50th Anniversary: Last Minuteman III launches from Cape Kennedy

  • Published
  • By Robert B. Cuthbertson, Jr., Minuteman III System Program Office
  • Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center
As 1970 crept towards the end of the year, continued launches of the Minuteman III ICBM at the Eastern Range of Cape Kennedy, Florida (now known as Cape Canaveral), were nearing an end as well.50th MMIII Anniversary logo

Similar to the Minuteman III test launch in September, a second test launch was conducted on Dec. 2, 1970, as part of the Special Test Missile Project to evaluate the missile’s performance and accuracy.

This post research and development launch became a pre-cursor for a significant event that took place at the Cape. Less than two weeks later, on Dec. 4, 1970, the very last Minuteman III was launched from the Eastern Test Range. This 91st East Coast test launch of the Minuteman III was the culmination of almost 10 years of operation and marked a historic transitional phase for ICBMs. The conclusion of this launch began the hand-over of ICBM test launches from the Eastern Range of Cape Kennedy to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The Minuteman research and development program was the last ICBM effort at Cape Kennedy under the Air Force’s Ballistic Missile Division. Spearheading the Division’s ballistic missile testing was the 6555th Aerospace Test Group, which played a significant role in Minuteman ballistic missile development. The role of the 6555th in ICBMs ended with the Minuteman III Flight Test Program in 1970, after more than a decade of involvement.  Current Minuteman missile tests continue under Air Force Global Strike Command by the 576th Flight Test Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Many improvements resulting from research and testing at Cape Kennedy for the Minuteman missile and their reentry systems were verified at Vandenberg and the Western Test Range. With only a handful of personnel retained to complete the disposition of Minuteman missile equipment, all testing was deactivated on Dec. 31, 1970, in Florida.

The Minuteman III weapon system continues to be operated by and under the control of Air Force Global Strike Command. The weapon system is supported by the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center's Minuteman III System Program Office and the Air Force Sustainment Center's 309th Missile Maintenance Group and 748th Supply Chain Management Group, which are at Hill AFB.

Here is a list of significant Minuteman III events that took place in 1970:
Date                       Historical Significance
Jan. 12, 1970 91st Strategic Missile Wing at Minot AFB, North Dakota, began converting its ICBM facilities from Minuteman I to Minuteman III. 
March 3, 1970 First operational Minuteman III was completed at Air Force Plant 77, Ogden, Utah.
April 14, 1970 First Minuteman III missile accepted by the 91st Strategic Missile Wing.
April 17, 1970 First Minuteman III missile emplaced in Silo LF H-02 at 741st Strategic Missile Squadron at Minot AFB.
Aug. 19, 1970 First Minuteman III placed on alert status at 741st Strategic Missile Squadron. 
Sept. 16, 1970 Successful Minuteman III launch from Cape Kennedy, Florida, as part of the Special Test Missile Project, a post research-and-development effort to evaluate the Minuteman III’s performance and accuracy.
Dec. 2, 1970 Successful Minuteman III launch from Cape Kennedy as part of the Special Test Missile Project.
Dec. 14, 1970 Last unarmed Minuteman III, now named "LGM-30G," was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida (formerly Cape Kennedy).
Dec. 29, 1970 741st Strategic Missile Squadron became the first operational Minuteman III squadron.
Dec. 31, 1970 Force modernization and emplacement completed at Minot AFB. 

More: AFNWC celebrates 50 years of Minuteman III grit