Info Request – Launch Complex 21/22 Mishaps?

July 26, 2012

Dick Beal has been able to provide some information. His input can be found following Tom Penders’ request below.

Dick, thanks!!!

July 25, 2012

If you have any information about possible mishaps near Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 21/22, please contact Russ Reston so that he can put you in touch with Tom Penders (cultural resources manager/archaeologist for the 45th Space Wing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station).


Mace Launch from Complex 21
Mace Launch from Complex 21

From: Tom Penders
Sent: Tuesday, July 24, 2012
To: TAC Missileers

Subject: TAC Missileers “Contact Us” Submission – Mace and Matador Mishaps at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

I am the cultural resources manager/archaeologist for the 45th Space Wing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The reason I am contacting you is that I am getting ready to do an archaeological survey east of Launch Complex 21/22 and Launch Complex 1-4 at CCAFS with folks from the anthropology department of Florida State University. As you may or may not know any facility, etc that is 50 years or older is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. So I am now doing archaeological surveys to document missile crash sites on CCAFS. To date I have found and documented a Jupiter missile crash site east of Launch Complex 26, a Navaho X-10 drone south of the Skid Strip, and an Atlas east of LC-12. I am a prehistoric archaeologist by background and have become heavily involved in ”aerospace archaeology”. Any assistance with photographs, personal accounts, information, etc on possible mishaps east of LC 1-4 and LC-21/22 would be greatly appreciated

Submitted by,
Tom Penders

From: Dick Beal
Sent: Thursday, July 26, 2012
To: TAC Missileers
Subject: Re: TAC Missileers News Item(s)

Hi Russ,

I am aware of only two mishaps involving the Mace.

First while we were loading a missile into the north bay. Pan Am supplied the crane & operators. When lifting the missile into the launch cradle a crane outrigger gave way. The crane tipped over, the missile crashed down onto the concrete and the crane boom landed on top of the missile. Shorty Farmer (a civilian) was operating the crane. He sustained a dislocated knee, the missile was a total loss and the crane was repaired.

Second the only real clobber of a Mace was when we were instructed to leave the nose cables in place and hold a true tactical launch with explosive squibs installed in the cables to blow them loose.

Capt Van Saun (sp?) was launch officer. Just after launch we lost all electrical power. Seemed one or more of the launch cables blew out the exhaust and wrapped itself around the power lines along Cape Road. That caused a total electrical power blackout, including Command Destruct at Central Control which in turn caused the missile to lose its destruct carrier beacon and go into auto-destruct. It didn’t even make it to the ocean. As best I recall it got about 300 yards and clobbered into the palmettos due east of Pad 21 just south of the road going down to Pad 43, the weather rocket launch pad. Bill Hanson, Stan Pesotski and I were detailed to check it out for explosives and salvage the warhead fusing & firing system (then considered top secret) with sledge hammers. Really a creepy assignment given we’d seen many 5, 6 & 7 foot rattlesnakes in those palmettos ………… We very carefully made our way to the clobbered missile. The missile did not burn, the JP4 just ran off into the sand. The destruct had sheared off both wings, the nose with the guidence system sheared off exposing the dummy warhead & we beat the warhead electrical system into little pieces with sledge hammers.

Pan Am later went in with a dozer, crane & flatbed and hauled off the remains.

Occasionally we had to evacuate the pad due to other launches. May 1962 the Atlas Centaur, first use of liquid nitrogen, necessitated we leave the pad. It immediately blew up, high order on the pad in a huge mushroom ball of fire. The blast was so strong it blew the umbilical tower over and some clobber landed on Pad 21.

Earlier there was a Jupiter Launch. We were inside the blockhouse for this one. The thing laid over and headed directly for Hanger C (our maintenance hanger) and was destructed. It rained clobber on our pad & Hanger C.

In later years I worked for Pan Am as a civilian handling explosives and installing them on various missiles, then doing EOD if/when they clobbered.

My closest call was one night my partner and I were assigned to launch a weather rocket in conjunction with a Minuteman Launch. Minuteman was a three state, solid propellant ICBM that launched from an underground silo. We were scheduled to launch our weather rocket from Pad 43 (right on the ocean) 30 seconds after the Minuteman Launch. Our so called blockhouse wasn’t much bigger than a Portalet Toilet, only enough room to stand, no chairs. There were four of us crowded inside it, Stony (Pad Safety) KK Sells (electrician) my partner & I when we heard the loud roar of the Minuteman. KK was looking out the only small window and he started screaming, “LOOK OUT !!!! Here the xx-er (expletive removed) comes !!!!! HERE THAT XX-er (expletive removed) COMES !!!!!!! DUCK !!!!!!!!!” The damned thing laid over about 150 feet above ground and was coming straight at us. Next thing we heard was a deafening blast and our blockhouse shook as the Minuteman blew up in front a Pad 21 and just behind Pad 43.

The next day I got to help comb the palmettos out in front (east) of Pad 21 and dispose of any unexploded solid propellant & explosives. We simply burned it in place with thermite believing it was unsafe to haul clobbered explosives & solid propellant around the Cape in the back of a truck. OBTW believe me we didn’t spend too much time looking for clobber out in those palmettos, there’s planty of big rattlesnakes out there ……………

Hope this helps

Dick Beal
Cocoa Beach, Florida


Anectote Near Mishap – I was also on the last Matador launches from the Cape. We fired four in one day. I believe it was our 3rd launch the thing would not turn right after clearing the beach so the guys in Misq gave it three lefts and flew it down to the theoretical target in the Bahamas to become a future habitat for lobsters.

From: Dick Beal
Sent: Thursday, July 26, 2012
To: TAC Missileers
Subject: More on Cape Clobbers

Hi Russ,

Other clobbers – A Polaris was blown up over the Cape with the second stage landing in the Banana River just west of Caver’s Trailer Park in what is today the City of Cape Canaveral. It later became known as a ICBRM Inter Continental Banana River Missile.

The Snark was often a disaster due to the angled, twin booster bottles that seldom fired simultaneously as designed. They sent the missile cart wheeling off into the ocean, the waters off Cape Canaveral became known as Snark Infested Waters.

Probably the strangest clobber was not a missile but a B52 bomber in mid-1960. I was working evenings in the explosives area and we got word to evacuate because a B52 had just left McCoy AFB Orlando and was in trouble. It was headed toward the Cape. Seems the personnel bailed out mostly over the Mormon Ranch and the last of the crew over Merritt Island. It just so happened there was a Nuclear Submarine tied up at the Port. The sailors were off duty and in the Greenhouse, basically a day-room, drinking beer & shooting pool. The B52 just cleared the Port Water Tower and crashed into the ocean. I later heard there were some really shook up sailors because the blast broke some windows in the Greenhouse.

As I recall more I’ll forward it.

Dick Beal

From: Dick Beal
Sent: Friday, July 27, 2012
To: TAC Missileers
Subject: Orlando AFB Film

Hi Russ,

At the Orlando AFB Special Weapons Training Building they had a film (movie) of nothing but sequence after sequence of various missiles blowing up, many on the pad. It ended with launching the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse.

Instructors would sometimes show it to their students as a break from watching all the films of atomic bomb tests (Up Shot Naho, Bikini Atoll, etc etc)

If Tom could locate that film it would give him plenty of information.

Dick Beal

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