NOTS-EV-1 Pilot

The NOTS-EV-1 Pilot, also known as NOTSNIK was an expendable launch system and anti-satellite weapon developed by the United States Navy's United States Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS).[2] Ten were launched during July and August 1958, all of which failed. It was the first air-launched rocket to be used for an orbital launch attempt; however, none was recorded as having reached orbit. Following the first and third orbital launch attempts, a tracking station in New Zealand reported receiving weak signals from the spacecraft;[1] however, this was never confirmed,[3] and the launches were not catalogued as having reached orbit.[4] The Pilot rocket was part of Project Pilot.[5]

NOTS-EV-1 Pilot
Pilot rocket after launch
FunctionExpendable launch system
Anti-satellite weapon
ManufacturerUnited States Navy
Country of originUnited States
Height4.4 metres (14 ft)
Diameter0.76 metres (2 ft 6 in)
Mass950 kilograms (2,090 lb)
Payload to LEO1.05 kilograms (2.3 lb)[1]
Launch history
Launch sitesChina Lake LC-G2
Point Mugu NAS
Total launches4 Pilot-1
6 Pilot-2
First flightPilot-1: 1958-07-04
Pilot-2: 1958-07-25
Last flightPilot-1: 1958-08-17
Pilot-2: 1958-08-28
Notable payloadsPilot
Boosters (Pilot-2) – F4D Skyray
No. boosters1
Engines1 J57-8
Thrust71.14 kilonewtons (15,990 lbf)
First stage
Engines2 HOTROC
Thrust63.2 kilonewtons (14,200 lbf)
Burn time4.9 seconds
Second stage
Engines2 HOTROC
Thrust63.2 kilonewtons (14,200 lbf)
Burn time4.9 seconds
Third stage
Engines1 X-241
Thrust12.1 kilonewtons (2,700 lbf)
Burn time36 seconds
Fourth stage
Engines1 NOTS-8
Thrust5.1 kilonewtons (1,100 lbf)
Burn time5.7 seconds
Fifth stage
Engines1 NOTS-3SM
Thrust700 newtons (160 lbf)
Burn time1 second


Two variants of the Pilot rocket were built; the Pilot-1,[5] with battleship second to fifth stages,[6] was used for ground-launched atmospheric tests from China Lake, and the Pilot-2,[5] an air-launched version, was used for orbital launch attempts. Orbital launches were conducted from a stripped–down jet carrier aircraft, an F4D–1 Skyray, flying from Point Mugu Naval Air Station,[7] and releasing the rocket over the Santa Barbara Channel Drop Zone.[5] Of the ten launches, four were of Pilot-1s, and the rest Pilot-2s.[3]

The first air–launch was performed on 25 July 1958 by NOTS research pilot William West, a career US Navy officer. The flight originated from China Lake's airstrip at Inyokern. The jet fighter was placed into a steep climb. The rocket released automatically at 41,000 feet, and three seconds later the first two HOTROCs ignited. The pilot was distracted during this time–the sudden release of weight had flipped his aircraft into a tumble. In mid–crisis, West looked up and saw what he thought was the vehicle exploding. He reported it that way, but John Nicolaides (director of the Navy's space program in Washington D.C.) later determined that the "explosion" was the plume from the rocket's motors as the exhaust expanded in the thin atmosphere. However, when ground control heard the report of the "explosion", it ordered the ground tracking stations (approximately six in number) around the world to stand down. Thus only one station (at Christchurch NZ) remained on the air; it heard a beeping in the right place at the right time. However, the signal was not repeated, so the shot was declared a failure.[8]

The second air–launch, in August, ended in a HOTROC explosion. The third air–launch, on 22 August, was again ambiguous: radio contact with the ground was lost during the second–stage burn, but the rocket appeared on film, departing over the horizon. The tracking station at Christchurch reported signals at the predicted times during the first and third orbital windows, but no further signal was received, so the mission was also declared a failure. (The Navy initially reported a successful launch to the White House, but following the loss of signal no public acknowledgement of the mission was issued).[8]

Project Pilot was cancelled in August 1958, and replaced by the NOTS-EV-2 Caleb;[9] The project remained classified until 1994.[1] Following this series of tests, and the follow-on Caleb program being riddled with multiple failures, US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara decided to terminate the Navy's space program and assign all responsibility to the US Air Force. The Air Force mounted one further air–launch program in the mid-1980s, an anti–satellite missile launch system based on an F–15.[8]

Launch history

Date Configuration Payload Function Cause of failure
1958-07-04 Pilot-1 N/A Test Exploded one second after launch[6]
1958-07-18 Pilot-1 N/A Test Exploded on launch pad[6]
1958-07-25 Pilot-2 Pilot-1 Test Unexpected loss of signal[5]
1958-08-12 Pilot-2 Pilot-2 Test Exploded during first stage ignition[1]
1958-08-16 Pilot-1 N/A Test Structural failure 3.2 seconds after launch[6]
1958-08-17 Pilot-1 N/A Test Structural failure 3 seconds after launch[6]
1958-08-22 Pilot-2 Pilot-3 Test Unexpected loss of signal[5]
1958-08-25 Pilot-2 Pilot-4 Radiation research Exploded during first stage ignition[1]
1958-08-26 Pilot-2 Pilot-5 Radiation research Failed to ignite[7]
1958-08-28 Pilot-2 Pilot-6 Radiation research Only one second stage engine ignited[1]

See also

  • Jaguar, sounding rocket launched from B-57


  1. LePage, Andrew J. (July 1998). "NOTSNIK: The Navy's Secret Satellite Program". Spaceviews. Archived from the original on May 21, 2003. Retrieved 2009-01-17.
  2. Scott, Jeff (2006-04-23). "NOTSNIK, Project Pilot & Project Caleb". Retrieved 2009-01-17.
  3. Krebs, Gunter. "Pilot (NOTS-EV-1, NOTSNIK)". Gunter's Space Page. Retrieved 2009-01-17.
  4. McDowell, Jonathan. "Orbital Launch Failures". Orbital and Suborbital Launch Database. Jonathan's Space Page. Retrieved 2009-01-17.
  5. Wade, Mark. "Project Pilot". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Archived from the original on 2008-12-30. Retrieved 2018-02-10.
  6. Krebs, Gunter. "Pilot 1 stage (NOTS-EV-1)". Gunter's Space Page. Retrieved 2009-01-17.
  7. Krebs, Gunter. "Pilot (NOTS-EV-1)". Gunter's Space Page. Retrieved 2009-01-17.
  8. The China Lake Launches, Air & Space/Smithsonian, February/March 1997, pp. 16-17
  9. Parsch, Andreas (2003-10-17). "NOTS NOTS-EV-1 Pilot (NOTSNIK)". Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles, Appendix 4. Designation-Systems.Net. Retrieved 2009-01-17.

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