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Hermes missile
Hermes B
Hermes B
Credit: © Mark Wade
American tactical ballistic missile. Hermes was a major US Army project to implement German rocket technology after World War II. Development started in 1944 with award to General Electric as the prime contractor. The program was cancelled in 1954 after $ 96.4 million had been spent. Most of this was for naught since the Air Force received the long-range missile assignment in the end.

AKA: Hermes. Status: Retired 1954.

The designs ran the gamut from short range solid propellant rockets through Mach 3 ramjets to intercontinental boost-glide vehicles. General Electric was also responsible for firing captured German V-2 rockets, training Army personnel in their use, and the Bumper project which created a two-stage vehicle using a V-2 and a WAC-Corporal. Hermes A series were US developments of the German Wasserfall rocket; see that entry for details.

On 20 November 1944 the Army's Ordnance Department issued a contract to General Electric for Project Hermes, the development of long-range missiles surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles. With the defeat of Germany on near horizon, this was intended primarily for Americanization and continued development of German technology. In a three-phase program, GE was first to prepare with a comprehensive search of the available literature; then send an engineering group to the future occupied Germany to become familiar with the German missile programs; and finally to develop Americanized experimental versions of the German weapons.

Three categories of missiles were to be developed:

  • Hermes A1, an antiaircraft missile based on the German Wasserfall. system. Following the establishment of the indigenous Nike project in February 1945, and after it was clear that the Germans had not in fact solved the surface-to-air missile guidance problem, the A1 was reduced to a propulsion test vehicle.
  • Hermes A2, which was to have been a wingless, surface-to-surface version of the Hermes Al. This never left the planning stage (the Russians did pursue their equivalent version of the Wasserfall, resulting in the Scud ballistic missile, still feared and in worldwide use 60 years later). In 1949 the Hermes A2 designation was applied to a proposed, low-cost, surface-to-surface missile capable of carrying a 680-kg warhead over a 120-km range. The propulsion system for this proposed missile was jointly developed by General Electric and Thiokol. But no funding was forthcoming from the Army to develop the missile itself.
  • Hermes A3 described, a tactical missile that was originally to deliver a 450-kg warhead 240 km with a circular probable error of 60 m. But these specifications were changed constantly by the Army, due to the rapid development of nuclear weapons and the changing Army doctrine of their use. The resulting annual redesigns of the missile during the 1940's meant that no progress could begin in actually developing the missile. Finally the A3 was reduced to test vehicle status in June 1953 and terminated in 1954.

In addition to these ultimate products, GE ended up running a large number of other projects under Hermes once the scope of the German rocket effort was understood:

  • Firing of captured V2 rockets from White Sands, running from 15 March 1946 to June 1951. GE was to use the scientific and engineering data it obtained from the V2 to design American rockets of the type. The firings were to verify available research data and to conduct new high-altitude research; to test American-developed control equipment, fuses, countermeasures, and instrumentation; and to gain experience in the handling and firing of high-velocity missiles. These firings cost the Ordnance Department $1 million annually - one of the most efficient and economical phases of the entire guided missile program.
  • Bumper, a project to launch a two-stage version of the V-2. The V-2 would serve as the first stage, a WAC Corporal the second. to extreme altitudes, speeds, and ranges. Eight of these missiles were built and flown. They proved the feasibility of two-stage, liquid-fueled rockets, solved the problem of separating two rockets while in flight, the ignition and operation of rocket motors at high velocities and altitudes. Basic design data for future missiles also evolved from studies of the problems of aerodynamic heating of these hypersonic missiles.
  • Hermes B, a Mach-4 missile based on German breakthroughs in ramjet propulsion. Work began in June 1946 when the Army recognized that GE was the "…only group in the country who believed they could develop a Mach 4 ramjet" . This ambitious project required basic research in propulsion, aerodynamics, structures, and trajectory-shaping. Hermes B was to carry a 450 kg warhead over a 1600 km range at 4200 kph. Wishing to make the missile nuclear-capable, the Chief of Ordnance later changed the specifications to require a 2300-kg warhead to be carried over a 2800-km range at 4500 kph. This resulted in GE proposing a test vehicle, the Hermes B1, to test technologies leading to a Hermes B2 missile meeting the full requirement. GE used the von Braun team at White Sands to fly the B1 four times in 1950-GE static fired engines for the Hermes B2, but the program was canceled in 1954, when the Air Force was assigned responsibility for such missiles. The Air Force Navaho, a long-range Mach-3 ramjet missile, flew in the late 1950's but was in turn canceled in favor of cheaper, less-vulnerable ballistic missiles.
  • Hermes C1 was the subject of a feasibility study for a long-range ballistic missile authorized in June 1946. The original recommended Hermes C1 was a two-stage, 113 metric ton missile powered by 450-kN rocket engines, with a range of over 3200 km. Six engines in clusters of two would make up the first stage, providing a total of 2700 kN of thrust at lift-off and burning for 60 seconds. The second stage would have one motor, and burn for 60 seconds. The 450 kg warhead would separate after burnout of the second stage and glide at hypersonic speed to its target. However GE was ordered to give the other Hermes projects more priority, and didn't turn in the feasibility study for the C1 to the Army until October 1950. The Chief of Ordnance found it valuable, and ordered that it be further refined, while stopping short of authorizing active development of the concept by GE. Instead von Braun's team, just moved to the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, were asked to pursue in-house development of a single-engine, single-stage version, the Hermes C, as a tactical ballistic missile. This would begin flying three years later as the Redstone missile. Interestingly, the clustered-engine concept would emerge again in April 1957 as the Saturn I.
  • Hermes II, which began in April 1946 when GE was given a contract supplement for improved exploitation of the von Braun rocket team held at Fort Bliss, Texas. In order to stimulate their creative juices and observe their methods, the German group were given specific design and development projects. The objective of the Hermes II was development of a ramjet research test vehicle, which would carry a 230-kg payload over an 800-km range at Mach 3.3. Hermes II consisted of a modified V2 booster with a winged, ramjet second stage. On 31 October 1951, the Hermes II was given the official RV-A-3 designation. Work continued on the project until its cancellation in September 1953.
The Department of the Army invested well over $100 million in the Hermes projects during their 10-year life span. Yet, at the end of that decade there was no Hermes missile system available for production or tactical deployment. As this had been one of the original objectives (the development of a tactical weapon system), how did the Ordnance Department justify this expenditure of research and development funds? The answer may well be found in the contributions it made to the advancing state of the art. Because the General Electric Company began the Hermes project when there was a dearth of basic design information for guided missiles, it performed research as a prerequisite to achieving its goals. In so doing, it discovered and extended basic knowledge in areas such as propulsion systems, rocket fuels, aerodynamics, guidance equipment, and testing equipment. It compiled basic statistics on motor design. It pioneered in producing higher impulse and more efficient rocket fuels. It contrived a method of including, in propellants, silicone additives that deposited protective coatings on the interiors of rocket motors against the corrosive effects of high velocities and temperatures.

Another of its achievements in rocket motors was the hybrid motor which was the first in which the thrust could be controlled by the regulation of the flow of the oxidizing agent into the motor. Through exhaustive aerodynamic studies and tests, it also accumulated technical data used in designing missile airframe structures. Furthermore, the General Electric Company pioneered in the development of guidance equipment to insure greater accuracy of a missile's flight path. It invented a coded, command-guidance radar that was adapted for use in the Corporal system. The first inertial guidance equipment used in any missile system was devised for the Hermes A3. A similar guidance system was later used, effectively, in the Redstone.

Thus, the Ordnance Department could very well have looked upon the Department of the Army's investment in the Hermes projects as one that had paid dividends in knowledge, equipment, and experience even though the desired tactical missile failed to materialize.

Development Cost $: 96.400 million in 1949 dollars.


Hermes B-1 American tactical ballistic missile. Test vehicle for Hermes II Mach 3 ramjet cruise missile. The modified V-2 merely acted as a booster for the 'Ram' second stage.

Hermes C-1 American tactical ballistic missile. The Hermes C1 was a clustered-engine intercontinental ballistic missile proposed by General Electric in June 1946. It was eventually down-scoped to a single-engine tactical missile, which flew as the Redstone in 1953.

Family: tactical ballistic. Country: USA. Agency: GE. Bibliography: 17, 2, 378, 563, 578, 86.

1944 December 1 - . Launch Vehicle: Hermes missile.
  • V-2 technology targeted for Hermes. - . Nation: Germany. Army Ordnance made plans under the Hermes program to study the German V-2 missile..

1946 January 11 - . Launch Vehicle: Hermes missile.
  • Hermes Mach 3 ramjet proposed. - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: von Braun. Von Braun briefs Hermes; V-2 first stage, ramjet second stage, cruise at 3400 kph at 19 km altitude..

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