The scientific tourist #276 — Bomarc

You likely haven’t seen anything like the Bomarc lately — which is a good thing, since it was a nuclear-armed surface-to-air missile (SAM).  The Bomarc (which got its name from its birth as a joint research project of Boeing and the University of Michigan Aeronautical Research Center) started out as an experimental project in 1946, progressing to an actual development program in 1949 after a number of promising test flights.


The Bomarc was the only SAM ever deployed by the U. S. Air Force (which at the time referred to them as pilotless interceptors, or ground-to-air pilotless aircraft / GAPAs) — the rest have been under the control of the U. S. Army.  The original version of the Bomarc (Bomarc A) used a liquid fuel booster to launch the missile vertically, with the missile’s two belly-mounted ramjet engines taking over once the missile had reached its operational speed.  Due to safety, reliability, and responsiveness issues, the liquid booster was replaced in the subsequent Bomarc B with a solid propellant rocket motor.  The Bomarc B also had longer range (710 km / 440 miles vs. 400 km / 250 miles for Bomarc A) and higher flight ceiling (30 km / 100,000 ft vs. 20 km / 65,000 ft for Bomarc A).

The original plan was for the Bomarc to be hosted at 52 sites ringing the U.S., each holding 120 of the missiles — but budget reality compressed this scheme to eight sites in the U.S. and two in Canada.  Still, a total of 700 Bomarc missiles were built in its two variants between 1957 and 1964.  The last was retired in 1972 when it was obvious that relatively slow manned bombers were much less of a threat than were intercontinental ballistic missiles.

This Bomarc is on display at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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