November 28, 1960: Water Brake Trough Replacement

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  • Air Force Flight Test Center

The P.J. Walker Company began replacing the old water brake trough at the west end of the 20,000 foot High Speed Track, which had become damaged from successive high-kinetic sled impacts. The new trough, constructed of heavier-gauge steel plates, would be capable of stopping test vehicles traveling at speeds up to 3,300 feet per second.

The South Base Sled Track is one of four major high-speed test tracks used to develop supersonic aircraft and rocket-propelled missiles during the 1950s and 1960s. Originally constructed as a 10,000-foot-long track in 1948, the track was expanded to 20,000 feet in 1958 to accommodate testing at higher speeds. The track closed in 1963. Though the rails of the track have been removed, the foundations of the track remain, as do several support buildings and protective berms.

A rocket sled is a test platform that slides along a set of rails, propelled by rockets.  As its name implies, a rocket sled does not use wheels. Instead, it has sliding pads, called "slippers", which are curved around the head of the rails to prevent the sled from flying off the track.[1] The rail cross-section profile is that of a Vignoles rail, commonly used for railroads. Wheels cannot be used on rocket sleds as the high velocities experienced will result in the wheels spinning to pieces due to extreme centrifugal forces.  A rocket sled holds the land-based speed record for a vehicle, at Mach 8.5.

Rocket sleds were used extensively early in the Cold War to accelerate equipment considered too experimental (hazardous) for testing directly in piloted aircraft. The equipment to be tested under high acceleration or high airspeed conditions was installed along with appropriate instrumentation, data recording and telemetry equipment on the sled. The sled was then accelerated according to the experiment's design requirements for data collection along a length of isolated, precisely level and straight test track. Testing ejection seat systems and technology prior to their use in experimental or operational aircraft was a common application of the rocket sled at Holloman Air Force Base. Perhaps the most famous, the tracks at Edwards Air Force Base were used to test missiles, supersonic ejection seats, aircraft shapes and the effects of acceleration and deceleration on humans. The rocket sled track at Edwards Air Force Base was dismantled and used to extend the track at Holloman Air Force Base, taking it to almost 10 miles in length.

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