October 24, 1974: Air-launched Modified Minuteman I ICBM From C-5A

  • Published
  • Air Force Flight Test Center

A crew from the 6512th Test Squadron successfully air-launched a modified Minuteman I intercontinental ballistic missile from a C-5A at 20,000 ft over the Pacific Test Range. The large missile was extracted by parachute, stabilized by drogues into a vertical position, ignited for a 20-second test firing, and subsequently fell into the ocean. The AF Space and Missile Systems Organization (SAMSO) conducted the project to determine the feasibility of developing an air-launched basing mode for the new M-X advanced ICBM

On 1 July 1967, the Space Systems Division and Ballistic Missile Division were merged again to create economic efficiencies, becoming the Space and Missile Systems Organization.  In 1970 the Space and Missile Systems Organization's space launch functions were reorganized, with the Space and Missile Test Center established to oversee space launches from both Vandenberg Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, while also managing the Western Test Range. The 6595th Aerospace Test Wing was organized under SAMTEC, while the 6555th Aerospace Test Wing was reorganized as the 6555th Aerospace Test Group and subordinated to the 6595th Aerospace Test Wing. In 1977 SAMTEC assumed responsibility for managing the Eastern Test Range. The Space and Missile Test Center was reorganized again in 1979, being redesignated the Space and Missile Test Organization. Its field units were replaced as well, with the new Eastern Space and Missile Center and Western Space and Missile Center being responsible for launching and managing their respective ranges.

In 1973 the organization began development of a new ballistic missile program, which would become the LGM-118 Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile. In the 1970s the National Aeronautics and Space Administration began development of the Space Transportation System, better known as the Space Shuttle.  It was involved in the Defense Department's efforts to utilize the shuttle program, building a launch and landing facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base that permitted polar launches and the Inertial Upper Stage that permitted the shuttle to launch payloads into higher altitudes.

Even with the merger of space and missiles, SAMSO continued its space program. Starting in 1969, the Defense Satellite Communications System was initially conceived as a follow on to the IDCSP and was first launched in 1971. SAMSO also developed the Fleet Satellite Communications System for the Navy, which had the Air Force Satellite Communications System as an embedded payload. Communications satellites were also developed for U.S. allies, with Skynet developed for the British Armed Forces and a series of North Atlantic Treaty Organization communications satellites developed. Aside from communications satellites, SAMSO made the first push towards global navigation, starting development of the Global Positioning System in 1973. This system built upon the past success of the Navy's Transit and Timation programs, as well as the Air Force's 621B technology program. Initially conceived as a purely military system, GPS later was opened to the wider civilian population.  SAMSO began the development of a follow-on anti-satellite weapons system that did not use nuclear warheads. Project Spike involved placing an anti-satellite missile on a Convair F-106 Delta Dart, which would then destroy the spacecraft through kinetic impact. Project Spike never entered the development stage, but rather formed the groundwork for future air-launched anti-satellite missiles.

News Search