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Northrop SM-62 Snark
Snark missile launch
Place of origin  United States
Service history
In service 1959-1961
Used by U.S. Air Force
Production history
Manufacturer Northrop
Produced 1958-1961
Weight 48,147 lb (21,839 kg) without booster, 60,000 (27,200 kg) with booster
Length 67 ft 2 in (20.47 m)

Warhead Nuclear

Engine Pratt & Whitney J57 jet engine; 2 Aerojet-General solid-propellant rocket boosters
J-57: 10,500 lbf (46.7 kN) thrust, rockets: 130,000 lbf (580 kN) thrust
Wingspan 42 ft 3 in (12.88 m)
5,497 nmiles (10,180 km)
Flight ceiling 50,250 ft (15,320 m)
Speed 565 knots (1,050 km/h)
celestial navigation
Mobile Launcher

The Northrop SM-62 Snark was a specialized intercontinental cruise missile with a nuclear warhead operated by the US Strategic Air Command from 1958 until 1961. It takes its name from Lewis Carroll's snark.[1]


Design and development

The Snark was developed to offer a nuclear deterrence to the Soviet Union at a time when ICBMs were still in development. Work on the project began in 1946. Initially there were two missiles - a subsonic design (the MX775A Snark) and a supersonic design (the MX775B Boojum).[2] Budget reductions threatened the project in its first year, but the intervention of Jack Northrop and Carl Spaatz saved the project. Despite this, funding was low and the program was dogged by requirement changes. The expected due date of 1953 passed with the design still in testing and SAC was becoming less enthusiastic. In 1955, Eisenhower ordered top priority to the ICBM and associated missile programs. The original designation was B-62.

Despite considerable difficulties with the missile and military reservations toward it, work continued. In the 1957 tests the missile had a Circular error probable (CEP) of only 17 nautical miles (31.5 km). By 1958 the celestial navigation system used by the Snark allowed its most accurate test, which appeared to fall 4 nautical miles (7.4 km) short of the target. However, this apparent failure was at least partially because the British Navigation Charts used to determine the position of Ascension Island were based on position-determination techniques less accurate that those used by the Snark. The missile landed where Ascension Island would be found if more accurate navigation methods had been used when developing the chart[3]. However, even with the decreased CEP the design was notoriously unreliable with the majority of tests suffering mechanical failure thousands of miles before reaching the target. Other factors such the reduction in operating altitude from 150,000 to 55,000 feet (46 to 17 km) and the inability of the system to detect countermeasures and perform evasive manoeuvres also made the Snark an undesirable strategic deterrent.

Technical description

The jet engined 20.5 m long unmanned aircraft had a top speed of 650 mph (1,046 km/h) and a maximum range of 5,500 nautical miles (10,200 km). The complex stellar navigation guidance system gave a claimed CEP of 8,000 ft (2.4 km).

The Snark was an air-breathing design, launched from a light platform by two rocket booster engines. It switched to an internal jet engine for the remainder of its flight. The jet was a Pratt and Whitney J57, the first 10,000 lbf (44 kN) thrust design, also used in the early B-52 and the F-100. Lacking a horizontal tail, the missile used elevons as its primary flight control surfaces, and flew an unusual nose high aspect during level flight. During the final phase of flight the nuclear warhead separated from the missile's main body and followed a ballistic trajectory to the target. Upon separation the missile body performed an abrupt pitch-up maneuver to avoid colliding with the warhead.

A photo sequence illustrating the separation sequence

One advanced feature of the Snark was its ability to fly missions of up to 11 hours and return for a landing. If the warhead did not detach, the missile could be flown repeatedly. Lacking landing gear, it was necessary for the Snark to skid to a stop on a flat, level surface. The runway at Cape Canaveral is still today known as the Skid Strip.

Operational history

In January 1958 the Strategic Air Command began accepting delivery of operational missiles to Patrick AFB in Florida for training and in 1959 the 702d Strategic Missile Wing was formed. Multiple launch failures led to the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Canaveral being described as "Snark infested waters."

On 27 May 1959, Presque Isle AFB in Maine, the only Snark base, received its first operational missile. Ten months later, on March 18, 1960, a Snark officially went on alert status. Thirty are known to have been deployed."[4]

The 702nd was not declared fully operational until February 1961. In March 1961, President Kennedy declared the Snark "obsolete and of marginal military value" and on 25 June 1961 the 702d was deactivated.[1]

Aerial photo illustrating the nose-up flight attitude


See also

Comparable aircraft

Related lists


  1. ^ The poem "The Hunting of the Snark".
  2. ^ From the same poem: "The snark was a boojum, you see."
  3. ^ "Personal interview with George F. Douglas, Chief Project Engineer, ca. 1967"
  4. ^ Gibson, James N. Nuclear Weapons of the United States - An Illustrated History . Atglen, Pennsylvania.: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1996, Library of Congress card no. 96-67282, ISBN 0-7643-0063-6, page 151.

External links

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