OUR FIRST CRUISE MISSILE
BOMARC Development History
In January 1946, the Boeing Aircraft Company won Army Air Force approval to construct and test a ground-to-air pilotless aircraft (GAPA). Initial design work on the interceptor missile concept had been ongoing during the last 2 years of the war. This effort paid off with the first launch of a GAPA on June 13, 1946, from an area now located just outside Hill AFB, Utah. Nicknamed “Gapa Village,” the Boeing launch site witnessed 38 GAPA launchings in a 2-week span that ended with a July 1 shot. The program then moved to Holloman AFB, New Mexico, with additional evaluation conducted on 73 launches completed between July 24, 1947, and May 9, 1950. The lessons learned from the project provided a wealth of technical data that would be used by Boeing engineers when that company received the contract for the IM-99 in 1949. Two months after Boeing received the IM-99 contract, an announcement was made that the University of Michigan’s Aeronautical Research Center would participate in early studies of the missile program. From this combined effort came the BOMARC name representing Boeing and the Michigan Aeronautical Research Center.
On September 10, 1952, a contractor-led team launched the first XF-99 propulsion test vehicle from the Air Force Missile Test Center (AFMTC) at Patrick AFB, Florida. Unfortunately, this first test was a failure. The second test failed when the rocket booster cut out immediately after ignition. The third flight, on June 10, 1953, ended with the missile self-destructing down range. A test on August 5, 1954, ended when a wing fell off in flight.
At this point, the Air Force came under pressure to field a viable missile system or lose the program because of the Army’s deployment of the Nike System and the increased threat due to the Soviet detonation of the hydrogen bomb. In February 1955, the first IM-99A using both booster and main propulsion systems successfully completed a run down the Eastern Test Range to simulate an interception of a TM-61 Matador missile. Still, by the middle of 1956, the contractor-led team had launched only eight propulsion test vehicles, nine ramjet test vehicles, and five guidance test vehicles-a rather slow pace in comparison to other programs.
In 1957 and 1958, the testing pace picked up. On October 2,1957, an operator pushed a button at an IBM test facility in Kingston, New York, and an IM-99A lifted off from Patrick AFB, Florida, and passed within lethal distance of an NAVAHO X-10 drone flying at a speed of Mach 1.6 at a height of 48,000 feet. Later that month, a BOMARC recorded a successful hit on a drone.
With full-scale production of BOMARC having commenced in 1957, the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) announced in September 1958, that additional operational testing and evaluation had been moved to Hurlbert Field located across from Santa Rosa Island along the West Florida Gulf Coast. Site construction at this portion of Eglin AFB had begun in March 1957, and by 1958, the field hosted missile ground-testing and personnel training. Meanwhile, missile launchers were constructed on Santa Rosa Island so BOMARC missiles could be launched into what would become designated as the Eglin Gulf Test Range. Between 1958 and 1960, the A model underwent continual testing at this site, flying against QF-80, QB-47, and KDBU (Regulus II) drones. In the early 1960s testing continued with the IM-99B model with the first service test of the missile being conducted on April 13, 1960. In the following months, tests using A and B models continued to examine the capabilities of the weapon system. On March 3, 1961, an IM-99B made its first full-range flight over the Gulf to intercept a simulated target at a distance of 400 miles at a height of over 80,000 feet.
In February 1958, the ADC activated the 4751st Air Defense Missile Wing at Hurlbert Field to perform missile testing, evaluation, and training for BOMARC squadrons before and after deployment. Reduced to squadron status in 1962, the 4751st remained active at Hurlbert until 1979. Before reporting to Hurlbert, prospective crewmembers received technical training on the system at Chanute AFB, Illinois.
With the first production model coming off the assembly line in Seattle on December 30, 1957, Boeing’s Pilotless Aircraft Division delivered 366 IM-99A missiles and 349 IM-99B missiles.
In 1962, the IM-99A was redesignated the CIM-1OA and the IM- 99B became the CIM-1OB. The Ogden Air Logistic Center, Utah, handled program management and logistical support for the BOMARC system.
BOMARC at McGuire Air Force Base
McGuire AFB began in 1937 as a single dirt-strip runway, which was assigned to support the nearby Army post at Fort Dix. Airfield activities rapidly expanded during World War II. During this time, the base became involved with its first guided missile activity when the Second Army Air Force Electronic Experimental Unit set up shop at the Fort Dix Army Airfield in the summer of 1943. Supported by the 414th Service Squadron, the unit did missile-related research at Fort Dix until April 1944.
By 1954, air transport had assumed a major role in the base mission. However, because of McGuire’s strategic location, the Air Defense Command selected the base to deploy its first BOMARC missile squadron, the 46th Air Defense Missile Squadron. It was located in the New Jersey Pine Barrens on a tract located 11 miles east of McGuire AFB in Ocean County just east of county highway 539. The Philadelphia District of the Corps of Engineers supervised construction of the 56 Model II shelters and ancillary buildings. Construction began in January 1958 and took nearly 2 years to complete. The site was declared operationally ready on September 1, 1959. However, according to the Air Defense Command historian, this operational readiness declaration severely strained the concept of the term. As late as December, the facility hosted only one ready missile.
On June 7, 1960, disaster struck at missile shelter 204. A defective helium vessel ruptured, causing an explosion and a fire. During the 30-minute fire, the IM-99A BOMARC missile and nuclear warhead burned causing the loss of approximately 1.0 to 1.5 kilograms of plutonium. Part of the loss may have been due to the water run-off from the fire fighting effort.
Shortly after the explosion, the State Police station near Fort Dix received a call from an Air Force sergeant who stated, “an atomic warhead has exploded.” The State Police quickly notified area civil defense forces and closed off area roads. Troops at Fort Dix on maneuvers were recalled to post. Shortly thereafter, a wire service sent out the following bulletin:
State Police reported an atomic warhead of a BOMARC exploded today near here sending heavy radiation throughout the area.
While overseas reports in British newspapers of “200 square miles of terror” and “mothers fleeing with their children” may have exaggerated the initial panic, there is little doubt that the vagueness of the bulletin caused considerable concern as military personnel at Fort Dix and McGuire AFB answered hundreds of calls from citizens inquiring about radiation danger. A few hours later, Air Force officials declared that “there was no radiation danger to the public.”
Immediately, the Air Force took steps to contain the contamination to the area within the immediate vicinity of the shelter. Decontamination teams from Wright-Patterson and Griffiss AFBs arrived to handle the radioactive hazard. Eventually, concrete and asphalt was applied to seal the contaminated area.
The bursting helium bottle that caused the disaster was located between the missile’s two fuel cells. Thereafter, the pressure within the bottles was reduced from 4,500 psi to 3,000 psi. The Air Force then placed cumbersome top-off tanks within each of the shelters. Just prior to missile launch, the helium bottle again would be charged to the 4,300 psi limit.
Damage control extended well beyond the site as the Air Force combated the negative publicity by emphasizing the minimal nature of the radioactive discharge. Unfortunately for the Air Force, the incident gave critics an opportunity to rehash the recent cutbacks in the program and the developmental problems of this weapon system.
By October 1962, the BOMARC As were replaced with the B variant. Rather than reconfigure the Model II shelters to accept the new missile, the Air Force directed that Model IV shelters be constructed on adjacent property. The New York District of the Corps of Engineers supervised the construction of these new launcher shelters.
Upon deactivation in 1972, the site was closed to access. Several environmental studies have been completed to evaluate any potential dangers of plutonium residue to the local ecosystem.