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Rockets, Missiles and Computers

Underwater Rocket Experience

Underwater Missile Rocket Motor

Sometime after the artillery missile rocket motor program was ended, a
California prime contractor came to the Virginia rocket company to give a
presentation about their underwater missile system (based on using the Terrain
Avoidance Control and Navigation - TACAN system). At that particular time all
the major prime contractors were promoting their own versions of that missile
system and had solicited a proposal for a rocket booster from the Virginia rocket
company. Because one of the requirements of all of the designs was thrust
vector ability, the Virginia rocket company declined to bid because they did not
have that design capability. Prior to the visit of the California company to the
Virginia rocket company, all the prime contractors had already teamed up with a
rocket motor manufacturer and there were no more rocket motor manufacturers
available to the California company. The California company appeared to be
locked out of the competition.
At that particular time, TRW (Thompson-Ramo-Wooldridge), of Los
Angeles, California, was promoting a jet tabs kind of nozzle, for thrust vectoring.
TRW had approached the California company with their nozzle design but they
had no solid propellant rocket motor design or manufacturing capability. TRW
came to the Virginia rocket company, along with the California company. They
also gave a presentation, regarding their nozzle capability.
For the California company/TRW presentation, the Virginia rocket
company had gathered representatives (almost everyone) from management,
accounting, engineering and manufacturing. After the formal part of the
presentations was finished, the California companys project manager told us
that the rest of the industry was six months ahead of them. To catch up, they
needed a design and heavy wall motor test within 30 days. All the Virginia
rocket companys representatives in that room said, with one astonished voice,
it cannot be done.
After considerable discussion about liability and best effort, the Virginia
rocket company agreed to a best effort program on the basis of no liability if
the end objective could not be achieved. The Virginia rocket company was
authorized to proceed immediately. At this point, the meeting broke into
specialty splinter groups, to iron out detailed requirements. A Norwegian
engineer led the engineering splinter group for the California company.

As soon as the engineering splinter group was assembled, the head of the
Virginia rocket companys Structures - Heat Transfer - Nozzle Design Group took
charge of the meeting. The first question he asked the Norwegian was where a
copy of the design requirements was. The Norwegian responded that no such
requirements had been generated. The Norwegian said General Dynamics had a
group of engineers working that problem but did not anticipate a set of
requirements for at least six months. The Norwegian said he had a few limited
facts but the rest of the requirements would have to be determined as time went
along. The Norwegian gave the Virginia rocket team the length and diameter of
the physical envelope within which the rocket motor had to fit. He told us the
missile would be ejected from a submarine torpedo tube, by compressed air, at
depths ranging from 600 feet to 200 feet. The nozzle exit plane pressure at
ignition had to be at least 600 psia (at 600 ft depth) for the jet tabs to work
(TRW supplied information). The rocket motor had to produce at least 3900
pounds of thrust when the missile broached the sea surface (for stability), at
about four seconds. About eight seconds additional thrusting, at 3900 pounds
was needed, to accomplish wing deployment and turbojet ignition.
Norwegian said other information would be supplied as it was obtained. The
sketch of Figure 1 shows, schematically, the required thrust trace.

Figure 1 Under Water Estimated Pressure History Requirement

Taking these things into account, the author designed the ignition and
initial grain burning to produce a momentary (less than one second) pressure
spike at ignition that went up to approximately 1400 psia then dropped down to
1000 psia before beginning a rise to 2000 psia at four seconds. At four seconds,
the motor produced over 4000 pounds of thrust until burn-out at twelve seconds.
The grain configuration was never changed after the first demonstration motor
A project engineer, who had attended all the meetings, all or in part, was
named Program Manager and another project engineer was named Project
Engineer, a technician became the Expediter, a design engineer was named the
Design Engineer, a thermal analysis engineer became the Heat Transfer Engineer,
a structures engineer became the Structures Engineer and the author became

the grain designer-internal ballistician - igniter sizer. Actually, the design

engineer was the official igniter design engineer but the author defined the
ignition charge type and weight, the number and size of the igniter nozzles
(holes) and the length and diameter of the igniter housing.

Figure 2 Sketch of the Tomahawk Grain Design

Within two days, the author had a grain design and the igniter sized to the
degree that drawings could begin being created. Realizing the lead time
necessary to get the motor case, he designed a grain that could be modified
without changing case hardware or propellant casting and curing procedures.
The sketch of Figure 2 shows, schematically, the proposed grain configuration.
On the third day, he had completed preliminary performance predictions,
showing that the motor met all the requirements given to the team by the
Norwegian. Structures and heat transfer had finished their calculations also by
the third day. By the end of the week, preliminary drawings were given to a case
supplier. By the end of the second week, the Virginia rocket company had the
first of four heavy wall cases, along with the steel igniter bodies. By the end of
the third week, the first case was prepared for propellant casting. During the
fourth week, the propellant was cast and cured and the first motor prepared for
testing on the 29th day. The first motor was successfully fired on the test stand
on the 30th day.
That goal of a demonstration motor firing within 30 days was achieved,
but to achieve that goal, the underwater rocket motor team worked around the
clock on some days and put in 16 to 20 hours per day on the others. The
underwater rocket motor team worked seven days a week until the motor was
Although the rocket motor test was a complete success, it was not a
flawless success. All components of the rocket motor behaved almost exactly as
predicted except the igniter. The igniter lit the motor precisely as it was
supposed to do, however, the 2.5 inch diameter igniter steel shell burned in two
ten seconds into the firing and went through the 1.5 inch diameter nozzle throat,
cracking it. Due to the crack, the nozzle throat opened up about 25 percent

additional flow area, causing the pressure to drop to about half its predicted
value. Although at a lower pressure, the motor continued to operate until total
grain burn-out. Post firing analyses and reconstruction showed that the rocket
motor would have functioned almost exactly as predicted had the igniter and,
consequently, the nozzle not failed.
The igniter failure was a consequence of a design error by the design
engineer. The design flaw could have been easily corrected and no future failure
anticipated. However, in typical prime contractor fashion, the California company
flooded the Virginia rocket company with their igniter experts the next day and
those igniter experts spent two weeks creating a design-by-committee
monstrosity. The design engineer, the draftsman and the author had spent no
more than four hours on the original igniter design, up to that point, and could
have corrected the error in less than one hour. (Note: The camel is said to be a
horse designed by committee.) However, in spite of its Rube Goldberg design,
the igniter performed flawlessly in all subsequent tests. The nozzle also
performed flawlessly in all subsequent tests.

Post Firing Analyses

None of the members of the initial under water rocket motor design team
understood the critical nature of the missile system to the national defense. The
failure or miss-performance of a single motor could have had disastrous
consequences in terms of national defense, during the Cold War. The initial
design team members were simply doing their job with a great deal of pride,
competence and dedication to profession and company.
The mission criticality slowly became known after the California company
won the development and subsequent production contracts. The US Navy
demanded that a full scale lot acceptance test (LAT) motor be taken from every
batch of motors manufactured and statically fired. Since only four motors could
be cast from a mixer of propellant that meant that one motor out of every four
would be fired on a test stand and a post firing analysis of the test data
conducted. Such a demand put great emphases on post firing analyses and led
to the refinement of the Static Firing Analysis computer program (SFA) well
beyond industry standards.
Additional demands for reliability and accuracy led to the development
and refinement of a program to obtain propellant burn rate accuracies well in
advance of industry acceptable limits. Sub scale motor design and refinement
was also necessary, as will be discussed later. Analysis of sub scale motor firing
data reached new levels as the SFA computer program was further refined, as
will also be discussed later.

Sub Scale Motors

As the underwater rocket motor program proceeded, the message become
clear that the Virginia rocket company was expected to produce a solid
propellant rocket motor of unprecedented accuracy, reproducibility and reliability.
Drawing tolerances, tooling tolerances and highly reproducible procedures and
inspections took care of most of these requirements. However, the variability of
propellant characteristics was a subject so rarely addressed that it was simply
assumed that either no variability existed or that, if it did, tools to quantify it
didnt exist. Throughout the industry, a trivial effort to utilize sub scale motors
yielded 98 percent accuracy (two percent variability). The reproducibility of full
scale motors clearly showed the problem to be one of data acquisition and not
one of actual variability.
Through considerable research and testing, the Virginia rocket company
determined that data from motors smaller than the, Army designated, 6C4-11.4
(cylindrical grain with a six inch outside diameter, four inch inside diameter and
11.4 inch length) was inadequate for the underwater rocket motor needs. The
Virginia rocket company also determined that a lesser number of motors than six
were statistically insignificant. With these facts in mind, a test firing matrix of six
6C4-11.4 motors was developed and adopted. To ensure adequate motors for
the test matrix, eight sub scale motors were cast from every batch of propellant
from which four full scale motors were cast. Six sub scale motors were statically
fired and two were held in reserve.
Every sub scale motor firing was analyzed for 17 different average
parameters by a special version of the SFA computer program. All motor firing
data was entered into a data base and the analysis results from each motor and
from each batch of motors was compared to the data base. As soon as a
significant data base was established, any anomaly was quickly flagged and the
cause of the anomaly investigated. It soon became apparent that burn rate
variability was within one quarter of a percent (one standard deviation) instead
of the one to two percent normally reported.

The Under Water Rocket Motor LAT Flaw

The reliability urgency pushed the Virginia rocket company to subject
every full scale motor static firing to the same in depth scrutiny, of the SFA
computer program, as the sub scale motor firings. Not only were the 17 mean
data parameters saved to a data base but 17 graphical histories were stored in
the data base and normalized. Each of the 17 mean data values from a motor
firing were graphed, with respect to the data base, for a quick check of a motors
relative performance. Each of the 17 graphical histories, from a motor firing,

was also graphed, along with the normalized histories from the data base. Any
anomaly was quickly identified.
On one occasion, an anomaly was detected in a LAT motor firing. An in
depth analysis of the motor firing data revealed that a small area of the grain aft
end inhibitor had failed. The magnitude of the unbond was so small (about ten
square inches) that the anomaly would normally not have been detected. The
flaw was only detected by the detailed analysis using the SFA computer program.
Although that flaw was not sufficient to cause a motor and/or mission failure, the
flaw portended a potentially disastrous event.
As soon as the details of the flaw were clearly understood, the Program
Manager was made aware of the flaw. He was so astonished; he denied it was
possible to have such a flaw. He assured the author that there was an inspection
step that would preclude such a flaw. Nevertheless, he called the quality control
person in charge to verify that his belief was true. He discovered that his belief
was not true. There was no inspection step to verify that the grain aft end
inhibitor was properly bonded to the grain. The step was immediately inserted
into the procedure and all the existing motors, wherever they were located, were
checked to verify proper bonding. The SFA computer program prevented a
potential disaster.

SFA Program Status

At this point in the development of the Static Firing Analysis program it
was quite significantly beyond anything presented at symposia or written about
in technical papers or technical journals.
The Virginia rocket company
management considered the existence of the SFA program to be company
proprietary and would not allow any technical papers to be presented concerning
it or its capabilities. Because the author was interested to see any other work of
a similar type, he scoured technical journals and technical papers to see if
anyone had developed any similar computer analysis capability. He found none
then and he has not found any since, except those stolen from the Virginia
rocket company by members of the staff that left the company and took copies
of it with them. A detailed explanation, of how the SFA program works to solve
problems, is presented elsewhere on this web site. Note: On the referenced
web site SFA is called ROMANS-I.

The Big Meeting

One day, the program manager came to the author and said he was
attending a meeting in the auditorium at the main headquarters. He asked the
author to attend that meeting with him. He told the author that some military
personnel, as well as Virginia rocket company, the California company and TRW

management, would be in attendance. He said he would like for the author to

take along with him any key performance data he might need to answer
technical questions about the underwater rocket motor design, testing or
program. Having been caught with his pants down, so to speak, before, he
always went to meetings, such as this, prepared to give a full presentation. He
carried all his presentation viewgraphs with him.
Recognizing that he might be called to the stage to answer questions, he
sat on the front row, with his back to the audience. When the meeting
convened, the program manager took the stage and identified himself and
conducted the obligatory preliminaries. Then, to the authors shock and dismay,
the program manager said he was turning the meeting over to the author, who
had prepared a presentation. The author mounted the stage with confidence,
congratulating himself with having come prepared. He had not seen the
audience. When he turned to face the audience, he saw more top military brass
in that audience than he had ever seen in his life, including his four years in the
military and four years in college ROTC. The top management from the
California company, TRW and the Virginia rocket company were facing him. He
even recognized some congressmen. He had a moment of weak kneed shock
until he realized that no one in that room knew as much about the underwater
rocket motor as he did. All went well. That analysis is presented elsewhere on
this web site.

UT-CSD Motor Analyses

After the author had developed the Static Firing Analysis computer routine
to the point that he could determine effective burning surface area traces,
apparent nozzle throat area history and efficiency histories; one of the scientists
in the Research Group in the headquarters facility obtained an Air Force contract
to study test firings of five United Technologies Chemical Systems Division (UTCSD) motors. His analyses brought out a number of features of that firing that
had been denied by UT-CSD up to that time. Those analyses also gained a lot of
credibility for the computer routine. The details of that study are presented
elsewhere on this web site.

Nozzle Configuration Study

As a consequence of the UT-CSD analyses, the author was able to get a
contract to do some nozzle configuration effects studies. He obtained a group of
excess sub-scale burn rate motors that had been manufactured on the
underwater rocket motor production program. He created a number of nozzle
configurations that would enable him to determine the effects of nozzle
configuration on motor performance. He learned a great deal from these tests.
One of the things he learned was that a material called DUREZ (a wood flour

phenolic) would make excellent nozzle material under certain circumstances.

The material was cheap, easily processed and its behavior highly reproducible.
He wrote a paper for a symposium about the study. He left the Virginia rocket
company before the paper was completed and/or presented. The authors boss
finished the paper, and presented it as a co-authored paper. The details of that
study are presented elsewhere on this web site.

Burn Rate Regression Analysis

To the author, the two reserve sub-scale motors cast from each batch of
underwater rocket motor propellant were a boon. After conducting the nozzle
configuration tests, discussed above, he got permission to use some of the
reserve motors to conduct nozzle materials studies, as well. But, the most
interesting study that resulted from the nozzle materials study was the realization
that, by using an ablative nozzle for a sub-scale motor firing and analyzing the
pressure history for an instantaneous burn rate (backed out burn rate), a
complete logarithm-of-burn-rate-versus-logarithm-of-pressure curve could be
obtained from a single motor firing. Up to that time, a single sub-scale motor
firing produced a single average burn rate at the motor average pressure.
Because of uncertainty, each motor firing was duplicated, resulting in two motor
firings for a single burn rate/pressure value. To properly define a burn rate
versus the logarithm of pressure graph, three pressure points were required.
That meant that six motor firings were required. That was what was required by
the Navy on the underwater missile program. By using the ablative nozzle for
sub-scale motor firings and analyzing them with the SFA computer program, a
single motor firing could produce the entire burn rate graph (curve). A second
sub-scale motor firing could duplicate the results. This approach eliminated the
necessity of firing four of the six designated sub-scale motors. The details of
that study are presented elsewhere on this web site.

Back-of-the-Envelope Design
When the author first came to the Virginia rocket motor company, the
Texas engineer was touted as one of the best back-of-the-envelope (BOTE)
solid propellant rocket motor designers in the business. The author had, also,
been taught that technique and was quite skilled at it. However, he never had
an opportunity to demonstrate it at the Virginia rocket motor company. He was
never satisfied with such a low level of accuracy or detail. He developed
computer routines that gave great accuracy and detail in less time than one
could do a BOTE design and document it.

An occasion arose in which four quite similar motor designs were to be

done and documented. The boss and his assistant took one set of requirements,
the Texas engineer was given one set of requirements and the author was given
two sets of requirements for which to design motors. Both of his designs were
completed, with great accuracy, and documented before noon of the second day.
Neither the boss nor the Texas engineers designs were close to being finished.
The third day, the boss gave the author his design to finish. On the fourth day,
the Texas engineer asked for his help to finish his own design. By the end of the
fifth day, he had designed all four motors, calculated the performance prediction
with great accuracy and documented the results, in detail, using the computer
programs he had developed.