14 April 1955 – The first significant Nike Ajax missile accident occurs at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, on a rainy afternoon.
At 1235 hrs., Battery C, 36th AAA Missile Battalion, located south of Maryland 602 (now Route 198), was “practicing Nike procedures”. The rocket booster on an Ajax which was being elevated on its launcher suddenly ignited and the missile took off. Crewman Sgt. 1st Cl. Stanley C. Kozak, standing seven feet away, was caught in the flareback from booster ignition and suffered minor burns.
Initial reports stated that the missile exploded about three miles away and”several thousand feet in the air.” Later accounts stated that the missile, which was not in the fully upright launch position when it unexpectedly left the rail, suffered structural damage as it took off, “coupled with rapid initial acceleration, rendered the missile aerodynamically unsound and led to the break-up”.
The fact the crew had not removed the propulsion safety pin during the drill contributed to the failure of the sustainer motor to start. Since the launch was unintended, the missile was not under radar control. Neither the missile nor the booster exploded in flight. The booster separated and fell onto Barber’s Trailer Court more than a mile from the launch site. Fuel tank fragments fell on the Baltimore-Washington Expressway where the fuel and oxidizer caused a fire but little or no damage. The missile nose section was found 500 yards from the launcher with the guidance assembly still attached.
” The Army board of inquiry isolated the cause as an electrical short caused by rainwater in the junction box on the outside rear of the launcher control trailer”. This condition defeated the crew’s pre-launch safety checks.