Friday, June 10, 2022

Hit or Missile

In the early Fifties, our nation's first line of defense against Rooskie nukyular bombers was "all-weather" fighters with on-board radar for finding the incoming targets. 

The weaponry needed to destroy jet bombers once the radar-toting fighter had located them was the sticking point. Guided missiles were still in their infancy, machine guns lacked the power required to bring down a big bomber, and even cannon weren't a sure thing since a head-on pass by a 600mph Lockheed F-94 Starfire at a formation of Soviet M-4 Bisons doing 500mph would be over in an eyeblink. A 20mm autocannon might only chug out a few rounds in that blink.

Stealing an idea from late-WW2 German jet interceptors, the USAF turned to unguided rockets. The Northrop F-89 Scorpion carried a hundred and four of the things, split between two wingtip pods.

The idea being you could ripple fire these things in salvos of a couple dozen at a time and saturate the air around the bomber with 2.75" folding-fin high-explosive death.

Anyway, in 1956 the idea got put to the test when the Air Force had to defend California from the Navy.

Not the Russian navy, the U.S. Navy.

A radio controlled target drone, converted from a surplus Grumman F6F Hellcat, got away from its controllers at Point Mugu N.A.S., where it had been going to serve as a target for guided missile testing. Instead of heading for the target area, the rogue drone headed for the airspace over Los Angeles.

The USAF launched a pair of Scorpion interceptors from Oxnard AFB, which caught up with the errant robot plane, and thus began the Battle of Palmdale:
The D-model Scorpions had been delivered with gun sights, but when the E-6 fire-control system was later added, the sights were removed. Now, with the radar-guided system inoperative and no gun sight, the attackers were forced to manually aim the unguided rockets. The F-89D was capable of firing all 104 of its rockets at once, all leaving their tubes in only 0.4 s. The rockets could also be set to "ripple fire" in two different patterns: two ripples (64 and 42 rockets) or three ripples (42, 32, and 30 rockets). A single hit was sufficient to bring down an aircraft. Murray and Hale set their intervalometers to "ripple fire" in three salvos.

While the drone flew over Castaic, the first crew lined up and fired 42 rockets, completely missing their target. The second interceptor moved into position and unleashed another salvo of 42, the rockets passing just beneath the bright red drone, a few glancing off the fuselage underside, but none detonating. Close to the town of Newhall the pair of jets made a second pass, launching a total of 64 rockets; again none found the mark. The two Scorpion crews adjusted their intervalometer settings and, as the wayward drone headed northeast toward Palmdale, each fired a last salvo of 30 at the target with no hits, dispensing their last rockets. In all, the Air Force element fired 208 rockets and were unable to shoot the Hellcat down.