The Atlas was the United States Air Force's first operational Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). The Atlas had been in development since the end of World War II in 1945. A test model that only had a range of 600 miles, known as the Atlas A, was launched at Cape Canaveral, Florida in June 1957.
The Atlas then went through several upgrades. The Atlas D had three consecutive test failures in spring 1959. In each case, the missile exploded within three minutes of launch. Finally, on July 28, 1959, a fourth test was successful. Following this, the 576th Strategic Missile Squadron with three Atlas D missiles was deployed on October 31, 1959 at Vandenburg Air Force Base in Southern California.
Over the next six years the upgraded Atlas E and F were also deployed across the United States, This included the only ICBM’s ever placed east of the Mississippi River, twelve Atlas F sites out of Plattsburg Air Force Base in New York. At their peak, there were 120 Atlas sites operational from 1962-64.
The first ICBM ever deployed, the Atlas D was quite unique in comparison to other ICBMs to follow. It was the only one and a half stage missile (the Minuteman for example has three stages). The Atlas D was 75 feet tall, had a range of 5,500 miles and carried a warhead of 1.45 megatons.
The Atlas D had two different shelter configurations. The first held the missiles vertically in gantry launchers. The second held the missiles in above ground "coffin" shelters. Both of these were extremely vulnerable to a nuclear blast. Atlas D's were based in California, Wyoming and Nebraska
The Atlas E missile was basically the same as the Atlas D. The lone exception being that the Atlas E was deployed in below ground coffins, somewhat improving blast protection.
Atlas E's were based in California, Kansas, Washington and Wyoming
The Atlas F was by far the best of this missile type ever deployed. At 82 feet it was a bit taller then its predecessors. The gain in height was mostly from its 4.5 megaton warhead. It was held in a blast proof silo-lift configuration and could be launched in about 15 minutes.
There were 72 Atlas F's operational from 1962-65 in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, New Mexico, New York and Texas.
Did You Know?
The only Minuteman Missile ever launched out of an active silo took place at a silo north of Newell, South Dakota on March 1, 1965. The flight only lasted a total of seven seconds with the rocket landing in a nearby pasture.