Convairiety, Volume 10, Number 14, Wednesday, July 10, 1957 Page: 3 of 8
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Wednesday, July 10, 1957
Colony at Desert Base Tests Missiles in Giant Stands
For two years now, Convair
personnel have been a part of a
unique missile test facility located
on the Mojave Desert. It prob-
ably is the most remote of all
the far flung facilities to which
Convair “colonies” are assigned.
Known as Rocket Engine Test
Laboratory, the facility is a part
of the Air Force Flight Test
Center at Edwards AFB in Cali-
fornia’s Antelope Valley. Located
on a ridge of granite hills, RETL
overlooks sun-baked Rogers Dry
Lake. Its battery of missile test
stands clings solidly to the sides
of sheer cliffs. Support buildings
are built into the hillsides, or on
nearby protected flats. Nearest
“civilization” is the hamlet of
Boron, 13 miles away.
The Air Force Flight Test
Center is one of 10 centers
operated by the Air Force’s Air
Research and Development
Command. Only “captive flight”
tests are accomplished at
RETL. Actual missile flights
are conducted at Patrick AFB,
Though designed, built and
operated by the government,
RETL is a research installation
for private contractors working
on missile programs for the Air
Force in cooperation with gov-
ernment scientists and engineers.
In this respect, Convair is one
of a number of companies using
The need for such a facility
as the RETL parallels the de-
velopment of missiles and rocket I DESERT BASE—This is Edwards Rocket Engine Test Laboratory,
silesUwere‘ tested lv"free''flight, °v*rlooki"S drY lake at Edwards AFB A "colony" of Convair
even though the flights ended in Astronaut'« personnel has been located here for two years. Top
destruction, making evaluation nSht IS model °f a typical test stand in which rocket engines are
difficult. As missiles grew in
complexity and cost, free flights
were no longer economically
feasible. RETL, first operated in
1951, was the answer.
Broadly, RETL tests include
research and development of
liquid rocket propulsion systems
as well as tests of component and
complete missile systems. The
latter include guidance and con-
trol systems, “compatibility” (the
ability of different systems to
operate without interference with
each other), and efficiency of
ground handling equipment. Once
a missile system has been de-
veloped, RETL personnel conduct
evaluation and “shakedown” tests.
Systems are installed in up-
right position in “static test
stands” and operated while har-
nessed to the stands. In the same
manner, rocket engines are
“fired.” Highly complicated in-
run, or systems tested. Note scooped out "flame deflector pit"
below. Top left and lower right, though not recent pictures, give
good idea of terrain. At lower left is control room scene where
instruments reflect progress of a test run.—USAF photos.
Here are some unclassified views of areas where Convair people work at
rocket laboratory, showing "M-A" building housing shop and offices. In center
are members of "staff" that directs Convair efforts. Included are W. F.
Miller, Convair base manager, Y. D. Naliboff, G. L. Austin, W. H. McNabb,
B. E. Schultz, R. L. Stanberry and J. B. Tunison. (Hard hats are mandatory
equipment in test area.)—USAF Photos.
or additions required.
Convair, like other contractors
at REHL, maintains a complete
working force including engi-
neers, maintenance, shop and ad-
strumentation records data on ministrative help,
performance for future study to In addition, the Air Force pro-
point out adjustments, changes vides service facilities.
★ ★ ★
Missiles Upright in Steel Tower
During Engine, Systems Testing
Static test stands are mas-
sive concrete and steel struc-
tures designed to “hold cap-
tive” rocket engines or com-
plete missile systems during
At Edwards Rocket Engine
Test Laboratory there are 10
stands, either in construction
or in use. Spotted along Leuh-
man Ridge, overlooking the
Mojave Desert, they seem to
Dominant feature of a typical
stand is the platform, securely
anchored to the hillside on one
end and suspended over space
at the other. A steel tower
crowns the outward end. It
holds missiles in an upright
position during engine runs.
The area below the missile
base is open, allowing exhausts
to escape into a flame deflector
pit which extends down the hill
like a giant spillway. Because
of tremendous heat generated
during runs, it is necessary to
cool exhausts with water
sprayed into the pit.
Immediately below the plat-
form of a typical stand, pro-
tected by thick walls, is an
area which includes a work
shop, power room and terminal
center for instrumentation.
Rocket fuels, oxidizers and
high pressure gas storage
areas are located behind the
Control during engine runs
or system testing is maintained
from a combination instru-
built into the hill overlooking
the platform with only a por-
tion of the upper floor above
ground. Instruments and work
areas are located on lower
floor with offices, control room
and observation room above.
Visual observation is pos-
sible through glass slits, closed
television circuits, or by peri-
scope. In addition to the main
observation room, several other
similar rooms are located on
three sides of the platform.
These rooms also contain
As an economy measure, it
is possible to control engine
runs on several static test
stands from one control room
simply by changing instru-
mentation lines between the
stand and control center.
New Construction Adds to Capacity
Of Convair s Fort Worth Facility
Construction and new equip-
ment costing about $7 million
will have been added to the na-
tion’s aircraft-producing capacity
at Convair Fort Worth by the end
of this year.
Plant engineering department
estimates show’ that the total of
such costs—since 1941—will then
be around $83 million, making
Convair Fort Worth one of the
nation’s most valuable aircraft-
Construction now under wray in-
cludes work on a million-gallon
water tank near the entrance to
Grant’s Lane, a pressure test
building in the northwrest yard
area, and a temperature-altitude
chamber south of the Experi-
Machinery now’ being added in-
cludes a huge drop hammer—
largest to be installed in Fort
Worth—and large, tape-operated
Cost of new machinery and
equipment show’s the biggest
jump in investment in the last
five years, according to L. E.
Whitten, assistant chief plant
engineer. The investment in this
area has almost doubled.
In 1952, machinery and equip-
ment was worth $15,825,885. The
investment now is $26,610,311.
The figures do not include special
test equipment and some tooling
Convair Fort Worth’s buildings
were valued at $38,323,565 in
1952. The investment now nears
Total enclosed area at the
plant, now 4,665,629 square feet,
is expected to increase to more
than 4,750,000 square feet during
HEAVY WORK—Contractor's crew uses compressed air jacks to
inch into place a portion of a huge new drop hammer being
installed at Convair Fort Worth. The hammer, largest ever used
in Fort Worth, will sit over a solid 20-foot-square block of concrete.
Convair has added another off-
site location in San Diego—second
floor of the Industrial Arts Bldg.,
3105 Falcon St., which is just off
Occupancy of the 3,500 square
feet of space by part of the air-
craft change section of engineer-
ing, located at the Accounting
Corp. of America on First Ave-
nue, was completed June 24.
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General Dynamics Corporation. Convair Division. Convairiety, Volume 10, Number 14, Wednesday, July 10, 1957, periodical, July 10, 1957; Fort Worth, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth777443/m1/3/: accessed March 20, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, Fort Worth.