Sparoair II on F4D
FunctionSounding rocket
ManufacturerNaval Missile Center
Country of originUnited States
Height3.68 m (12 ft 1 in)
Diameter200 mm (8 in)
Mass143 kg (315 lb)
Payload to 120 km (65 nmi)
Mass18 kg (40 lb)
Launch history
Launch sitesPoint Mugu
First flight1960
Last flight8 July 1965

Sparoair was a family of air-launched sounding rockets developed by the United States Navy in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Based on the Sparrow air-to-air missile, three versions of the rocket were developed; although some launches were successful, the system did not enter operational service.

Sparoair I and II

Sparoair was developed by the Naval Missile Center, as a two-stage development of the Sparrow III air-to-air missile.[1][2] Propelled by two Sparrow rocket motors mounted in tandem,[3] the Sparoair could be launched from F3H (F-3) Demon and F4D (F-6) Skyray fighter aircraft, and was capable of lifting a 40 pounds (18 kg) payload to an apogee of 65 nautical miles (120 km; 75 mi).[4][2]

The Sparoair I was the original version of the rocket, launched using an ejection system and a lanyard for firing; after that proved unreliable in flight testing, the Sparoair II was developed that utilised a rail launch with ignition prior to release from the aircraft.[1] Eight launches of Sparoair II vehicles had been conducted by 1961.[1] Each Sparoair II rocket cost US$6,000.[2]

Sparoair III

Sparoair III utilised a redesigned second-stage motor, and could be launched from the F-4 Phantom II; however, any aircraft capable of launching the Sparrow III AAM could launch the Sparoair.[1]

The Sparoair III utilised the aircraft's Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS) circuits to initiate launch; the second stage was ignited via a mechanical device armed by the acceleration of the first stage.[1]

The first Sparoair III was launched on 8 July 1965; it proved a partial failure as the second stage failed to ignite. The second launch on 26 May 1966 failed after six seconds of second-stage burn when the vehicle exploded.[1] No further launches were undertaken.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Bolster, W.J.; G. C. Googins (1969). "Design, Development and Testing of a Series of Air-Launched Sounding Rockets". Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets. 6 (4). American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics: 460–465. Bibcode:1969JSpRo...6..460B. doi:10.2514/3.29679. Retrieved 2 December 2011.
  2. ^ a b c Pfeiffer, Marie (September 1962). "Rockets Probe Mysteries of Upper Air" (PDF). Naval Aviation News. Washington, D.C.: Navy Department: 19. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  3. ^ Jung, Philippe, ed. (1998). History of Rocketry and Astronautics: proceedings of the Twenty-seventh History Symposium of the International Academy of Astronautics. AAS History Series. Vol. 22. American Astronomical Society. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-87703-444-5.
  4. ^ "Missiles and Rockets , Volume 21, Part 1". American Aviation Publications. 1967. Retrieved 2 December 2011.
  5. ^ Wade, Mark (ed.). "Sparoair". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Archived from the original on 26 October 2010. Retrieved 2 December 2011.