Sparoair was a family of air-launched sounding rockets developed by the United States Navy in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Based on the Sparrow air-to-air missile, three versions of the rocket were developed; although some launches were successful, the system did not enter operational service.

Sparoair II on F4D
FunctionSounding rocket
ManufacturerNaval Missile Center
Country of originUnited States
Height3.68 m (12 ft 1 in)
Diameter200 mm (8 in)
Mass143 kg (315 lb)
Payload to 120 km (65 nmi)18 kg (40 lb)
Launch history
Launch sitesPoint Mugu
First flight1960
Last flight8 July 1965

Sparoair I and II

Sparoair was developed by the Naval Missile Center, as a two-stage development of the Sparrow III air-to-air missile.[1][2] Propelled by two Sparrow rocket motors mounted in tandem,[3] the Sparoair could be launched from F3H (F-3) Demon and F4D (F-6) Skyray fighter aircraft, and was capable of lifting a 40 pounds (18 kg) payload to an apogee of 65 nautical miles (120 km; 75 mi).[4][2]

The Sparoair I was the original version of the rocket, launched using an ejection system and a lanyard for firing; after that proved unreliable in flight testing, the Sparoair II was developed that utilised a rail launch with ignition prior to release from the aircraft.[1] Eight launches of Sparoair II vehicles had been conducted by 1961.[1] Each Sparoair II rocket cost US$6,000.[2]

Sparoair III

Sparoair III utilised a redesigned second-stage motor, and could be launched from the F-4 Phantom II; however, any aircraft capable of launching the Sparrow III AAM could launch the Sparoair.[1]

The Sparoair III utilised the aircraft's Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS) circuits to initiate launch; the second stage was ignited via a mechanical device armed by the acceleration of the first stage.[1]

The first Sparoair III was launched on 8 July 1965; it proved a partial failure as the second stage failed to ignite. The second launch on 26 May 1966 failed after six seconds of second-stage burn when the vehicle exploded.[1] No further launches were undertaken.[5]


  1. Bolster, W.J.; G. C. Googins (1969). "Design, Development and Testing of a Series of Air-Launched Sounding Rockets". Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets. American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. 6 (4): 460–465. Bibcode:1969JSpRo...6..460B. doi:10.2514/3.29679. Retrieved 2 December 2011.
  2. Pfeiffer, Marie (September 1962). "Rockets Probe Mysteries of Upper Air" (PDF). Naval Aviation News. Washington, D.C.: Navy Department: 19. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  3. Jung, Philippe, ed. (1998). History of Rocketry and Astronautics: proceedings of the Twenty-seventh History Symposium of the International Academy of Astronautics. AAS History Series. 22. American Astronomical Society. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-87703-444-5.
  4. "Missiles and Rockets , Volume 21, Part 1". American Aviation Publications. 1967. Retrieved 2 December 2011.
  5. Wade, Mark (ed.). "Sparoair". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Retrieved 2 December 2011.
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