There was an incident where we swore someone was firing a 30 caliber rifle every few
minutes and in the vicinity of the rocket. Work ceased and the area was cleared. The
culprit was finally found. Static electricity generated by, the dry desert wind blowing
across one dipole antenna mounted on the gantry's top. It created an arc of four to five
inches and a crack like a rifle shot when the ungrounded loose end of the antenna cable
would be blown near the frame of the gantry. It was soon secured and grounded. Work
Umbilical cables were the lifelines from the blockhouse to the rocket as it sat on the
pad. These cables draped from the top of a tall pole to a point near the nose of the
missile and were released from it at the instant of lift off. Obviously they had to remain
in place when the gantry, was moved away from the V-2 just prior to launch. It was
necessary that someone be on top of gantry during the move to manhandle the umbilical
cables to prevent them from snagging on the gantry structure. You were doing this with
a fully fueled missile under you and that missile was sitting on the four tiny pads
described previously. Being responsible for all electrical systems for the missile and
its launch systems, I was the lucky guy that took this duty rather than delegate it.
To compound the risk, the moving of the gantry was tricky. Electric motors that powered
its railroad type wheels were not controlled by rheostats and had only on/off controls
causing the top of gantry to sway significantly when starting and stopping.
The rocket's fuel is ignited by a cheap pinwheel type of pyrotechnic. This is suspended
by kite sticks in the motor's combustion chamber, about three feet up in the venturi. The
only way to install it is to literally get your head and shoulders up in the throat of the
motor. For ignition the pinwheel is ignited electrically and when sparks are visible
emanating from the mouth of the engine "Preliminary Stage" is activated. This opens fuel
and oxidizer valves and these liquids flow by gravity into the motor and are ignited by
the pyrotechnic. Once the flame pattern is visually judged to be okay the "Main Stage"
button is pushed and the pumps start providing alcohol and LOX under pressure. At which
point, hopefully, you have lift off.
When TF-1 was ready to go, the pinwheel ignited property but the thing came flying out
of the venturi and skittered across the tarmac, of no earthly use whatsoever. The good
part was we could put the countdown on hold. as "Preliminary Stage" had not been sequenced
The bad part was, someone had to literally crawl up in the motor of the fully fueled
rocket to install another igniter. I did not volunteer for this job. Unfortunately after
46 years the fellow's name that did eludes me. I regret this, as he deserves to be
Once this glitch was overcome, at 12 noon on August 22, 1951, TF-1 was launched without
another flaw and soared to a then unrivaled single stage rocket altitude record of 132.6
The section went on to perform its assigned task of providing reliable missiles for
military and scientific research.
TF-1 at "Preliminary Stage"
An article, "OUR WONDER WEAPONS", by Bill Davidson, involving the group was the cover
story in the April 5, 1952 issue of Colliers Magazine.
An excellent example of the V-2's engine is a prominent display in the U.S. Air Force
Museum's World War II hall. The steam generating system, used to drive the pumps, the
pumps themselves, fuel and oxidizer plumbing and the motor proper comprise the system on
Oh yes, much to our disappointment, by the end of August a Navy rocket, I believe it was
a Viking, launched from a nearby pad, had exceeded our record by a mile or two!
At least we retain the record for V-2's into perpetuity since there are no more flyable
examples of them left.
(This article first appeared in the Fall 1998 edition of the Friends Journal. The
Journal is a quarterly publication of the U.S. Air Force Museum Foundation, a non-profit
civilian organization dedicated to the support and promotion of the U.S. Air Force Museum,
located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton. Ohio)