The early days of the Cold War saw the US military establishment obsessed with two major themes in weapons- nuclear weapons, and guided missiles. And an early attempt at combining the two was the now almost forgotten Rascal standoff nuclear missile.

Developed by Bell to deliver a nuclear warhead 100 miles from the launch point, the Rascal was a massive missile. It was also to ambitious for the state of the art, and by the time it entered into production, the decision had been made to abandon it.



Early missile programs went through an array of various schemes of nomenclature, but we’ll stick to the final one, the GAM-63.

Powered by a three chamber liquid fueled rocket, the Rascal would climb from its launch altitude of roughly 40,000 feet to a cruise altitude of about 50,000 feet. Two of the rocket chambers would shut down, and the third would sustain the Rascal at a speed of about 1200 miles per hour. About 20 miles out from the target, the Rascal would nose over into a terminal dive.

The Rascal had a pretty interesting guidance system. It had a radar in its nose. That radar would send video of its radar system via radio to the launching bomber.  Having launched, the bomber would turn away, and a retractable receiver antenna in its aft fuselage would pick up the signal, and display it to the bombardier. The bombardier would would then radio steering commands to the missile. As the missile got closer to the target, the better the radar display was, theoretically improving accuracy throughout the flight.

In practice, the Rascal was a mess. Liquid rockets were still very delicate instuments and had a high failure rate. The complex guidance system was unreliable, and was vulnerable to jamming.

There was also a disagreement over which type bomber should carry Rascal. The Air Force first wanted it for the B-29, then the B-50, then the B-36, and finally, the B-47. Strategic Air Command, who never seemed terribly enthusiastic about a weapon Air Force headquarters insisted on, wanted first to arm the B-50, and then the B-36, but not the B-47.

By the time the missile was almost ready for deployment, the B-52 was in service, along with its own standoff weapon, the jet powered Hound Dog missile (AGM-28) with similar speed, but with a 500 mile range, and a simpler, more accurate inertial navigation system.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGqTtgq_fyc]

7 thoughts on “Rascal”

  1. I sat next to an officer who’d commanded one of the batteries of recoilless rifles that had tactical nukes on them. They were to shoot and scoot. They only had three rounds for each gun, but he assumed they wouldn’t have had a chance to use all three….

  2. Ah, the Davy Crockett. Suicidal insanity.

    As for air-launched missiles, don’t forget the GAM-87/AGM-48 Skybolt. Brits got pretty pissed off when we cancelled it leaving their Vulcans with nothing to shoot at Russia. They got Polaris as a consolation prize and turned it into Chevaline.

    1. Don’t forget Mace and Matador, early cruise missiles. MY father was stationed at Sembach AFB, FRG in the late 50′, early 60’s, and they had both. Still had a Matador on a stick until just a few years ago. Then they imported an old F-86 and put it on a stick in place of the Matador.

      The hardened silos were still in place at Grünstadt when we were back 6 years later.

    1. It may never have gone but the research put into the engines for its booster jump-started the US space program when it came that time.

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