At the end of World War II the Navy established the US Naval Ordnance Test Facilities at Topsail Island, North Carolina, for Operation Bumblebee, a top-secret, experimental project to develop and test ramjet missiles, which advanced the Nation's jet aircraft and missile programs. So successful were the tests conducted at the Topsail Island site that the ramjet proved its value, opened the way for the advance of supersonic jet aircraft design and brought the United States to the threshold of modern space technology with the Talos, Terrier, Tartar and Sea Sparrow missiles aboard naval vessels. Named after a bumblebee, which although aerodynamically unable to fly, does not know this and flies anyway, this operation lead to the maturing of supersonic aircraft and shipboard missile design in the mid-20th century.
Topsail Island was the third of three widespread test sites established along the Atlantic seaboard in the closing years of World War II, and the first permanent ground for missile testing. The Topsail Island site, placed in operation in March 1947, incorporated rigid structures that were designed and built for specific uses related to the assembly, firing, monitoring and perfecting of experimental ramjet missiles. The buildings associated with this testing, the Assembly Building, Facility Control Tower and Observation Tower No. 2 possess exceptional importance because they are the only aboveground resources remaining at these three sites where the Nation's burgeoning ramjet missile program grew from experimentation to maturity. The Assembly Building is a one-and-a-half-story masonry building and the Control Tower is a three-story reinforced concrete building. Observation Tower #2 is an unaltered example of the seven instrument towers erected on Topsail Island.
During the next 18 months, an estimated 200 experimental rockets, each measuring six inches in diameter and between three and 13 feet in length, were fabricated at the Assembly Building, dispatched to the launch site, and fired along a northeasterly angular deflection of 15 degrees to the shoreline for a maximum clear distance of 40 miles. Despite the initial success of the US Naval Ordnance Testing facility at Topsail Island over its 18-month span, its location did not fulfill completely the needs of a permanent base because weather conditions and increased sea traffic interfered with testing, and the facility was abandoned and its equipment moved to other sites.
The first week of April through Mid May, Monday through Friday, 2 to 5 p.m.
Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day weekend, Monday through Saturday, 2 to 5 p.m. After Labor Day weekend through mid October, Monday through Friday, 2 to 5 p.m. For more information call the museum at (910) 328-8663.
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