Special Reports

The first public tour of Hanford's missile battery in 1959

During the Cold War a Tri-City Herald reporter and photographer were invited to join the first public tour of Camp Hanford's missile site in 1959. Here's the story and a few photographs.

Nike-Hercules said best anti-aircraft missile yet

By Barrie Hartman

Herald staff writer

Published on June 28, 1959


You’re traveling along at 55-miles-per-hour — the maximum allowed speed for Army vehicles — and the view is typical of much of Eastern Washington.

Sagebrush and hills flank you on all sides. The only thing that breaks the monotony is an occasional sign warning those concerned that security is the best policy.

You're one of 62 civilians en-route to tour Battery A of the 1st Missile Battalion at Camp Hanford. Here the Army, for the first time, is drawing its curtains of secrecy to show the public its latest anti-aircraft missile development -- The Nike Hercules.

You have been informed that this missile is the best in the world today and will knock the fastest enemy aircraft out of the sky. And it's all done through radar and the miracle of electronics.

It's 34 miles and one ferry crossing to Battery A Headquarters. Photographers have been briefed and reminded several times that all picture shooting must be toward the north -- against the background of a hill -- rather than southeastward which may show some of the geographical outline of the Hanford Works.

Pictures are even denied aboard the ferry because of possibilities of showing the river.

However the Army displayed warm courtesy to its guests. All questions are answered as deeply as the Army book would allow and the tour was set up with no lag moments -- everybody is moving all the time.

First stop, after a quick lunch and a briefing by Col. E.J. Ingmire, commander of the 5th artillery group, is at the IFC -- Integrated Fire Command.

Here is the sparkplug of the whole missile network of Battery A.

Three radar networks -- an acquisition radar, which searches the skies for hostile aircraft; a target tracing radar, which follows the pinpointed hostile aircraft regardless of its change of azimuth or elevation; and the missile tracking radar, which follows the missile through flight -- is on alert 24 hours a day.

Once the target is pinpointed by the target tracking radar, the Army explains, it sends the location to the computer. From this the computer determines the direction and speed of the target.

The firing of the missile is done from this IFC post -- some eight miles by road from the launching area or three miles by the way the crow flies -- approximately a 2,000-ft. drop in elevation.

When touring the launching area, all were told to give their matches and cigarette lighters to the bus driver. Instructions were also given to walk single-file through the gate so the guard could get an accurate count -- to make sure the same number came back out.

Here a dry run is made. The IFC blares a siren sounding the alert of an unidentified plane. Immediately two Ajax missiles, now the "Tiny Tim" of the field, are elevated into position.

Then a big elevator shaft door opens and up from the ground -- actually a huge underground storage area -- pops up the tremendous Hercules Missile into firing position. With the push of the button from IFC all three of these missiles can be blasted off at once.

The 3,000-pound, $60,000 Hercules Missile, has knocked down planes in test runs traveling over 2,000-miles-per-hour.

However, the Army tells us, like the Ajax the Hercules may be second best very soon. A new missile -- the Zeus -- is now being developed which is designed to be the best yet.

The Army also shows its guests through barracks and headquarters, attempting to show how the men live far out in this isolated region who have the job of protecting Camp Hanford from enemy attack.

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