Fifty-two years ago this week, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) fired its first USAF/North American AGM-28 Hound Dog cruise missile. A USAF/Boeing B-52G Stratofortress from the 4135th Strategic Wing at Eglin AFB, Florida served as the air-launch platform. The AGM-28 Hound Dog was a turbojet-powered cruise missile designed to penetate enemy air space and deliver a 1 megaton-yield thermonuclear warhead. The vehicle measured 42.5 feet in length, 2.33 feet in diameter and had a wing span of 12 feet. Launch weight was 10,140 lbs. The type’s non-afterburning Pratt and Whitney J52-6 turbojet was rated at 7,500 lbs of sea level thrust and could propel it to a maximum speed of about 1,430 mph (Mach 2.1). Interestingly, the AGM-28’s turbojets were run at full power, making the B-52 carrier bomber a 10 engine aircraft. Following take-off, the Hound Dog’s engines were shutdown and its fuel tanks topped-off. The Hound Dog’s flight envelope was such that it could cruise anywhere between tree-top level and 55,000 feet. Two vehicles were externally-carried by the B-52 launch aircraft; one each from the right and left wing pylon stations. Maximum post-launch flyout range was about 617 nm. North American Aviation began development of the missile in 1957 and the first powered flight occurred in April of 1959. A series of flight tests ensued that proved the missile’s various systems including radar, guidance, navigation and control. These developmental activities culminated with the first SAC shot on Monday, 29 February 1960 and establishment of an Initial Operating Capability (IOC) shortly thereafter. A total of 772 Hound Dog airframes were built and served in the SAC inventory through 1976. The Hound Dog served well as a deterent to nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union; no Hound Dog was ever fired in anger.
Forty-seven years ago today, NASA’s Ranger 8 spacecraft successfully completed a mission to obtain high-resolution photographs of the lunar surface. The flight was the penultimate mission in the Ranger Program, the goal of which was to help scientists better understand the topography of potential Apollo lunar landing sites. Ranger 8’s mission began with launch from LC-12 at Cape Canaveral, Florida on Wednesday, 17 February 1965. The Atlas-Agena B launch vehicle placed Ranger 8 along a direct hyperbolic trajectory that would allow the spacecraft to intercept the Moon nearly 65 hours later. The mission aim point was situated in the Mare Tranquilitatis region of the lunar surface. All of the action would take place in the final 23 minutes of flight as a complement of six (6) vidicon cameras snapped photos all the way to impact. A pair of the cameras featured a full scan capability; one wide-angle, one narrow-angle. The remaining four (4) cameras were partial scan systems; two wide-angle, two narrow-angle. Ranger 8 arrived at the Moon on Saturday, 20 February 1965. The first of 7,137 high-resolution photos was taken at an altitude of 1,388 nm above the lunar surface. The last photo, featuring a resolution of about 5 feet, was imaged when the Ranger 8 spacecraft was only 525 feet above the surface; a mere 0.09 seconds before a 6,000-mph impact with the Moon. Impact occurred only 10 nm from the mission aim point. This was exceptional accuracy considering the trip from Earth was over 205,000 nm. While Ranger 8’s mission was brief and its end violent, the photographic bounty transmitted back to Earth helped make possible America’s first manned lunar landing on Sunday, 20 July 1969. The landing site? None other than Mare Tranquilitatis.
Fifty-three years ago this week, the U.S. Navy’s first production Martin P6M-2 SeaMaster flyingboat took-off from Chesapeake Bay on its maiden flight. Martin chief test pilot George A. Rodney was at the controls of the 4-man, swept-wing naval bomber as it took to the skies on Tuesday, 17 February 1959. Featuring a fuselage length of 134 feet, wingspan of 102 feet, and a wing leading edge sweep of 40 degrees, the P6M-2 had a GTOW of about 175,000 lbs. Armament included an ordnance load of 30,000 lbs and twin 20 mm, tail-mounted cannon. Power was provided by a quartet of Pratt and Whitney J75-P-2 turbojets; each delivering a maximum sea level thrust of 17,500 lbs. The SeaMaster’s demonstrated top speed at sea level was in excess of Mach 0.90. This on-the-deck performance is comparable to that of the USAF/Rockwell B-1B Lancer and USAF/Northrup B-2 Spirit and exceeds that of the USAF/Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. P6M pilots reported that the aircraft handled well below 5,000 feet when flying at Mach numbers between 0.95 and 0.99. While designed for low altitude bombing and mine-laying, the aircraft was flown as high as 52,000 feet. As a result, the Navy even considered the SeaMaster as a nuclear weapons platform. Despite the type’s impressive performance and capabilities, the SeaMaster Program was cancelled in August of 1959. Budgetary issues and the emerging Fleet Ballistic Missile System (Polaris-Poseidon-Trident) led to this decision. Loss of the P6M SeaMaster Program was devastating to the Glenn L. Martin Company and resulted in this notable aerospace business never again producing another aircraft.
Fifty-years ago this week, the NASA TIROS IV meteorological satellite was successfully orbited by a United States Air Force Thor-Delta launch vehicle. Launch took place from LC-17A at Cape Canaveral, FL on Thursday, 08 February 1962. The TIROS (Television Infra Red Observation Satellite) Program marked the first use of satellite technology to provide near-continuous photographic coverage of global cloud formations from space. Historically, TIROS photos were instrumental in helping mature the science/art of global weather forecasting. The TIROS IV mission was designed to maintain an operational TIROS in orbit for an extended period and to obtain improved photographic data to be used in weather forecasting during the northern hemisphere hurricane season. The cylindrical spacecraft measured 42 inches in diameter and 19 inches in height. Constructed of aluminum and stainless steel, TIROS IV weighed 285 lbs. A bank of 63 onboard batteries was charged via an array of 9,260 solar cells that covered the vehicle’s external surface. The satellite carried an upgraded lens system to improve the clarity of photos taken by its twin cameras. As a result, TIROS IV photos were the best to date in the TIROS Program. An international facsimile transmission network was also instituted that allowed the US Weather Service to share photos with weather services worldwide. From its nearly circular orbit of 420 nm above the surface of the Earth, TIROS IV snapped over 32,000 photos over the course of its 161-day mission.