Jets and Moon Rockets: 1957-1970

The McDonnell Aircraft Corp. ... Traversing Upper Atmosphere

After World War II, McDonnell became a leading manufacturer of combat aircraft, including the record-breaking F-101 Voodoo and F-4 Phantom II fighters.

TheF-4 Phantom II was a supersonic jet designed to perform a wide range of fighter missions: first-line interceptor, fighter-bomber, escort and reconnaissance aircraft. It first flew May 27, 1958, and entered service in 1961. The Phantom set a speed record of 1,606 mph and an altitude record of 98,425 feet. In 1969, it was the only fighter to fly concurrently with both U.S. military aerobatics flight demonstration teams -- the Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy Blue Angels. The last of the St. Louis-built Phantoms was delivered in 1979. They saw combat in both the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm and served with the air forces of 11 countries, in addition to that of the United States.

McDonnell first entered rocket technology with a series of glide bombs known as Gargoyles, which appeared in 1944. In 1945, the company built the sleek Katydid missile and, in 1949, the Kingfisher anti-ship missile. The fourth McDonnell air-launched missile was the Quail (USAF designation GAM-72) in 1958. These refrigerator-sized missiles were carried by B-52s and drew enemy fire away from the target-bound bombers. In addition, McDonnell produced airframes and integrated ramjet engines for the U.S. Navy's Talos surface-to-air missile.

Missile projects included the experimental McDonnell Alpha Draco in 1959, for high-altitude research, and six aerodynamic/elastic structures environment test (ASSET) re-entry research vehicles to test advanced metals and materials in gliding flights up to 18 times the speed of sound. The vehicles were 5.7 feet long and used Douglas-built Thor or Thor-Delta boosters, which in turn, used engines built by North American's Rocketdyne division. The program was very successful and demonstrated that winged re-entry vehicles could traverse the upper atmosphere.

After the 1967 merger, Douglas Missiles & Space Systems Division became the McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Co. and the Huntington Beach, Calif., facility became the center for Delta launch vehicle manufacturing and the Manned Orbiting Laboratory project.

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