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McDonald ADM-20 Quail Missile


    The most successful of the decoy missiles proved to be the McDonnell Quail -- most successful because it not only became operational, but it served SAC for more than ten years. The Quail missile program began on 13 October 1952 when the Strategic Air Command submitted a requirement to Headquarters USAF for an air-launched decoy missile. The latter, in turn, directed the Air Research and Development Command to study the technological feasibility, costs, and other pertinent aspects of such a proposed weapon system. The program formally was initiated in April 1955, with formal requirement (GOR 139) established in January 1956. On 1 February 1956, the Air Material Command notified the McDonnell Aircraft Company of its selection as prime contractor for the Quail. Flight tests began in July 1957, with the first glide test in November 1957 and the f first successful powered flight, which lasted 14 minutes and covered 103 miles, in August 1958. The progress of the tests enabled McDonnell to gain a production contract on 31 December 1958, about the same time the Air Force terminated so many other projects.
     The GAM-72 (ADM-20A) was a tailless high-wing delta with four vertical fins. McDonnell designed the missile to operate at 35,000 to 50,000 feet, at Mach .75 to .9, with a range (depending on altitude) of 357 to 445 nm. While eight could be carried on the B-52 and four on the B47, the normal loading was, respectively, four and two.
     The Quail simulated the bomber in a number of ways. First, its operational performance was comparable to the B-52; and it could be programmed (on the ground) to make at least two changes in direction and one in speed during its 46- to 55-minute flight. Second, its slab sides and twin vertical ventral and twin vertical dorsal few produced a radar image similar to the bomber. In addition, the GAM-72 carried a 100-pound ECM payload consisting initially of a responder, later of both chaff and a heat source.
     A General Electric J85 powered the decoy and caused most of the problems on the project, even though the same engine also powered the Northrop T-38. These problems led to modification of the engine, one of the major differences between the original GAM-72 (AGM-20A) and its successor, the GAM-72A (AGM-20B). The latter used the J85-GE-7, which had eight compressor stages instead of the seven stages in the J85-GE-3. The GAM-72A weighed almost 200 pounds more than the GAM-72, but had the same engine power and less wing area. Hence, it carried less payload a shorter time and distance at the same speed. The GAM-72A first flew in March 1960.
     SAC received its first GAM-72 in on 13 September 1960, when the first production-line Quail missiles were delivered to the 4135th Strategic Wing, a B-52G unit at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Headquarters SAC declared one Quail-equipped squadron of the 4135th Strategic Wing operational on 1 February 1961, and eleven B-52 squadrons were fully equipped and operational by 31 December 1961. The fourteenth and final Quail-equipped B-52 squadron became operational on 15 April 1962. The McDonnell Aircraft Corporation delivered the last Quail missile to the Strategic Air Command on 28 May 1962. SAC had 492 Quails at its peak inventory in 1963. In all, McDonnell produced 616 of the missiles.
      But while the Quail served on, there were major problems. Reliability declined. Improvements in enemy radar rendered the Quail less effective. In a 1972 test, radar controllers correctly identified the B-52s 21 out of 23 times. By then, USAF recognized that the Quail was no longer a credible decoy. In 1971, the commander of SAC wrote the Air Force Chief of Staff that the Quail was only slightly better than nothing. The General's candor may have reflected the fact that the Air Force was already taking action to provide a more effective decoy.
     The Quail remained operational until 1978. Although Strategic Air Command continued to support Quail as an effective and inexpensive penetration aid, the Air Force elected to phase out the missile because the lack of spare parts and adequate test equipment had made the system difficult to maintain. The last Quail missile came off alert on 30 June 1978 and the Quail was eliminated from SAC's missile inventory by mid-December.
Span: 2 ft. 5 in. (wings folded) -- 5 ft. 5 in. (wings unfolded) Length: 12 ft. 11 in.
Height: 2 ft. 2 in. (wings folded) -- 3 ft. 4 in. (wings unfolded)
Weight: 1,198 lbs.
Armament: None
Engine: General Electric J85-GE-3 of 2,450 lbs. thrust
Operating speed: 650 mph.
Range: 400 miles
Service Ceiling: Over 50,000 ft.