- Covering the Past, Present and Future of
Written and Edited by Cliff Lethbridge
Classification: Air-Launched Ballistic Missile
Length: 38 feet, 3 inches
Diameter: 2 feet, 11 inches
Finspan: 5 feet, 6 inches
Range: 1,150 miles
Development of the Skybolt Air-Launched Ballistic Missile began in 1958 following feasibility studies to determine whether or not a ballistic-type missile could be successfully deployed from the air.
Since fixed land-based missiles were prone to attack, a ballistic missile which could be dropped from high altitude then guided toward its target proved to be strategically desirable.
Although the Skybolt did have wings, it was originally classified as an Air Launched Ballistic Missile (ALBM), not a cruise missile. It did, however, bear great resemblance to cruise missiles which followed, and has been classified by some as a cruise missile.
The U.S. Air Force requested ALBM design proposals from the aerospace industry in 1959. Douglas Aircraft was selected to begin development studies under the designation Weapons System-138A (WS-138A) Missile GAM-87, called Skybolt.
Guidance for the Skybolt was assigned to Northrup Nortronics, while the propulsion system was assigned to Aerojet-General. An advanced GE re-entry vehicle was selected to carry the Skybolt weapons payload.
A full development contract for the Skybolt was granted
to Douglas Aircraft in 1960. The first high-altitude drop testing of inert Skybolt missile bodies began in 1961 over the
The Skybolt was ultimately intended to be deployed on B-52H aircraft, which were fitted with two twin Skybolt pylons under each inner wing. In this configuration, each aircraft could carry a total of eight missiles.
Following several failures during early flight testing, the Skybolt program was abruptly cancelled on December 19, 1962. Ironically, a Skybolt missile completed a flawless test flight on the same day the program was cancelled.
The Skybolt cancellation was brought about by
several prevailing factors. By 1961, the
In addition, certain engineering elements of the Skybolt were thought to be too complicated to be effectively applied. The early failures added to this concern.
However, the final decision may have been based largely on economics. The
British government was faced with a decision of purchasing from the
The British chose to purchase Polaris missiles, thus eliminating a viable
source of funding for the
Test flights of Skybolt missiles for research purposes continued following the official cancellation of the program.
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