The 6555th, Chapter III, Section 6

The 6555th's Role in the Development of Ballistic Missiles

The TITAN Ballistic Missile Program

The TITAN I Weapon System 107A-2 program was pursued initially as insurance against the ATLAS' possible failure, but it enjoyed many technological refinements that had been deliberately left out of the ATLAS to avoid delays in the ATLAS' deployment. The TITAN I was conceived as a two-staged, liquid-fueled missile. It was ten feet in diameter and 90 feet long. The 220,000-pound missile's first stage was powered by two rocket engines rated at 150,000 pounds of thrust each. The second stage was equipped with a single 60,000-pound thrust liquid-fueled rocket engine. The Glenn L. Martin Company was responsible for the TITAN I's airframe, and the Aerojet-General Corporation provided the propulsion system. Bell Telephone Laboratories had the contract for the missile's radio-inertial guidance system, and ARMA was under contract for the all-inertial guidance system. The nose cone was developed by the AVCO Corporation.26

The TITAN I flight test program was divided into Series I, II and III. Twelve flights were programmed for each of the first two series, and 45 Series III flights were anticipated to complete the program. Series I flights were designed to test the TITAN's first stage and explore the problem of starting the second stage's rocket engine at altitude. On Series II flights, the second stage's guidance system was operated in conjunction with the TITAN's control system, and those flights served the additional purpose of testing the TITAN's nose cone separation mechanism. Series III flights validated the performance of the TITAN I production prototype. To save time, Series I and II tests would be run concurrently with considerable overlap in the flights.27

November 1957

Facilities for the TITAN I program were supposed to be developed on a high priority basis, but contractor and labor relations problems delayed completion of the facilities for several months beyond the original target dates. Contracts for the Cape's TITAN I facilities were awarded to the MacDonald Construction Company on 30 January 1957, but the work had to be taken over by the Macco Company following MacDonald's default on the contracts in April 1957. A strike and other labor problems delayed construction through the spring of 1957, but a temporary injunction against picketing brought 80 to 90 percent of the contractor's work force back to the job in June 1957. Despite those delays, the TITAN's assembly buildings were ready for functional tests by the summer of 1958, and the contractor shifted to around-the-clock operations in September to get the first Titan I Complex (Number 15) ready for use by the end of November 1958. Complex 16 was almost finished by the end of the year, and complexes 19 and 20 were finished in 1959.28

December 1959

The first TITAN I arrived at Cape Canaveral on 19 November 1958. That missile was erected on Complex 15 on November 23rd, but it had to be sent back to Martin's factory a week later for an oxidizer line replacement. Fortunately the problem was not serious, and the TITAN flight test program was soon off to a good start. The first four TITAN I test missiles came from a single lot -- Lot A -- and they were launched from Complex 15 on 6 February, 25 February, 3 April and 4 May 1959. Isolated performance discrepancies were noted on the flights on February 25th and May 4th, but all four missiles met virtually all of their test objectives. Encouraged by those results, the contractor looked forward to the first flights of Lot B and Lot C missiles.29


Cape Canaveral March 1963

6 February 1959

Unfortunately, the next two launches failed dramatically. The first Lot B missile was expected to demonstrate the TITAN I's flight stability on August 14th, but, as the missile built up thrust prior to its lift-off from Complex 19, its tie-down bolts exploded early, and one of the umbilicals generated a "no-go" signal to the ground support equipment's flight controls as the missile lifted off the pad prematurely. The "no-go" signal prompted an automatic engine kill signal from the flight controls, and the TITAN lost all thrust. The missile fell back through the launcher ring and exploded, and the umbilical tower was damaged in the ensuing fire. The first Lot C launch took place at Complex 16 on 12 December 1959, and it was equally discouraging. The missile's first stage destruct package ruptured the fuel tank about four seconds after launch, and the second stage fell back on the pad and exploded. Though complexes 19 and 16 were returned to service for launches in February 1960, the next Lot C missile exploded 52 seconds after its lift-off from Complex 16 on February 5th, and two other Lot C missiles experienced second stage problems during their flights downrange on 8 March and 8 April 1960. On the other hand, the second (and last) Lot B missile met all of its test objectives on 2 February 1960, and the last Lot C missile landed in the Ascension impact area as planned on April 28th. Six Lot G missile flights to the Ascension area were also completed successfully between February 24th and the end of June 1960. Like the THOR and ATLAS before it, the TITAN I's successes soon eclipsed its failures.30

14 August 1959

12 December 1959

28 April 1960

By the time the 6555th assumed responsibility for the technical management of the Air Force's ballistic missiles, the THOR and ATLAS programs had achieved operational status, six TITAN I test missiles had been launched from the Cape, and construction was underway on complexes 31 and 32 to support America's second-generation ICBM, the MINUTEMAN. Nevertheless, much work remained to be done, and the 6555th Test Wing (Development) had separate project test divisions and operations divisions for THOR, ATLAS and TITAN and the TS 609A (BLUE SCOUT) . The Wing also had separate project test divisions for MINUTEMAN and the MIDAS satellite program, and it had an operations division for the air-breathing MACE missile program. The project divisions were grouped under the Director of Tests, who exercised on-the-spot technical supervision of contractor-conducted missile tests. The operations divisions were organized under the Director of Operations, who was charged with providing a blue suit launch capability for missile and space programs. Under the 6555th's Director of Support, there were other divisions for engineering, instrumentation, plans and requirements, facilities, materiel and inspection. Those divisions provided an Air Force test and evaluation capability for missiles and space vehicles.31

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