Anti-aircraft missiles like this Nike Hercules once stood guard around many major U.S. cities and facilities during the Cold War. They were capable of knocking down high-flying, fast-moving bombers with high-explosive warheads or, equipped with a nuclear warhead, destroying a whole formation of attacking enemy airplanes with one missile.
The Nike Hercules is typical of weapon systems tested at White Sands Missile Range from many launched complexes stretching east from here. It was America's second generation air defense missile system and was preceded in testing at White Sands by the Nike Ajax.
Testing at White Sands for the Nike Hercules bean in 1955 and concluded in 1967 with a total of more than 650 missiles fired.
Not only was Nike Hercules capable of destroying enemy airplanes, it shot down a Corporal ballistic missile in 1960. Ironically, Nike Hercules missiles themselves were later used as targets for the Nike Zeus system which was specifically designed to destroy incoming Soviet missiles.
Most U.S. Hercules batteries in the continental United States were deactivated by 1975. However, some of our allies fielded the system through the early 21st century.
The Nike Hercules stands 41 feet tall and is 31.9 inches in diameter. At liftoff it weighed 10,700 pounds and used solid propellant in the booster and missile to reach speeds in excess of 2,500 miles per hour. It had an operating range of more than 75 miles and a maximum altitude of almost 30 miles.
For more information about the variety of weapons and commercial testing done at White Sands Missile Range, visit their Museum and Missile Park. They are visible in the headquarters area below and are accessible five miles east of here from U.S. Highway 70.