Nike-Hercules – US’s Surface To Air Missile with Nuclear Warheads.

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From 1958 to 1979 there were nuclear tipped surface to air missile stationed across the US, ready to defend the country against massed squadrons of Soviet bombers. The Nike missile system began in 1945 and developed a guided missile controlled by a computer on the ground, it would quickly be renamed to Nike-Ajax and Nike-Hercules which used similar control equipment, but Hercules could carry a W31 nuclear warhead.

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Tags: nike, nike-ajax, nike-hercules

  1. TastyBusiness

    This program was one of my favorite examples of what one can do with aerospace designs without having to use digital computers for guidance.

  2. Scott Franco

    Scott nails it on the head for analog computers. We knew a lot about how to make analog computers, and their accuracy and reliability was “reasonable”. The issue was they had no programmability whatever, and each function needed to be hardwired for a particular purpose.

  3. Scot Scheideman

    Thank you, that was a nice change of pace. the Nike Hercules has always been a favorite of mine from a looks standpoint

  4. Robert Gettleman

    Great presentation. I think, however, that the imagery at 1:59 or so is actually the SAGE system that was used to guide ADC aircraft.

  5. AmethystTalon

    I’d love to hear you talk more about the history of rocketry in the military context. Rockets are probably the best example there is of dual use technology that has been developed for destruction and then also used to bring the world so much good.

  6. Dave Byrne

    I can confirm that analogue computers where a “black art” for the people that worked in them. I should know I design a card for a helicopter flight control system.

  7. Craig Good

    I remember seeing those sticking out of a hill in Marin when I was a kid. You could see it right from Hwy 101.

    The Nike always struck me as what a missile was supposed to look like.

  8. Joy L

    Thank you for sharing this with us!
    Seeing as we have the Germans to thank for rockets in the first place, this makes total sense.

  9. Don Jones

    I’m so looking forward to Scott Manley’s video after Inspiration4 launches, while the crew are in orbit. That will be an especially heartfelt “Fly safe.”

  10. WWeronko

    I found the entire era when the Nike missiles were developed very interesting. The Army / Air Force rivalry during the period was almost to the point of mutiny. For the era the technology displayed in the systems were revolutionary. The SAGE sites with their AN/FSQ-7 computers that were among the largest computers ever built, provided the command and control. Besides the Nike missiles there was the Air Force’s Boeing CIM-10 Bomarc that was a supersonic ramjet powered long-range surface-to-air missile that also could be armed with a nuclear warhead. As you mentioned, after billions of dollars spent when the system was in its final configuration it was obsolete. They did however, in their ABM research develop two of the most amazing missiles as follow-ons to the Nike Zeus, the Spartan and Sprint missiles. The Sprint accelerated at 100 g, reaching a speed of Mach 10 in 5 seconds. Such a high velocity at relatively low altitudes created skin temperatures up to 6,200 °F, requiring an ablative shield to dissipate the heat.

  11. Bob Blum

    Interesting video, Scott. I got a kick out of seeing the electronics at 8:56 onward, I think I recognized the empty slots with green card-edge connectors as similar to one’s used in F-101 Voodoo and F-4 Phantom fighter jets. In the late ’70s I worked at a major defense contractor, and we still had to work on assemblies for those older jets once in a while. Amazing what the engineers did with basic components back then, as you pointed out analog computers and control systems were being used long before digital came along. Synchros and servos and resolvers, oh my! 😁

  12. MakeMeThinkAgain

    The thing that gets me about this program, and I remember the ’50s, is that these surface to surface capable nukes were sitting around so many US cities staffed by Nation Guard personnel. I’m amazed some weekend warrior didn’t destroy a city.

  13. vahpr

    Excellent timing, was just this moment working on the cad for a 1/3rd scale model to fly at a local rocket launch when I saw this in my feed. It’s got a ton of interesting, different and difficult features if you want to do a reasonable scale model, very challenging. I’m in awe of the craftsmanship of the original builders, not to mention that analog computer. Amazing, and I’m glad we never fired one in anger.

  14. Graham Rankin

    Growing up in Dallas, Texas, we heard about Nike sites in the area, mostly protecting several military bases as well as weapons manufacturers

  15. Barry Allen

    Some of the first embedded devices were on weapon systems. It’s neat to see how they solved problems back in the day with the mechanical gyros and such.

  16. Donald Johnson

    These things were hidden and not so hidden away in practically everyone’s backyard if you lived near the coast or northern border.

  17. Daniel

    Thank You! I have been waiting for someone to do a real good in-depth piece on the Nike-Hercules system in general. It is hard to find good information and footage, ect. for this amazing Rocket System. Thanks again Scott! Also, side note the footage of the Nike-Hercules cast that was cut into and showing the components inside was amazing! I hope to get a chance to go visit the site out in San Francisco someday.

  18. drupi_ROM

    I really enjoyed it. The 50’s and 60’s were wild for science if it came for military uses. I hope you do more of this type of content.

  19. Gully Foyle

    When I was a kid in the 60’s I would go on Saturday to watch the Nike missiles stand up at 1:00pm. I thought this was very cool. Thanks Scott for this blast from the past!

  20. Mark Vrankovich

    One of the best looking missiles ever. Very Thunderbirds.

  21. Brenda Chopping

    I think the war in Vietnam proves how accurate AAA can be, also the threat of single missiles to a bomber force

  22. TinHatRanch

    I️ live a quarter of a mile from one of these former sites. It’s hard to believe nukes were stationed there in the sixties.

  23. Seldoon Nemar

    I’d love more content like this. how weapons systems have driven rocket tech further/faster than any other driving force. and then science gets them once they are done as munitions.

  24. Randy Worden

    Nice job Scott. This was a video close to my heart. During my military service, I was in a Hawk missile unit and went to Crete for a live fire. While we were there we got to see a Nike Hercules (conventional explosive) live fire. It was simply AWESOME to see first hand and that close.

  25. Alex Hatfield

    Scott, “Starship Prime” sounds so much cooler than the actual Starfish Prime! I’d also like to see an analogue computer too. I’m thinking “Steampunk Nukes.” Perhaps just me…..

  26. Matej Sadovsky

    This is awesome rocket-related content, Scott. Keep educating us!

  27. Rod Rocheleau

    Many years ago, I worked with a person who was in the army and stationed at a Nike Hercules base. He was a radar operator and would pass along stories of the different adventures that had with the missile. One in particular was a training episode when they were tracking any and everything that would fly near them. They were very surprised when they discovered a VERY fast moving target, which they promptly started tracking to see if they could get a firing solution. They found that they could arrive at a firing window but it was so short that it was too late. They later found out that they had been tracking a X15 .

  28. First Sergeant Richard

    Thanks for posting this. I started my career in the mid 70’s as a 16B Nike Crewmember and later moved on to just about every other ADA weapon the Army fielded until 2011. Worked in Europe, Korea, Texas….lots of fond memories from working in A&S (Assembly & Service) on a few custodial sites including launching and eventually closing down NHWSD-K (Nike Hercules Weapons Support Detachment – Korea).

  29. Alex Thomas

    Such a cool video and something I’ve always tried to learn more about – I’m about ~45 miles outside of DC and there’s a Nike site (now a state park) which disguised the radar and other operational buildings as grain silos and other farm structures. My father was retired USAF and always knew about the program locally and mentioned it when I was a kid, but it’s fascinating to revisit it now that I can comprehend the program and what it meant to the national defense posture at the time. The technology is incredible as well.

  30. Peter Vanderwaart

    I believe in “Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy” there is a brief description of Liddy’s service in a missile site near NYC. It focused (pun noted) mostly on the use of the associated optics for voyeurism purposes.

  31. Lawrence Mahalak

    I’m envious of you, Scott, with SF-88 being restored and preserved. W-64, the site in Lorton, VA that’s about a mile from my place is… well, the IFC site’s now a high school, and the 24 launchers are basically a parking lot.

  32. olsonspeed

    We did our In Service Training at decommissioned Nike bases, they have long since been demolished. Most area residents have no idea of the history of the Cold War air defense system, for them “Nike Park” is a place to walk the dog. Thanks for the excellent video.

  33. Dan Shearer

    My high school chemistry and physics teacher worked with this system. It was one of the reasons I have a fascination with hypergols and rockets in general.

  34. James Millar

    I’d love to hear Scott talk about Sprint, the later ABM that could reach Mach 10 in 5 seconds.

  35. KorpenFlyger

    Love this sort of content. The military-technical aspects from the early cold war to to so often get overlooked.

  36. Casey

    This is a great video and I have been to that exact Nike site in your back yard. Your info and video was 10x greater than the guides there. Thanks for this.

  37. Mystickneon

    One of the Amateur Radio clubs I was affiliated with had their meeting place, Field Day activities, and repeater at a former Nike launch control facility near DC. It is now a county park. Most of the buildings are intact, based upon old photos I found of the site. The foundations for the radars are still present. The site has an interesting topography. There is a deep ampitheater-like grading in one area near the control building, I am not certain what the purpose of this was. It’s not protecting anything; all structures are well above the grade on a hill, and no launches were made from this place. The launch site is a mile or so away and is now a training school for the state police. At this site, the lift/access doors for the underground “magazine” are visible near a newer garage/outbuilding.

  38. vbscript2

    The test was “Starfish Prime,” not “Starship Prime.” :) Thankfully, I don’t think Elon has launched a nuclear-tipped Starship… yet.

  39. skipsteel

    This is a great Mini Doc, could I make a request for one on the Bomarc B Missile please?

  40. Ben O'Driscoll

    Imagine getting a radar lock warning, popping chaff and decoying a literal nuke

  41. xokocodo

    I’ve been to SF-88 ad i was fascinated by the relatively unknown history of the Nike sites. Thanks for doing the video to provide even more details – it’s super interesting!

  42. bconneau

    I imagine the ground attack would be a last ditch effort to discourage nosy VDV units dropoing near the SAM sites

  43. Webb Trekker

    As a kid in the 1950’s we lived on an island in Puget Sound. On several occasions the Nike base on the island was opened to the public and I remember touring there. I saw the missile launchers and radar installations.

  44. Ted Thompson

    Thanks for this. I grew up near a BA- battery outside Baltimore MD. Defunct by my earliest memories, I always was fascinated by it.

  45. Cetok01

    Thanks for this, Scott, it brought back memories. I was part of the US Army guard force on a Nike Herc site in then-West Germany in the early 70s. The Germans operated the missiles – which were armed, but we retained control and custody of the nuke warheads.

  46. Cole Dedhand

    This brings back childhood memories of reading books about airplanes/rockets/missiles. The Nike/Hercules was my favorite missile just because I thought it looked cool. The F104 Starfighter was my favorite fighter, and the XB70 was my favorite bomber. You might notice a trend there…

  47. Andrea Cisternino

    We had these in Italy well into the 2000s. Nike-Hercules was officially decommissioned by the Italian Air Force on June 15, 2007. The last test launch of an Italian Nike-Hercules missile happened on Nov. 24, 2006 from the Capo Teulada range on the Sardinia island.

  48. NavyVet

    As a teenager living in Alaska, my friends and I explored the Nike Hercules site outside of Fairbanks back in the early 80s. It was like a child’s dream come true to be able to go anywhere in that complex because it was by then abandoned and because of the location there were no barriers around it. We simply rode our dirtbikes up the mountain to the top. Very cool footage you have of the sites operating the launchers and such as I always wondered what they looked like in action.

  49. ropersonline

    I wonder if there will be a time when we can look back on the systems of the current Cold War 2.0 the way we’re looking back at the systems of the original Cold War 1.0.

  50. Ryukachoo

    Dang, I was hoping this would be about the Nike Sprint, which was stupidly, insanely, mine boggling fast

  51. Eric Berman

    Great video, Scott. I grew up during the 1950s and 1960s and remember the Nike series very well. I assembled Revell model kits for both the Nike Ajax and Nike Hercules (and a lot of others). We had quite a number of Nike sites around Los Angeles. It would be very interesting if you could provide some footage and history of the Sprint anti-missile system (7,600+ mph).

  52. Jim Simpson

    When I was a kid, I got to play with my Dads Lionel train set. One of the cars was a Nike launcher car. Probably never a real world car, but fun the less! 😄

  53. Patrick McKibbon

    Used to use the “Site Bay” Nike Hercules base near Anchorage as a shooting range for years. It was pretty cool to crawl around the old facility and try to determine what the areas were used for.

  54. Robert Kesselring

    Scott Manley: Let me tell you about nuclear tipped anti-aircraft missiles…

    Also Scott Manley: Fly safe.

  55. Jwrazmo

    Growing up in Anchorage Alaska was pretty interesting, our Kincaid park used to be a Nike missile site. Now it sees use for many different things like high school cross country running and skiing meets, weddings, frisbee golf, mountain biking, and soccer. Imagine getting married where nuclear missiles used to be stored. 😳

  56. Austin Schuhmacher

    I was born and raised in Wisconsin, and I heard about these missiles all my life…Where Meyer Festival Park is in Milwaukee, the home of Summerfest, a really major concert and party venue along the shore of Lake Michigan, there was one to two full batteries of these to help defend a vital portion of the industrial heart of the Upper Midwest and this Country as a whole.

  57. wafflesnfalafel1

    Very interesting – we have several old Nike sites up here in Seattle and I had no idea several were the nuclear Hercules versions. Went to school just blocks from one.

  58. ThirteenthAndy

    Getting a little too used to talking about SpaceX, you said “Starship Prime” rather than “Starfish Prime.”

  59. Matthew Dugger

    Love the outros every time. Fly safe!

  60. TheBeaster

    Seeing the old video of those guys pushing the missile reminds me of how when I visited the Nike missile base in Marin some ten years ago as a kid they had a couple of us kids on the tour push the rocket along the track to demonstrate how easy it was to move. Probably one of the only rocket museums where they encourage people to touch and handle the rocket.

  61. Hammad Sheikh

    More please! Loved this content. Would love an episode on analogue computers.

  62. CaptainDuckman

    Saw a lot of these during Dutch air force open days.
    We had them in use into the mid/late 1980s, when they were slowly replaced by Patriot.
    Once every few years there was a competition between the missile batteries, resulting in one of them being designated the winner and having the reward of being allowed to fire a single life missile from a NATO missile range on Crete.

    They were a cornerstone of European upper level air defense during the cold war, together with squadrons of F-104G interceptors.

  63. Brian White

    “extra spicy warhead option!” Classic!

  64. unter mench

    The Johnson Island High Altitude tests showed the danger of EMP effects.
    I remember touring a NIKE AJAX site on a school trip in the 50’s

  65. MrMonty00

    Thanks for sharing Scott, I found that fascinating. I forget where but, I watched a doco recently of that very launch location.

  66. Richard Vernon

    The ground Attack option was for the Nike Batteries based in Europe. NATO operated Nike Hercules were fitted with US Supplied nuclear warheads (2 out of 3 of them in fact during the 1960s). The backbone of NATO Air Defence in West Germany was a line of Nike Hercules batteries running down the middle of the Country which had the airspace above 20,000 feet all to themselves. A Belt of MIM-23 HAWK batteries covered the first 40 miles of the Iron Curtain between West and East Germany and the Fighters operated behind the HAWK belt and Below the HERCULES Belt.

  67. Declan Brennan

    When you have a Nike nuclear missile, “Just Do It” takes on a very different sinister meaning.

  68. Mike Alvanos

    This was great. A family member of mine was just discussing his work with these back in the 60’s. TY for making this video!

  69. Test Bild

    Hi Scott, greetings from Germany. I was LCCO in a Nike launch site here in Germany in 1987 (7:52 the guy which turns the knob). We fired one of the non-nuclear Nike-Hercules misslies in a test on Kreta, Greece (Nato missle firering installation, NAMFI). ‘Blazing skies, mission surface to air, …’, this was the drill. Some memories are now popping up in my brain. Fly safe ;-)

  70. XYZero

    Scott: “I hope you don’t mind me talking about weapons”
    Me with legs crossed: “nopleasecontinue”

  71. Brian Bedoe

    I grew up near these 15 to 20 bases that were “hiding in plain site” in and around the Chicago Area. They were all abandoned in the 70’s and was an interesting place to “visit” as a teen!

  72. Alex Landherr

    There’s similar SAM display not too far from where I live, it’s completely static but seems to have 4 distinct SRMs as propulsion. It’s not nuclear though.

  73. Michael VanGundy

    I remember going with my dad into the mountains north of Seattle. I was about 10 or 12 and seeing that missile from the outside of the fence was awe inspiring. I don’t know how he found out that it was being dismantled or when and where to go. I will always remember that shape.

  74. retrofan42

    I live in SE Virginia, where there are so many military installations, so we had multiple Nike bases set up in outlying areas. One of them was turned into a park with outdoor trails and athletic fields, but with many of the original buildings still standing. Tours of this area were going on as late as 2019 (based on a Trip Advisor review), probably have not resumed due to Covid. The place is Carrollton Nike Park in the Carrollton area of Suffolk VA.

  75. Salem Engineer

    In my first engineering job in the late 70’s, I encountered a pneumatic analog computer. Compressed air was fed through a set of two dimensional channels that were the controller logic and there were compressed air inputs (signals) at various points and a controller output (also compressed air). It was essentially “hard coded” to perform a set controller task. Unlike a digital computer, there was no concept of a “stored program”. It did have an advantage over an electronic controller in our application (which involved explosive vapor) in that it was inherently explosion proof.

  76. Jim Daniel

    As a past denizen of the Holloman High Speed Test Track. I can speak fondly of the the Nike booster rocket motors taken from the 4-pack Hercules booster. Old fashioned double-base propellant (~50% nitroglycerin / ~50% nitrocellulose + secret herbs and spices to stabilize the mix) extruded in long rectangular rods (like a stick of butter as long as the motor case). Very rugged and completely suitable for the test track vibration environment, they are nearly all used by now. The igniters for the motors is screwed in at the front of the motor prior to launch.

  77. Nathan Watrous

    Keep up the good work, I find myself looking forward to your videos all the time!

  78. Esoterica Unbound

    Arguably, that Nike site in your backyard is partially responsible for my existence. My dad was a 20yr-old PFC manning one of the Nike-Ajax batteries there in 1957 and 58 when I came along. Though his military career came to an end soon after, that location and that missile have been a significant part of our family lore.

  79. MONARCH 60

    “I couldnt hit 2 fast moving ants accurately, so i got a grenade”

  80. Canofasahi

    Long ago when I still served in the Dutch army and my unit was stationed in Germany with Belgian and American units, we had something to do with err.. big cigars (it is still confidential after all those years). One day the yanks got a new commanding officer, so chance of command ceremony was organised, part of that was two dummy Nike Hercules to spice up the ceremony. We are talking about 1987.

  81. guzmaekstroem

    11:54 Scott even cannot say Starfish in these Starship days :)

  82. Riku Urufu

    I can never hear “Alameda” mentioned without subsequently thinking, “That’s where they keep the nuclear wessels.”

  83. Roland Geter

    Very interesting information Scott. My ears were ready for you to mention the San Pedro Nike missle sites when i saw the coastal video clips. I didn’t know that your backyard was here in the bay. Thanks again for 50’s tech history

  84. Dick 1011011

    Whatever Scott is talking about it’s always interesting.

  85. SRFriso94

    On the traditional AA guns: it’s worth mentioning that the US and Britain had jointly developed the proximity fuse in WWII, which gave them much, _much_ better shells/kill ratios than the Germans and the Japanese. Curious Droid made an excellent video about them.

  86. James Mihalcik

    Nike is such an attractive lawn ornament. Difficult to explain the purchase and placement to the wife, but non the less, very attractive :) The castings for the internal components are just massive, the cutaway view display is certainly eye candy! Oh my ! Birds of a feather :)

  87. sferrin2

    Just for reference, the Nike Hercules force alone had 2,550 nuclear warheads produced for it. That more than the US has deployed on all types of nuclear weapons today.

    The Nike Zeus Scott shows is the Zeus-A. It was replaced by the Zeus-B (neither of which entered service) which was subsequently replaced by the Spartan in service. The Spartan’s 5 MT (with a “mega”) warhead was tested in an underground nuclear test in Alaska. (See the Cannikan test.) Other US Surface to Air missiles with nuclear warheads were the Sprint, Bomarc, Talos, and Terrier.

  88. insuna

    I believe you said “Starship Prime” instead of “Starfish Prime”

  89. Helium Road

    Awesome timing, Scott, I was just reading up on Nike (again). When I was growing up there was a nearby abandoned Nike missile site situated to defend Philadelphia. It was out in farm land and had a rusty chainlink fence around it. Kids used to sneak in there and poke around. Parts of it were dangerous due to flooding and so on, but it was good “X-Files” type stuff. You should do a video about Nike-X/Sprint and the HiBex programs, ABMs that have ridiculous accelerations of 100G or more and went from 0 to Mach 10 in like 5 seconds upon launch. Fascinating technology.

  90. FandersonUfo

    that’s a significant area denial weapon for sure – crude but effective

  91. Lasse Hovlandsdal

    I keep picturing the launch director sitting there thinking “… just do it”.

  92. Oscar_Wildecat

    Designed in the spirit of … “And if that doesn’t work, use more gun.” (Engineer, Team Fortress 2)

  93. Winter Watson

    These videos are my sustainer. Thanks Scott!

  94. Michael Snell

    I just watched a video on Battleship New Jersey about their fire control computer. Apparently, it is a series of gears and cogs that takes readings and you can dial in corrections. I assume its a generational leap from difference engines from earlier.

  95. variouscheeses

    The discussion of the topic is very interesting, but I find myself drawn to the slideshow on the computer on the desk whenever the video cuts back to Scott…

  96. Darren

    According to the subtitles from my phone, “it got manly here”.

    Got that right.

  97. HylanderSB

    The Washington DC area had many Nike stations mixed into the suburban landscape. My sister had horseback lessons next door to one of them. Edit: site W-45.

  98. Hal Schirmer

    I’ve been reviewing old military fortification maps from Revolutionary war, Civil War, and Cold War- there’s an interesting tangent I’ve noticed – Most of the Nike missile bases around major US east coast cities are often located near, or at, prior locations of civil war fortifications. The Nike and Nike-Hercules emplacements were generally 10-15 miles from the city limits, and the Civil War defenses were usually at the same locations.
    In 1860s the emplacements chose the ‘high ground’ and did so again 100 years later.

  99. Saint Burnsy

    I used to live near the town where the _plutonium for the Nagasaki bomb_ was produced, and back during the Cold War, there was apparently a Nike missile battery on the mountain overlooking the nuclear facility… because the facility was a known Soviet nuke target in the event of WW3 breaking out.

  100. Johnny Longfeather

    Only Scott can turn the word “guided” into a three-syllable word 😂

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