Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Mapping the Cape, Part 1

Various raw clips of the first Cape launch pads circa 1950. Video source: AF Space & Missile Museum YouTube channel.

The Air Force Space and Missile Museum (AFSMM) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is a treasure trove of early Cape history.

The museum has one employee, a full-time director. Everyone else is a volunteer, or employed part-time by the museum's non-profit foundation.

A half-century ago, when it opened in the 1960s, the museum had a much larger staff of U.S. Air Force officers, and as recently as the middle of the last decade had a staff archivist.

All archival work today is performed by volunteer docents. What's not on display is tucked away in various locations around the Cape.

One hangar in the base industrial area houses drawers filled with old blueprints from the earliest days, when the launch facilities were largely still on the drawing board.

Several docents recently photographed a selection of the blueprints, and shared those images with me. This is the first of a series of articles as together we sift through the earliest efforts to map the Cape.

A September 1951 blueprint of USAF plans for developing the Air Force Missile Test Center (AFMTC). Click the image to view at a larger size. Image source: AFSMM.

The first four pads were constructed on the tip of Cape Canaveral in the summer of 1950. Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team were moving their Project Bumper (modified V2) operations from the White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico. Their base of operations was the reopened Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama but the rocket tests would be at the former bombing range of the Banana River Naval Air Station, on the tip of the Cape. Banana River NAS south of Cocoa Beach was transferred in 1948 to the USAF, which would rename the facility Patrick Air Force Base in August 1950. The former bombing range was named the Joint Long Range Proving Ground (JLRPG), and would go through many name changes over the years before today's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. CCAFS is under the command of Patrick AFB.

Click here for more on the evolution of CCAFS and the 45th Space Wing.

As the 1950s began, the Cold War with the Soviet Union led to the militaries in both nations ramping up their rocketry research. Although the USAF operated the JLRPG, the Army and Navy would also establish facilities and launch complexes. The Naval Ordnance Test Unit still operates today out of CCAFS.

The Army's von Braun would be the first tenant, but all three military branches began planning for rapid expansion at the Cape.

Until the arrival of the JLRPG, Florida's state highway A1A was a major north-south artery, running from Miami to Jacksonville. The route passed through the town of Cocoa Beach and what would become the City of Cape Canaveral, north through the Cape and into Volusia County.

This 1958 image shows Highway A1A rerouted from the Cape to Highway 520 in Cocoa Beach. Click the image to view at a larger size. Image source: NASA.

Port Canaveral construction circa 1950 rerouted Highway A1A around the harbor, but it continued north through the Cape. Two dirt roads headed east towards the ocean. The Pier Road followed the coastline, passing the Cape Canaveral pier, eventually joining Lighthouse Road which led to the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse.

The above video clip at about the 1:30 mark shows an early modified V2 being towed on the back of a flatbed truck along the dirt Lighthouse Road to Pad 3 for launch. The footage apparently was filmed from the top of the lighthouse.

Lighthouse Road in 1950, looking south from the lighthouse. Click the image to view at a larger size. Image source: NASA.

A Bumper (modified V2) launch from Pad 3 in July 1950, looking north from the lighthouse. Click the image to view at a larger size. Note that Lighthouse Road has been extended to Pad 3. Can you find the sentry and his jeep in the road? Image source: AFSMM.

When the USAF moved into the Cape, Highway A1A was rerouted to the west. The September 1951 map shows a “GUARD HOUSE” and “GUARD FACILITIES” on Highway A1A just north of the harbor, as well as South Patrol Road. The above video at about 1:30 also shows a sign “LRPG LAUNCHING AREA OPEN” being erected next to an existing sign, “ROAD PAVED TO CANAVERAL ONLY.” I believe this is Highway A1A at the Pier Road, which blueprints show is paved only to the Canaveral pier.

A March 1952 blueprint showing Redstone pads planned for next to the original four pads. Click the image to view at a larger size. Image source: AFSMM.

In early 1952, the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA), which employed von Braun and his team, began development of the Redstone, its first large ballistic missile. The Chrysler Corporation was selected for the contract in September 1952, but the above March 1952 blueprint shows that early plans were already underway to station the Redstone next to the four original Cape pads. Two pads next to Pad 4 are labelled “VERTICAL LAUNCHING PAD” with the qualifier, “TENATIVE (sic) LOCATION.”

A few Redstones would launch off Pad 4 between August 1953 and February 1955, before a permanent Redstone complex was built, Pads 5 and 6. More on those in another article; for now, on the September 1951 map note the “SECURITY FENCE” and “PERIMETER ROAD” around the Pads 1-4 complex.

Let's look closely at the March 1952 blueprint. Follow the road running to the lower left from these four pads. You'll see a structure marked, “Interim Missile Assembly Building.” A 1953 blueprint labelled the structure, “FUELED MISSILE STORAGE BUILDING.” Another blueprint in the AFSMM archives identifies it as today's Hangar O, which doesn't appear on modern CCAFS maps. In any case, it's believed that the earliest Redstones were stored here before launch from Pad 4.

Now follow Lighthouse Road from the four pads to the lower right. You'll find the first firehouse and the lighthouse, both of which still stand today. You'll see the future Hangar C labelled “Missile Assembly Building” and other facilities behind it.

This undated video shows the launch of a XSM-64 Snark and its landing on the Skid Strip. Video source: AF Space & Missile Museum YouTube channel.

The “Snark Lab” was for the Northrup Snark cruise missile. A low-priority USAF project for many years, the first Snark test launches were not until 1954. They had skids instead of landing wheels because they were designed to skid to a landing on the base runway, which was given the name Skid Strip that remains to this day. Scroll down to the lower right and you'll see the runway is labelled “Skid Strip.”

The X-10 Navaho on the Skid Strip in 1956. Image source: Federation of American Scientists.

Another of the lighthouse-area buildings is labelled “North American Laboratory.” North American Aviation had the contract for the Navaho, a supersonic intercontinental cruise missile. The Navaho program had two versions, the X-10 and later the XSM-64. The X-10 launched from and landed at the Skid Strip under remote or automatic flight controls. According to the Federation of American Scientists, North American “began operating a small field office at Patrick Air Force Base in 1953 to coordinate support efforts for the program, including the construction of two missile assembly buildings, a vertical launch facility for the XSM-64 and a 200 x 10,000-foot landing strip on Cape Canaveral for the X-10 vehicle.” The above September 1951 map labels the runway as both SKID STRIP and NAVAHO RUNWAY.

Pads 9 and 10 (not on the map) began construction in September 1953 for the XSM-64. We'll see those pads in a future article.

A January 1953 development plan for Cape Canaveral Auxiliary Air Force Base. Click the image to view at a larger size. Image source: AFSMM.

By early 1953, plans were already underway to begin test launches of the Atlas and possibly other intercontinental ballistic missiles. In the above blueprint, they're labelled “HEAVY MISSILE LAUNCHING AREA” but those locations would constantly change as the Cape's future design evolved in the months to come. More on the ICBM pads in a future article.

If you want to see what the tip of the Cape looks like today, click here for the Google Earth image. How many facilities can you identify from the original blueprints? Which were never built or no longer exist?

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