Project Pilot launch.jpg
Pilot rocket after launch
FunctionExpendable launch system
Anti-satellite weapon
ManufacturerUnited States Navy
Country of originUnited States
Height4.4 metres (14 ft)
Diameter0.76 metres (2 ft 6 in)
Mass950 kilograms (2,090 lb)
Payload to LEO
Mass1.05 kilograms (2.3 lb)[1]
Launch history
Launch sitesChina Lake LC-G2
Point Mugu NAS
Total launches4 Pilot-1
6 Pilot-2
First flightPilot-1: 1958-07-04
Pilot-2: 1958-07-25
Last flightPilot-1: 1958-08-17
Pilot-2: 1958-08-28
People or cargo transportedPilot
Boosters (Pilot-2) – F4D Skyray
No. boosters1
Powered by1 J57-8
Maximum thrust71.14 kilonewtons (15,990 lbf)
First stage
Powered by2 HOTROC
Maximum thrust63.2 kilonewtons (14,200 lbf)
Burn time4.9 seconds
Second stage
Powered by2 HOTROC
Maximum thrust63.2 kilonewtons (14,200 lbf)
Burn time4.9 seconds
Third stage
Powered by1 X-241
Maximum thrust12.1 kilonewtons (2,700 lbf)
Burn time36 seconds
Fourth stage
Powered by1 NOTS-8
Maximum thrust5.1 kilonewtons (1,100 lbf)
Burn time5.7 seconds
Fifth stage
Powered by1 NOTS-3SM
Maximum thrust700 newtons (160 lbf)
Burn time1 second

The NOTS-EV-1 Pilot, better known as NOTSNIK (pronounced notsnik a play on "sputnik") was an expendable launch system and anti-satellite weapon developed by the United States Navy's United States Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS).[2] NOTSNIK began as an in-house project using available NOTS funds. The Advanced Research Projects Agency later supplied some funds for the program.[3] The program involved creating transistorized sensors to detect nuclear explosions from the Operation Argus tests. Ten were launched during July and August 1958, all of which failed. It was the first air-launched rocket to be used for an orbital launch attempt; however, none was recorded as having reached orbit. Following the third orbital launch attempt a NOTS engineer at the tracking station in Christchurch, New Zealand reported receiving a weak signal from the spacecraft;[4] This was never confirmed,[5] and the launches were not catalogued as having reached orbit.[6] The Pilot rocket was part of Project Pilot.[7]


Two variants of the Pilot rocket were built; the Pilot-1,[7] with battleship second to fifth stages,[8] was used for ground-launched atmospheric tests from China Lake, and the Pilot-2,[7] an air-launched version, was used for orbital launch attempts. Orbital launches were conducted from a stripped–down jet carrier aircraft, an F4D–1 Skyray, flying from Point Mugu Naval Air Station,[9] and releasing the rocket over the Santa Barbara Channel Drop Zone.[7] Of the ten launches, four were of Pilot-1s, and the rest Pilot-2s.[5]

The first air–launch was performed on 25 July 1958 by NOTS research pilot William West, a career US Navy officer. The flight originated from China Lake's airstrip at Inyokern. The jet fighter was placed into a steep climb. The rocket released automatically at 41,000 feet (12,000 m), and three seconds later the first two HOTROCs ignited. The first flight was a failure. The second air–launch, in August, ended in a HOTROC explosion. On the third attempt the F4D pilot reported that the missile exploded, just like the first two had. Radio contact with the ground was lost during the second–stage burn, but the rocket appeared on film, departing over the horizon. Though objects believed to be the nozzle seal, and perhaps missile or fin skin were seen departing the disappearing missile.[10] A NOTS engineer, Frank St. George at the tracking station at Christchurch New Zealand alone of the four stations which remained listening reported a faint single beep at the predicted time during the first orbital windows.[11] No further signal was received, so the mission was also declared a failure.

Project Pilot was cancelled in August 1958, and replaced by the NOTS-EV-2 Caleb;[12] The project remained classified until 1994.[1] Following this series of tests, and the follow-on Caleb program being riddled with multiple failures, US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara decided to terminate the Navy's space program and assign all responsibility to the US Air Force.

Launch history

Date Configuration Payload Function Cause of failure
1958-07-04 Pilot-1 N/A Test Exploded one second after launch[8]
1958-07-18 Pilot-1 N/A Test Exploded on launch pad[8]
1958-07-25 Pilot-2 Pilot-1 Test Unexpected loss of signal[7]
1958-08-12 Pilot-2 Pilot-2 Test Exploded during first stage ignition[1]
1958-08-16 Pilot-1 N/A Test Structural failure 3.2 seconds after launch[8]
1958-08-17 Pilot-1 N/A Test Structural failure 3 seconds after launch[8]
1958-08-22 Pilot-2 Pilot-3 Test Unexpected loss of signal[7]
1958-08-25 Pilot-2 Pilot-4 Radiation research Exploded during first stage ignition[1]
1958-08-26 Pilot-2 Pilot-5 Radiation research Failed to ignite[9]
1958-08-28 Pilot-2 Pilot-6 Radiation research Only one second stage engine ignited[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e LePage, Andrew J. (July 1998). "NOTSNIK: The Navy's Secret Satellite Program". Spaceviews. Archived from the original on May 21, 2003. Retrieved 2009-01-17.
  2. ^ Scott, Jeff (2006-04-23). "NOTSNIK, Project Pilot & Project Caleb". Retrieved 2009-01-17.
  3. ^ Babcock 2008, p. 438.
  4. ^ Babcock 2008, p. 441.
  5. ^ a b Krebs, Gunter. "Pilot (NOTS-EV-1, NOTSNIK)". Gunter's Space Page. Retrieved 2009-01-17.
  6. ^ McDowell, Jonathan. "Orbital Launch Failures". Orbital and Suborbital Launch Database. Jonathan's Space Page. Retrieved 2009-01-17.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Wade, Mark. "Project Pilot". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Archived from the original on 2008-12-30. Retrieved 2018-02-10.
  8. ^ a b c d e Krebs, Gunter. "Pilot 1 stage (NOTS-EV-1)". Gunter's Space Page. Retrieved 2009-01-17.
  9. ^ a b Krebs, Gunter. "Pilot (NOTS-EV-1)". Gunter's Space Page. Retrieved 2009-01-17.
  10. ^ Babcock 2008, p. 441.
  11. ^ Babcock 2008, p. 441.
  12. ^ Parsch, Andreas (2003-10-17). "NOTS NOTS-EV-1 Pilot (NOTSNIK)". Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles, Appendix 4. Designation-Systems.Net. Retrieved 2009-01-17.

Further reading

Media related to Project Pilot at Wikimedia Commons