The 6555th, Chapter II, Section 1

MATADOR and the Era of Winged Missiles

MATADOR Operations Through 1954

Though the Army's BUMPER launches at Cape Canaveral were followed by the first launch of a REDSTONE ballistic missile in late August 1953, aerodynamic or "winged" missiles dominated the Cape's launch schedule for most of the 1950s. That decade witnessed the introduction of the MATADOR, SNARK, BOMARC, NAVAHO and MACE aerodynamic missiles, among which the MATADOR, with over 280 launches to its credit, stood out as the most-launched missile of its era. The MATADOR was also the Cape's first full-fledged weapon system program and its initial deployment overseas included military launch crews trained by the 6555th Guided Missile Squadron at Cape Canaveral. Follow-on testing of the missile provided refinements in its performance as well as realistic training for several MATADOR squadrons under Tactical Air Command (TAC). As a direct descendant of the MATADOR, the MACE benefited from the "lessons learned" during MATADOR R&D testing in the 1950s. Ultimately, the MATADOR had a profound impact on the 6555th's organization, manpower and "blue suit" launch traditions.1

Under the terms of a missile contract, the contractor was responsible for development of a weapon system based on ARDC-approved technical requirements. Once a missile program reached the Cape, the Air Force Missile Test Center (AFMTC) was charged with acquiring and recording data to confirm those technical requirements were being met. Missile tests on the Eastern Test Range focused on missile performance first, but they soon provided an opportunity for military participation in launch operations. Like its predecessors at Eglin, Holloman and Patrick, the 6555th Guided Missile Wing was given the pivotal role of observing the contractor's operations and analyzing the results of each test. This function was designed to minimize additional validation launches, since military witnesses could confirm the contractor's compliance with basic test objectives during the R&D portion of a missile program. With regard to "operational suitability," AFMTC planned to acquire a minimum launch capability for all missiles that came its way, and it set about developing groups of trained military personnel to assemble, check out, prepare, launch and guide missiles assigned to AFMTC for testing purposes. For the MATADOR program, some of the 6555th Guided Missile Squadron's observers and reporters became the members of the initial MATADOR launch cadre, and they passed their training on to the first two operational MATADOR units -- the 1st and 69th Pilotless Bomber Squadrons (Light). This training included on-the-job factory training, missile assembly shop training, contractor and military instruction and simulated and real MATADOR launches.2

MATADOR operations became a large part of the 6555th's mission in the early 1950s, but the Wing had to consider its other agencies and tasks as well. The 4803rd Guided Missile Squadron, for example, had been launching LARKS from Cape Canaveral since October 1950. That mission continued under the 6556th Guided Missile Squadron with the launch of two more LARKS in June 1951. Detachment 1 also continued to support RAZON guided bomb tests at the Eglin Air Proving Ground through the end of July 1951, and its 30 officers and men were transferred to Patrick for reassignment to other duties within the 6555th Guided Missile Wing in August 1951. The 6555th Test Support Squadron was activated on 4 September 1951 to operate and maintain various types of "chase" planes and control aircraft being used to support the Wing's various guided missile projects. In addition to its LARK operations, the 6556th Guided Missile Squadron established a FALCON cadre at Holloman Air Force Base on 31 March 1952. It also organized a RASCAL cadre at Patrick on 16 June 1952 and sent it to Holloman. (Both cadres were transferred to the Holloman Air Development Center in early September 1952.) When the 6555th Guided Missile Wing was redesignated as a Group on 1 March 1953, most of its headquarters functions were dropped, and the 6556th Guided Missile Squadron and 6555th Test Support Squadron were discontinued. Nevertheless, the 6555th Guided Missile Wing continued to have many time-consuming tasks apart from MATADOR.3

[Photo]FALCON MISSILE - 1952




From its inception the 6555th Guided Missile Wing had a multi-faceted mission. As Wing Commander, Colonel George M. McNeese was responsible for: 1) organizing, supervising and conducting guided missile tests assigned to AFMTC, 2) developing handling techniques and tactics, 3) training cadres for tactical missile units, and 4) submitting reports on missile research and development. Apart from the five officers and 25 airmen at Eglin, Colonel McNeese had 30 officers and 71 airmen working on various tasks at his Headquarters in June 1951. Fifty-two officers and 410 airmen were also assigned to the 6555th's two squadrons during this period. The 6555th Guided Missile Squadron, with 33 officers and 284 airmen, was in training to assist the Glenn L. Martin Company with its MATADOR launch program. The Squadron also planned to conduct operational suitability tests on the MATADOR and train the first two operational MATADOR squadrons (i.e., the 1st and 69th Pilotless Bomber Squadrons), which were activated at Patrick in October 1951 and January 1952. The 6556th Guided Missile Squadron, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Henry B. Sayler, had 19 officers and 126 airmen involved in LARK operations as a functional training exercise in anticipation of more advanced surface-to-air missile programs like the BOMARC. With the creation of the 6555th Test Support Squadron on September 4th and the activation of the 1st Pilotless Bomber Squadron on October 1st, the Wing had 119 officers, two warrant officers and 599 airmen assigned to its various operations by the end of October 1951. The Wing's strength increased rapidly after the 69th Pilotless Bomber Squadron's activation on 11 January 1952. By the end of June 1952, Colonel McNeese had the following resources:4






6555 TSS




6555 GMS




6556 GMS








69 PBS








The MATADOR (B-61) program commanded most of the 6555th's attention during its first four years at Cape Canaveral, so it is only fair to begin our review of the winged missiles with the MATADOR. Between 20 June 1951 and the end of June 1952, 18 bright-red MATADOR "X" and "Y" experimental missiles were launched from Cape Canaveral by the Glenn L. Martin Company and the 6555th. All but one of the launches validated the MATADOR's zero-length launcher. Nine of the flights confirmed that the MATADOR's airframe was airworthy, and several of the later flights verified the usefulness of a control system prototype. The 6555th Guided Missile Squadron assisted the contractor in checking out and launching 16 of those missiles, including Number 547, which was the first B-61 prepared and launched successfully by an all-military crew on 7 December 1951. Thus, by the time the 1st and 69th Pilotless Bomber Squadrons were ready to begin training in 1952, the 6555th was prepared to provide that instruction.5

[Photo]MATADOR LAUNCH - 18 Jul 1951



The 6555th's MATADOR training program was divided into three phases. During the first phase, personnel assigned to propulsion and missile assembly received 13 days of individual training, and individuals assigned to missile guidance were given 43 days of instruction. During the second phase, individual technicians were gathered into three distinct types of teams (e.g., assembly, checkout or launch) to start working on a MATADOR missile. This phase normally took about six weeks, but lack of training missiles and ground equipment often conspired to make this phase of training longer. In the third phase, guidance, propulsion and assembly teams were joined together as crews. Crew training was expected to last 40 days, depending on the availability of training missiles. A final phase of training -- conducted by the squadrons themselves -- turned the crews into an operational squadron under its own staff officers and commander. During this final phase, the 6555th's instructors operated in an advisory capacity only.6

With regard to the training actually conducted in 1952, the 1st Pilotless Bomber Squadron began its individual training on 16 January 1952. Its team training in assembly, propulsion and controls started February 2nd and continued through March. (Crew training in those areas caught up with crew training in the guidance area in April.) During the crew phase, missiles were assembled and checked out using assembly line procedures. Technicians checked engine systems and engine run-ups followed. The launch crew took over and completed a simulated launch of the missile. (Initially, training missiles were provided by the 6555th, but the 1st Squadron received its first training missile -- Number 553 -- in June 1952.) Due to its later activation date and a lack of training equipment, the 69th training on airborne guidance and flight control equipment, RATO equipment and missile engine systems until April 1952. Members of the 69th's launching section faced even longer delays, and their individual training did not begin until early June. Both squadrons were "basically trained" by the end of 1952, but the lack of special squadron equipment and training launches stymied efforts to make either squadron operational by an early date. Problems with the MATADOR's performance also delayed the deployment of both squadrons.7

At this point, we need to take a closer look at the MATADOR and its ground and flight support equipment. Early test versions of the MATADOR were slightly more than 34 feet long and 23 feet from wing-tip to wing-tip, but they evolved into production models measuring 39.6 feet by 28.7 feet. In either configuration, the MATADOR could carry approximately 250 gallons of JP-3 jet fuel, and it weighed about as much as a jet fighter of comparable size. The missile's warhead compartment was designed to carry a 3,000-pound weapon, but it carried test equipment and ballast for the MATADOR's flights from Cape Canaveral. The airframe was designed to handle the combined thrust of the missile's RATO solid rocket booster and the Allison J-33-A-31 turbojet engine (i.e., 44,600 pounds of thrust). The wing and tail surfaces were aluminum alloy shells reinforced with honeycomb cores. Spoilers provided lateral control, and the MATADOR's horizontal tail was mounted atop the vertical stabilizer to minimize buffeting at high sub-sonic speeds. The missile's zero-length launcher was a 20-ton flat-bed trailer equipped with a cradle to support the MATADOR and elevate the missile to a launching angle of 18 degrees. A transport trailer was used to carry the MATADOR and its wing as two separate pieces to be assembled at the launch site.8

Two different guidance systems were under development for the MATADOR program in the early 1950s -- the SHANICLE and the MARC. The SHANICLE (Short Range Navigation Vehicle) system consisted of a microwave pulsed hyperbolic network based on principles applied in the common LORAN navigation system. The SHANICLE employed a pair of "master" and "slave" microwave ground stations to generate an azimuth for the missile's flight to the target. It used a second pair of master/slave stations to generate the distance to the target. The intersection of azimuth and distance hyperbolas defined the target. The master stations controlled timing, synchronized the microwave signals to the slave stations and (most importantly) transmitted guidance signals to the MATADOR as regular intervals during the flight. Once the missile reached its "terminal dive" point near the target area, a signal was sent to precess the MATADOR's vertical gyro, and this action sent the missile into a vertical dive toward the target.9

[Photo]SCR-584 RADAR - Cape Canaveral, 1953

The MARC (MATADOR Automatic Radar Command) guidance system was an adaptation of the MSQ-1 radar system used to direct fighter-bombers during the Korean War. The MARC employed a modified SCR-584 ground radar to track an AN/APW-11 control beacon mounted in the MATADOR. Based on distance, direction, ground speed and altitude data received from the beacon, the MATADOR's position was computed in relation to the target and displayed continuously on an AN/MPS-9 plotting board. The radar controlled the MATADOR's flight via signals transmitted to the beacon control unit, and, once the missile reached the target area, a signal from the ground precessed the missile's vertical gyro and sent the MATADOR into a vertical dive toward its target.10

[Photo]MSQ-1 CONSOLE - 1952

In mid-December 1950, the MARC was introduced as an alternative to the SHANICLE guidance system, but it soon became the front-runner in missile guidance tests at Cape Canaveral. Two MSQ-1 radars were transferred to the 6555th Guided Missile Squadron for the MATADOR program in September 1951, shortly after Lieutenant Colonel Richard W. Maffry assumed command of the Squadron. Another AN/MSQ-1 radar arrived from the Glenn L. Martin Company in March 1952, and it was set up at Jupiter Inlet, about 95 miles south of Patrick Air Force Base. During this period, technicians from the Rome Air Development Center trained the 6555th's MSQ Section in the operation and maintenance of the radars. On 4 April 1952, three of the 6555th's officers participated in the MARC's initial MATADOR flight, and they proved the value of the MARC by controlling the missile successfully over its entire 25-minute-long flight downrange. A simplified terminal dive system prototype was also introduced in 1952, and that system improved the MATADOR's response to terminal dive commands.11

In addition to the controls provided by SHANICLE or MARC stations on the ground, the MATADOR's experimental flights could be controlled from the air by a command radio system installed in an F-86 director aircraft. This command radio system let the controller adjust the MATADOR's throttle, rudder and control surfaces. The system also allowed him to: 1) override the missile's automatic control system to "dump" the missile and 2) override the MATADOR's fail-safe destruct system to save the missile. In addition to extending MATADOR flights and providing the contractor with more data on each missile test, the airborne command system offered safety advantages, since the director aircraft could be used to steer the missile away from populated areas, ships or other assets that might otherwise be left at risk if ground station signals faded. It should be noted, however, that the air support required for each MATADOR flight was rather extensive: in addition to the F-86 director aircraft, one B-29 (simulated missile) aircraft, one C-47 guidance synchronization aircraft, two B-17 airborne radar surveillance aircraft, one B-29 interference control aircraft and one C-47 range clearance aircraft were required. Those aircraft were maintained and operated by 6555th Test Support Squadron, until that unit was discontinued on 1 March 1953.12


Cape Canaveral, 1953

At the beginning of 1953, the 6555th Guided Missile Squadron anticipated at least 75 more MATADOR launches at the Cape, including 30 flights to determine the missile's operational suitability. The 6555th Test Support Squadron also expected to fly aircraft in 30 additional simulated MSQ-1 flight tests to: 1) confirm the MARC system's reliability and 2) to provide training for MSQ-1 operators and technicians in the 1st and 69th Pilotless Bomber Squadrons. When the 6555th Guided Missile Wing became a Group on 1 March 1953, the 6555th Test Support Squadron was discontinued, but the loss of the 6555th's "air arm" did not affect the ground aspects of the Group's MATADOR mission. The 6555th Guided Missile Group and its three remaining squadrons began using two of Patrick's newest buildings (Hangars"A" and "B") for missile assembly and checkout operations at the end of June 1953, and 23 more MATADORs were launched from the Cape in the last six months of 1953. As part of those operations, the 1st Pilotless Bomber Squadron concluded its training program by launching five B-61A MATADORS within a 22-hour period on December 15th. All five missiles were launched successfully, and four of them went into the designated impact area.13


[Photo]MSQ-1 INSTALLATION - 1955

The MATADOR still had some technical problems to iron out, including a tendency to break up during the terminal dive phase when the missile cracked the sound barrier (e.g., at speeds from Mach .95 to Mach 1.15). Since vibration appeared to dampen out when the missile exceeded Mach 1.15, one possible solution to the problem was to "dive" the MATADOR from high altitude, pushing the missile through the sound barrier quickly. This solution was attempted on at least two occasions, but it did not solve the problem completely. This left the contractor's engineers with two other possible solutions: 1) reinforce the MATADOR's structure to withstand the strains of a "worst case" terminal dive or 2) reduce the missile's speed in the terminal dive so that it never exceeded Mach .95. By adding two hundred pounds of structural reinforcement to the MATADOR's wings and tail, Martin gained the advantages of both solutions. The reinforced structure handled terminal dive vibrations better, and the addition weight reduced terminal dive speeds to less than Mach .95. Seven of the 23 MATADORs launched in the last half of 1953 dealt with structural integrity and terminal dive problems. They also revealed an underlying problem with the missile's hydraulic control system, which was subsequently determined to be "an accumulation of minor maladjustments or malfunctions." The Wright Air Development Center worked out a satisfactory "fix" with the contractor, and operational suitability testing was completed in July 1954.14


[Photo]HANGARS A AND B - Patrick AFB, 1953

In the meantime, the 6555th Guided Missile Group made a concerted effort to prepare the 1st and 69th Pilotless Bomber Squadrons for their reassignment to the Tactical Air Command (TAC) and their subsequent deployment to West Germany. Though chronic shortages in training missiles and other field training equipment had been redressed somewhat by December 1953, delays in the MATADOR program in 1952 placed both squadrons in an awkward position at the end of 1953: a considerable number of the 1st Pilotless Bomber Squadron's technicians had just returned from overseas assignments or were close to the end of their service commitments. With the 1st's departure set for early 1954, some of the 6555th Group's better-trained specialists had to be transferred to the 1st so it would have a full complement of personnel as close to the departure date as possible. By the end of December 1953, the 1st was 82 percent manned with overseas eligibles, and it had a solid nucleus of officers and non-commissioned officers supplemented by fully-trained resources from the 69th and the 6555th.15

The 1st and 69th were reassigned to TAC on 15 January 1954, but the 6555th Guided Missile Group continued to provide both squadrons with logistic and administrative support pending their overseas deployments. After the 1st Pilotless Bomber Squadron departed Patrick for Germany on March 9th, training in the 69th Pilotless Bomber Squadron intensified: under Lieutenant Colonel Maffry's command, the 69th had already launched three MATADORS in a highly successful field training operation on January 8th. In April, it fired 13 MATADORs in three other multiple-launch operations. By the end of June, the 69th had launched 30 missiles on extended flights (e.g., approximately 500 nautical miles in length), at night, during the day and in all kinds of weather. Its training completed, the 69th was relieved from AFMTC on 15 September 1954, and it departed for Germany.16

Pictured Left To Right: Major General Richardson, Lt. Colonel Carroll from the 1st PBS, And Lt. Colonel Maffry from the 69th PBS.

Since TAC agreed to train all of its later MATADOR squadrons at TAC's own MATADOR school in Orlando, Florida, the 6555th Guided Missile Group was little more than a squadron when the 69th completed its field training in the summer of 1954. With no new pilotless bomber squadrons to train or support, most of the Group's staff were transferred to duties under AFMTC's Missile Operations Division. Under the command of Captain Edward B. Blount, the 6555th's Headquarters spent most of July and August liquidating its supply accounts, reassigning people and transferring property to other AFMTC units. The Group was discontinued on 7 September 1954, but the 6555th Guided Missile Squadron survived, and it was reassigned to AFMTC Headquarters on the same date. In October, the Squadron was reduced to a token force consisting of Captain Blount and four airmen, but AFMTC decided to restore the 6555th's MATADOR launch capability in December. Under Lieutenant Colonel Max R. Carey, the 6555th launched a MATADOR on 16 December 1954. Thirteen officers and 135 airmen were assigned to the 6555th by the end of December 1954.17


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