The 6555th, Chapter I, Section 2

Foundations of the 6555th: The Post-War Legacy

Activities at Holloman, Eglin and Patrick AFB

The Wing's mission contained the essential elements of the old 1st Group's mission, but emphasis was placed on supervision and evaluation of guided missile service tests as opposed to pure experimentation. (Consequently, the word "experimental" was omitted from the Wing's name and its squadrons' designations). Like its predecessor, the 550th Guided Missiles Wing had detachments in tenant status at Holloman Air Force Base and the Navy's Guided Missile Test Center at Point Mugu. By December 1949, the detachment at Holloman was authorized 25 officers and 45 airmen, and the Point Mugu detachment had 11 officers and 30 airmen in place. While the Holloman detachment continued to assist the Glenn L. Martin Company with developmental testing of the MATADOR (i.e., it witnessed test firings and reported on the results), the Point Mugu detachment completed its LARK training and moved to the Joint Long Range Proving Ground in early January 1950.16

At Eglin, the 1st Guided Missiles Squadron was assigned air-to-surface missiles and guided bombs (e.g., TARZON) and the 2nd Guided Missiles Squadron worked with surface-to-surface missiles and aircraft drones. During the first ten months of its existence, the 550th Guided Missiles Wing also continued its predecessor's earlier preparations to support Project GREENHOUSE with drone aircraft, but additional drones and personnel were assigned to other Air Proving Ground units during this period as well. By January 1950, the Air Proving Ground decided this piecemeal operation ought to be consolidated, and it recommended the establishment of a separate and permanent drone squadron. Personnel from the 2nd Guided Missiles Squadron were subsequently transferred to a new unit -- the 3200th Drone Squadron, 3200th Proof Test Group -- in May 1950. While the 3200th Drone Squadron remained under the 550th for administrative purposes, its operations were essentially divorced from the 550th's missile activities when the 3200th moved to Auxiliary Field #3. The 2nd Guided Missiles Squadron was placed on inactive status after the transfer, but it was revived at Holloman Air Force Base on 25 October 1950 when the 550th's detachment out there was discontinued. As the 2nd Guided Missiles Squadron Commander at Holloman, Captain John A. Evans inherited the old detachment's manpower and gained 40 airmen from other Wing resources. This brought the Squadron's strength to 17 officers and 114 airmen (out of the 550th's total complement of 201 officers and 816 airmen).17

While missile testing continued in 1950 and 1951, the Air Force reorganized the oversight of its research and development program under the auspices of a new major agency -- the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC). The new command was activated on 23 January 1950 with Major General David M. Schlatter as its commander. By April 1951, Wright-Patterson's research and development agencies, various laboratories, Edwards Air Force Base and Holloman Air Force Base had been transferred from Air Materiel Command to ARDC. By the end of 1951, ARDC's principal field components included the Wright Air Development Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, the Air Force Armament Test Center at Eglin, and the Air Force Missile Test Center at Patrick Air Force Base (about 15 miles south of Cape Canaveral). The Holloman Air Development Center was established at Holloman Air Force Base in 1952.18


Though research and development became focused under ARDC, Air Materiel Command still had an important role to play in the acquisition of new Air Force weapon systems. Obviously, ARDC could develop a weapon system to the point where it was deemed suitable for operations, but it was Air Materiel Command's job to bring the new system into the Air Force inventory and address all the production problems that typically entailed.* The Weapon System Project Office (WSPO) served as a "bridge" between ARDC's activities and Air Materiel Command's procurement effort, and it administered and controlled individual weapon system programs. Air Materiel Command continued to direct initial procurement of weapon systems until Air Force Systems Command assumed that responsibility in April 1961.19

Given the course of the reorganization, the reassignment of missile units from the Air Proving Ground to the Long Range Proving Ground Division in 1950 was quite understandable. The 1st Guided Missiles Squadron and other missile units did not wind up at Cape Canaveral just because they needed a longer range to test their missiles. If that had been the only concern, missile units could have continued as tenants at Patrick and merely reported to a higher headquarters at Eglin. The longer test range was an important consideration, but missile units were assigned to the Long Range Proving Ground Division because it was a new intermediate headquarters specifically designed to support guided missile test programs that were emerging as weapon systems in their own right. As ARDC refocused the Air Force's R&D effort, it made Cape Canaveral the principal launch site for surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles. For the most part, "armaments" (including air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles) remained at Eglin or Holloman.

As ARDC took over responsibility for missile research and development, the Air Force directed the 550th Guided Missiles Wing in late November 1950 to move its headquarters, the 550th Maintenance Squadron and the 1st Guided Missiles Squadron to the Long Range Proving Ground. On December 6th, the 550th activated a detachment at Patrick Air Force Base and assigned it to the 3rd Guided Missiles Squadron, Interceptor to coordinate the movement to Patrick. The 550th also activated a detachment at Eglin (consisting of 9 officers and 25 airmen from the 1st Guided Missiles Squadron) to run suitability tests on the unfinished TARZON project. The 1st Guided Missiles Squadron Commander, Major Henry B. Sayler, remained at Eglin to command the TARZON detachment, but the rest of his squadron was transferred to the 3rd Guided Missiles Squadron, Interceptor, raising that unit's manpower to 18 officers and 153 airmen. The move was accomplished between 12 and 18 December 1950. Its work completed, the Patrick detachment was discontinued. In all, the 550th moved approximately 30 officers and 170 airmen to Patrick in December. The 550th's new commander, Colonel George M. McNeese, supervised the Wing's departure, but Lieutenant Colonel Jack S. DeWitt completed the operation from 14 through 18 December 1950.20




The Long Range Proving Ground Division inactivated the 550th and its squadrons on 29 December 1950 and it replaced those units with the 4800th Guided Missile Wing, the 4802nd Guided Missile Squadron, and the 4803rd Guided Missile Squadron on 30 December 1950. Colonel McNeese assumed command of the new Wing, and he appointed Lieutenant Colonel Jack S. Dewitt as his Deputy Commander, Major Theodore H. Runyon as his Deputy for Operations, and Major Robert Maloney, Jr. as the Deputy for Materiel. Major Hamilton commanded the 4803rd until he was reassigned to the Pentagon in March 1951, at which time Lieutenant Colonel Henry B. Sayler assumed command of the Squadron. Orders were also cut in March to move the 4802nd Guided Missile Squadron (and Project MATADOR) from Holloman to Patrick. This movement was completed when the 4802nd's commander, Lieutenant Colonel John C. Reardon, reported in with his squadron on 12 April 1951. Having inherited all the missile-related portions of the 550th's mission, the 4800th had the following resources to carry out its responsibilities:21




As mentioned earlier, the 550th's LARK detachment was transferred from Point Mugu to the Long Range Proving Ground in January 1950, so a discussion of the 4803rd's launch operations at Cape Canaveral must include some mention of the LARK detachment and the 3rd Guided Missiles Squadron's activities. Initially, the detachment thought it would be able to launch its first LARK at the Cape in March 1950, but the lack of Range facilities -- even for the LARK -- convinced detachment authorities that the first LARK launch at Cape Canaveral would have to wait until after BUMPER 8 and BUMPER 7 (i.e., the last two test launches in the Army's BUMPER project) were completed in the summer of 1950. On 1 September 1950, the 3rd Guided Missiles Squadron inaugurated an official training course for guided missile technicians, and the 3rd's operations officer conferred with Range authorities on the same date concerning launch procedures, Range interference control, instrumentation support, and a tentative schedule for the first series of LARK operations. Hurricane Able delayed the first LARK launch in mid-October, but three LARKs were launched successfully by the 3rd Guided Missiles Squadron on October 25th, October 26th and November 22nd 1950. Six more LARKs were launched during the first six months of 1951 as part of the training program for the 4803rd Guided Missile Squadron and its successor, the 6556th Guided Missile Squadron.22



[Photo]LAUNCH OF BUMPER 8 - Cape Canaveral, 24 July 1950

[Photo]LAUNCH OF BUMPER 7 - Cape Canaveral 29 July 1950

In similar fashion, the 4802nd Guide Missile Squadron's operations were a continuation of the Holloman Detachment's activities and the 2nd Guided Missiles Squadron's MATADOR training before the 4802nd moved to Patrick. The 550th's Holloman Detachment had been activated on 7 November 1949 to train Air Force personnel on the MATADOR while the Glenn L. Martin Company conducted experiments on the missile and its zero-length launcher.* Military involvement in the MATADOR project amounted to little more than "on-the-job training," but Martin launched 22 MATADOR test vehicles (including 15 dummy missiles) at Holloman before the company moved the MATADOR to Cape Canaveral in the spring of 1951. While the 4802nd "assisted" on some of those launches, the move to Patrick occupied much of its time in early April, and the Squadron was on station only a few weeks before it was redesignated the 6555th Guided Missile Squadron in early May. Nevertheless, thanks to the 4802nd's efforts, the 6555th was prepared to present an 81-hour orientation course on the MATADOR within days of the Squadron's redesignation. As the Glenn L. Martin Company prepared to launch its first MATADOR from Cape Canaveral on 20 June 1951, the 6555th Guided Missile Squadron trained to assemble, check out, launch, and control MATADORS scheduled for later service testing and operational experimentation. The 6555th was also tasked with supervising instruction for Tactical Air Command's first two MATADOR squadrons. Those squadrons were activated on 1 October 1951 and 10 January 1952, and they were assigned to the 6555th Guided Missile Wing subsequently.23




After little more than four months of operation, the 4800th Guided Missile Wing and its squadrons were redesignated as part of the Long Range Proving Ground Division's assignment to the Air Research and Development Command. Until 14 May 1951, the Division had been a separate operating agency under Air Force Headquarters. Following its assignment to ARDC, the Division was accorded "numbered air force" status, and almost all of its subordinate units were given 65XX-series designations. In keeping with ARDC's policy of designating its intermediate headquarters as "centers," the Long Range Proving Ground Division became the Air Force Missile Test Center (AFMTC) on 30 June 1951. The Air Research and Development Command assigned Holloman Air Force Base to AFMTC on 3 July 1951, but this action had no immediate effect on guided missile operations at Patrick or Cape Canaveral. Detachment 1 continued to support RAZON and/or TARZON operations at Eglin through the end of July 1951. Its task completed, Detachment 1 was discontinued on 9 August 1951, and its personnel were sent back to the 6555th Guided Missile Wing at Patrick.24

These, then, were the events preceding and overlapping the creation of the 6555th Guided Missile Wing: with SNARK, NAVAHO, BOMARC and other major missile projects on the planning horizon, the 6555th prepared to expand its activities in the 1950s and 1960s to develop a military or "blue suit" launch capability for a whole host of tactical and strategic missile weapon systems. In many instances, operational suitability testing had to go hand-in-hand with missile training to insure that the Air Force did not buy a weapon that was too complicated, fragile or unreliable to operate or maintain in the field. Launch vehicle modifications, ground and flight support equipment, assembly and checkout procedures, safety standards and instrumentation requirements had to be thoroughly understood, checked, and verified with range authorities before every launch. No doubt the challenges appeared daunting, but the 6555th was not operating in a vacuum -- it capitalized on its predecessors' work and relationships with contractors at Eglin, Holloman and Patrick. Though new, the 6555th was sustained by the Air Force Missile Test Center, an organization created to support missile projects as future weapon systems in their own right. Under the Air Research and Development Command's direction, some missile projects were destined to evolve at Cape Canaveral into long-lived programs with higher visibility and better funding than they had enjoyed under Air Materiel Command. Thus, the 6555th began to take the measure of General Arnold's future Air Force, at least as far as missiles and space vehicles were concerned. Though the 6555th was hardly alone in this effort, it had a important role to play in the entire exercise.

The 6555th: Missile and Space Launches Through 1970
by Mark C. Cleary, Chief Historian
45 Space Wing Office of History