Back to Home Page
also see Ken's Korner - tales from Oscura Range Camp
Updated March 13, 2018

Target Practice

Table of Contents:
    The Ranges
    The Targets
    Record Of A Shoot
    The Visitor Experience
    The Range Staff

The purpose Nike antiaircraft system is/was to knock (high flying) enemy aircraft out of the sky
    and like the cop on the corner, it could also deter enemies from sending such aircraft to a Nike defended area.

Since this is a weapon that takes servicing and aiming,
   the people using it should be able to show proficiency in servicing the weapon and firing it with desired results.
   just like the cops on a firing range.
This gives all concerned some assurance that if/when the time comes, "the right thing" can/will happen.
    the "bad" guys likely will decide this is not the bank to rob now, or avoid areas defended by Nike.

So, all Nike crews trained at Ft. Bliss got the chance to:
   a) assemble and prepare missiles for launch
   b) or prepare radars and guidance equipment for firing, track the target and fire at it.
and watch, and get graded upon, the results.

Same idea as a police range,
    but the Nike missiles and firing equipment were very complicated with lots of chance for error.

Also, in the Nike program, representative site people "refired" once a year to:
   a) encourage continuing proficiency
   b) retain confidence that they and the equipment could work properly.
Just like the cops.

The Ranges
A police pistol range, and a Nike missile range have many things in common
   - Noisy
   - Flying missiles (and shell casings or boosters) that can hurt people
   - Need room for activities and missile flights.
as such, both are confined to special areas.

In the case of a Nike missile range, lots of room is needed. There are special problems with Nikes.
   - The missiles are large - about 10 meters - and explosive. They can explode over the launch area.
   - The rocket boosters are large, heavy steel, and when falling could maybe penetrate an armored tank.
   - - (Fortunately, unless a gale is blowing, boosters fall into a designated 1 square mile area.)
   - A Nike Hercules can fly over 100 miles.
So, the areas selected for Nike ranges were (best I know)
    - New Mexico desert, originally Red Canyon for the shorter range Ajax, then McGregor, for sites in "lower 48"
    - Mediterranean Sea, Sardinia and Crete, for European forces
    - Gulf of Alaska, from Site Summit, for sites near Anchorage, ? for Fairbanks sites?
    - "Sea Range" for sites in Korea
    - Western Pacific Ocean, from site ? Okinawa
    - Mokuleia, Hawaii (newspaper from Thomas Page, June 2019)

from Jim Warren Sept 2, 2008

... I saw you had a question mark on the Alaska ranges. One bit of info I remember from dad was the ASP in 1970. He was transferred to C/1/43 ADA Ft Richardson (Site Bay) in January 1970 from CL-02 in Cleveland. C Battery did their ASP in Fairbanks in Feb. 1970. The Fairbanks sites were deactivated shortly after, in May I think, and they went to McGregor after that. I have no clue what Fairbanks site hosted them. He mentioned that it was extremely cold and a tire on their bus shattered into little pieces. ...

Just a bit of trivia to pass along.

New Mexico desert, originally Red Canyon for the shorter range Ajax, then McGregor, for sites in "lower 48"
- Ken's & Friend's RCAT Korner stories and pictures

The Targets
There were several types of targets - usually called "RCAT" (Radio Controlled Aircraft Target)
   Gasoline Engine
   Jet Engine
   Electronic (Synthesized Radar Targets)

Gasoline Engine - more info and pictures at Camp Wellfleet - RCATS
   These very subsonic (200 mph??) target planes were radio controlled by a "pilot" seated in an M33 tracking radar van. (Hi precision was not necessary, so the old styly nutating antenna radar was just fine.) There were apparently two styles of launching, JATO and launching from a circular runway. After launch the pilot would "fly" the drone to rather high altitude (20,000 feet?) over the range for the waiting Nike crews to track it, launch a missile, and try to put a lot of schrapnel holes in it. If it had over ? holes in it, or other severe damage, the shot was consider a "HIT" and everyone was delighted. Each crew was given three targets (RCAT)s to fire at, and three hits out of three shots was not uncommon.

The big white pods on the wing tips were aerodynamic coverings for "angels" inside. An "angel" is a basically three circular disks of highly conductive material (typically aluminum) cut and arranged as a sphere with 8 right angles. The right angled corners reflect radar waves back to the source in a highly efficient way, making the radar profile of the little plane with them very large. There is a quirk when using two as shown. depending upon the attitude of the RCAT the reflections of the two angels could be
    - In phase, giving twice the returning signal
    - Out of phase, giving no returning signal
    - Inbetween -
This made the amplitude of the tracking return vary wildly. Giving a good test of the Automatic Gain Control circuits and excitement, until used to it, of the operators tracking the tiny aircraft.

There was quite an attempt to salvage re-useable parts. A disabled RCAT was supposed to deploy its parachute to reduce further damage. Successful battery commanders (were given? scrounged?) RCAT props for trophies for display at the battery. An unauthorized hobby was to go on the desert to try to beat the recovery crews responsible for re-using parts.

These pictures are from Jack Howard.
   "Hi, I was a member of the RCAT battery from 1958 to 1960. I spent some time at Oscura range camp. I am forwarding some pictures taken during that time. These pictures were taken at the rotary launch pad."

Jet Engine
   I don't know if these were ever made available for Nike as regular targets. Possibly for research and proof of concept?

Electronic (Synthesized Radar Targets)

The above targets took expensive drones, and quite a number of people to service, launch, fly, recover, ... the drones.

A much less romantic, and much less expensive, method was/is to us the T-1 trailer to generate a synthetic target for the acquisition and tracking radars to track and shoot at. Since there are no holes to count in a drone, I'm not sure how a "KILL" was determined. With a drone, the radars had to be very well "bore-sighted" to assure the the missile tracking radar and target tracking radars were well coordinated in space. I suspect that a very poorly "bore-sighted" system could make the traces on the "event recorder" look good. So I imagine there was a very careful pre-launch inspection by range personell of the "bore-sight" adjustments. The Nike launches I saw of Crete were at systhetic targets. There was an abandoned looking drone launch area down and to the east of the mountain containing the radars and launchers.

Record Of A Shoot
I forgot who gave this copy of a shoot to me :-(
Thanks much, who ever you are :-)

Of course you need some paperwork, who, what, when, why, ...
The archivist folks call this "meta-data".
Horizontal Plotting Board - the ink is actually green -
Vertical Plotting Board - the ink is actually green -
This is the recording of the shoot by the event recorder

The Visitor Experience
By "Visitor" I mean the people who "visited" the range to prepare missiles and aiming equipment for firing, and who ultimately fired (three) missiles at targets. I was involved with firing three missiles after training, just before my "package" was sent to various new sites. After regular training, the various site commanders interviewed available people, selected who should be in their units, and we then did several weeks training together on the equipment at Ft. Bliss, then went to Red Canyon to fire as a unit. About a year later, many of us went back to Red Canyon for a SNAP - Short Notice Annual Practice.

The Range Staff
J.P. Moore authored a book The Malpais Missiles about Nike Ajax, RCATS, Red Canyon Range Camp, Oscura Range Camp, and White Sands Proving Ground in the 1950's.

For fun stories about the launching RCATs see
- Ken's & Friend's RCAT Korner stories and pictures.

Unfortunately, the McGregor range was larger and more "military". No charming stories have arrived about it.

If you have comments or suggestions, Send e-mail to Ed Thelen

    Updated June, 2019

Back to Home Page