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JPL's Rocket Air Foil Tester (RAFT) + Northrop sled at Muroc


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Jun 25, 2009
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Recovery of Corporal missiles after firing having been an impossibility, it was recognized from the beginning that an effective telemetering system was vital to research and development, since this was the sole means of accumulating data from flight tests. Work on the FM-FM system (audio-frequency and radio-frequency modulation) was begun as early as 1944 by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at California University of Technology (Cal-Tech) in connection with the Rocket Air Foil Tester (R.A.F.T.) vehicle and was developed simultaneously with, but independently of, similar work at the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at John Hopkins University.

The RAFT was a rocket apparatus developed to test rocket telemetry at speeds in the vicinity of Mach 1. An outgrowth from research work by William H. Pickering (the JPL's fourth director) it was intended to move an experimental airfoil at the speed of sound, or at supersonic speeds, in order to measure the its aerodynamic characteristics and report them by radio.

The RAFT rocket was fitted onto a sled which ran about half a mile on a special railway track at Muroc Field. It consisted of an airfoil, measuring gages, and telemetering system mounted in the nose of a standard Navy 5-inch path-stabilized High Velocity Aircraft Rocket (HVAR), better known as the Holy Moses. It was fitted with a special type of nose, whereby the airfoil being tested was supported in front of the rocket's nose by means of a rod or beam.

RAFT rockets were fired in April and October 1945 but proved unsatisfactory, so that the project was temporarily dropped. It was revealed to the public in the summer of 1946, notably in Popular Science and Popular Mechanics articles. The Northrop sled resumed testing empty in September 1946, reaching a speed of 1639 kms/hour. Modified RAFT components were then successfully tested in the WAC Corporal firings of December 1946 and February 1947. Modified RAFTs were to be tested again at Inyokern, California, in July 1947.

There doesn't seem to have been an N- number allocated to the RAFT project. This might be explained by the fact that Northrop was only subcontracting for the JPL and did not originate the design.

Any other pictures/info about the RAFT program? Or the Northrop sled? Was the latter reused in subsequent research? Was it in any way related to the later N-27 sled used in deceleration tests under MX-981?


  • RAFT diagram (from Popular Mechanics, July 1946).jpg
    RAFT diagram (from Popular Mechanics, July 1946).jpg
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  • RAFT description (from Popular Mechanics, July 1946).gif
    RAFT description (from Popular Mechanics, July 1946).gif
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  • RAFT (from Popular Science, August 1946).jpg
    RAFT (from Popular Science, August 1946).jpg
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  • Northrop sled (from Science et Vie, 1948).jpg
    Northrop sled (from Science et Vie, 1948).jpg
    638.6 KB · Views: 104

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