Air Force Bases

Nike Hercules Overview

The Army began developing the next generation of Nike missile - Hercules - in 1953, the same year that Nike Ajax became operational. The Army named the missile for one of the most celebrated heroes of classical mythology, a figure renowned f‘or strength and endurance. The new guided missile would need these characteristics in order to destroy the newer, more sophisticated generations of military aircraft. Aircraft capabilities had increased in range and altitude, demanding an improved air defense system. In addition, nuclear payloads were a greater threat. Designed to carry either nuclear and/or high-explosive warheads. the Nike Hercules missile could attack supersonic aircraft operating at altitudes in excess of 150,000 feet and at a range of more than 87 miles.

Nike Hercules represented several notable improvements over the first generation Ajax. The solid-fuel booster for the Nike Hercules was a cluster of four Nike Ajax missile booster units. Another improvement was a solid-fueled propellant that replaced liquid-fueled propellant for the sustainer motor. At launch, the Nike Hercules weighed 10,405 pounds; later versions weighed 10,710 pounds. Burn-out speed was typically Mach 3.5 in early production; that speed was later increased to Mach 3.65. Also improved was the acquisition radar for the Nike Hercules system, which ultimately had a range of 100 miles. The missile and target-tracking radars also had increased ranges.

In 1958, the Army began replacing Nike Ajax missiles with Nike Hercules. An "Improved Nike Hercules" system became operational in 1961. The Improved Hercules could combat yet more sophisticated offensive weapons, including aircraft bombers that reached speeds of Mach 2, as well as air-supported missiles and rockets operating at velocities of Mach 3. The High Power Acquisition Radar (HIPAR) built by General Electric was also an important component of the Improved Hercules system. While the range of standard Hercules radars was 125 miles, HIPAR extended the acquisition range to 175 nautical miles, allowing more than 400 seconds from the time of target acquisition to the time of intercept. With the increasing speed of enemy aircraft and ballistic missiles, every extra moment was essential. The Improved Hercules system also proved effective against surface-to-surface targets and had a limited antimissile capability. In 1960, a Hercules missile supported by HIPAR scored a direct hit against a Corporal ballistic missile at White Sands Missile Range. Later that same year, a Hercules missile successfully intercepted another Hercules traveling at a height of 19 miles.

By June 1958, the Army had converted most of the Ajax batteries around New York City, Washington, D.C., and Chicago to Hercules systems. Funding for the gigantic task of conversion and new production fluctuated between $47.97 and $129.6 million per month. At the peak of the Hercules effort in 1957-60, Douglas Aircraft operated not only the Charlotte Ordnance Missile Plant, but three other Nike Hercules facilities in North Carolina: Winston-Salem, Burlington. and Greensboro. At peak production, the Ajax and Hercules missiles were, respectively, $19,300 and $55.200.

Nike Ajax magazines (the underground storage facilities) needed modification to accommodate the heavier, longer, and wider Nike Hercules missiles. The primary change was an increase in electrical generating capacity to lift the heavier missile out of the underground facility. Fueling facilities at the launch area were required only if Ajax missiles were also operational at the base; the solid fuel booster and sustainer motor of the Hercules did not use liquid fuel.

Four different underground magazines accommodated the changing missile design. The "A" box was designed for Ajax missiles. The larger "B" box also accommodated Hercules missiles. The "C" box was, essentially, a former Ajax magazine modified to hold Hercules missiles. Box "D," designed for Hercules missiles, was the largest magazine.

After 1958, the Army constructed all Nike facilitles with magazines designed specifically for the Nike Hercules, the "D" box. Nike Missile Base SL-40, constructed in 1958, had a "D" type magazine. During the transitional years. as Nike Hercules missiles were first coming online. many batteries had a mix of Ajax and Hercules missiles. For example. between 1958. 1961, Nike Missile Base SF-88L near San Francisco, held 5-6 Hercules missiles in launch section "A," and 10-11 Ajax missiles in launch section "B." This was typical of many Nike batteries across the nation.