Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles
Appendix 4: Undesignated Vehicles
Copyright © 2004 Andreas Parsch


In the mid-1950s, the "rockoon" scheme to launch sounding rockets from balloons for a significant increase in maximum altitude was used successfully. Because the exact launch attitude of the rockets in the balloons could not be controlled, the idea of using high-performance aircraft instead of the balloons came up. These aircraft-launched sounding rockets were generically called "rockair" and both the U.S. Navy and Air Force briefly experimented with such a design.

Navy Rockair

The U.S. Navy's Rockair (no specific name was given to the rocket) program used modified 2.75-inch FFARs (Folding Fin Aircraft Rockets). The rockets had a slightly elongated nose to accommodate a small instrument package of 1.1 kg (2.5 lb) and a radio transmitter. Five examples were launched from F2H-2 Banshee aircraft in August and November 1955, reaching altitudes around 50 km (30 miles). However, only one of the tests was considered a full success, and the program was subsequently abandoned. The research potential of the rather small FFAR-based rocket would have been marginal in any case.

Douglas Rockaire

The U.S. Air Force's effort in the rockair area was the Douglas Rockaire vehicle, which was considerably larger than the Navy's Rockair. The Rockaire was a single-stage fin-stabilized solid-fueled rocket built around a Douglas DM-16 motor.

Drawing: Ordway/Wakeford

From 13 to 19 December 1956, the USAF fired four Rockaires from F-86D Sabre fighters in a vertical zoom climb at 12200 m (40000 ft). A peak altitude of about 65 km (40 miles) with a 18 kg (40 lb) payload was expected, but in fact only 44 km (27 miles) were reached. The disappointing performance and the more complex operation compared to ground-launched rockets meant that the program was discontinued after the four test launches.


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

Data for Rockair, Rockaire:

Length1.2 m (4 ft)2.71 m (8 ft 10.8 in)
Finspan15.2 cm (6 in)51 cm (20 in)
Diameter7.0 cm (2.75 in)20.3 cm (8 in)
Weight8.4 kg (18.5 lb)83 kg (183 lb)
Speed4000 km/h (2500 mph)4700 km/h (2900 mph)
Altitude50 km (30 miles)44 km (27 miles)
PropulsionSolid-fuel rocket; 3.6 kN (800 lb) for 1.5 s Douglas DM-16 solid-fueled rocket; 34.7 kN (7800 lb) for 2.2 s

Main Sources

[1] Norman J. Bowman: "The Handbook of Rockets and Guided Missiles", Perastadion Press, 1963
[2] Frederick I. Ordway III, Ronald C. Wakeford: "International Missile and Spacecraft Guide", McGraw-Hill, 1960

Back to Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles, Appendix 4

Last Updated: 13 July 2004