The 6555th, Chapter III, Section 7

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

Organization, Resources and Activities in the 1960s

Following the 6555th's redesignation on 21 December 1959, Colonel Henry H. Eichel became the 6555th Test Wing's first commander, and Lieutenant Colonel Harry C. Swan served as the Director for Support. Lieutenant Colonel John A. Simmons, Jr. left the TITAN Operations Division to become the 6555th's Director of Operations on 4 January 1960, and Lieutenant Colonel Erwin A. Meyer, Jr. moved from his position as Chief of the ATLAS Project Division to succeed Lieutenant Colonel Edmund A. Wright, Jr. as the Wing's Director of Tests on the same date. The following officers were in charge of the divisions listed below:32

Under the 6555th's concept of operations, the operations divisions were manned with "test-oriented ARDC personnel" to: 1) accelerate the development of a blue suit launch capability, 2) pick up weapon system deficiencies that the contractor or less seasoned troops might miss and 3) provide trained cadres for SAC's missile operations at Vandenberg in exchange for lower grade and relatively inexperienced Air Force technicians. Blue suit training followed the traditions established during the winged missile era: when a new ballistic missile program arrived at the Cape, Air Force engineers and technicians were integrated into the contractor's work force for individual training on a non-interference basis. This training normally occurred during the first year of the program, when the contractor principal contact with the 6555th was through the Wing's project divisions. The length of individual training programs varied, but the trainees were not withdrawn and organized into launch teams until the Wing Commander considered the action appropriate. The launch teams were then reintegrated into the program to polish their skills (under the contractor's supervision, initially), and then they were assigned to a missile complex to launch a specified number of test missiles. After several successful launches, the trained cadre was transferred to SAC, and more untrained troops entered the training pipeline. A separate space launch capability for Air Force, NASA, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was also maintained by the 6555th and its contractors, and the Directorate of Support designed missile tests, evaluated support requirements and checked out missile and blockhouse instrumentation.33


The 6555th's ballistic missile and space booster property holdings at the Cape were considerable. At the beginning of 1960, complexes 11 through 14 were configured for ATLAS "D" missiles, but Complex 14 also accommodated ATLAS boosters used in the MIDAS satellite program and Project MERCURY.* The ATLAS Project Division had all ATLAS complexes assigned to its jurisdiction, including Complex 36, which was under construction in 1960 for the ATLAS/CENTAUR program. All or part of hangars J, K, N, H and F were operated by ATLAS contractors, so those facilities came under the Division's supervision as well. Two missile control facilities at Cape Canaveral and San Salvador and two offices at the Cape and Patrick Air Force Base rounded out the Division's real estate holdings.34


The TITAN Project Division had jurisdiction over four TITAN complexes (e.g., 15, 16, 19 and 20), a radio-guidance site and laboratory, an all-inertial guidance lab, hangars T and U, and a reentry vehicle hangar. The TITAN project was administered from the Cape's Engineering and Administration (E&A) Building, and an office was also maintained in the AFMTC Headquarters Building at Patrick. Rounding out the old and the new, the 6555th still had jurisdiction over Complex 17, its two launch pads and blockhouse, Complex 18 and Pad 18B -- all of which were transferred to the Space Projects Division and the TS 609A Systems Project Division shortly before the THOR Operations Division's demise in April 1960. Aside from silo liners and some mobile facilities, all the Cape's MINUTEMAN facilities were completed by the end of 1960, and the 6555th had jurisdiction over them. They included two blockhouses, launch pads 31A and 32A, silos 31B and 32B, two missile assembly buildings (AB and AC), two engine receiving and inspection buildings, a propellant inspection building, two engine storage buildings, one assembly and support building, one missile storage building and annexes in hangars I and N.35

At the beginning of 1960, airmen assigned to the ATLAS Operations Division were working for Convair on ATLAS ground and flight tests as part of the 6555th's on-the-job training program. As this individual training continued, Convair launched 18 ATLAS "D" and six ATLAS "E" test missiles from the Cape between 6 January 1960 and 25 March 1961. Following the 6555th's internal reorganization on 17 April 1961, the ATLAS Project Division was divided into the ATLAS Weapons Branch and the ATLAS Booster Branch. The ATLAS Operations Division was integrated into the ATLAS Weapons Branch as one of three sections (e.g., systems, requirements, and operations). Major Samuel S. McClure became the Chief of the Operations Section under Lieutenant Colonel Arnold N. Good, who was assigned as ATLAS Weapons Branch Chief. By June 1st, three Operations Section personnel were working at ARMA's guidance laboratory, and the rest of the Section's airmen had replaced contractor technicians at Complex 11 to turn that facility into a military operation. Though that transformation was not completed in 1961, the Operations Section participated in five ATLAS launches from Complex 11 in the last half of 1961, and airmen/technicians completed most of the checkout and launch items required on two of those flights. A total of 15 "E" Series E and four "F" Series missiles were launched from complexes 11 and 13 during 1961.36

August 1962

Following Lieutenant Colonel McClure's transfer to the Martin Company's offices in Denver, Colorado in January 1962, Major J. F. Pierce became the Chief of the Operations Section. The ATLAS Weapons Branch remained under Lieutenant Colonel Arnold N. Good, but the systems and requirements sections were combined into a single Systems & Requirements Section under Major J. D. Edgington. The Branch had 14 officers, 93 airmen and eight civilians assigned to its various activities at the beginning of 1962, but the total complement grew to 142 as more airmen were assigned to the unit over the next six months. Contractor employees could still be found on Complex 11 during that period, but they constituted only about 25 percent of the work force in June 1962, and they represented only a handful of people six months later. As on-the-job training continued, only one ATLAS "F" missile was launched from Complex 11 during the first six months of 1962, but a major milestone was passed when an all-military launch crew launched its first ATLAS "F" from Complex 11 on 13 August 1962. The flight was very successful, as were the flights of four more ATLAS "F" missiles launched by Major Pierce's troops between 12 September and 6 December 1962. The flights concluded the ATLAS ballistic missile flight test program at Cape Canaveral.37

Before 13 August 1962 Launch

August 1962

13 August 1962

The ATLAS Weapons Division and its Operations Branch launched one ATLAS "E" and four ATLAS "F" missiles for the Advanced Ballistic Reentry System (ABRES) program between 1 March 1963 and 2 April 1964. The Division also provided an on-the-job ATLAS training program for new Air Force personnel as old troops moved to other assignments, retired, or separated from the service.** Following the cancellation of the ABRES program at the Cape in the summer of 1964, the Operations Branch removed ground equipment and prepared and shipped two ATLAS "F" missiles to Norton Air Force Base before the end of the year. All remaining ATLAS Weapons Division personnel had been reassigned to other positions in the 6555th or to positions elsewhere in the Air Force by the middle of 1965.38

The 6555th also began developing a military launch capability for the TITAN I ballistic missile program at the Cape in 1959. By the spring of 1960, the TITAN Operations Division had completed about 50 percent of the training needed to form an all-military TITAN launch crew, and many of its airmen were working with the Martin Company as members of the contractor's TITAN firing teams. The Division's strength increased to 53 officers and men in the summer of 1960, but the Division still lacked an established plan of operation, and crowded working conditions coupled with deteriorating morale began to have a negative affect on the unit's performance. Fortunately, relief was on the way: in accordance with the 6555th's reorganization in April 1961, the TITAN Operations Division was merged with the TITAN Project Division to become the TITAN Weapons Branch. The new branch pooled the resources of both divisions, including four civilian engineers and four civilian administrative assistants. Though the Branch still had fewer officers and airmen than it needed to do its job (e.g., 18 officers and 87 airmen assigned, versus 22 officers and 108 airmen required to accomplish the mission), it was soon on its way to achieving a blue suit launch capability.39

October 1961

As Martin continued to launch TITANs from complexes 19 and 20, the TITAN Operations Section fielded its first all-military launch crew in November 1961. The blue suit crew launched its first TITAN I missile from Complex 20 on 21 November 1961, and that flight met all of its test objectives. The blue suit crew launched its second TITAN I from Complex 20 on December 14th, and that flight was equally successful. Unfortunately, the TITAN I test program was near its end, and Martin launched its last TITAN I test missile from Complex 19 on 29 January 1962. Within a few weeks, complexes 19 and 20 were transferred from the TITAN Weapons Branch to the THOR/TITAN Space Branch where they would be converted to support other TITAN space missions. In the near term, the TITAN II's flight test program on complexes 15 and 16 commanded Martin's attention, but space missions were already on the horizon. Martin launched its first TITAN II from Complex 16 on 16 March 1962, and the flight was highly successful.40

21 November 1961

16 March 1962

As the contractor's launches continued on complexes 15 and 16, the TITAN Operations Section shifted its focus to the TITAN II on Complex 15. The Section's people received two months of formal training at Martin's TITAN plant in Denver during the first half of 1962, and they continued their on-the-job training at Cape Canaveral. Martin launched its second TITAN II from Complex 15 on 7 June 1962, and it recorded two more successful test flights from complexes 15 and 16 on July 11th and July 25th. The Operations Branch's participation in TITAN II launches remained somewhat limited during this period, but its involvement increased significantly during three test flights on 12 September, 26 October and 19 December 1962. Finally, on 6 February 1963, the TITAN Weapons Division recorded its first blue suit launch of a TITAN II test missile. Most test objectives were met on that flight, and the second all-military TITAN II launch on March 21st was even more successful. While the third blue suit TITAN II launch failed to meet any of its test objectives on April 19th, the Operations Branch's second shift launch crew completed their TITAN II training on 21 August 1963 with a highly successful test flight from Complex 15. The Operations Branch also participated in two contractor-led TITAN II operations from Complex 15 in November and December 1963. Both flights were successful.41

Four more TITAN II test flights were launched from Complex 15 in 1964 before the missile's R&D program was concluded at Cape Canaveral. Two of the flights, which were launched on 15 January and 26 February 1964, met some of their test objectives. The other two test flights, on 23 March and 9 April 1964, met all of their objectives. (Since the Operations Branch and the Martin Company each contributed half of the launch team for those operations, they each deserved half the credit for the flights.) Following the last flight in April, complexes 15 and 16 were placed in standby status while the rest of the TITAN's facilities were reassigned to other programs at the Cape. The TITAN Weapons Division was discontinued on 30 June 1964, and its personnel were reassigned to other divisions.42

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