Visit to the SF-88 Nike Missile Site

Among the little known gems in the bay area is the Nike Missile historic site in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It’s open with docent tours the first Saturday of every month, and it’s a fascinating look into what the Cold War really meant.

The Nike-Hercules missiles were nuclear tipped anti-aircraft missiles with a range of 90 miles. They had a yield of 2 to 40 kilotons depending on which of the three warheads was installed. They were the last line of defense against a Soviet bomber attack with ~300 total such sites built around populous regions of the US.

Full pictures found here.

The assembly building is on the left, electronics test on the right, tracking and searching radar and vans behind that. The launcher and underground magazine storage is background left.

Nike Missile site SF-88

This was ’50′s technology and the missiles were controlled with vacuum tubes. There’s three miniature vacuum tubes on this board.

Circuit board

Here you can see the array of boards in the missile.

Vacuum tube technology

This Nike-Hercules missile is on the elevator to raise it from the magazine below. There are 4 launch platforms here and they pushed the 5 ton missiles by hand along these tracks to reach each of the launchers.

Launcher tracks

The solid rocket boosters burn for a short 3.5 seconds, giving it much of the energy needed to loft it to ~100K ft. The rest is done with a sustainer rocket in missile. It’s a ballistic trajectory from there for the remainder of the 90 second flight time. The warhead sits in front of the yellow line, and behind the stub fins.

The docent claimed that the booster rocket accelerates from standing still to supersonic speed within the 42′ length of the missile. Don’t believe everything you hear folks — the acceleration needed to achieve that (roughly 370 G’s if my physics recollection serves me right) would literally crumple the missile into ball of metal.

Nike Hercules Missile

I was truly surprised that they (the lawyers, really) let folks ride down on the elevator like this.

Down the elevator

The magazine storage isn’t really the heavily fortified bunker that I was thinking it would be — which actually makes sense. The Nike being a defensive weapon only, if it were destroyed in a nuclear war, it had already failed to do the intended job.

Magazine area

The magazine holds 8 missiles, 3-4 on either side of the elevator

Missile magazine

The next group going down to the storage magazine.

Going down

This is a transportation canister. Note the springs and inside of them are shock-absorbers; all to keep the sensitives from going bump. The section pictured would be the atomic portion.

Travel canister

This is the “time to intercept computer” — a mostly mechanical device. There are numerous micro switches that are activated as the various wheels come around. The warhead is literally detonated when one of those micro switches gets activated, causing the missile tracking radar’s pulse to change, and the high explosives make a big bang, causing an even bigger bang when the fissile material goes super critical, and that takes out any airplane in about a 30 mile radius of the missile. You don’t have to hit the bombers, you just gotta get close enough to them.

Time to intercept computer

Time to intercept micro switch

Time to intercept

More pictures from the trip here.

More info:

  1. http://nikemissile.org/nike_hercules.shtml
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nike_(rocket)

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