by the Operations Sections "first shift" personnel from Complex 15. The first shift also launched the third blue suit TITAN II operation on 19 April 1963.

MINUTEMAN research and development program
Interest in a second-generation, solid-propellant ICBM rose dramatically after the Soviet Union orbited Sputnik I in October 1957, and solid rocket research was transferred to the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division in December 1957 with that interest in mind. Though the MINUTEMAN did not receive the Air Force's A-1 priority until 4 September 1959, it capitalized on "lessons learned" during the ATLAS and TITAN R&D programs as well as the Navy's interest in the solid-fueled POLARIS ballistic missile. The Boeing Aircraft Company became the prime contractor for the MINUTEMAN, providing system integration, installation, and acceptance testing of the missile and its support systems at 1,000 launch facilities in the western U.S. Thiokol, Aerojet-General and Hercules were sub-contractors for the three-staged ICBM's propulsion system. AVCO and General Electric had contracts for the reentry vehicles, and Autonetics (a division of North American Rockwell) was in charge of the guidance system. The 74-inch diameter MINUTEMAN was fielded in three versions: 1) the MINUTEMAN I, which measured 55.9 feet in length and weighed approximately 65,000 pounds, 2) the 59.8-foot-long MINUTEMAN II, which weighed 70,000 pounds and 3) the MINUTEMAN III, which had the same dimensions as the MINUTEMAN II, weighed 76,000 pounds, and offered a multiple reentry vehicle capability.

missile contractor activity increased
Though no mention of the Division's participation appears in the histories, it is fair to assume that the compatibility tests were run by Boeing Aircraft Company and sub-contractor personnel with Lieutenant Colonel Swant's airframe, operations and propulsion system project officers looking on.

Pad 31
Only the first three MINUTEMAN I test missiles were surface-launched from Pad 31. Later MINUTEMAN test flights from Cape Canaveral were launched from underground silos 31 and 32.

flight failure in April 1962
A MINUTEMAN I flight from Silo 32 on 24 April 1962 ended about 10 nautical miles from the Cape after the missile's first stage motor failed about 20 seconds after launch.

silo refurbishment
Though the MINUTEMAN silo liners were designed to provide considerable flame protection, thereby decreasing the time it took to repair a silo after a missile launch, missile exhausts inevitably scorched the launch tubes. A MINUTEMAN silo always required some refurbishment after a launch.

Major Robert C. Buckley became Chief of the Systems Branch on July 2nd, and Lieutenant Colonel William L. Dienst succeeded Lieutenant Colonel Swant as the Division Chief on 25 August 1962, but those changes were prompted by the cyclical turnover of personnel which typified Air Force assignments -- not the MINUTEMAN Weapons Branch's upgrade to Division status. Major John W. Planinac succeeded Major Taylor as Chief of the Operations Branch on 8 October 1963.

As flight tests continued, the MINUTEMAN Weapons Division became known as the MINUTEMAN Weapon Division in 1964. Most of the SAC personnel attached to the MINUTEMAN Weapon Division were reassigned during the first half of 1965, but 21 additional airmen were assigned to the Division during the same period. Lieutenant Colonel Planinac and Major James D. Duval, Jr. were designated as the MINUTEMAN Weapon Division Chief and the Operations Branch Chief (respectively) on 4 June 1965. By the end of 1965, the Division had 17 officers, 121 airmen, and seven civilians assigned to its various activities. One SAC officer and one SAC enlisted man were also attached to the Division.

contractor's participation
During the first half of 1968, the MINUTEMAN contractor work force rose to 482 Boeing workers. Autonetics increased its staff from 74 to 83 employees during that period, and General Electric's presence on the Range grew from 49 employees to 61 employees by the end of June 1968. AVCO decreased its representation from 10 to 6 employees during the first half of 1968, and Hercules cut its three-member staff in half (at least on paper). Thiokol dropped its two-worker operation completely, but Aerojet-General maintained two employees to support MINUTEMAN III operations at the Cape.

Silo 31
Four of the nine flights were launched from Silo 31 between 26 March and 24 September 1969. Silo 31 was deactivated following its last MINUTEMAN III launch operation on 23 September 1969.

6555th became a Group
During the 1960s, the 6555th reported initially to the Ballistic Systems Division, subsequently to the Space Systems Division, and finally to a successor that consolidated both operations under one headquarters: the Space and Missile Systems Organization (SAMSO). Unfortunately, by the end of the 1960s, a decline in Air Force missile and space operations -- particularly at Cape Canaveral -- prompted Air Force Systems Command to consolidate its launch activities and the Western Test Range's operations under a single headquarters below SAMSO. Thanks to the reorganization on 1 April 1970, the Air Force Western Test Range Headquarters at Vandenberg was inactivated and its resources were transferred to a new organization along with the 6595th Aerospace Test Wing. This new organization was the Headquarters, Space and Missile Test Center (SAMTEC), and it absorbed the 6555th by placing it under the 6595th Aerospace Test Wing. Thus, the 6555th dropped two levels in Systems Command's hierarchy as a result of the reorganization on April 1st.

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