Mighty Mouse rockets fell on downtown Palmdale CA


Stomper once wrote:

I heard of interesting ways to test weapons, but this one should have gotten an award!
Glad the Russian bombers never came.

Navy personnel at Point Mugu prepared an F6F-5K for its final mission. The aircraft had been painted overall high-visibility red. Red and yellow camera pods were mounted on the wingtips. Radio remote control systems were checked, and the Hellcat took off at 11:34 a.m., 16 August 1956, climbing out over the Pacific Ocean. As ground controllers attempted to maneuver the drone toward the target area, it became apparent that it was not responding to radio commands. They had a runaway.

Ahead of the unguided drone lay thousands of square miles of ocean into which it could crash. Instead, the old Hellcat made a graceful climbing turn to the southeast, toward the city of Los Angeles. With the threat of a runaway aircraft approaching a major metropolitan area, the Navy called for help.

Five miles north of NAS Point Mugu, two F-89D Scorpion twin-jet interceptors of the 437th Fighter Interceptor Squadron were scrambled from Oxnard Air Force Base. The crews were ordered to shoot down the rogue drone before it could cause any harm. Armed with wingtip-mounted rocket pods and no cannon, the Scorpion was typical of the Cold War approach to countering the "Red Menace." Each pod contained 52 Mighty Mouse 2.75-inch rockets. Salvo-launched, the Mighty Mouse did not have to have precision guidance. Large numbers of rockets would be fired into approaching Soviet bomber formations to overwhelm them with sheer numbers. Today, they would be used against a different kind of red menace.

At Oxnard AFB, 1Lt. Hans Einstein and his radar observer, 1Lt. C. D. Murray, leapt into their sleek F-89D. Simultaneously, 1Lt. Richard Hurliman and 1Lt. Walter Hale climbed into a second aircraft. The interceptors roared south after their target. The hunt was on.

The interceptors made their first attack run as the Hellcat crossed the mountains near Castaic. Murray and Hale set their intervalometers to "ripple fire" the rockets in three salvos. The first crew lined up their target and fired, missing their target completely. The second interceptor unleashed a salvo that passed just below the drone. Rockets blazed through the sky and then plunged earthward to spark brush fires seven miles north of Castaic. They decimated 150 acres above the old Ridge Route near Bouquet Canyon.

A second salvo from the two jets also missed the drone, raining rockets near the town of Newhall. One bounced across the ground, leaving a string of fires in its wake between the Oak of the Golden Dream Park and the Placerita Canyon oilfield. The fires ignited several oil sumps and burned 100 acres of brush. For a while the blazes raged out of control, threatening the nearby Bermite Powder Company explosives plant. The rockets also ignited a fire in the vicinity of Soledad Canyon, west of Mt. Gleason, burning over 350 acres of heavy brush.

The Scorpion crews readjusted their intervalometers and each fired a final salvo, expending their remaining rockets. Again, the obsolete, unpiloted, unguided, unarmed, propeller-driven drone evaded the state-of-the-art jet interceptors. In all, the jet crews fired 208 rockets without scoring a single hit.

The afternoon calm was shattered as Mighty Mouse rockets fell on downtown Palmdale. Edna Carlson was at home with her six-year-old son William when a chunk of shrapnel burst through her front window, bounced off the ceiling, pierced a wall, and finally came to rest in a pantry cupboard. Another fragment passed through J. R. Hingle's garage and home, nearly hitting Mrs. Lilly Willingham as she sat on the couch. A Leona Valley teenager, Larry Kempton, was driving west on Palmdale Boulevard with his mother in the passenger seat when a rocket exploded on the street in front of him. Fragments blew out his left front tire, and put numerous holes in the radiator, hood, windshield, and even the firewall. Miraculously, no one was injured by any of the falling rockets. Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams later recovered 13 duds in the vicinity of Palmdale. It took 500 firefighters two days to bring the brushfires under control.

Oblivious to the destruction in its wake, the drone passed over the town. Its engine sputtered and died as the fuel supply dwindled. The red Hellcat descended in a loose spiral toward an unpopulated patch of desert eight miles east of Palmdale Airport. Just before impact, the drone sliced through a set of three Southern California Edison power lines along an unpaved section of Avenue P. The camera pod on the airplane's right wingtip dug into the sand and the Hellcat cartwheeled and disintegrated. There was no fire.

The original Mk 4 FFAR was about 4 ft (1.2 m) long and weighed 18.5 lb (8.4 kg), with a high-explosive warhead of about 6 lb (2.7 kg). It had four fins that flipped out on launch to spin-stabilize the rocket. Its maximum effective range was about 3,700 yards (3,400 m). Because of its low intrinsic accuracy, it was generally fired in large volleys, some aircraft carrying as many as 104 rockets.

The Mighty Mouse was to prove a poor aerial weapon. Although it was powerful enough to destroy a bomber with a single hit, its accuracy was abysmal. Its spin rate was not high enough to compensate for the effects of wind and gravity drop, and the rockets dispersed widely on launch: a volley of 24 rockets would cover an area the size of a football field with enough holes for an enemy bomber to fly through.

As a result, by the late 1950s it had been largely abandoned as an aircraft weapon.