The most successful of the decoy missiles proved to be the McDonnell Quail -- most successful because it not only became operational, but it served SAC for more than ten years. USAF first discussed the requirement for such a device in October 1952, but did not initiate the missile until April 1955 and did not establish a formal requirement (GOR 139) until January 1956. The next month, USAF selected McDonnell as the contractor. Flight tests began in July 1957, with the first glide test in November 1957 and the f first successful powered flight, which lasted 14 minutes and covered 103 miles, in August 1958. The progress of the tests enabled McDonnell to gain a production contract in December 1958, about the same time the Air Force terminated so many other projects.
The GAM-72 (ADM-20A) was a tailless high-wing delta with four vertical fins. McDonnell designed the missile to operate at 35,000 to 50,000 feet, at Mach .75 to .9, with a range (depending on altitude) of 357 to 445 nm. While eight could be carried on the B-52 and four on the B47, the normal loading was, respectively, four and two
The Quail simulated the bomber in a number of ways. First, its operational performance was comparable to the B-52; and it could be programmed (on the ground) to make at least two changes in direction and one in speed during its 46- to 55-minute flight. Second, its slab sides and twin vertical ventral and twin vertical dorsal few produced a radar image similar to the bomber. In addition, the GAM-72 carried a 100-pound ECM payload consisting initially of a responder, later of both chaff and a heat source.
A General Electric J85 powered the decoy and caused most of the problems on the project, even though the same engine also powered the Northrop T-38. These problems led to modification of the engine, one of the major differences between the original GAM-72 (AGM-20A) and its successor, the GAM-72A (AGM-20B). The latter used the J85-GE-7, which had eight compressor stages instead of the seven stages in the J85-GE-3. The GAM-72A weighed almost 200 pounds more than the GAM-72, but had the same engine power and less wing area. Hence, it carried less payload a shorter time and distance at the same speed. The GAM-72A first flew in March 1960.
SAC received its first GAM-72 in September 1960. By February 1961, one Quail-equipped B-52 squadron was operational. USAF declared operational the last of 14 B-52 squadrons with the device in April 1962, the same year it accepted the GAM-72A. SAC had 492 Quails at its peak inventory in 1963. In all, McDonnell produced 616 of the missiles.
But while the Quail served on, there were major problems. Reliability declined. Improvements in enemy radar rendered the Quail less effective. In a 1972 test, radar controllers correctly identified the B-52s 21 out of 23 times. By then, USAF recognized that the Quail was no longer a credible decoy. In 1971, the commander of SAC wrote the Air Force Chief of Staff that the Quail was only slightly better than nothing. The General's candor may have reflected the fact that the Air Force was already taking action to provide a more effective decoy.