Bomarc Missile – The First Long Range Surface-to-Air Missile

The Boeing Bomarc was the world’s first long-range surface to air missile and despite its shortcomings remain in service for a decade. It was an extremely ambitious project and is a Cold War weapon that few today are familiar with.

In the late 1940s, Boeing began work on a surface to air missile – then described as a ‘pilotless interceptor’. The project was code-named MX-1599 and the Michigan Aerospace Research Center (MARC) joined Boeing to work on the programme.

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Boeing BOMARC at Hill Aerospace Museum (Matthew Moss)

The MX-1599 was to be a long-range supersonic nuclear-tipped surface to air missile (or SAM), detonated by a proximity fuse. The missile went through a number of official designations as it was developed during the 1950s – finally becoming known as the Bomarc – an acronym of Boeing and Michigan Aerospace Research Center.

The Bomarc was launched vertically using rocket boosters, before its main ramjet engines took over, enabling it to cruise at Mach 2.5 (approx. 1,920 mph). The initial Bomarc A had a range of 200 miles with an operational ceiling of 60,000 feet.

It was ground controlled using NORAD’s Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system until it neared its target, when an onboard radar, a Westinghouse AN/DPN-34 radar, took over.

The Bomarc could be tipped with either a 1,000 lb conventional high explosive or low yield W40 nuclear warhead. These were detonated by a radar proximity fuse. The W40 had a yield of up to 10 kilotons, able to destroy entire formations of aircraft.

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BOMARC Site No. 1 at McGuire Air Force Base (USAF)

The missile had a wingspan of just over 18 feet or 5.5metres, it was 45 feet or 13.7 metres in length and weighed approximately 16,000 lbs (7257 kg) on launch. The Bomarc’s first flight took place on 24th February, 1955.

The USAF intended to use the missile to engage incoming Soviet bomber formations and ICBMs. Originally planning for over 50 Bomarc launch sites, but only one was operational by 1959 and only eight were operational by the early 1960s. The upgraded Bomarc B was developed in the early 1960s, with an improved radar, a Westinghouse AN/DPN-53, and a greater maximum range of 430 miles, as well as a higher operational ceiling of 100,000 feet.

The Bomarc was stored horizontally in specially built semi-hardened bunkers and kept fuelled and ready to launch at a moment’s notice. When targets were detected the missile would be raised and launched vertically.

One of the dangers of keeping the missiles fuelled became clear in June 1960, when a nuclear-armed Bomarc A caught fire exploding the onboard tank and contaminated part of McGuire Air Force Base with melted plutonium. Despite this the missiles remained operational for over a decade with the first sites being deactivated in 1969 with the last stood down in 1972.

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BOMARC launching (USAF)

While the Bomarc missiles were the world’s first operational long-range anti-aircraft missile they were too slow to achieve operational readiness to keep pace with the rapidly changing nuclear threat – as both superpowers transitioned from bomber to ICBM-focused strategies. They were expensive to manufacture and difficult to maintain at readiness. In the late 1950s the Bomarc also embroiled in a war of words with the US Army arguing their short range Nike Hercules (SAM-A-25/MIM-14) missile was more effective. The Hercules remained in service through to the 1980s, albeit as a air defence missile – rather than targeting soviet ICBMs or bomber aircraft.

The Bomarc was an ambitious project when it began in the late 40s, but with technology and cold war nuclear strategy rapidly evolving the Bomarc was almost obsolete before it became operational. A total of 570 Bomarc missiles were built between 1957 and 1964 with the US and Canada (which led to considerable political controversy) being the only countries to deploy them.

I hope you guys enjoyed this look at the Bomarc, we’ll have a few more videos on missiles in the future.

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Specifications:

Wingspan: 18 feet 2 inches
Diameter: 35 inches
Length: 45 feet
Approx. takeoff weight: 16,000 pounds
Top speed: Mach 2.5
Range: 400 miles (IM-99B)
Ceiling: 100,000 feet
Power: 50,000-pound-thrust solid-fuel rocket (takeoff); two 12,000-pound-thrust Marquardt ramjet engines (cruise)
Armament: 1,000 lb conventional or 10 kiloton W40 nuclear warhead

Bibliography

IM-99A/B BOMARC Missile, Boeing, (source)
Nuclear Weapons of the United States: An Illustrated History, J.N. Gibson, (1996)
Nike Historical Society (source)
Supersonic Guardian, Boeing film, c.1960 (source)

The Bomarc featured in the video is part of the Hill Aerospace Museum’s collection.

Browning Prototypes – Detachable Box Magazine Lever Action Rifle

The rifle we’re examining is one of dozens of designs sold by the Brownings to the Winchesters Repeating Arms Company during their long relationship. This design dates from the early 1890s and represents one of Browning’s numerous attempts to move away from the tube magazine-fed designs favoured by Winchester.

The prototype is based around the lever-actuated vertically sliding locking block patented by Browning in May 1884 and first used by Winchester in the Model 1886. The rifle itself is in the ‘military musket’ configuration with full-length handguards, military sights, a cleaning rod and able to mount a bayonet.

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Right side of the rifle (Matthew Moss)

The rifle is chambered in a .45 calibre cartridge, likely .45-70, and weighs just over 9lbs. Browning patented the design of the rifle and magazine in August 1891, with the patent being granted in December (US #465339). It is attributed to John Moses Browning and his younger brother Matthew S. Browning.

The most interesting feature of the rifle is its detachable box magazine. The magazine is held in place by a spring-loaded catch at the front of the magazine which locks against a tab in the magazine’s wall.

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A close up of the magazine well, note the added metal lip of the front of the well, not a part of the receiver (Matthew Moss)

It differs from the box magazines previously developed by James Paris Lee, which Lee begun developing in the mid-1870s (see examples listed below). It’s a simple design with a follower powered by a coil spring. The prototype mag itself is made from pressed metal and is held together with some rough welds. Unlike the magazines we’re familiar with today, the top of the Browning’s magazine is almost entirely enclosed with only a small opening at the rear. The rounds would be loaded nose-first with their rims sliding into the channel at the rear of the magazine.

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Close up of the magazine removed from the rifle – right side (Matthew Moss)
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A view of the top of the magazine with the small opening and notch for the cartridge rime visible (Matthew Moss)

The single-stack magazine appears to hold around five rounds, with Browning’s patent supporting this. The position of the magazine, in front of the action – not below it, is a hint at how it worked. An almost fully enclosed magazine does have its advantages – it would have prevented dirt from entering the mag and it also overcame the need for feed lips which were susceptible to damage, one of the elements which took Lee some time to perfect.

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A close up of the front wall of the magazine, note the locking notch (Matthew Moss)

So How Did The Magazine Work?

There is a shoulder on the underside of the bolt which caught the rim of the cartridge which was protruding from the magazine. The bolt pulled the cartridge backwards, out of the magazine and onto a cartridge lifter. As the lever reached its full forward travel the lifter then elevated the round up into line with the breech. When the lever was cycled back again the round was pushed off the lifter and chambered, just as in a normal tube-fed Winchester. As the lever reached the end of its return travel the locking block rose to locked the action.

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The Browning’s 1891 patent for the magazine, note ‘h‘ is the shoulder which pulled rounds out of the magazine (US Patent Office)

The prototype has a sliding safety bar that locks the lever and blocks the trigger. The trigger differs from the Model 1886 as it is integrated with the lever. In the photograph below we can see the locking block descended, with the lever forward, and the breech block to the rear with the action open. We can also see the striker assembly at the rear of the bolt. The striker cocks on closing when the lever is returned rearward.

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The rifle with its action open, bolt o the rear and lever forward. Note the striker assembly at the rear of the bolt (Matthew Moss)

It’s quite an exposed action, with the entire top of the action open. With the action closed in the photograph below we can see the extractor running along the right side of the bolt.

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A close up of the rifle’s receiver which is still ‘in the white’ (Matthew Moss)

It’s clear from the design of the magazine that Browning didn’t intend the rifle to be reloaded with stripper clips, although single loading of the rifle itself (not the magazine) would have been possible. When compared to other contemporary system this would have been somewhat of a disadvantage compared to Lee’s magazine’s later loading with chargers and stripper clips. However, from examination of Browning’s 1891 patent his intention becomes clear, the patent explains that he intended for the magazine itself to be replaced:

“One magazine may be readily removed from the gun and another introduced in its place, so that the person, using the arm may have at hand several magazines to be interchanged as the cartridges from one magazine are exhausted.”

This is a concept that wouldn’t be accepted by militaries for decades. Winchester purchased the rights to the design but this was one of many designs Browning sold the company which never saw production. The design and prototype are fascinating and represent one of Browning’s lesser-known concepts.

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Left side profile of the rifle (Matthew Moss)

This rifle is a unique prototype and it was a true honour to examine it. It’s now on display at the newly refurbished Cody Firearms Museum, at the Buffalo Bill Centre of the West. The new museum is phenomenal and well worth a visit. Our thanks to the museum for allowing us to film items, like this one, from the museum’s collection.

If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great new perks available for Patreon Supporters.


Bibliography:

‘Magazine Gun’ J.M. & M.S. Browning, US Patent #465339, 15 Dec. 1891 (source)

John M Browning: American Gunmaker, J. Browning & C. Gentry (1964)

Some of James Paris Lee’s magazine patents, for comparison:

‘Improvement in Magazine Fire-arms’, J.P. Lee, US Patent #221328, 4 Nov. 1879 (source)

‘Magazine For Fire Arms’, J.P. Lee & L.P. Diss, US Patent #295563, 25 Mar. 1884 (source)

‘Magazine Fire Arm’, J.P. Lee, US Patent #383363, 22 May, 1888 (source)

‘Gun Magazine’, J.P. Lee, US Patent #627824, 27 Jun. 1899 (source)

Matt on Forgotten Weapons!

Last month while Matt was visiting the Cody Firearms Museum for their Arsenals of History Symposium he had the pleasure of meeting lots of great people from the historic firearms world. One person he met was none other than Ian of Forgotten Weapons.

Ian was kind enough to suggest doing an interview to share and highlight our work here at TAB with his subscribers. Matt discussed the idea behind TAB and some of the things that we cover.

We very much appreciate Ian’s support of our project and opportunity to chat on camera abiht our work. Thanks Ian!

Live Fire: Shooting the M1917 at 700 Yards

A month ago I posted a short video from a range trip shooting the Remington M1917 at about 100m, getting a feel for the rifle and checking zero. I said in that video that I was planning on stretching the M1917s legs in the near future and last week I got the chance. I had the opportunity to shoot the rifle out to 700 yards (640m) which was a lot of fun.

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The view down range from the firing point (Matthew Moss)

With some 147gr S&B I managed a half decent score only missing twice out of 20 rounds. I’ve never shot out to 700 yards especially not with iron sights so it was a fun challenge, amazingly my last round was a bull, which was a real bonus!

If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great new perks available for Patreon Supporters.

Webley-Bentley Percussion Revolver

During a recent visit to my local gun shop, I was having a look through one of their cabinets when I spotted something interesting. A Webley-Bentley Revolver from the mid-1850s.

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Right side of the revolver (Matthew Moss)

The Webley-Bentley was a double-action only, or as it was then known ‘self-cocking’, percussion revolver and a contemporary of the Adams revolver. Based on lock-work designed by Joseph Bentley the revolver was offered in a series of calibres. The Webley-Bentley was introduced in the mid-1850s and continued to be produced into the 1860s. This particular pistol was sold by R. Jones of Liverpool – remarkably the gun has stayed local for 160 years.

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You can just make out the faint remains of the merchant’s mark – ‘R. Jones Liverpool’ (Matthew Moss)

The pistol is a .36 calibre open-top revolver, with a 5-shot percussion cylinder and a hexagonal barrel. On the left side of the pistol is a James Kerr-style rammer for loading. It’s hammer is spurless and the action is double action only. The revolvers also came in larger calibres like .40 and .45.

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Left side of the revolver (note the rammer and spring catch) (Matthew Moss)

The overall condition of the revolver wasn’t great, but it had that worn patina of a gun that’s seen some use, which is a charm in itself. The cylinder pawl was a little worn and the timing was a little off, but it still worked and the main spring was strong. On the left side of the revolver is a flat spring catch, held to the frame by a screw, that enables the hammer to be set at half cock, for loading. In this example the post that interfaces with the hammer has long since worn. 

Of course Webley have since become best known for their line of top break, centre-fire revolvers which were used extensively by the British Army but it was interesting to get a look at one of their earlier pistols.

If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here.


Bibliography:

Webley Revolvers, G. Bruce & C. Reinhart (1988)

The Webley Story, W.C. Dowell, (1962)

‘Improvements Aplicable to Fire-Arms’, J. Bentley, UK Patent #960, (04/12/1852)

Car vs Train (1919)

Following on from last week’s episode on massive US Railway Guns, I thought we’d stay with the railroad/railway theme but stepping away from our figurative Armourer’s Bench for a moment to appreciate some really incredible contemporary footage.

While I was doing research for our earlier video on the M1918 Ford Light Tank, I came across this amazing footage filmed by the Ford Motor Company in 1919. It shows what appears to be a Ford Model T Touring car being hit by a train. The result, as expected, is carnage.

The footage, which is clearly staged, was filmed for a traffic safety film by Ford in 1919. While the scenario might be staged, the results certainly are not.

If you enjoyed the video and this article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great new perks available for Patreon Supporters.


Bibliography:

Traffic Safety and Ford Automobiles, US National Archives, (source)

US Military Railway Guns In Action

While doing some research in the US National Archives’ online catalogue I came across a very interesting video composed of footage from a couple of US Army Ordnance demonstrations so I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about some very big guns.
Railway guns emerged during the late 19th century as a way of moving massive, large calibre guns which had a reach far beyond that of field artillery. Before aircraft were able to effectively attack behind enemy lines railways allowed armies to bring huge guns within range and harass their enemies lines of communication and supply.
This footage comes from Ordnance demonstrations at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in the early 1920s.

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16in Coastal Gun (US National Archives)

First up we have a US-built copy of the French 305mm Canon de 305 modèle 1893/96 à glissement, which according the original footage notes, was a 10in sliding mount for a gun firing a 150lb projectile. I also found some contemporary images of the gun being built at the US Watertown Arsenal, in Massachusetts, which describes it as the Model 1919. It may be the only example built by the US, Schneider built 8 of these guns for France during the war.  When the gun fires we can see the whole gun and carriage recoil back a meter or so. Guns on sliding mounts cant be traversed and have to be aimed with specially laid track.

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M1895 12in Coastal Gun in a ‘disappearing#’ mount (US National Archives)

Next we have a 12 inch M1895 gun, mounted on a M1918 railway carriage which was based on the French Batignolles mount, with 360-degree traverse. Originally designed as a coastal defence gun, here’s a photograph taken in 1918 of the gun firing from a disappearing mount.
The M1895 had long been used as a coastal defence gun, and with US entry into the war surplus or unnecessary coastal guns were remounted as railway guns. The railway mounted M1895s had a large recuperator to mitigate the gun’s recoil. 12 were mounted, however, none reached France before the end of the war. We also get a nice shot of the shell hitting its target in the distance.

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A 14in Railway Gun in Bassens, France c.1919 (US National Archives)

The 14 inch railway guns were the only big US guns to see action during WW1. Taking spare US Navy 14in naval guns, the 14″/50 caliber Mk 4 gun, which had been mounted in the New Mexico and Tennessee-class battleships, and mounting them in a carriage built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works. Once in position the guns had to have a recoil pit dug out beneath the carriage to allow space for the gun to recoil when it was at high elevation. They had a range of up to 25 miles.
Five Mk1 guns made it to France operating as single gun batteries manned by US Navy Sailors. The guns fired a total of 782 shells during the war, with Battery 4 firing its last shell at 10:57:30 a.m. on 11 November 1918.

Unlike the MkI guns that made it to France in this footage we see the gun without an armoured gun house, with the gunners working the gun in the open.

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An M1919 16in Coastal Gun in a Barbette mount (US National Archives)

Finally, we have the truly massive 16 inch M1919 coastal gun . Designed for the Army Coast Artillery Corps to defend the US’ major coastal ports the 16-inch gun could throw a 2,340 lb shell up to 28 miles. In this footage we can see the gun mounted on an M1919 barbette carriage which could be elevated up to 65-degrees.
This second piece of footage dates from between 1929 and 1931, with dozens of West Point cadets gathered eagerly to see the gun in action.

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Bibliography:

Demonstration of Ordnance Materiel at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, 1920-1926 (source)

Railway Artillery: A Report on the Characteristics, Scope of Utility, Etc., of Railway Artillery, Vo.1, H.W. Miller & US Ordnance Dept. (1921) (source)

Railway Artillery: A Report on the Characteristics, Scope of Utility, Etc., of Railway Artillery Vol.2, H.W. Miller & US Ordnance Dept. (1922) (source)

The United States Naval Railway Batteries in France, E. Breck (1922) (source)