This NAF created an assortment of this type of patch, each depicting a different type of aircraft flown by Eighth Air Force personnel. This particular version features an EC/KC-135 and was worn by, among others, ALCS personnel who flew on the various models of the EC-135. Like this NAF’s Missile Crew Member patch, longevity rockers were made to accompany the basic patch, but unlike those for the missile crew members that indicated years, these indicated hours in increments of 500, maxing out at 5000+ (these denoted accumulated flight durations).
This patch was worn by missileers assigned to Eighth Air Force missile units. The patch purportedly depicts a Titan II missile, and this is supported by the fact that the patch first showed up at the Titan wings (circa 1983). Although it’s apparently a Titan patch, it is known to have been worn at Minuteman units in this NAF as well. The missile represents the NAF’s ICBMs and the target above it symbolizes bull’s-eye accuracy. These patches have been observed in bright yellow and also in a more attractive golden orange. A crown and rockers were available for wear with the basic Eighth Air Force missile patch, although crew members at one or two of the Titan wings claim they never saw them (rocker wear could be confirmed only at McConnell). These segments were as follows: CREW COMMANDER – This particular crown patch was issued to the Titan crew commander–the ranking officer on the four-person crew. TWO YEARS – An assortment of rockers denoted longevity. The first one usually earned was this TWO YEARS rocker; subsequent rockers were issued in two-year increments, as follows: FOUR YEARS, SIX YEARS, EIGHT YEARS, and TEN+ YEARS. The “+” symbol on the Ten Years rocker negated the need for rockers in any higher increments.
The silver metal star devices were sometimes replaced by embroidered silver stars, as can be seen on this patch that depicts either 7,000 hours of flying time or, for Missile Combat Crew Members–Airborne, a tally of 400 alerts. Week-long alerts, which were typical for aircrews, were counted as seven alerts by missileers because the typical underground missile alert at the time was a 24-hour period, or one day, and if foul weather resulted in a 48-hour alert, it was counted as two alerts, even though it had been “signed for” only once. NOTE: To denote alert totals, metal stars were also added to the Missile Crew SAC Warrior patch, which is covered in the MAJCOMs album in the Higher Headquarters section because it was worn without any stars by those who did not yet qualify for one–and it was not initially intended primarily as an alerts tally patch.
Three gold stars have been added to each laurel branch on this version. (See entry for the 100 Missions version for additional info.)
In addition to changing the 100 to 200, this version also added laurel branches to the border. (See entry for the 100 Missions version for additional info.)
This patch was produced commercially by the Mercenary Missileer company and marketed to individual crew members at any and all missile wings. It debuted around Y2K, while the wings were still designated Space Wings and after they had completed the REACT upgrade, and was intended to commemorate completion of 100 Missions (underground alerts). The LCC depicted on the patch contains a REACT console with two stick figures on either side of it representing the two crew members, but there is no mention of REACT on the patch. Because there is no organizational designation displayed on the patch, other than “US AIR FORCE,” or any specific geographical region (just the CONUS), it is generic enough to be used at any of the Minuteman bases. It even may have been worn by members of the Peacekeeper-equipped 400 MS if they were willing to ignore the REACT console and the Minuteman missile depicted on the patch. The border contains the inscription “STRATEGIC ALERT” (above) and “100 MISSIONS” (below). Similar patches were made for completion of 200 and 300 missions.
The SM-65 Atlas was the first operational ICBM developed by the United States. It was built for the USAF by the Convair Division of General Dynamics. Atlas was the most complicated missile ever built for the U.S. military, and because of this its development has been characterized as chaotic, the result being many failures during test launches. The initial missile project, MX-774, was named for the Greek god Atlas, which perhaps not coincidentally, was the contractor’s parent organization, Atlas Corporation. This probably started the tradition of naming subsequent large missiles after other mythological gods. The Atlas program began in 1946 but did not really get off the ground until the 1950s, following suspicions that the Soviets were engaging in ICBM research. This led to the project being dramatically accelerated, and Atlas became a crash program of the highest national importance on 14 May 1954. A major development and test contract was awarded to Convair on 14 January 1955 for a 10-foot diameter missile to weigh about 250,000 pounds, fully loaded. Atlas was informally classified as a “stage-and-a-half” booster, with a central sustainer engine and two booster engines that were all started at launch, each drawing from a single set of propellant tanks. About two minutes into flight, the boosters and their supporting skirt were jettisoned. Atlas development was tightly controlled by the Air Force’s Western Development Division (WDD), later part of the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division. Contracts for warhead, guidance, and propulsion were handled separately by WDD. The first successful flight of a highly instrumented Atlas missile to full range occurred on 28 November 1958, and the Atlas ICBMs were deployed operationally beginning on 31 October 1959. The missile was originally designated as the XB-65 experimental bomber; in 1955 it was redesignated SM-65 (“Strategic Missile 65”) and, from 1962, it became CGM-16. The letter “C” stood for “coffin” or “container” because the missile was stored in a semi-hardened coffin-like facility. It was prepared for launch by being raised and fueled in the open. As time progressed, a number of models were produced. The Atlas missiles A through D (A-C were prototypes, D was the first operational Atlas) used radio guidance: the missile sent information from its inertial system to a ground station by radio, and received course correction information in return. The Atlas E and F models had completely autonomous inertial guidance systems. The Atlas-F (SM-65F) was the final operational variant of the Atlas missile. It first flew on 8 August 1961 and was deployed as an operational ICBM from late 1962 to early 1965. The Atlas-F was essentially a quick-firing version of the Atlas-E, modified to be stored in a vertical position inside underground concrete and steel silos. It was nearly identical to the E version except for interfaces associated with their different basing modes and the fuel management system. When stored, the missile sat atop an elevator. If placed on alert, it was fueled with RP-1 (high-grade kerosene) fuel, which could be stored inside the missile for extended periods. If a decision were made to launch, it was loaded with liquid oxygen (LOX). Once the LOX was aboard, the elevator raised the missile to the surface for launching. This method of storage allowed the Atlas F to be launched in about ten minutes, a saving of about five minutes over the Atlas D and Atlas E, both of which were stored horizontally and had to be raised to a vertical position before being fueled. The RVs and warheads were improved too, as can be seen when comparing images of early Atlas missiles on alert to those in service by 1964. About 350 Atlas ICBMs of all versions were built, with a peak deployment level of 129 (30 D, 27 E, and 72 F). By 1965, the second-generation Titan missile (Titan II) and the solid-fueled Minuteman were on alert, rendering the Atlas obsolete, so the last Atlas ICBMs were removed from service that year. Despite its relatively short life as an ICBM, Atlas served as the proving ground for many new missile technologies. Perhaps more importantly, its development spawned the organization, policies, and procedures that paved the way for all of the later ICBM programs. After retirement from operational ICBM service, the Atlas boosters were refurbished and used for close to 40 years as space launch vehicle vehicles. A lasting legacy of the Atlas weapon system is the lubricant called WD-40, developed for the Atlas as a corrosion inhibitor for the missile’s outer skin, still available for purchase in stores today!
The iconic “100 Missions” patches first appeared on missileers’ uniforms in the early 1970s and appear to have been inspired by similar patches worn by bomber crews returning from Vietnam to bases in the CONUS with collocated missile wings, such as Ellsworth, Minot, and Grand Forks. Therefore, these patches are unique to Minuteman and Titan II units only, since the earlier missile systems were all gone by 1965. At some missile wings, “100 Missions” was used, while others preferred “100 Alerts.” Higher totals were indicated by either the addition of rockers and/or crowns, or sometimes an entirely different patch. Later, maintenance personnel at a couple of the wings created similar patches for 100 or more dispatches. In some cases, such patches were produced and awarded by the squadrons, and in other cases they were a wing award, often with an accompanying certificate and a presentation made at a pre-departure briefing or a commander’s call. Francis E. Warren AFB was the last base to join this patch party, not making them until well into the 1990s, but during the earlier years they did have small metal bison pins awarded for the same purpose. These were worn on the ascots and were made in bronze, silver, and gold to designate the milestone attained. Today, Twentieth Air Force has a standardized series of patches from 100 through 500 alerts for award to crew members.
Airborne Launch Control System (ALCS). By the mid-1960s, improved accuracy of Soviet ballistic missiles was increasing the vulnerability of buried Minuteman launch control centers (LCCs), so the Airborne Launch Control System (ALCS) was created to provide a survivable launch capability for most of our country’s ICBM force. The first attempted launch of an ICBM (Minuteman II) by means of ALCS was successfully conducted at Vandenberg AFB on 17 April 1967. Initial operational capability was achieved on 31 May 1967 and the ALCS was eventually installed aboard all EC-135 aircraft assigned to Ellsworth AFB and Minot AFB, as well as on the Looking Glass at Offutt AFB. Full operational capability was reached in June 1968. The ALCS crews at Ellsworth were assigned to the 68th Strategic Missile Squadron, flying on aircraft belonging to the 28th Air Refueling Squadron (AREFS), and the crews at Minot were under the 91st Strategic Missile Wing, flying on 906 AREFS aircraft. A reorganization in 1970 placed all ALCS crews and aircraft in the 2 Airborne Command and Control Squadron (ACCS) at Offutt and the 4 ACCS at Ellsworth. In the very early 1980s, the ALCS was also briefly carried on the E-4B National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP, referred to as “Kneecap”). The first ICBM launch was conducted from that platform on 1 April 1981 by a 2 ACCS crew. However, before long the ALCS equipment was removed and the E-4B reverted solely to its NEACP role. (The NEACP was redesignated the National Airborne Operations Center—NAOC—in 1994.) Introduction of the Peacekeeper ICBM necessitated changes to the ALCS and in June 1987, the first Common/Pacer Link-modified EC-135 was placed on alert. The end of the Cold War resulted in closure of the 4 ACCS and the moving of ALCS Operational Readiness Training (ORT) from Ellsworth to Offutt, the sole remaining ALCS base of operations. The Cold War’s end resulted in an 85-percent reduction in the number of ALCS-qualified aircrew members, and on 1 June 1992, USSTRATCOM assumed the Looking Glass/ALCS mission when SAC was inactivated. Exactly two years later, ORT became the ALCS Combat Crew Training School (CCTS) and, on April 1st, its faculty was transferred from the 2d ACCS (which by this time had become an Air Combat Command unit) to the Headquarters Staff of the Air Force Space Command. On 20 July 1994, the 2d ACCS was redesignated as the 7th ACCS and in the late 1990s the EC-135s were replaced by Navy E-6B aircraft, each configured with the ALCS. Around the same time, the ALCS CCTS and other related functions at Offutt became the 625th Missile Operations Flight, which eventually became the 625th Strategic Operations Squadron. Specific dates are contained in the narrative for the patches illustrated in this album.
Legend has it that the first air launched missile was when during a test flight near their home in Ohio, Orville Wright tossed a beer bottle at his brother, because Wilbur had been questioning his piloting skills. The bottle missed Wilbur. Unfortunately, no patch was created to commemorate this missile, so we will have to settle for those in these galleries.