First Minuteman motor test of year like 'clockwork'

AEDC outside machinist J. R. Dunham prepares a Minuteman Stage III motor before testing in J-6 in 2003. Operators fired the randomly selected motor at a simulated altitude of 100,000 feet to qualify the motor’s production lot. The test confirmed contaminants in the propellant did not impact motor performance.

AEDC outside machinist J. R. Dunham prepares a Minuteman Stage III motor before testing in J-6 in 2003. Operators fired the randomly selected motor at a simulated altitude of 100,000 feet to qualify the motor’s production lot. The test confirmed contaminants in the propellant did not impact motor performance.

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- Center workers successfully completed the first of eight scheduled Minuteman motor tests Jan. 24 in the J-6 Large Rocket Motor Test Facility this year.

2007 is shaping up to be one of the busiest test years ever in J-6 with approximately $2.1 million worth of Minuteman testing, said Project Engineer 1st Lt. Patrick Roberts.

According to Col. Robert Shofner, commander of the 526th Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Wing at Hill AFB, Utah, the heavy test load is significant in terms of acquiring reliable data and for gauging the reliability of the motors, especially since Minuteman test flights are limited.

"We only get to launch three times a year out of Vandenberg AFB, to test the actual viability in flight test so the more tests we have here at AEDC will better our predictability and will better the precision of our analysis," he said.
Colonel Shofner observed the first firing from the J-6 control room during his first visit to the center.

"It went like clockwork, which is what we hope for in ICBMs," he said. "It was very predictable, which is attributed to the way they do business here at AEDC."

Since active Minuteman missile boosters are presently being replaced, this test helps validate new production replacement program boosters in the field today, he said.

"We need to know, as those come off the line, that they are reliable. This test tells us that," the colonel said.
The test also helps determine the "long-term health" of the booster and nozzle, he said.

Exemplary of the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) mission to deliver war-winning expeditionary capabilities to the warfighter, the information allows the colonel to confidently tell the warfighting customer the weapon system will work if needed.

In this case, he's sending that message to the Marine four-star general commanding U.S. Strategic Command, which manages the nation's ballistic nuclear fleet.

"General Cartwright has to know that if the president says, 'let's use this weapon system,' that it's going to go," Colonel Shofner said.

AFMC's credibility is in its ability to predict the reliability of a weapon system in a reliable way, he said.
"General (Kevin) Chilton, the commander of Air Force Space Command, said, 'Air Force Space Command is juggling a lot of balls,'" said Colonel Shofner. "He says one of those is crystal, and we can't drop it. It's nuclear deterrence.

"Obviously what we're seeing here at AEDC is part of that crystal ball."