Tag Archives: Sounding Rocket

24 July 1950

Bumper 8 launch at Launch Complex 3, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, 24 July 1950. The wooden structure in the foreground houses the firing crew and support personnel. (NASA)

24 July 1950: The first rocket launch at Cape Canaveral, Florida, took place. Bumper 8 was a two-stage rocket consisting of a captured German V-2 ballistic missile as the first stage and a WAC Corporal sounding rocket as the upper, second, stage. The rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 3 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and followed a ballistic trajectory over the Joint Long Range Proving Ground. This was a low-angle atmospheric flight. The WAC Corporal reached an altitude of 10 miles (16.1 kilometers) and traveled 200 miles (322 kilometers) downrange.

The Bumper Project was a U.S. Army Ordnance Corps program, with overall responsibility contracted to the General Electric Corporation. The V-2s used in the Bumper Project were modified at accept the WAC Corporal second stage. Compressed air was used to separate the stages after the V-2 engine was cut off.

The V2, or Vergeltungswaffen 2 (also known as the A4, Aggregat 4) was a ballistic missile weighing 28,000 pounds (12,500 kilograms) when fully loaded. It carried a 2,200 pound (1,000 kilogram) explosive warhead of amatol, a mixture of TNT and ammonium nitrate. Propellant was a 75/25 mixture of of ethanol and water with liquid oxygen as oxidizer.

When launched, the rocket engine burned for 65 seconds, accelerating the rocket to 3,580 miles per hour (5,761 kilometers per hour) on a ballistic trajectory. The maximum range of the rocket was 200 miles (322 kilometers) with a peak altitude between 88 and 128 miles (142–206 kilometers), depending on the desired range. On impact, the rocket was falling at 1,790 miles per hour (2,881 kilometers per hour).

The V-2 could only hit a general area and was not militarily effective. Germany used it against England, France, The Netherlands and Belgium as a terror weapon. More than 3,200 V-2 rockets were launched against these countries.

At the end of World War II, many V-2 rockets and components were captured by Allied forces and were brought to the United States for research, along with many of the German engineers, scientists and technicians who had worked on the German rocket program. Others were captured by the Soviet army.

Bumper 8 supported by a gantry at Launch Complex 3, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. (U.S. Army)

The WAC Corporal was a liquid-fueled hypergolic rocket. After separation from the first stage, the WAC Corporal was capable of reaching more than 80 miles (129 kilometers). It was designed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and built by Douglas Aircraft. The rocket carried small research packages into the upper atmosphere. The two-stage rocket was used to develop launch techniques and to refine the separation of upper stages at very high speed.

Now named the Kennedy Space Center, but known simply as “The Cape,” the location was selected to allow rocket testing to take place over the Atlantic Ocean, minimizing danger to persons and property. As one of the points within the United States closest to the Equator, rockets launched on an eastward trajectory receive additional velocity due to the Earth’s rotation.

Launch Pad 3 at Cape Canaveral, circa 1950. A rocket is on the pad surrounded by the gantry structure. (U.S. Air Force)
Launch Complex 3 at Cape Canaveral, 28 July 1950. The Bumper 7 two-stage rocket is on the pad surrounded by a gantry structure. It was launched the day after this photograph was taken. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 February 2012

Boeing YAL-1A, 00-0001, Airborne Laser Test aircraft, departing Edwards AFB, 14 February 2012. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YAL-1A, 00-0001, Airborne Laser Test Aircraft, departing Edwards AFB, 14 February 2012. (U.S. Air Force)
Terrier Black Brant IX two-stage sounding rocket. (NASA)
Terrier Black Brant IX two-stage sounding rocket. (NASA)

14 February 2012: Boeing YAL-1A Airborne Laser Test Bed, serial number 00-0001, departed Edwards AFB for the last time as it headed for The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona.

The Boeing YAL-1A was built from a 747-4G4F, a converted 747-400F freighter, serial number 30201, formerly operated by Japan Air Lines and registered JA402J. It carried two solid state lasers and a megawatt-class oxygen iodine directed energy weapon system (COIL).

On 3 February 2010, it destroyed a Terrier Black Brant two-stage sounding rocket in the boost phase as it was launched from San Nicolas Island, off the coast of Southern California.

Boeing YAL-1A 00-0001, Airborne Laser test aircraft, in flight. The laser aiming turret is directed toward the photo aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YAL-1A 00-0001, Airborne Laser Test Aircraft, in flight. The laser aiming turret is directed toward the photo aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)

The 747-400 was a major development of the 747 series. It had many structural and electronics improvements over the earlier models, which had debuted 18 years earlier. New systems, such as a “glass cockpit”, flight management computers, and new engines allowed it to be flown with a crew of just two pilots, and the position of Flight Engineer became unnecessary.

The most visible features of the –400 are its longer upper deck and the six-foot tall “winglets” at the end of each wing, which improve aerodynamic efficiency be limiting the formation of wing-tip vortices.

The Boeing 747-400F is the freighter version of the 747-400 airliner. It has a shorter upper deck, no passenger windows and the nose can swing upward to allow cargo pallets or containers to be loaded. It is 231 feet, 10 inches (70.663 meters) long with a wingspan of 211 feet, 5 inches (64.440 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 8 inches (19.406 meters). Empty weight is 394,100 pounds (178,761 kilograms). Maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is 875,000 pounds (396,893 kilograms).

The YAL-1A was powered by four General Electric CF6-80C2B5F turbofan engines, producing 62,100 pounds of thrust (276.235 kilonewtons), each. The CF6-80C2B5F is a two-spool, high-bypass-ratio turbofan engine. It has a single-stage fan section, 18-stage compressor (4 low- and 14 high-pressure stages) and 7-stage turbine section (2 high- and 5 low-pressure stages). The fan diameter is 7 feet, 9.0 inches (2.362 meters). The engine is 13 feet, 4.9 inches (4.087 meters) long with a maximum diameter of 8 feet, 10.0 inches (2.692 meters). It weighs 9,760 pounds (4,427 kilograms).

It had a cruise speed of 0.84 Mach (555 miles per hour, 893 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and maximum speed of 0.92 Mach (608 miles per hour, 978 kilometers hour). Maximum range at maximum payload weight is 7,260 nautical miles (13,446 kilometers).

Boeing YAL-1A in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, 27 August 2014. The airframe was disassembled and finally broken up 25 September 2014. (Soracat)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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