Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles
Appendix 1: Early Missiles and Drones
Copyright © 2003 Andreas Parsch

JPL RTV-G-1/RV-A-1 WAC Corporal

In 1944, the Army Ordnance Department began funding a rocket development program by the California Institute of Technology (CIT). The ORDCIT (for "Ordnance" and CIT) project's first product was the Private A, a small solid-propellant rocket to test basic principles of launch operations and flight stability. 24 Private A rockets were flown during December 1944. The ultimate goal of ORDCIT was the development of the Corporal, a liquid-fueled surface-to-surface missile (which eventually became the SSM-A-17/MGM-5), and by late 1944, enough progess had been made to initiate the development of a small sounding (high-altitude research) rocket based on Corporal propulsion technology.

The planned sounding rocket was called WAC Corporal, and was to carry 11 kg (25 lb) of instrumentation to an altitude of at least 30 km (100000 ft). The origin of the WAC label are a bit unclear, but some sources state it stood for "Without Attitude Control", referring to the fact that the simple rocket had no stabilization and guidance system. The WAC Corporal was boosted into the air by a Tiny Tim 11.75" solid-fueled rocket (a heavy air-to-surface rocket of the U.S. Navy), and powered by a liquid-fueled sustainer engine. After it had left the high three-rail launch tower, the missile was stabilized in flight by its three tailfins only. The nose cone was designed to separate near the end of the flight, releasing a parachute for instrument recovery.

Photo: U.S. Army
WAC Corporal (RTV-G-1) (w/o booster)

After prelimary booster tests with subscale and dummy WACs, the first flight of an all-up WAC Corporal round occured in October 1945. It reached an altitude of 70 km (43 miles), but the nose-cone recovery mechanism failed. Additional flights followed until mid-1946, mostly with meteorological payloads like radiosondes. The flights were generally successful, except that the recovery system did almost never work as designed.

After the initial WAC Corporal rounds had been expended in 1946, a slightly improved WAC B model was built. The latter had a lighter engine, a modified structure and a new telemetry system. Between December 1946 and mid-1947, eight WAC B rockets were launched, after which the WAC Corporal program was terminated. Although it was soon overshadowed as a high-altitude research rocket by the V-2, the WAC Corporal formed the base for the development of a more capable and useful general-purpose sounding rocket, the RTV-N-8 Aerobee. Slightly modified WAC Corporal rockets were also used as the second stage of the RTV-G-4 Bumper test vehicle.

In February 1948, the formal designation RTV-G-1 was assigned to the WAC Corporal, even though the program had already been completed. Still later, in mid-1951, this designation was changed to RV-A-1.


Note: Data given by several sources show slight variations. Figures given below may therefore be inaccurate!

Data for RTV-G-1:

Length (w/o booster)4.93 m (16 ft 2 in); booster: 2.41 m (7 ft 11 in)
Fin Halfspan61 cm (24 in); booster: 66 cm (26 in)
Diameter30.5 cm (12 in)
Weight (w/o booster)310 kg (690 lb); booster: 345 kg (760 lb)
Speed900 m/s (3000 ft/s)
Ceiling80 km (50 miles)
PropulsionSustainer: Aerojet liquid-fueled rocket; 6.7 kN (1500 lb) for 47 s
Booster: Tiny Tim solid-fueled rocket; 222 kN (50000 lb) for 0.6 s

Main Sources

[1] Peter Alway: "Rockets of the World", Saturn Press, 1999
[2] Frederick I. Ordway III, Ronald C. Wakeford: "International Missile and Spacecraft Guide", McGraw-Hill, 1960
[3] "Army Ordnance Department Guided Missiles Program", U.S. Army Ordnance Department, 1948

Back to Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles, Appendix 1

Last Updated: 1 February 2003