The scientific tourist #307 — Snark cruise missile

On display at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, here you see a Northrop SM-62 Snark cruise missile.  Essentially an unmanned jet-propelled aircraft, and the only intercontinental cruise missile to be fielded by the U.S., it serves up another interesting (if not terribly successful) chapter in Cold War aviation history:

Snark cruise missile

Development of the Snark began in 1945, but it was not to be fielded for more than another decade (and only briefly, then).  Work began with an Air Force requirement for a 600 mph, 5,000-mile-range missile that could cary a 2,000 pound warhead.  But the program was bedeviled by challenging and ever-changing requirements, limited funding, and here-today-gone-tomorrow political support.

In 1950, the Air Force increased the Snark’s requirements yet again — the range was now to be 5,500 nautical miles (6,350 statute miles / 10,200 km), the payload increased to 7,000 pounds (3175 kg), and the required accuracy tightened to 1,500 feet (460 meters).  These were audacious for the technology of the time, and required a complete redesign.

Yet even subsequent relaxations of some of these requirements were not enough to salvage the program.  So many of the test Snark missiles crashed offshore of their Florida launch site that local wags dubbed the area “Snark infested waters.”  Meanwhile, the missile was only capable of straight and level  flight, making it highly vulnerable to interception.  Even the Strategic Air Command had lost its ardor for the missile by the time it was finally fielded at a single operational site in Maine in February of 1961.

As a result, the same site was deactivated (and the Snarks scrapped) in June of 1961 — less than four months after the site had been declared operational. 

From the placard:

Length: 69’ (21 meters)
Wing span: 42’ (13 meters)
Diameter: 5’5” (1.65 meters)
Weight: 51,000 lbs (23,133 kg)

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