Series: Minuteman Missiles and the Nuclear Arms Race

Man in Air Force uniform
Colonel Ed Hall

Ed Hall

Colonel Edward Hall and his staff of engineers diligently researched their solid-fuel missile program. Within two years, Hall's group had solved most of the problems associated with solid-fuel rocket engines. In August 1957, the Air Force asked Hall to develop a medium-range, solid-fuel missile to be the land-based counterpart to the Navy's submarine-launched, solid-fuel Polaris. Within two weeks, Hall drew up specifications for a remarkable new missile whose range could be varied by simply assembling its three interchangeable propulsion stages in different combinations.

The new missile, dubbed "Weapon System Q," was "the first strategic weapon capable of true mass production," wrote Duke University historian George Reed. "To Hall, the new missile was the perfect weapon for a defense policy characterized by minimum expenditure and massive retaliation; and he urged that this be its chief selling point." Sputnik made it easy for Colonel Hall to make the sale. A few days after the Sputnik launch, Hall went to the Pentagon with General Schriever to build support for the new missile. As they ascended the ranks of the military hierarchy, Hall refined his plans. By the end of 1957, he determined that "the ICBM version of Weapon System Q would be a three-stage, solid-fuel missile approximately 65 feet long, weighing approximately 65,000 pounds, and developing approximately 100,000-120,000 pounds or thrust at launch." The missile would be stored vertically in underground silos and ""would accelerate so quickly that it could fly through its exhaust flames and not be significantly damaged."

In February 1958, Hall and Schriever presented Weapon System Q to the Secretaries of the Air Force and Detense. "We got approval ... within 48 hours," Schriever recalled. The officers immediately renamed the project. On February 28, 1958, the New York Times reported that the Air Force had been authorized “to produce an advanced type of ballistic missile . . . called Minute Man."