My long term project . . . .
As commemorations of the early space race era’s scientific history, I am planning to incorporate two rocket nose cones into future sculpture. I acquired a small nose cone that originally belonged to the University of Denver. I have not learned much about its history but know that U. of D. was doing plenty of upper atmospheric research during 1940’s and 50’s. My second and most interesting find is an Aerobee that I purchased via eBay and had shipped to my workplace. (Boy, did that generate alarm!)


It is possible that my Aerobee is one of the first 20 manufactured. I purchased it from a person who lives in the vicinity of John’s Hopkins Univ. —where the rocket was initially developed for sounding experiments by their Applied Physics Laboratory. They made fifteen. Another five went to the Naval Research Laboratory and the Air Force used them as well. Experiments conducted with Aerobees from 1948-1952 included studies in cosmic, and solar radiation, pressure, temperature, magnetic field, and photography. Interesting right? The History Detectives thought so too which has invigorated my research efforts. I made it to the final round of the vetting before filming after submitting the story to the Detectives website. I hope to find someone who can tell me if my cone has been used/ flown by examining photos of it’s surface patina.
My nose cone matches this dimensional drawing. Note the two unpainted spots near the base of the nose cone on the left and right. Could these be the unpainted attachment points for the fairing prior to attachment?
Aerojet correspondence from Dan Meyer, Chief Engineer Atlas V SRB, Aerojet Sacramento via The History Detectives, PBS:
“One interesting item that we noted which makes it possible that your nose cone came from JHU APL is the photograph of one of the JHU APL nose cones from the original 1947-48 development test series that has the same type of axial stripe painted down the length of the nose cone (see Figure 94, Page 139). These stripes were probably used by the tracking cameras to determine the roll rate of the vehicle in flight.”


“… To the best of my knowledge there were a total of 21 Aerobee flights for APL, the last of which was February 6, 1951.  The first 15 of these were actually RTV-N-8 versions, manufactured in the initial contract order of 20, where APL got 15 and NRL got 5.  The latter 6 APL Aerobees were the RTV-N-10 version, which was said to be identical to the -8 version except it used helium for pressurization instead of air…a change that should obviously not be visible in drawings or photos.”

“. . . We have good reason to believe that by the time the Air Force version designated RTV-A-1a was flying in late 1951, that it had the cable fairing covers on the nose.  This is an unusual configuration, and was only used on a few models. The restored RTV-A-1c in the Alamogordo museum that Dan refers to shows them clearly, whereas the other Aerobees in that museum, in the WSMR missile park, the Smithsonian, etc. all have the usual configuration where the cable fairings terminate on the forward skirt cylinder below the nose.  We don’t have any clear technical rationale for why some were one way and some were the other.”

“. . . All the drawings and photos of the RTV-N-8 version that we have show the “usual” configuration with the fairing covers on the cylinder rather than the nose, and it is reasonable to assume that since the first 15 made for APL were a brand-new design and were all manufactured in one batch that they were all of the same configuration.  We don’t know this for certain, though.”

“. . . Of the 21 APL flights, 16 were conducted at WSMR, and 5 from the USS Norton Sound, 2 in the North Pacific and 3 in the South Atlantic.  It is conceivable that hardware from any of these flights could have been recovered in relatively good condition, because, as Dan pointed out, the terrain around WSMR and Holloman has a lot of soft sand, and the expended Aerobees are light enough to float if they land in the ocean.  Physical evidence on the nose in question might indicate some of its prior flight history – there should be evidence of paint being burned off by high speed flight, and there might be scratches or dents that could provide clues to how it landed.”

“. . . Although the longitudinal stripe Dan refers to on the nose matches a photo in the APL report, I am skeptical that that particular nose is from an APL flight, given that we can’t seem to connect the visible features to that earliest Aerobee configuration flown for APL.  I’d therefore guess it is from an Air Force RTV-A-1a or an NRL RTV-N-10a (or b or c) from a year or two later.  Aerobee Hi’s from the mid-50’s and later Aerobees did not have such a nose, with the exception of the Aerobee 100/Juniors made around the late 50’s, so it could possibly be from a 100/Junior as well.”

“. . . Still, with more digging we might be able to do some more intelligent guessing.  Many noses had openings cut in them that were more or less unique to accommodate the particular instruments and experiments being carried aloft (for example, see the camera window in the nose photo that Dan attached from the report).  There are piecemeal records that refer to some of the flights and experiments that might shed some light, although they would probably more tend to eliminate certain flights as possibilities rather than pinpoint a certain one.”









“… I went and looked this morning for a copy of the 32274 nose cone drawing, but the accession list shows that the drawing was never transferred from the Azusa facility to the Sacramento facility at the time that Aerobee operations were transferred to Sacramento, probably because the drawing was by then inactive.  I have forwarded your information to the librarian at Northrop-Grumman in Azusa and asked for her help.  I will let you know as soon as she responds.”

“… I did find a copy of the top level Aerobee Assembly drawing 33071** which corrects one of my observations in my previous e-mail.  I was incorrect in presuming that the filler putty indicated that this might have been a display article.  In looking at Note 12 on the attached drawing it says:  “TO PROVIDE AERODYNAMIC SMOOTHNESS, FILL & GLAZE ALL SURFACE IRREGULARITIES [SPOT WELD, RIVET HDS., SCREW HDS (EXCEPT THOSE TO BE REMOVED FOR DISASSEMBLY & CABLE SHROUD SCREWS)] WITH ALUMINUM PUTTY MFR’D. BY SHERWIN-WILLIAMS PAINT CO.”  What this means is that the putty on the nose cone was indeed used on flight hardware and my supposition that this was an indication that it was simply used to “pretty up” a display article is incorrect.”

Documentation Images


Smithsonian Image of the scientific gear inside an Aerobee cone.

Detail images of my nose cone.