NIKE AJAX AND HERCULES
ORDNANCE SUPPORT UNIT
SHORT, TALL STORIES
Air Defense Artillery
I had been assigned to the 502nd Ordnance Detachment as a missile and launcher mechanic (433.10) in June 1959. At that time we were direct support for 2nd Missile Battalion, 56th Artillery and the 2/56 was in the process of converting its firing batteries to NIKE HERCULES missiles and equipment. At the time I came on the scene, B Battery (Landau) had already been converted to a "universal" site and C Battery (Salzwoog) was just coming on-line. "Charley" had its problems. New equipment and relatively new troops to operate same made for plenty of maintenance problems. The 502nd had DS contact teams running out to Salzwoog just about every day. It soon became my "favorite" NIKE site.
Sometime in the fall of 1959 (I can't remember exactly when) my partner, Tom Davis, and I made a run out to C Battery to do some launcher repair work. We had been working that afternoon in "A" section on #3 launcher. I recall that I had gotten some tools and other gear loaded on our truck (we were just about finished with our job) and Tom was tightening the bolts that mount the shear-seal shutoff valve to the launcher frame. There may have been some section crewmen working in the missile storage building also, but the roll-door was down (closed). Numbers 1 and 2 launchers had HERCULES missiles aboard, the one we were working on had (I think) a NIKE AJAX).
Suddenly, the pump motor on #1 launcher started up and the erecting beam began to elevate. Tom didn't pay any attention to it, but I was watching the movement of the missile to the firing position---a beautiful sight. Then with the erecting beam somewhere between 45 to 60 degrees the electric motor cut out and the beam stopped. I noticed that, because of the hydraulics and the weight of the missile and the launching and handling rail involved, there was a slight "bounce" when that all happened. Then, just as suddenly, the pump motor came on again and the beam continued its elevation. But as it did so, there seemed to be another slight "bounce". The beam continued its cycle to the up-and-locked position.
As the beam locked, the missile, which had broken loose from the forward yoke support, toppled over backward!
I can still see it happening. As momentum carried the missile backward there was a sharp "CRACK!!!" as the thrust structure broke away from the booster. I was dumbfounded---but not at a loss for words. "There she goes!" I yelled. Then, "WHAM!!!" The missile hit the concrete launch pad. For some dumb reason, I then ran over to the missile. I wanted a closer look, what the hell for, I don't know. But I noted the missile serial number stenciled on the side: 11267. I've never forgotten it. Obviously nothing else happened (or I wouldn't be here to tell the tale). But just imagine if that had been an AJAX round!
Tom looked up and saw what had happened. I ran back to Tom and asked him if he was finished. He said he was. We simply got the hell out of there. No one had been injured and there wasn't a damn thing a couple of PFC 433.10s could do for that "bird" at that point. We cleared the launcher area before anyone else could react and were on our way back to Pirmasens. We got to the shop and reported to CWO Pangborn, our maintenance technician, and told him what happened. Just about that time, he got a phone call from the battalion headquarters, notifying him of same.
After that there wasn't much that I was involved with. I don't recall that anyone outside the 502nd even interrogated us about what we saw. I suppose there were some inquiries and investigations to see if any persons were at fault. No one was. It was a mechanical / design failure. The "T" hook on the forward yoke support wasn't seated properly as it had jarred loose during the hydraulic surge. Within a few months an URGENT Modification Work Order hit the field specifying the yoke support to be drilled and tapped for a bolt (adjustable by an Allen wrench) that would ensure the "T" hook stayed seated. Tom and I spent a lot of time on the road installing that MWO. It was damn hard work with just a hand-held power drill and a manual "T" handle tap wrench. But we had graphic knowledge of what would happen if the MWO wasn't applied!