Launches (Actual and Simulated)
To be confident the Minuteman weapons system will continue being able to do what it was originally designed to do, it is periodically tested. There are two principal types of testing performed. One of these is an operational test (OT), in which a missile on Strategic Alert is randomly selected from one of the Minuteman wings, removed from its silo, and shipped to Vandenberg AFB where it is launched. Of course the payload normally carried in the reentry vehicle has been removed and replaced with something else, usually telemetry equipment that aids in tracking the missile and in receiving diagnostic information from it during flight. Additionally, munitions are added to the booster stages to enable ground personnel to destroy the missile if it veers off course. These flight tests are called Glory Trips, and handpicked crew members from the wings are usually the ones who launch the OT missiles, but occasionally a missile is launched by a crew aboard the Airborne Launch Control Center because it, too, must be tested periodically to ensure it can still do the job it was designed to do. The other type of testing that is routinely performed is a SELM, for Simulated Electronic Launch, Minuteman, and these have a nickname too: Giant Pace. SELMs take place at the operational bases on a rotating basis and presently two are conducted each year. During a SELM, certain missiles are selected in a squadron, which are then electronically isolated from the others, as is their parent Launch Control Center. Because two LCCs are normally needed to effect missile launches, an adjacent LCC is also selected, and perhaps an LF in that flight too, to provide interconnectivity with the first LCC. Effectively, for command and control purposes, the result is the creation of a new, entirely independent mini-squadron within the participating unit. As one can imagine, many safeguards are taken to ensure the missiles do not actually launch when the keys are turned in the two participating LCCs, but the testing is so comprehensive that sometimes the launcher closure door covering one of the silos is actually blown open, with sand bags used to keep it from leaving the rails it slides on. Just like for Glory Trips, the ALCC is also routinely tested during Giant Paces. Up until the 1980s, Glory Trip participants received only a small lapel pin, a SAC certificate, and a photograph of the missile they helped launch; participants in SELMs received little more than a “Thank You” and, sometimes, if they were lucky, a certificate. Today, patches are made for both events, sometimes as many as three different patches for the same Glory Trip! From time to time, other launches are conducted for various purposes, and patches are often made for those too, so in addition to Glory Trip and Giant Pace patches, this album also contains the several patches from these (Air Mobile Feasibility Demonstration; Propulsion Replacement Program, or PRP, designated Flight Test Missile--FTM; Safety Enhanced Reentry Vehicle/Warhead--SERV; and fusing-related tests in launches designated Flight Test Unit--FTU). Rather than being listed chronologically, the patches in this album are, with few exceptions, presented in numerical sequence because launch delays and postponements sometimes result in a launch with a higher-numbered designation being launched before one with a lower numbered designation. Otherwise, the patches appear in the following sequence: Air Mobile Feasibility Demo, Glory Trips, FTMs, SERVs, FTUs, and Giant Paces (SELMs).