Ten Crucial Years’ Highlights of the USAF Missile Program

May 1, 1964


February 10—Report of Strategic Missiles Evaluation Committee con­cluded that a beginning operational capability in long-range missiles could be attained within five to six years if proper management, funds, and prior­ity were given the program and mis­sile performance characteristics were relaxed.

February 26—Contract to develop a sustainer rocket engine for Project MX-1593 (Atlas) issued to North American Aviation Corp.

March 11—Trevor Gardner, Spe­cial Assistant to the Secretary of Air Force for Research and Development, submitted plan to accelerate attain­ment of an operational capability in the Atlas missile. Plan called for a pre­liminary operational capability (two launch sites and four operational mis­siles) by mid-1958 and an expanded capability comprising twenty launch sites by mid-1960.

March 19—Air Force Secretary Harold E. Talbott directed Gen. Na­than F. Twining, Air Force Chief of Staff, to take all necessary steps to accelerate the Atlas project.

March 23—General Twining ap­proved Air Force Council recom­mendations to relax performance spec­ifications for Atlas missile; accelerate Atlas program as much as possible; finance the program from Air Force funds; reorient it to achieve earliest possible operational capability; assign program responsibility to the Air Re­search and Development Command; and establish a special development-management organization to recom­mend measures to accelerate the proj­ect.

March—An Air Force study reem­phasized feasibility and utility of earth satellites for reconnaissance, intelli­gence, and weather observation.

April 8—Mr Force Headquarters established a new Assistant Chief of Staff for Guided Missiles—a move interpreted as evidence of how far the Chief of Staff was prepared to de­viate from normal staff procedures to emphasize and accord the program special treatment.

May 28—Air Force assigned its highest development priority to devel­opment of the Atlas.

June 21—Lt. Gen. Donald L. Putt, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Development, assigned full responsi­bility for accelerating Atlas program to ARDC. This responsibility to be discharged through a field office which was to be established under com­mand of a general officer on the West Coast. Procurement and contracting authority for the project to remain with Air Materiel Command.

July 1—Western Development Di­vision, an “operating location” rather than staff agency of ARDC, estab­lished at Inglewood, Calif., under command of Brig. Gen. Bernard A. Schriever.

December—Configuration of Atlas missile established. Design changed from five to three engines.


January 29—Contract assigning re­sponsibility for technical direction and systems engineering of ICBM program to the Ramo-Wooldridge Corp. con­cluded.

September—President Eisenhower and the National Security Council stated that Atlas had highest R&D priority, and that this would be sub­ject to change only by presidential action. Secretary of Defense directed to proceed with Atlas program with maximum urgency.

October 27—Contract to develop al­ternate ICBM configuration (XSM-68) issued Glenn L. Martin Co.

November 8— Defense Secretary Charles E. Wilson approved the “Air Force Plan for Simplifying Adminis­trative Procedures for the ICBM” (Gillette Report) and took action to carry out its recommendations; he established the Office of the Secretary of Defense Ballistic Missiles Commit­tee (OSD/BMC) with exclusive De­fense Department authority to review and approve all ballistic missile pro­gram requirements; established Air Force prerogatives for construction of ballistic missile operational bases; au­thorized the Air Force to choose its own construction agency, perform all necessary design work, and establish construction completion dates.

November 8—Responsibility to de­velop intermediate-range ballistic mis­sile (Thor) assigned to ARDC.

November 14—Air Force Secretary Donald A. Quarles established Air Force Ballistic Missile Committee with exclusive Air Force authority to re­view and approve all ballistic missile program requirements. Committee included the Assistant Air Force Secretaries for Research and Devel­opment (Trevor Gardner), Financial Management (Lyle S. Garlock), Mate­riel (Dudley C. Sharp), and Assistant Air Force Chief of Staff for Guided Missiles (Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Brent­nall). Secretary Quarles was chair­man.

November—Memo from Secretary of Defense assigned highest priority to ICBM, added IRBM #1 (Thor) to Air Force ballistic missile program—programs to be carried out at maxi­mum rate permitted by technology.

November 18—Gen. Thomas D. White, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, assigned ARDC total responsibility for establishing an Initial Operational Capability in long-range missiles.

December 14—Western Develop­ment Division assigned Initial Opera­tional Capability mission and respon­sibility to develop IRBM with priority second only to Atlas.

December 27—Letter contract to develop airframe for IRBM (Thor) awarded Douglas Aircraft Co.

December 28—Composition and time-phasing of Initial Operational Capability buildup defined. Directive called for 120 missiles to be deployed on three prototype bases by January 1960.


January 20—Coequal priority as­signed to development of interme­diate- and long-range ballistic missiles.

May—SAC and ARDC agreed on re­sponsibilities for IRBMs. WDD would be responsible for developing, man­ning, training, and equipping op­erational units in accordance with SAC-ARDC planning. SAC would be responsible for overseas deployment of WDD-trained wings for further training to combat readiness. As units showed combat readiness, SAC would assume command jurisdiction.

July—The Air Force began devel­opment of the Agena space vehicle.

November 10—Air Force Ballistic Missile Committee approved new bal­listic missile program in principle. Revised plan eliminated one wing (four squadrons) of Atlas missiles and stretched out time phasing of the buildup. New program called for four Atlas and four Titan squadrons to be fully deployed by March 1961.

November 16—Defense Secretary Wilson approved transfer of portion of Camp Cooke, Calif., from Department of Army to Air Force for use as first operational prototype missile base.


January 25—Flight testing of Thor IRBM began thirteen months after award of airframe contract. Initial launch attempt unsuccessful due to propellant contamination and result­ant thrust decay.

April 19—Second attempt to launch Thor missile failed.

May 21—Third unsuccessful flight test of Thor.

May 27—Francis E. Warren AFB, Wyo., approved for use as second operational prototype base for Initial Operational Capability program.

June 1—Western Development Di­vision redesignated Air Force Ballistic Missile Division.

June 11—Flight testing of Series A Atlas missile began with unsuccessful attempt to launch Atlas 4A. Missile destroyed following thrust decay after twenty-five seconds of flight.

August—National Security Council approved DOD recommendation to re­orient ballistic missile programs. Rec­ommendations included: (1) combi­nation of Thor-Jupiter programs and joint Air Force-Army-OSD commit­tee to evaluate both programs, (2) suspension or cancellation of Thor and Jupiter production to test require­ments, (3) curtailment of contractor overtime except for flight test, (4) con­tinuation of Atlas at highest priority, (5) reduction of Titan priority, and (6) recognition of slight delay in IRBM programs as result of above.

September 20—First fully success­ful flight test of Thor missile.

September 25—Second unsuccess­ful flight test of Series A Atlas missile (Atlas 6A).

October 4—First Soviet Sputnik placed in orbit.

October 11—Second successful flight test of Thor.

November 27—Air Force directed to proceed with operational deploy­ment of both Thor and Jupiter mis­siles. First units to be ready for de­ployment by December 1958.

December 12—Expansion and ac­celeration of Atlas program to deploy nine operational squadrons by July 1962 directed.

December 17—First successful flight test of Series A Atlas missile (Atlas 12A) launched.

December 19—First completely suc­cessful test of Thor all-inertial guid­ance system. Accuracy far exceeded expectations.


January 1—SAC-Mike established to conduct Initial Operational Capa­bility planning; 672d Strategic Missile Squadron, using Thor, activated.

February 1—Governments of the US and United Kingdom announced agreement whereby IRBMs for four Thor squadrons would be supplied to the UK, the first squadron to be oper­ational by December 1958.

February 27—Air Force authorized to proceed with research and develop­ment of solid-propelled Minuteman ICBM.

April 10—Coequal Defense Depart­ment priority assigned to Atlas, Titan, Thor, and Jupiter development pro­grams.

April 24—Programmed operational force expanded to nine Atlas squad­rons, the last seven to be deployed in 3×3 dispersal configuration. Incorpo­ration of all-inertial guidance and hardening to twenty-five pounds per square inch directed, beginning with fifth squadron.

June 3—Flight testing of Series A Atlas missile (booster engines only) completed with successful launch of Atlas 15A, eighth in the series.

July 23—Deployment of Titan squadrons in 3×3 dispersal configura­tion approved. Squadrons to be lo­cated at Lowry AFB, Colo.; Ellsworth AFB, S. D.; and Mountain Home AFB, Idaho.

August 2—First successful flight test of Series B Atlas missile and first successful staging of long-range mis­sile.

August 28—First fully closed-loop guided flight of long-range missile successfully flown (Atlas 513).

October 4—Cooke AFB, Calif., re­named in honor of the late Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, former Chief of Staff.

October 9—Boeing Airplane Co. approved as assembly and test con­tractor for Minuteman long-range mis­sile.

October 11—Thor-Able launched the NASA Pioneer I satellite to a new altitude record of 71,300 statute miles.

November 28—First successful full-range Atlas flight, 5,506 nautical miles downrange of AFMTC.

December 18—Project Score, a complete four-ton Atlas with a com­munications repeater satellite, was placed into orbit broadcasting to the world a Christmas message from President Eisenhower, the first time the human voice was beamed from space.


February 6—First successful Titan I flight test.

February 28—Air Force Discoverer I, boosted by a Thor-Agena, became the world’s first polar-orbiting satellite.

April 13—Air Force Discoverer II became the world’s first satellite to be stabilized in orbit in all three axes, to be maneuvered in orbit on command from earth, to separate a reentry ve­hicle on command, and to send its reentry vehicle back to earth. The capsule was not recovered.

April 14—Flight testing of Series D (first operational configuration) Atlas missile commenced with unsuccessful launch of Atlas 3D.

April 16—First Thor operational training launch successfully conducted by a Royal Air Force crew at Vanden­berg AFB, Calif.

June—First Thor operational squad­ron transferred to RAF.

July 21—First full-scale test of ab­lation reentry vehicle conducted with successful launch of Atlas 8C.

July 28—First successful flight test of Series D Atlas missile (Atlas 11D) launched.

September 1—First operational Atlas complex (576A) transferred to SAC at Vandenberg AFB, Calif.

September 4—”DX” rating (highest national priority) assigned to Minute­man program.

September 9—First Strategic Air Command operational launch of Atlas-D missile successfully conducted, with contractor assistance, from Vanden­berg AFB (Complex 576A). Achieve­ment signified successful fulfillment of objectives to attain Initial Operational Capability in Atlas missile in final stages of missile development pro­gram.

September 15—First silo launch of full-scale Minuteman missile success­fully conducted using dummy second and third stages.

December—Third Thor squadron deployed and turned over to RAF.

December—Flight testing of Thor missile completed.

December 9—British Air Ministry announced attainment of operational status in Thor missile.


January 1—Executive Management Responsibility for Thor missile trans­ferred from Air Force Ballistic Missile Division to San Bernardino Air Ma­teriel Area, marking successful culmi­nation of Thor research-and-develop­ment program.

January 13—Atlas 50D accepted as the booster for the NASA manned spaceflight program, Project Mercury.

February 26—First successful Atlas­-Agena launch.

March 11—Thor-Able IV launched the NASA Pioneer V resulting in rec­ord-setting transmission of radiation and magnetic-field measurements from 22 million miles.

April 1—Thor-Able successfully placed in orbit NASA’s Tiros I weather satellite, thus marking a new era in meteorology.

April 13—Thor-Able-Star success­fully placed into orbit the Navy’s Transit-1B navigational satellite.

May 20—Atlas 56D successfully flown 7,859 nautical miles (9,040 stat­ute miles), the longest US missile flight to date.

July— Flight-test facilities for Min­uteman missile completed at Atlantic Missile Range.

July—Boeing Airplane Co. selected as integrating contractor for installa­tion and checkout of Minuteman op­erational facilities and awarded con­tract.

July—Phase-in of Aerospace Corp. to perform systems engineering for Air Force space programs begun.

August 10—Launch by Thor-Agena­-A of Discoverer XIII, whose capsule was the first man-made object to be recovered from space.

August 12—Thor-Delta launched NASA’s Echo I, the first passive-com­munications satellite.

August 18—Launch by Thor-Agena­-A of Discoverer XIV, whose capsule was the first man-made object to be recovered in midair.

August 30—First Atlas-D opera­tional squadron, 564th Strategic Mis­sile Squadron at Warren AFB, Wyo., transferred to SAC.


February 1—First flight test of Min­uteman missile successfully launched with all stages and systems operating. This was first time a first test missile was launched with all systems and stages functioning.

February 24—First successful flight test of Series E Atlas missile (Atlas 9E).

March—Construction of Minute­man operational facilities at Malm­strom AFB, Mont., begun.

March 4—Second Atlas operational squadron, 565th Strategic Missile Squadron at Warren AFB, Wyo., transferred to SAC.

March 30—Deployment of Atlas-D operational squadrons completed with turnover of 566th Strategic Missile Squadron to the Strategic Air Com­mand at Offutt AFB, Neb.

March 31—Mobile Minuteman force (three squadrons) deferred and three fixed-base squadrons added.

April 1—Air Force Ballistic Missile Division and Ballistic Missiles Center discontinued. Ballistic Systems Divi­sion and Space Systems Division es­tablished under command of Maj. Gen. Thomas P. Gerrity and Maj. Gen. Osmond J. Ritland, respectively. Both divisions placed under command of Maj. Gen. Howell M. Estes, Jr., Air Force Systems Command Deputy Commander for Aerospace Systems.

May 3—Titan I first successfully launched from an underground silo.

September 28—First Atlas-E oper­ational squadron, 567th Strategic Mis­sile Squadron at Fairchild AFB, Wash., turned over to SAC.

November 17—At Cape Canaveral, Fla., a Minuteman made its first suc­cessful untethered launch from a silo.

December 15—The Air Force Titan III Standard Space Launch Vehicle Program begun by Deputy Com­mander for Aerospace Systems (DCAS), now Air Force Space Systems Divi­sion (SSD).


February 20—An Atlas-B launched Marine Lt. Col. John Glenn in the first Project Mercury orbital flight.

March 16—First successful Titan II flight test.

April 26—An Atlas-launched NASA Ranger IV delivered the first US in­strument package on the moon.

May—First Titan I operational squadron transferred to SAC at Lowry AFB, Cob.

May 24—An Atlas launched Navy Lt. Cmdr. M. Scott Carpenter into orbit in Project Mercury.

July 10—Thor-Delta launched Tel-Star, the first commercial international communications satellite.

August 26—An Atlas-Agena-B boost­er combination launched the NASA Mariner II space probe which passed within 21,000 miles of Venus.

October 3—An Atlas launched the third American into orbit in Project Mercury, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Walter Schirra, Jr.


February 28—First operational Min­uteman squadron transferred to SAC at Malmstrom AFB, Mont.

May 15—An Atlas boosted Air Force Maj. Gordon Cooper, Jr., into space for twenty-two trips around the earth in the fourth and final Project Mer­cury manned orbital flight.

June 8—First Titan II operational squadron, the 570th Strategic Missile Squadron, activated at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., and turned over to the Strategic Air Command.

June 15—200th Thor launch was recorded.

July 20—100th Agena launch was recorded.

September 18—World’s largest solid rocket motor, the USAF Titan III solid booster, was fired at United Technology Center’s San Jose, Calif., test facility, producing more than 1,000,000 pounds of thrust.

September 18—Asset, an Air Force experimental glide-reentry vehicle, was successfully launched by the Thor Standard Launch Vehicle (SLV-II).

October 25—The Air Force Titan II Gemini Launch Vehicle was ac­cepted for use as the booster in NASA’s two-man Gemini manned spaceflight planned for 1965.

December 28—Sixth operational Titan II squadron transferred to SAC at Little Rock AFB, Ark. With this turnover, the entire Titan ICBM force was operational and had been trans­ferred to the using command.