Holloman’s First Test Track

::: By Joe Page :::

Test Track

Technicians ready a JB-2 Loon for test launch. Fully visible in the photo is the length of 400-ft track, the U-shaped concrete enclosure, and the loading pit. (United States Air Force photo, courtesy of the New Mexico Museum of Space History)

The exploits of Holloman Air Force Base’s High Speed Test Track (HHSTT) are legendary among engineering circles around the world. That seemingly benign stretch of iron track has seen the likes of cruise missile test launches in the 1950s, Colonel John P. Stapp’s bone-shattering rides at near Mach speeds, and the setting of the world speed record of 6,453 mph (Mach 8.5) by a sled run in 2003. But very few folks outside of the Tularosa Basin know about Holloman’s first test track, a short stretch of rail ambling up a slightly inclined earthen mound. While this track did not see the likes of world-speed records or manned rides, its importance to the national missile testing effort cannot be understated.

The raison d’être for this first test track was testing of the JB-2 Loon cruise missile. The JB-2 was a direct copy of the German V-1 “buzz bomb” that terrorized Britain during 1944. A handful of missiles launched from northern France and Holland did not explode over their intended targets, and soft-landed into the hands of British intelligence. Secret diplomatic exchanges ensued, with the Americans reverse engineering a V-1 copy in seventeen days. Translating the intelligence effort into engineering plans, the American War Department contracted Republic Aviation to begin work on an American copy of the V-1. By October 1944 the Jet Bomb-2 (JB-2) was in testing at Wendover AAF, Utah, Eglin AAF, Florida and Alamogordo Guided Missile Test Base (later Holloman AFB), New Mexico. Variants existed for the Army Air Forces (later U.S. Air Force) and Navy.

JB-2

A side-view of a JB-2. Clearly visible are the top-mounted pulse-jet engine, two jet-assisted rocket bottles near the lower left-hand of the photo. Markings near the front fuselage display the nickname for the JB-2’s German counterpart, the “buzz bomb.” (United States Air Force photo, courtesy of the New Mexico Museum of Space History)

As previously stated, the JB-2 was an American version of the German Vergeltungswaffe-1 (V-1, or Vengeance Weapon), simply a guided missile with a conventional explosive warhead. The JB-2’s dimensions were approximately 27 feet long, with a wingspan of 17 feet; it could carry its warhead to a range of 150 miles. Its pulse-jet engine was an engineering marvel back in the 1940s, requiring very few moving parts and overall simplicity of operation – a military maintenance worker’s dream.

As testing from Wendover drew down in 1947, the JB-2 test track was transferred to Holloman. The launch ramp was simply 400 feet of railroad track inclined up three-degrees, terminating at the edge of a man-made cliff. Any rides on this track would be guaranteed to provide excitement – either you were airborne, flying down the test range… or you were not, and made a short journey into the arroyo below. The launch site also included a loading pit at the lower end and a nearby concrete wall for personnel safety. Control of the launches was performed inside the nearby Nativ blockhouse, which already had observation ports and cable tracts from previous test programs.

NATIV blockhouse

Easterly view of the NATIV blockhouse, later used for JB-2 Loon Launches. Photo Copyright 2012 Joe Page

Holloman's first "test track"

A full view of Holloman’s first “test track.” The load pit is off to the immediate right, at the foot of the ramp. The ramp’s inclined edge overlooks part of the Lost River arroyo. Photo Copyright 2012 Joe Page

Load Pit

Southern view, aimed down the foot of the ramp. The load pit has been taken over by rampant vegetation. Photo Copyright 2012, Joe Page

JB-2 launches allowed for active testing of missile guidance, control techniques, and seeker systems; additionally the program gave diagnostic performance evaluations of tracking equipment at White Sands Proving Grounds and Holloman AFB; finally, JB-2s gave the ultimate sacrifice, being used as flying targets for surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft gun crew training.

Track Rear View

Rear view of the track. The concrete load pit can be seen in the lower lefthand of the photo. An optical illusion shows dual rails following up the ramp, when in reality, there are only two 10-ft rails left. Photo Copyright 2012 Joe Page

Testing for the JB-2 ran for two short years, ceasing in 1949. The final flight of a JB-2 at Holloman on January 10,1949, proved the cruise missile/test article could be flown and skid-landed under remote control from either the air or on the ground. In the coming decades, the utility of subsonic conventionally-armed cruise would wane in the eyes of strategic planners, looking instead to place nuclear warheads on such weapons, leading to the MACE and MATADOR tactical cruise missiles.

For history buffs, the legacy of the JB-2 program at Holloman exists at three places in the Tularosa Basin – the eroding inclined launch track overlooking the Lost River on Holloman AFB, a rusting JB-2 article in the storage lot behind Alameda Park in downtown Alamogordo, and a well-preserved copy of a JB-2 at the White Sands Missile Range outdoor display park.

Copyright 2012 Joe Page, Licensed to Alamo Pulse per the Terms of Service, All other rights reserved.

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