High Velocity Aircraft Rocket

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
High Velocity Aircraft Rocket
"Holy Moses" HVARs mounted on a Grumman TBF Avenger
TypeAir-to-surface rocket
Place of originUnited States
Service history
Used byUnited States military
Production history
Weight134 pounds (61 kg)
Length68 inches (173 cm)[1]
Diameter5 inches (127 mm)
Warhead7.5 pounds (3.4 kg) of TNT or Composition B
Warhead weight45.5 pounds (20.6 kg)

Engine52 inches (132 cm) long x 5 inches (12.7 cm) diameter solid propellant rocket motor
Wingspan15.625 inches (39.7 cm)
Propellantballistite, extruded
Speed1,375 feet per second (419 m/s) plus speed of launching aircraft
single or twin engine aircraft

The High Velocity Aircraft Rocket, or HVAR, also known by the nickname Holy Moses,[2] was an American unguided rocket developed during World War II to attack targets on the ground from aircraft. It saw extensive use during both World War II and the Korean War.

Design and development[edit]

The HVAR was designed by engineers at Caltech during World War II as an improvement on the 5-Inch Forward Firing Aircraft Rocket (FFAR), which had a 5 inches (13 cm) diameter warhead but an underpowered 3.25 inches (8.3 cm) diameter rocket motor. The desire for improved accuracy from the flatter trajectory of a faster rocket spurred the rapid development. HVAR had a constant 5" diameter for both warhead and rocket motor, increasing propellant from 8.5 to 23.9 pounds (3.9 to 10.8 kg) of Ballistite. U.S. Ballistite propellant had a sea level specific impulse of over 200 seconds, compared with about 180 seconds for the British Cordite, German WASAG and Soviet PTP propellants. Hercules Powder Company was the principal U.S. supplier of high performance extruded Ballistite propellants: 51.5% nitrocellulose, 43% nitroglycerine, 3.25% diethyl phthalate, 1.25% potassium sulfate, 1% ethyl centralite, and 0.2% carbon black. The propellant in U.S. 3.25" and 5" rocket motors consisted of a single large X-shaped cross-section, "cruciform" Ballistite grain cavity. This went against the common practice of filling rocket motors with different numbers of smaller same-sized tubular charges with a round cavity, the number depending on motor diameter. The central hole in a tubular charge makes it more difficult to extrude, requiring a softer propellant blend that also yields somewhat lower performance. Rocket ∆V increased from 216 m/s for the 5" AR to 420 m/s (1,400 ft/s) for HVAR, giving the coveted flat trajectory.[3] This was still slower than the 55 mm (2.2 in)-calibre, German R4M World War II rocket's launch velocity of 525 m/s (1,170 mph), carrying a (520 g (18 oz)) warhead of RDX explosive.

Operational service[edit]

An F-84E launching rockets

Two different versions of the HVAR were built during World War II. The warheads were either: Mk 4 general purpose warheads with 7.5 pounds (3.4 kg) of TNT and both nose and base fuses; or Mk. 2 AP warheads with 2.2 pounds (1.00 kg) of Explosive D.

HVAR testing was complete by D-Day, 6 June 1944, and air-lifted Navy HVAR rockets were soon being loaded on Ninth Air Force Republic P-47D Thunderbolts to support the break-out at Normandy. Other single-engine delivery aircraft included the Vought F4U Corsair, Grumman F6F Hellcat, Grumman TBF/TBM Avenger, and Curtiss SB2C Helldiver. Twin-engine aircraft sometimes armed with HVARs included the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, North American PBJ Mitchell bomber and the Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon bomber.

HVAR could penetrate 4 ft of reinforced concrete and was used to sink transports, knock out pillboxes and AA gun emplacements, blow up ammo and oil-storage dumps, and destroy tanks, locomotives, and bunkers. Navy F4U Corsairs and TBF/TBM Avengers made the most extensive use of the rockets in the Pacific theater after the victory in Europe. Over a million HVARs were made during World War II, and production continued until 1955. HVARs remained in the Navy's inventory until the mid-1960s. After World War II, newer versions included a new general purpose type with a proximity fuse, White Phosphorus smoke rounds, an anti-submarine head, and a new shaped-charge warhead for use against tanks. The 6.5 inch RAM rocket was an ovesized shaped-charge head on a standard HVAR motor as well.

HVAR was an effective weapon in the hands of skilled, experienced pilots. It was less effective in the hands of average or inexperienced pilots who were accustomed to taking less careful aim and then "walking in" their gunfire to finally engage a target. HVARs could be fired in pairs or a single rapid-fire salvo but required accurate initial alignment and careful attention to range, or at least a good instinctive sense for the range to the target. HVARs were widely used in the Korean War. Douglas AD-1 Skyraiders often carried a dozen HVARs, and sometimes an additional pair of much larger but less accurate Tiny Tim 11.75-inch (29.8 cm) rockets. Targets included ships, bunkers, pillboxes, coastal defense guns, ammunition dumps, and occasionally even destroyers and major bridges. Numerous North American F-51D Mustang "Six-Shooters" (six .50 cal machine guns plus six HVARs and 2 bombs or ten HVARs) and carrier-based Grumman F9F Panther jets flew close air support in Korea. Panthers carried 6 HVARs and four 20mm cannons, while both planes could carry an additional pair of 500 lb bombs, napalm, or fuel tanks. Neil Armstrong and John Glenn were among the Panther pilots. It was in Korea that HVARs and Tiny Tims bridged the gap between prop planes and jets: Lockheed F-80C Shooting Star, Republic F-84E Thunderjet, Grumman F9F Panther, and North American F-86 Sabre. Jets gave the fighter pilots improved forward visibility. F-84E Thunderjets proved to be the most capable load-lifting fighter/bombers in Korea, demonstrating an ability to loft up to 24 HVARs and 2 Tiny Tims with a combined rocket weight of 5,800 pounds (2,600 kg).

In April 1945, HVAR rockets were used in Operation Bumblebee in the Navy's facility on Island Beach, New Jersey. The HVAR rockets launched 6-inch ramjet engines from wooden frames, accelerating the carbon disulfide fuel ramjets to flight speed. On June 13, the ramjets achieved supersonic speed.[4]

HVAR rockets were used in the 1970s, the Mk.32 HEAT round being used by Air Force A-1E Skyraiders in Vietnam[5]


Initial WW2 HVAR warheads were modified 5"/38 caliber gun shells, with the Mk.6 head being a modification of AA Common shells and the Mk.2 being derived from Special Common rounds. Later heads were purpose-built.[6][7][8]

Type Model Weight Filler Filler weight, lb
HE Mk 6 50.55 TNT 7.6
AP Mk 2 48.3 Explosive D 2.2
Smoke-PWP Mk 4 58.09 PWP (plasticised White Phosphorus) 19.36
HEAT Mk 25 47.85 Comp B 15.33
AP/ASW Mk 29 48.56 Explosive D 3.03


A head assembled with a motor is known by a separate designation listed below.

Head Complete Round Type
Mk 6 Mk 28 GP
Mk 25 Mk 32 HEAT
Mk 29 Mk 34 AP/ASW
Mk 2 Mk 35 AP
Mk 4 Mk 36 Smoke-PWP


Ammunition Type Armor Penetration 0°,[9][10][11][12] 70°
GP Mk 6 25mm
AP Mk 2 51-76mm[note 1]
HEAT Mk 25 263mm[note 2] 90mm
Ammunition Type Concrete Penetration,[note 3] [13][14][15] 30°
GP Mk 6 1,143mm 838mm

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Penetration is only given as an estimate of 2-3 inches
  2. ^ Estimated, as 90mm of armor at 70 degrees is 263mm effective per the Relative Armor Calculator
  3. ^ NAVORD OP 2210 gives these figures as inches rather than feet, this is believed erroneous as multiple other sources contradict this


  1. ^ National Air & Space Museum HVAR exhibit and specifications display, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
  2. ^ Parsch 2006
  3. ^ E.W. Price; C.L. Horine; C.W. Snyder (July 1998). EATON CANYON, A History of Rocket Motor Research and Development in the Caltech-NDRC-Navy Rocket Program, 1941-1946, (PDF). 34th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference and Exhibit, Cleveland, Ohio. AIAA. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-11.
  4. ^ "Flying Stovepipe Developed by APL in 1945", The News, Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics Laboratory.
  5. ^ http://bulletpicker.com/pdf/EOD%20Refresher%20USAF.pdf
  6. ^ https://drive.google.com/open?id=1Xksdsa8pFZFgcB2SVObCsLvzLEHiLTxX
  7. ^ http://bulletpicker.com/pdf/OP%201664,%20US%20Explosive%20Ordnance.pdf
  8. ^ http://bulletpicker.com/pdf/USNBD%20-%20US%20Rockets%20and%20Fuzes.pdf
  9. ^ http://bulletpicker.com/pdf/OP%201664,%20US%20Explosive%20Ordnance.pdf
  10. ^ http://bulletpicker.com/pdf/USNBD%20-%20US%20Rockets%20and%20Fuzes.pdf
  11. ^ http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/035574.pdf
  12. ^ https://drive.google.com/open?id=1NXvMYmdoXIjn0jEqJE4Dj_wYk-P8JV5O
  13. ^ http://bulletpicker.com/pdf/Aircraft%20Munitions%20vs%20Specific%20Targets,%20Volume%201.pdf
  14. ^ https://drive.google.com/open?id=1NXvMYmdoXIjn0jEqJE4Dj_wYk-P8JV5O
  15. ^ http://bulletpicker.com/pdf/USNBD%20-%20US%20Rockets%20and%20Fuzes.pdf


  • Parsch, Andreas (2006). "Air-Launched 5-Inch Rockets". Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles. designation-systems.net. Retrieved 2011-01-08.

External links[edit]