Rocket sled

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Lt. Col. John P. Stapp rides the rocket sled at Edwards Air Force Base

A rocket sled is a test platform that slides along a set of rails, propelled by rockets.

Sonic Wind No 1. This rocket sled was ridden by John Paul Stapp in the 1950s.

As its name implies, a rocket sled does not use wheels. Instead, it has sliding pads, called "slippers", which are curved around the head of the rails to prevent the sled from flying off the track.[1] The rail cross-section profile is that of a Vignoles rail, commonly used for railroads.

A rocket sled holds the land-based speed record for a vehicle, at Mach 8.5.


The vehicle that achieved Mach 8.5
The Holloman Air Force Base track

A rocket sled is reported to have been used in the closing days of World War II by the Germans to launch a winged A4b strategic rocket from an underground tunnel on March 16, 1945.[citation needed]

Rocket sleds were used extensively early in the Cold War to accelerate equipment considered too experimental (hazardous) for testing directly in piloted aircraft. The equipment to be tested under high acceleration or high airspeed conditions was installed along with appropriate instrumentation, data recording and telemetry equipment on the sled. The sled was then accelerated according to the experiment's design requirements for data collection along a length of isolated, precisely level and straight test track. Testing ejection seat systems and technology prior to their use in experimental or operational aircraft was a common application of the rocket sled at Holloman Air Force Base. Perhaps the most famous, the tracks at Edwards Air Force Base were used to test missiles, supersonic ejection seats, aircraft shapes and the effects of acceleration and deceleration on humans. The rocket sled track at Edwards Air Force Base was dismantled and used to extend the track at Holloman Air Force Base, taking it to almost 10 miles (16 km) in length.

Unmanned rocket sleds continue to be used to test missile components without requiring costly live missile launches. A world speed record of Mach 8.5 (6,416 mph / 10,325 km/h) was achieved by a four-stage rocket sled at Holloman Air Force Base on April 30, 2003, the highest speed ever attained by a land vehicle.[2]

Murphy's law first received public attention during a press conference about rocket sled testing.[3]


Name Location Country Length (ft) Gauge (in) Rail Type Welded/
Opened Renovated Closed Geography/Notes
Holloman High Speed Test Track (HHSTT) Rails 1&2 Holloman AFB, Alamogordo, NM USA 50,971 feet (15.536 km) 84 inches (2.1 m) 171 Welded 1954 Runs North-South, 32°53′17″N 106°09′01″W / 32.8881°N 106.1502°W / 32.8881; -106.1502
Supersonic Naval Ordnance Research Track (SNORT) NAWC-WD, China Lake, CA USA 21,550 feet (6.57 km) 56.5 inches (1.44 m) 171 Welded 1953 2006 North-South
Holloman High Speed Test Track (HHSTT) Rail 3 Holloman AFB, Alamogordo, NM USA 20,200 26.3 171 Welded North-South
Extended High-Speed Rocket Sled Track Edwards AFB, Edwards, CA USA 20,000 171 Welded 1949 1959 1963 Rails used to lengthen HHSTT
Supersonic Military Air Research Track (SMART) Aircraft Interior Products Propulsion Systems, Hurricane Mesa, UT USA 12,000 56.5 105 Welded 1955 1961* *Now Privately Owned & Operational
Sandia 2 Kirtland AFB, Albuquerque, NM USA 10,000 1966 1985 North-South
Russia 50 km from Zvezda[disambiguation needed] Russia 8,202 Segmented
B-4 NAWC-WD, China Lake, CA USA 6,800 56.5 75 Welded 1940
Martin-Baker Langford Lodge Langford Lodge, Northern Ireland UK 6,200 30 80 1971 Privately Owned & Operated by Martin-Baker
Pendine Long Test Track (LTT) QinetiQ, Pendine, Wales UK 4,921 12 103
Centre D'essais Des Landes Single Rail R1 Biscarrosse, France France 3,937 Monorail Square Beam Segmented (Foundation for 2nd rail in place)
G4 NAWC-WD, China Lake, CA USA 3,000 33.875 171 Welded
Eglin Track Eglin AFB, Ft. Walton Beach, FL USA 2,000 56.5 171 Welded
Sandia 1 Kirtland AFB, Albuquerque, NM USA 2,000 1951
Edwards North Base Track "G-Whiz" Edwards AFB, Edwards, CA USA 2,000 Welded 1944 1953
Redstone Technical Test Center Sled Track 1 Redstone Arsenal, AL USA 1,900
Pendine Impact Test Track Qinetiq, Pendine, Wales UK 1,476
Centre D'essais Des Landes Single Rail R2 Biscarrosse, France France 1,312 Square Beam
Redstone Technical Test Center Sled Track 2 Redstone Arsenal, AL USA 1,200
New Mexico Tech/EMRTC Sled Track Socorro, NM USA 1,000 Monorail 171 Privately owned & operated
Pendine Short Test Track (STT) Qinetiq, Pendine, Wales UK 656
General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems Rock Hill, FL USA 656 I-Beam Privately Owned & Operated
Alkantpan Rocket Sled Range Alkantpan Test Range, Copperton, Northern Cape South Africa 656 feet (200 m) 19.7 inches (0.50 m) Single or Double I-beam Segmented 1985 1999 Runs East to West, 29°56′51″S 22°13′36″E / 29.947448°S 22.226614°E / -29.947448; 22.226614

Subsonic and supersonic testing

Holloman Maglev Track Holloman AFB, Alamogordo, NM USA
Germany Germany I-Beam

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Fastest Rocket Sled On Earth". Retrieved 2008-03-18.
  2. ^ "Test sets world land speed record". Retrieved 2016-04-19.
  3. ^ "Murphy's laws origin". Retrieved 2008-03-18.

External links[edit]