A Brief History of White Sands Proving Ground, 1941-1965

After Korea and the Death of Stalin


On August 14, five months after the death of Josef Stalin and less than one month after the Korean Armistice was signed, the Soviet Union tested its first hydrogen bomb. Local research and logistic support for the WSPG expanded. Texas Western College (later the University of Texas at El Paso) founded the Schellenger Research Laboratories (SRL) and gradually began to undertake research and development contracts for the Army Signal Corps, OCO, and other military organizations. Sometime during the late 1950s, SRL developed the SOTIM (Sonic Observation of Trajectories and Impacts of Missiles) System for WSPG, an array of sensitive, ground-positioned microphones capable of precisely triangulating impact sites to supplement radar-tracking systems.

In April, Lt. Col. John Paul Stapp was reassigned to Holloman from Edwards AFB to undertake a new test program on the Biophysics of Abrupt Deceleration, the first of several innovative AeroMedical programs concerned with the problems of aircraft escape and bailout from high-speed aircraft, which provided the basis for the new field of space medicine.

The Desert Navy at WSPG completed the L.L.S.–1 U.S.S. Desert Ship in June. The Desert Ship’s concrete-blockhouse complex provided assembly and launch facilities simulating shipboard conditions.

On June 13, the Hermes A–3 series, larger and more powerful than the Wasserfall-based A–1 (a modified V–2 Hermes B–1), reached the testing stage with the first successful Hermes A–3A launch. The following month, WSPG officially assumed maintenance and operation responsibility for all instrumentation within the integrated range. In October, the Office of the Adjutant General, Fourth Army, finally clarified the WSPG-Fort Bliss boundary by.

In December, the Nike-Ajax was deployed around Washington D.C., becoming the first guided SAM defense system in the world. Within four years, more than 16,000 rounds had been produced. By 1957, Ajax had been deployed throughout the United States and in Europe and Asia.

The USS Desert Ship, a Navy ship mockup, used for testing ship-launched rockets and missiles.
A line of Nike-Ajax missiles with one raised vertically for launch.

In 1954, WSPG began a survey of potential range extensions that finally led to the addition of the FIX (Firing-in-Extension) in 1960, to the north of the existing range. It also investigated test-flight corridors for Matador and Redstone, from WSPG into British Columbia and Alaska, with ranges of 1,500 and 2,000 nautical miles, respectively. In May, the Navy Viking No. 11, launched from the new Desert Ship facilities, set another single-stage altitude record of 158 miles, and the Army Hermes A–3B flew for the first time under radar guidance. Testing at White Sands had grown from a total of 14 launches in 1945 to 656 in 1954, supporting 11 separate programs, including Aerobee, Corporal, Dart, Hermes, Honest John, Lacrosse, Nike, Papa John, Pogo–Hi, Talos, and Viking. The nearby Air Force Aero-Medical Laboratory High Speed Test Track programs also expanded and, on March 19, Lt. Col. Stapp rode the first human rocket-sled test into history, reaching a top speed of 615 feet per second and enduring a peak deceleration of 22G (gravities).

A massive Redstone rocket ascending from its launch pad at WSPG.
Lacrosse taking off from its transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) truck.

10 thoughts on “A Brief History of White Sands Proving Ground, 1941-1965

  1. Having been stationed at Stallion site Jan. 1962 until Sept. 1963, I found this article extremely interesting as well as educational. Thank you authors for a fine job.

  2. Thank you for this information. My dad served his duties here and I was able to see what he was involved in. He passed many years ago and I did not get an opportunity to share with him. Thanks Joe Hubbard

  3. in the late 40,s 1946-47 my dad was a paratrooper in training on the east coast in the 101 airborne, preparing for a 2 nd invasion, should the first one have failed. due to a training accident, he was transfered to white sands missle range in about 1946 where he was a mechanic on the V-2 rockets, Unfortunately we have no pictures of my dad while there due to the secrurity concerns, He did recall to me the German scientists who arrived on base, also recalled the V-2 that went off couse and landed in Mexico, and finally he like to tell about the adventures he had chasing down V-2 s for recovery of the debris using a tank as pursuing vehicle.

    It would be wonerful to hear from any on who might have known my Dad and worked with him, He passed away in El Paso, over 45 years ago. We miss him so much, and we are so proud of him.

    Tom Warner

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