SM-62 Snark

The Northrop SM-62 Snark was an early-model intercontinental range ground-launched cruise missile that could carry a W39 thermonuclear warhead. The Snark was deployed by the United States Air Force's Strategic Air Command from 1958 through 1961. It represented an important step in weapons technology during the Cold War.[1] The Snark took its name from the author Lewis Carroll's character the "snark".[2]

The Snark missile was developed to present a nuclear deterrent to the Soviet Union and other potential enemies at a time when Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) were still in development. The Snark was the only surface-to-surface cruise missile with such a long range that was ever deployed by the U.S. Air Force. Following the deployment of ICBMs, the Snark was rendered obsolete, and it was removed from deployment in 1961.

Northrop SM-62 Snark
Snark missile launch
TypeSurface-to-surface cruise missile
Place of originUnited States
Service history
In service1959–61
Used byUnited States Air Force
Production history
ManufacturerNorthrop Corporation
Mass21,840 kilograms (48,150 lb) without boosters; 27,000 kilograms (60,000 lb) with boosters
Length20.47 metres (67 ft 2 in)
WarheadW39 thermonuclear warhead (explosive yield: 3.8 megatons)

Engineone Pratt & Whitney J57 jet engine; and two Aerojet solid-propellant rocket boosters
J57 turbojet: 47,000 newtons (10,500 lbf) of thrust; booster rockets: 580,000 newtons (130,000 lbf) of thrust
Wingspan12.88 metres (42 ft 3 in)
10,200 kilometres; 6,300 miles (5,500 nmi)
Flight ceiling15,320 metres (50,250 ft)
Speed1,046 km/hour
astro-inertial guidance with CEP of about 2,400 metres (8,000 ft).
mobile launcher

Design and development

Work on the project began in 1946. Initially there were two missiles designed—a subsonic design (the MX775A Snark) and a supersonic design (the MX775B Boojum).(From the same poem: "The snark was a boojum, you see".[3]) Budget reductions threatened the project in its first year, but the intervention of Air Force General Carl Spaatz and the industrialist Jack Northrop saved the project. Despite this, its funding by Congress was low, and this program was dogged by changes in specifications. The earliest planned due date in 1953 passed with the design still in development, and the Strategic Air Command was gradually becoming less supportive of it. In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered that top priority be assigned to ICBMs and their associated guided missile programs.

Despite considerable difficulties with the development of the Snark, and reservations from the Department of Defense towards it, the engineering work continued.[4]

In 1957, tests of the Snark showed an estimated circular error probable (CEP) of 31 kilometres; 20 miles (17 nmi). By 1958, the celestial navigation system used by the Snark allowed its most accurate test, which appeared to fall 7.4 kilometres (4 nmi) short of the target. However, this apparent failure was at least partially caused by the British navigation charts used to determine the position of Ascension Island being based on position determinations less accurate than those used by the Snark. The missile landed where Ascension Island would be found if more accurate navigation methods had been used when developing the chart.[5] However, even with the decreased CEP, the design was notoriously unreliable, with the majority of tests suffering mechanical failure thousands of miles before reaching the target. Other factors, such as the reduction in operating altitude from 46,000 to 17,000 metres (150,000 to 55,000 ft), and the inability of the Snark to detect countermeasures and perform evasive maneuvers also made it a questionable strategic deterrent.

Technical description

SM 62 Snark HAFB
Northrop SM-62 Snark, Hill Aerospace Museum.

The jet propelled 20.5 meter-long Snark missile had a top speed of about 1,050 kilometres per hour (650 mph) and a maximum range of about 10,200 kilometres (5,500 nmi). Its complicated celestial navigation system gave it a claimed CEP of about 2,400 metres (8,000 ft).

The Snark was an air-breathing missile, intended to be launched from a truck-mounted platform by two solid-fueled rocket booster engines. The Snark next switched to an internal turbojet engine for the rest of its flight. The engine was a Pratt and Whitney J57, which was the first jet engine featuring a thrust of 44,000 N (10,000 lbf) or more. Since the Snark lacked a horizontal tail surface, it used elevons as its primary flight control surfaces, and it flew with an unusual nose-high angle during level flight. During the final phase of its flight, its nuclear warhead would have separated from its fuselage and then followed a ballistic trajectory towards its target. Due to the abrupt shift in its center of gravity caused by separation, the fuselage would have performed an abrupt pitch-up maneuver in order to avoid a collision with the warhead.

Northrop SM-62 Snark 061218-F-1234P-006
A photo sequence showing the warhead's separation sequence

One unusual capability of the Snark missile was its ability to fly away from its launch point for up to 11 hours, and then return for a landing. If its warhead did not detach from its body, then the Snark could be flown repeatedly. Lacking any landing gear, it would have been necessary for the Snark to skid to a stop on a flat, level surface. A runway at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is still known as the "Skid Strip".

Operational history

In May 1957, a Detachment of Air Force instructors was formed at Amarillo Air Force Base , Texas as the first cadre of Air Force personnel supporting an Intercontinental missile system. None of the detachment members had any previous training or experience in missile maintenance. They were trained at the Northrop factory in California and then returned to Amarillo to establish the training school for the Snark maintenance personnel.

In January 1958, the Strategic Air Command began accepting delivery of Snark missiles at Patrick Air Force Base for training, and in 1959, the 702d Strategic Missile Wing was formed.

On 27 May 1959, Presque Isle Air Force Base, Maine, the only Snark missile base, received its first missile. Ten months later, on 18 March 1960, a Snark missile went on alert status. A total of 30 Snarks are known to have been deployed.[6]

The 702nd Wing was not declared to be fully operational until February 1961. In March 1961, President John F. Kennedy declared the Snark to be "obsolete and of marginal military value", and on 25 June 1961, the 702nd Wing was inactivated.[7]

Many in the U.S. Military were surprised the Snark, due to its dubious guidance system, was ever operational. In flight tests many were lost. A missile launched from Cape Canaveral in 1956 was supposed to fly to Puerto Rico and back flew so far off course that it was last seen on radar off the coast of Venezuela. The wayward Snark missile was found somewhere in North-Eastern Brazil,[8] in 1983.[9][10] Many of those connected with the program commented in jest "That the Caribbean was full of 'Snark infested waters'."[11]

Northrop SM-62 Snark 061218-F-1234P-002
Aerial photo showing the Snark's nose-up attitude in flight


Five Snark missiles survive in museum collections. They are located as follows:

See also

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Related lists



  1. ^ Northrop SM-62 Snark. National Museum of the United States Air Force. May 29, 2015.
  2. ^ Carroll and Gardner 1982, p. 97.
  3. ^ Carroll and Gardner 1982, pp. 14, 53.
  4. ^ "Video: Arctic Sentinels. Building Rushed on Radar Defense, 1956/04/09." Universal Newsreel, 1956. Retrieved: 20 February 2012.
  5. ^ Anderson, Fred (2016). Northrop: An Aeronautical History. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 132. ISBN 978-1-5326-0356-3.
  6. ^ Gibson 1996, p. 151.
  7. ^ "U.S. Air Force Fact Sheet: Development of the 45SW Eastern Rqnge." Archived 2012-02-06 at the Wayback Machine United States Air Force. Retrieved: 12 April 2012.
  8. ^ "Snark ignores Air Force 'orders'." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8 December 1956. Retrieved: 6 January 2013.
  9. ^ "Long-lost missile found." The Leader-Post, 15 January 1983. Retrieved: 6 January 2013.
  10. ^ "The Day They Lost the Snark" Air Force Magazine, December 2004. Retrieved: 17 August 2018.
  11. ^ Zaloga 1993, p. 193.
  12. ^ "Snark". Air Force Space & Missile Museum. Air Force Space and Missile Museum. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  13. ^ "Northrop SM-62 Snark". National Museum of the US Air Force. 29 May 2015. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  14. ^ "Missiles & Rockets". Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum. Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  15. ^ "Northrop XSM-62A Snark". Hill Air Force Base. 16 October 2008. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  16. ^ "Heritage Park". The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History. The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History. Retrieved 4 October 2017.


  • Carroll, Lewis and Martin Gardner. Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark: The Annotated Snark. London: William Kaufmann, 1982. ISBN 978-0-913232-36-1.
  • Gibson, James N. Nuclear Weapons of the United States: An Illustrated History. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1996. ISBN 0-7643-0063-6.
  • Zaloga, Steven J. "Chapter 5." Target America: The Soviet Union and the Strategic Arms Race, 1945–1964. New York: Presidio Press, 1993. ISBN 0-89141-400-2.

External links

352nd Special Operations Wing

The 352nd Special Operations Wing is an operational unit of the United States Air Force Special Operations Command currently stationed at RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom. The unit's heritage dates back to 1944 as an air commando unit.The 352nd Wing serves as the focal point for all U.S. Air Force special operations activities throughout the European theater for U.S. European Command (USEUCOM), as well as Africa for U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) and Southwest Asia and the Middle East for U.S. Central Command. The wing is prepared to conduct a variety of high priority, low-visibility missions supporting U.S. and allied special operations forces during peacetime, joint operations exercises, and combat operations. It trains and performs special operations primarily in the USEUCOM and USAFRICOM area of operations, including establishing air assault landing zones, controlling close air support by strike aircraft and gunships, and providing trauma care for wounded and injured personnel.

The group's origins date to 1944 as the 2nd Air Commando Group. The unit was assigned to Tenth Air Force in India, whose elements operated in Burma flying a mixture of fighters, bombers, transports, military gliders and small planes performing operations behind the Japanese lines, and providing close air support for the British Fourteenth Army in the Burma Campaign.

550th Guided Missiles Wing

The 550th Guided Missiles Wing is an inactive United States Air Force unit. It was last assigned to the Long Range Proving Ground Division at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. It was inactivated on 30 December 1950. From 1949 through 1950 it was the Air Force's only experimental missile unit.

556th Strategic Missile Squadron

The 556th Strategic Missile Squadron (551 SMS) is an inactive United States Air Force unit. It was last assigned to the 820th Strategic Aerospace Division, stationed at Plattsburgh AFB, New York.

The 556 SMS was equipped with the SM-65F Atlas Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), with a mission of nuclear deterrence. It was the only ICBM squadron east of the Mississippi River. The squadron was inactivated as part of the phaseout of the Atlas ICBM on 25 June 1965.


Boojum may refer to:

A fictional animal species in Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem The Hunting of the Snark; a particularly dangerous kind of snark

Jud Wilson (Jud "Boojum" Wilson), American baseball player

Boojum (superfluidity), a phenomenon in physics associated with superfluid helium-3

Boojum tree or cirio of the Baja California peninsula in Mexico

SSM-A-5 Boojum, a planned, but never completed, supersonic version of the SM-62 Snark, an intercontinental cruise missile


The Burya ("Storm" in Russian; Russian: Буря) was a supersonic, intercontinental cruise missile, developed by the Lavochkin design bureau (chief designer Naum Semyonovich Chernyakov) under designation La-350 from 1954 until the program cancellation in February 1960. The request for proposal issued by the Soviet government in 1954, called for a cruise missile capable of delivering a nuclear payload to the United States. Analogous developments in the United States were the SM-62 Snark and SM-64 Navaho cruise missiles, particularly the latter, which used parallel technology and had similar performance goals.

Cruise missile

A cruise missile is a guided missile used against terrestrial targets, that remains in the atmosphere and flies the major portion of its flight path at approximately constant speed. Cruise missiles are designed to deliver a large warhead over long distances with high precision. Modern cruise missiles are capable of travelling at supersonic or high subsonic speeds, are self-navigating, and are able to fly on a non-ballistic, extremely low-altitude trajectory.

Equipment of Strategic Air Command

Strategic Air Command equipment includes weapon systems and ordnance (e.g., strategic weapons such as ICBMs), ground radars and computers (e.g., at SSN 1979-82), and other Cold War devices of the USAF major command.

List of USAF Strategic Missile Wings assigned to Strategic Air Command

This is a list of the three generations of ICBMs produced and deployed by the United States during the Cold War, with a fourth generation ICBM being deployed in small numbers at the end of the Cold War in 1991.

Development of Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) technology as an outgrowth of the World War II V-2 rocket technology developed by Germany, and the mating of nuclear weapon technology developed by the United States created an entire new method of warfare. Due to their great range and firepower, in an all-out nuclear war, land-based ICBMs would carry most of the destructive force, with long-range, nuclear-armed bombers and Submarine-launched ballistic missiles carrying the remainder. These three components were collectivity referred to as the United States nuclear triad. The United States Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC) was the US military command and control organization for ICBMs and nuclear-armed bombers. Over a million men and women served in SAC, on daily alert 24 hours a day, with a mission to preserve the peace and deter any aggressor nation from attacking the United States and its allies.

Note: The PGM-17 Thor and PGM-19 Jupiter Medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBM), or the SM-62 Snark intercontinental cruise missile developed by the US Air Force in the 1950s are not included on this list.

List of United States Air Force missile squadrons

This article lists the missile squadrons of the United States Air Force. There are nine missile squadrons currently active in the United States (listed in bold type); all nine are equipped to operate intercontinental ballistic missiles.

List of nuclear weapons

This is a list of nuclear weapons listed according to country of origin, & then by type within the states.

Mark 15 nuclear bomb

The Mark 15 nuclear bomb, or Mk-15, was a 1950s American thermonuclear bomb, the first relatively lightweight (7,600 lb / 3450 kg) thermonuclear bomb created by the United States.

A total of 1,200 Mark 15 bombs were produced from 1955 to 1957. There were three production variants: Mod 1, Mod 2, and Mod 3. The design was in service from 1955 to 1965.

Mark 39 nuclear bomb

The Mark 39 nuclear bomb and W39 nuclear warhead were versions of an American thermonuclear weapon, which were in service from 1957 to 1966.

The Mark 39 design was a thermonuclear bomb (see Teller-Ulam design) and had a yield of 3.8 megatons. The design is an improved Mark 15 nuclear bomb design (the TX-15-X3 design and Mark 39 Mod 0 were the same design). The Mark 15 was the first lightweight US thermonuclear bomb.

The W39 warhead is 35 inches (89 cm) in diameter and 106 inches (270 cm) long, with a weight of 6,230 pounds (2,830 kg) to 6,400 pounds (2,900 kg). It was used on the SM-62 Snark missile, Redstone IRBM missile, and in the B-58 Hustler weapons pod.

Mark 4 nuclear bomb

The Mark 4 nuclear bomb was an American nuclear bomb design produced starting in 1949 and in use until 1953.

Northrop Corporation

Northrop Corporation was a leading United States aircraft manufacturer from its formation in 1939 until its 1994 merger with Grumman to form Northrop Grumman. The company is known for its development of the flying wing design, most successfully the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.

Presque Isle Air Force Base

Presque Isle Air Force Base was a military installation of the United States Air Force in Maine. In the late 1950s and early 1960s it became a base for Strategic Air Command.

The original airport was constructed in 1930 by the Civilian Conservation Corps as a commercial airport located 1.5 miles (2.4 km) west of the "business center". In 1941, the federal government appropriated the local airport, establishing Presque Isle Army Airfield for planes bound to and from Great Britain. It was activated as an Army Air Corps field on 15 September 1941. The main Army Air Force unit at Presque Isle was the 23d AAF Ferrying Wing, assigned to the Air Transport Command. It was closed after the war ended

The airfield was reactivated by the United States Air Force and redesignated Presque Isle Air Force Base on January 12, 1948, assigned to the Air Defense Command (ADC) Eastern Air Defense Force.

RSS-40 Buran

The Buran cruise missile, designation RSS-40, was a Soviet intercontinental cruise missile by Myasishchev capable of carrying a 3,500 kg hydrogen bomb payload. The project was canceled before flight tests began. It is unrelated to the later Buran reusable orbiter.

SSM-A-5 Boojum

The XSSM-A-5 Boojum, also known by the project number MX-775B, was a supersonic cruise missile developed by the Northrop Corporation for the United States Air Force in the late 1940s. Intended to deliver a nuclear warhead over intercontinental range, it was determined to be too ambitious a project given technical difficulties with the SM-62 Snark which it was to follow on from, and was canceled in 1951.

Snark (Lewis Carroll)

The snark is a fictional animal species created by Lewis Carroll in his nonsense poem The Hunting of the Snark. His descriptions of the creatures were, in his own words, unimaginable, and he wanted that to remain so.

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