With 11 of 12 test flights successful, Vought proposed a bold move to illustrate the progress of Project Regulus — a demonstration of the basic Regulus I tactical mission, complete with the first boosted launch of the missile and a terminal dive to the target. The demonstration was dubbed Operation SPLASH.
All of the elements of Operation SPLASH came together on 31 January 1952. With 15- mile visibility and light variable westerly winds, it was a perfect day, at least at Pt. Mugu launch site. The weather at San Nicolas Island was poor with low scattered to broken clouds at 1000 feet. Begg Rock, the target point, was completely obscured.
FTV-3 had been chosen for Operation SPLASH several months earlier. It had already had seven successful flights and represented the success of the Regulus project to date. FTV-3 was modified by removing the landing gear and placing an additional fuel saddle tank above the intake duct. The parabrake was removed and an APN/33 radar beacon added to aid in tracking the missile. Terminal dive controller electronics were added; and for the first time, the lower vertical tail was attached (rolling takeoffs had precluded use of the fins before this operation).
The engine was started at noon. The Jet Assisted Takeoff (JATO) bottles ignited and proved to be perfectly aligned. FTV-3 climbed quickly away from the launcher with no discernible roll. Separation of slippers and boost bottles was flawless but the missile was nose high and in danger of stalling. ABLE commanded three to four degrees decreased pitch and the missile responded properly. Full engine power was commanded, and FTV-3 rapidly accelerated away from ABLE, as expected.
Control was passed from ABLE to the submerged submarine USS Cusk. Immediately the FTV-3 airspeed began to increase beyond the planned value for the automatic climb system. The controller aboard the Cusk turned off the autoclimb controller and re-established the correct rate of climb and airspeed. At the cruise altitude of 34,000 feet the airspeed had decreased to 205 knots. The Cusk leveled the flight path, and the airspeed quickly built up to 480 knots. Cusk engaged the altitude controller and the missile maintained its altitude for the cruise portion of the flight. FTV-3 reached and held Mach 0.85 while a companion USAF F-86 chase plane dove down from a higher altitude to verify the Mach reading and to visually inspect the missile. Throttle was then advanced to 100% and at Mach 0.9 the missile outran the F-86.
Shortly after reaching Mach 0.9, a steady stream of smoke replaced the intermittent puffs that were used as a tracking aid. This was a visual indication that the carrier signal to the missile had been lost. ABLE had only a few seconds to signal the emergency to the Cusk and transfer control to the airborne TV-2D before the missile destruct system would be automatically activated. The system was designed such that if a missile received signals from both controllers simultaneously, it would go into the destruct mode. Therefore one operator must switch off before the second operator switches on. Well-practiced procedures were followed and control was successfully transferred, averting destruct. The missile quickly outran ABLE and he reduced the throttle to 91% as the missile disappeared from sight, headed out to the seaward end of the test range.
The Cusk’s radar plot was inoperative but a Vought engineer on San Nicolas Island radar station had a solid return from the missile beacon and relayed the missile position to the airborne aircraft, allowing them to remain in contact with the missile. Three miles from the dump point ABLE engaged the dive controller which initiated the pre-programmed dive to impact. An F-86 pilot orbiting near the target area saw the beginning of the terminal dive and reported a smooth pushover with the wings level. At 15,000 feet the missile was in a vertical dive and at 3,000 feet disappeared in the overcast, impacting 25 minutes and 33 seconds after launch. There was a radar fix on the impact position as well as a dye marker in the nose of the missile. An observer boat located the dye stain approximately one mile from the target center.
Operation SPLASH was a complete success in its primary objectives of a boosted launch and the completion of a simulated tactical mission. FTV-3 had withstood “g” loads of -2g to +3g and remained intact until impact. The basic premises of a long-range tactical mission had been clearly demonstrated.
Technical problems that occurred during the flight were relatively minor and “cured” during the following week.
More Regulus I:
General Characteristics for an Interim Guided Missile