NOTS-EV-1 Pilot

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NOTS-EV-1 Pilot
Project Pilot launch.jpg
Pilot rocket after launch
Function Expendable launch system
Anti-satellite weapon
Manufacturer United States Navy
Country of origin United States
Height 4.4 metres (14 ft)
Diameter 0.76 metres (2 ft 6 in)
Mass 900 kilograms (2,000 lb)
Stages Five
Payload to LEO 1.05 kilograms (2.3 lb)[1]
Launch history
Status Retired
Launch sites China Lake LC-G2
Point Mugu NAS
Total launches 4 Pilot-1
6 Pilot-2
Successes 0
Failures 10
First flight Pilot-1: 1958-07-04
Pilot-2: 1958-07-25
Last flight Pilot-1: 1958-08-17
Pilot-2: 1958-08-28
Notable payloads Pilot
Boosters (Pilot-2) - F-6A Skyray
No. boosters 1
Engines 1 J57-8
Thrust 71.14 kilonewtons (15,990 lbf)
Fuel JP-4/Air
First stage
Engines 2 HOTROC
Thrust 63.2 kilonewtons (14,200 lbf)
Burn time 4.9 seconds
Fuel Solid
Second stage
Engines 2 HOTROC
Thrust 63.2 kilonewtons (14,200 lbf)
Burn time 4.9 seconds
Fuel Solid
Third stage
Engines 1 X-241
Thrust 12.1 kilonewtons (2,700 lbf)
Burn time 36 seconds
Fuel Solid
Fourth stage
Engines 1 NOTS-8
Thrust 5.1 kilonewtons (1,100 lbf)
Burn time 5.7 seconds
Fuel Solid
Fifth stage
Engines 1 NOTS-3SM
Thrust 700 newtons (160 lbf)
Burn time 1 second
Fuel Solid

The NOTS-EV-1 Pilot, also known as NOTSNIK was an expendable launch system and anti-satellite weapon developed by the United States Navy's United States Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS).[2] 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 first and third orbital launch attempts, a tracking station in New Zealand reported receiving weak signals from the spacecraft,[1] however this was never confirmed,[3] and the launches were not catalogued as having reached orbit.[4] The Pilot rocket was part of Project Pilot.[5]

Two variants of the Pilot rocket were built; the Pilot-1,[5] with battleship second to fifth stages,[6] was used for ground-launched atmospheric tests from China Lake, and the Pilot-2,[5] 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,[7] and releasing the rocket over the Santa Barbara Channel Drop Zone.[5] Of the ten launches, four were of Pilot-1s, and the rest Pilot-2s.[3]

Project Pilot was cancelled in August 1958, and replaced by the NOTS-EV-2 Caleb.[8] The project remained classified until 1994.[1]

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, and three seconds later the first two HOTROCs ignited. The pilot was distracted during this time–the sudden release of weight had flipped his aircraft into a tumble. In mid–crisis, West looked up and saw what he thought was the vehicle exploding. He reported it that way, but John Nicolaides (director of the Navy's space program in Washington D.C.) later determined that the "explosion" was the plume from the rocket's motors as the exhaust expanded in the thin atmosphere. However, when ground control heard the report of the "explosion", it ordered the ground tracking stations (approximately six in number) around the world to stand down. Thus only one station (at Christchurch NZ) remained on the air; it heard a beeping in the right place at the right time. However, the signal was not repeated, so the shot was declared a failure.[9]

The second air–launch, in August, ended in a HOTROC explosion. The third air–launch, on 22 August, was again ambiguous: radio contact with the ground was lost during the second–stage burn, but the rocket appeared on film, departing over the horizon. The tracking station at Christchurch reported signals at the predicted times during the first and third orbital windows, but no further signal was received, so the mission was also declared a failure. (The Navy initially reported a successful launch to the White House, but following the loss of signal no public acknowledgement of the mission was issued).[9]

Launch history

Date Configuration Payload Function Cause of failure
1958-07-04 Pilot-1 N/A Test Exploded one second after launch[6]
1958-07-18 Pilot-1 N/A Test Exploded on launch pad[6]
1958-07-25 Pilot-2 Pilot-1 Test Unexpected loss of signal[5]
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[6]
1958-08-17 Pilot-1 N/A Test Structural failure 3 seconds after launch[6]
1958-08-22 Pilot-2 Pilot-3 Test Unexpected loss of signal[5]
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[7]
1958-08-28 Pilot-2 Pilot-6 Radiation research Only one second stage engine ignited[1]

Subsequent history

Following this series of tests, US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara decided to terminate the Navy's space program and assign all responsibility to the US Air Force. The Air Force mounted one further air–launch program in the mid-1980s, an anti–satellite missile launch system based on an F–15. This was the last US air–launch program until Orbital Sciences introduced the Pegasus in 1990.[9]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 LePage, Andrew J. (July 1998). "NOTSNIK: The Navy's Secret Satellite Program". Spaceviews. Retrieved 2009-01-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Scott, Jeff (2006-04-23). "NOTSNIK, Project Pilot & Project Caleb". Retrieved 2009-01-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Krebs, Gunter. "Pilot (NOTS-EV-1, NOTSNIK)". Gunter's Space Page. Retrieved 2009-01-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. McDowell, Jonathan. "Orbital Launch Failures". Orbital and Suborbital Launch Database. Jonathan's Space Page. Retrieved 2009-01-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Wade, Mark. "Project Pilot". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Retrieved 2009-01-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Krebs, Gunter. "Pilot 1 stage (NOTS-EV-1)". Gunter's Space Page. Retrieved 2009-01-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 Krebs, Gunter. "Pilot (NOTS-EV-1)". Gunter's Space Page. Retrieved 2009-01-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 The China Lake Launches, Air & Space/Smithsonian, February/March 1997, pp. 16-17