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Home > September 2013 > Intrepid Museum’s Regulus I Cruise Missile to be Restored
Intrepid Museum’s Regulus I Cruise Missile to be Restored
Posted: 9/25/2013 9:43:15 AM

The Regulus I missile on the launch rails of Growler. (Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum)

On Thursday, September 26, restoration will begin on the Regulus I Cruise Missile housed on the submarine Growler at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

The Museum’s Regulus missile is displayed on Growler’s launch rail platform. The missile has suffered the effects of long-term exposure to the salt water and harsh weather of New York City. A refurbishment and preservation plan has been implemented and the Regulus will soon be repaired, repainted, and treated with corrosion inhibitors. Along with this process, we will be fabricating replica solid rocket boosters, giving the missile a more authentic appearance.

The Intrepid Museum will be working with the Thomarios Company of Akron, Ohio, on the work, which should be finished in four to six weeks, depending on the weather. During this time, this restoration work should not cause any disruptions to visitors, but the Museum will monitor the process closely with visitor safety in mind. 

As the first operational U.S. Navy cruise missile, the Regulus I design was conceived in 1947 by the Chance Vought Aircraft Division of the United Aircraft Corporation. The company had great success with their famous F4U Corsair during the latter half of World War II, but their next three fighter designs fell flat in performance, safety, and suitability for carrier operation. Vought was in need of a success.

A Regulus I prototype prepares to land while under control from a pilot in the two seat TV-2D Shooting Star in the foreground. A FJ-3 Fury trails in the chase aircraft position. (US Navy)

By the end of 1945, with the war now over, the Navy realized that the future would require a more advanced delivery system for the newly-developed atomic weapons. Two such devices helped bring an end to the war in the Pacific. Now that the capabilities of the bomb were well known, the slow flying bomber aircraft of the day would be far too vulnerable. The Navy wanted something it could deploy at sea on aircraft carriers, submarines, and other vessels.

The Navy asked the nation’s aircraft manufactures to weigh in on designs for a pilotless jet-powered aircraft for this purpose. Chance Vought’s proposal included a reusable test version of their design. This would greatly reduce development costs, which was very attractive to the Navy’s post-war budget planners.  The resulting prototypes had conventional retractable landing wheels and were remotely controlled by a pilot in a chase aircraft.

The first page of Design Patent number 172,170 for a pilotless aircraft designed by Chance Vought’s Regulus Project Manager, Nevin Palley. (US Patent and Trademark Office)

Designated SSM-N-8A by the Navy, the Regulus was designed to carry a 3,000 pound (1,400 kilograms) nuclear warhead, fly at subsonic speeds at an altitude of 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), and have a range of 500 miles (800 kilometers). A J-33 turbojet engine powered the missile, while two solid rocket boosters, firing for just a few seconds, lifted it clear of the launch platform.

Regulus was deployed from 1955 to 1964 on several aircraft carriers, heavy cruisers, and submarines like Growler, which is on display across the pier from Intrepid. Growler has watertight compartments on the bow to store and protect up to four missiles during submerged operation. The wings and tail are hinged and would be folded for storage in these compartments. Operational control of the missile was through radio signals from the submarine’s missile control room.  

An advanced version, called Regulus II, was developed with double the range and a more advanced control system. This program was cancelled in 1958 in favor of the more capable Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missile. Polaris was able to be launched while the submarine remained submerged, making it nearly undetectable during launch operations.