Author Topic: The First Intercontinental Guided Missile - Snark  (Read 846 times)

Offline catdlr

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Snark: The First Intercontinental Guided Missile ~ 1957 Northop - US Air Force

Jeff Quitney
Published on Sep 30, 2017

The Northrop SM-62 Snark, an intercontinental cruise missile that could carry a W39 thermonuclear warhead. The Snark was deployed by the U.S. Air Force's Strategic Air Command from 1958 through 1961.

The Northrop SM-62 Snark was an early-model intercontinental cruise missile that could carry a W39 thermonuclear warhead. The Snark was deployed by the U.S Air Force's Strategic Air Command from 1958 through 1961. The Snark took its name from the author Lewis Carroll's character the "snark".

The Snark missile was developed to present a nuclear deterrent to the Soviet Union and other potential enemies at a time when Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) were still in development. The Snark was the only surface-to-surface cruise missile with such a long range that was ever deployed by the U.S. Air Force. Following the deployment of ICBMs, the Snark was rendered obsolete, and it was removed from deployment in 1961.

Design and development

Work on the project began in 1946. Initially, there were two missiles designed a subsonic design (the MX775A Snark) and a supersonic design (the MX775B Boojum).(From the same poem: "The snark was a boojum, you see.") Budget reductions threatened the project in its first year, but the intervention of Air Force General Carl Spaatz and the industrialist Jack Northrop saved the project. Despite this, its funding by Congress was low, and this program was dogged by changes in specifications...

In 1957, tests of the Snark showed an estimated circular error probable (CEP) of just 17 nautical miles (31.5 kilometers)... the design was notoriously unreliable, with the majority of tests suffering mechanical failure thousands of miles before reaching the target.

Technical description

The jet-propelled 20.5 meter-long Snark missile had a top speed of about 650 m.p.h. (1,046 kilometer/hour) and a maximum range of about 5,500 nautical miles (10,200 kilometers). Its complicated celestial navigation system gave it a claimed CEP of about 8,000 feet (2.4 kilometers).

The Snark was an air-breathing missile, intended to be launched from a truck-mounted platform by two solid-fueled rocket booster engines. The Snark next switched to an internal turbojet engine for the rest of its flight. The engine was a Pratt and Whitney J57, which was the first jet engine featuring a thrust of 10,000 pounds (44 kilonewtons) or more. This engine was also used in the North American F-100 Super Sabre, McDonnell F-101 Voodoo, Convair F-102 Delta Dagger and Vought F-8U Crusader fighter aircraft, plus on larger aircraft.

In January 1958, the Strategic Air Command began accepting delivery of Snark missiles at Patrick Air Force Base for training, and in 1959, the 702d Strategic Missile Wing was formed. Multiple launch failures led to the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Canaveral's being described as "Snark infested waters."

On 27 May 1959, Presque Isle Air Force Base, the only Snark missile base, received its first missile. Ten months later, on 18 March 1960, a Snark missile went on alert status. A total of 30 Snarks are known to have been deployed.

The 702nd Wing was not declared to be fully operational until February 1961. In March 1961, President John F. Kennedy declared the Snark to be "obsolete and of marginal military value", and on 25 June 1961, the 702nd Wing was deactivated.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Canaveral_Air_Force_Station_Skid_Strip

Cape Canaveral AFS Skid Strip (ICAO: KXMR) is a military airport at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), 7 miles (11 km) northeast of Cocoa Beach, Florida. It has an asphalt paved runway designated 13/31 and measuring 10,000 x 200 ft. (3,048 x 61 m). The facility is owned by the United States Air Force (USAF).

Although most U.S. airports use the same three-letter location identifier for the FAA and IATA, Cape Canaveral AFS Skid Strip is assigned XMR by the FAA but has no designation from the IATA.

The runway was first called the Skid Strip because SM-62 Snark cruise missiles (which lacked wheels) returning from test flights were supposed to skid to a halt on it.

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Originally a public domain film from the US Air Force slightly cropped to remove uneven edges, with the aspect ratio corrected, and one-pass brightness-contrast-color correction & mild video noise reduction applied.
The soundtrack was also processed with volume normalization, noise reduction, clipping reduction, and/or equalization (the resulting sound, though not perfect, is far less noisy than the original).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qoQLTJG7Q1U?t=001

Tony De La Rosa

Offline Proponent

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Re: The First Intercontinental Guided Missile - Snark
« Reply #1 on: 10/01/2017 11:57 AM »
Was the mile-long rocket track used to launch early Snarks the same track that Col. Stapp rode to investigate the human body's tolerance of high accelerations?  If so, was the track built in the first place because of Snark (likely) or because of Stapp?

Really cool to see a Snark returning to the Skid strip -- hadn't seen that before.

The footage of a flight-test failure deserves a place in rocket blooper reels.  I love the way you see parts and dirt flying through the air after impact.

It's also culturally interesting that the Air Force put failures in a PR film.  Failure was an acceptable part of the learning process back then.  That attitude reminds me of SpaceX's today:  recall the recently released blooper reel of landing failures.


All in all, given Snark's low speed, lousy accuracy and short service life, I'd say the best thing about it was the name.

Whatever happened to the supersonic version, Boojum?  At first I suspected it became Navaho, but apparently not:  Boojum was MX-775B, whereas Navaho (aka "Nevergo") was MX-770 (just started watching the Navaho vid appearing on YouTube with the Snark vid).

EDIT:  Deletion per RonM's post, following.
« Last Edit: 10/01/2017 01:59 PM by Proponent »

Offline RonM

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Re: The First Intercontinental Guided Missile - Snark
« Reply #2 on: 10/01/2017 01:40 PM »
That impact wasn't a Snark flight test failure. It was one of the solid rocket boosters hitting the ground after a successful launch.

Offline Arch Admiral

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Re: The First Intercontinental Guided Missile - Snark
« Reply #3 on: 10/02/2017 01:51 AM »
17 nautical miles is extremely poor accuracy.  Nothing in the USSR was this big except Moscow and Leningrad. The problem was that the inertial guidance system suffered significant gyro drift over the long subsonic flight time, and had to be updated with periodic star sights. This was just too difficult for the technology of the time.  The ICBM inertial platform only has to function for a few minutes and doesn't need updates.

It was estimated that the deployed missiles had only a 40% chance of passing the prelaunch checkout phase. At the surviving launch site at Presque Ile AFB, you can see roads intended to remove the duds from the launch pads.

Offline ChrisWilson68

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Re: The First Intercontinental Guided Missile - Snark
« Reply #4 on: 10/02/2017 02:40 AM »
17 nautical miles is extremely poor accuracy.  Nothing in the USSR was this big except Moscow and Leningrad.

The warhead would emit "thermal radiation hot enough to start fires and cause third-degree burns" 15 miles away.  So if it was aimed at a city, even a small one, chances are much of the city would be burned up.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelpeck/2013/09/25/this-is-what-happens-when-an-h-bomb-explodes-over-north-carolina/#712c8a366db5

Offline Arch Admiral

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Re: The First Intercontinental Guided Missile - Snark
« Reply #5 on: 10/02/2017 08:46 PM »
SAC targeted specific military bases and factories, not cities. And their damage criteria in the 50s were extreme. No consideration was given to fire or fallout damage, because they depended too much on the weather.  As for blast damage, "Light damage means rubble. Moderate damage means gravel. Heavy damage means sand."

There were two other obvious problems with Snark which are seldom mentioned:

-- With no tail warning radar, no radar detectors, no radar jammers, no chaff, and no maneuverability, it was dead meat for any Soviet fighter or SAM site. After May Day 1960 manned bombers trained to fly at low level, but Snark had to fly above the highest possible clouds to take star sights.

-- like many other failed Northrop designs, it lacked a horizontal tail and had limited pitch stability. On test flights from Holloman and the Cape it could avoid weather fronts. But on an operational mission over the Arctic, it was likely to run into bad weather and stall out. Every other 1st gen cruise missile had a standard tail for this reason.

Offline Michel Van

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Re: The First Intercontinental Guided Missile - Snark
« Reply #6 on: 10/10/2017 06:52 PM »
SM-62 Snark biggest problem was it guidance system
one of them in 1956 went so far off course that it landed in Brazil,
where it found in 1983, believing it was part of UFO..

At Northrop they say " That the Caribbean was full of 'Snark infested waters' "

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