Lindberg 1/48 SM-62 Snark

KIT: Lindberg 1/48 SM-62 Snark
KIT #: 91001
PRICE: $24.00 from GreatModels
DECALS: One option
REVIEWER: Scott Van Aken
NOTES: Finally re-issued!


In August 1945 the Army Air Forces (AAF) solicited proposals for a subsonic missile with a range of 5,000 miles. Northrop Aircraft of Hawthorne, California, submitted a proposal, and in March 1946 the AAF awarded the aircraft manufacturer a research contract to study the feasibility of designing a subsonic missile that could deliver a 5,000- pound payload at ranges between 1,500 and 5,000 miles. Company president Jack Northrop called the new missile Snark, named after a mythical creature author Lewis Carroll described as part snake and part shark.

The Snark almost died on the drawing board. In December 1946, budget cutbacks prompted the AAF to cancel the program, but at the last minute Jack Northrop was able to convince the AAF to save the program. To win the Air Force's support the aircraft company president guaranteed that his firm could develop the missile in 2 1/2 years at a cost of $80,000 each, based on a production run of 5,000 units. It was a promise the company proved unable to keep.

Northrop designated its first Snark test model the N-25. The missile looked much like an airplane. It was 52 feet long and its sharply swept wings had a span of 43 feet. Powered by an Allison 533 turbojet engine, the N-25 had a launch weight of 28,000 pounds. Testing was scheduled to begin at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, in 1949, but numerous design problems delayed the first flight until April 1951.

Even before the first Snark left the ground, however, the Air Force amended the performance requirements. In June 1950 the Air Material Command ordered Northrop to provide the missile with a supersonic dash capability, and also directed the manufacturer to increase the payload to 7,000 pounds. Further complicating the development effort, the Air Force imposed more stringent guidance requirements, directing that at least half the missiles be able to strike within 1,500 feet of their targets.

To satisfy the Air Force's new requirements, Northrop redesigned the missile, calling the new weapon the N-69 or Super Snark. An enhanced version of the earlier model, the N-69 was 67 feet long, 15 feet longer than its predecessor, and also had longer wings. These changes, coupled with the new warhead, increased the launch weight from 28,000 to 49,000 pounds. To carry the additional weight, the early N-69 test models were equipped with Allison 571 engines. The final D and E models were equipped with Pratt and Whitney 557 turbojet engines.

In 1952 the Air Force ordered a reluctant Northrop to move its Snark test program from Holloman to the Air Force Atlantic Missile Range at Patrick AFB on Florida's east coast. Once in Florida, between 1953 and 1957 Northrop encountered further delays when the Air Force failed to complete vital test facilities on time.

Apart from numerous delays created by the Air Force, Northrop was running into plenty of roadblocks of its own making. In May 1955 tests demonstrated that poor handling characteristics rendered the missile unable to execute a "terminal dive" directly into its target. To compensate, Northrop modified the missile so that the warhead would be carried in a detachable nosecone. The first Snark to carry the redesigned warhead, the N-69C, logged its first test flight in late September 1955.

The Snark test program had more than its share of dramatic moments. So many missiles crashed off that Florida coast that the waters around Cape Canaveral were said to be "Snark Infested." On one test flight a missile heading out over the South Atlantic unexpectedly veered off course and disappeared into the rain forests of Brazil. The press had a field day. Noted one Miami paper, "They shot a Snark into the air, it fell to the earth they know not where."

As the miscues mounted, and the development program continued to stretch on year after year, the Strategic Air Command (SAC), the organization slated to receive the new weapon, began to question the missile's utility. As early as 1951 SAC complained about Snark's vulnerability, both on the ground and in the air. SAC planners noted that the missile would be launched from unprotected launch sites. Once in the air, they noted that the missile was slow, lacked defensive armament, and could not make evasive maneuvers.

Between 1955 and 1958 Northrop launched an extensive campaign to save its beleaguered program. In articles in the aviation press it defended the missile, pointing out that unlike bombers, Snark did not need an expensive tanker fleet for refueling, and neither did it put highly trained air crews at risk. Furthermore, Northrop argued that Snark was cost effective. About 1/10 the size of a B-52, the missile cost only l/20 as much.

Much to Northrop's consternation, advances in ballistic missile technology were rapidly encroaching on Snark's technological niche. When the Air Force initiated the Snark program in 1946, it anticipated that winged, air-breathing missiles would be able to do many things that ballistic missiles could not; namely, carry a heavy 7,000-pound fission warhead and bulky inertial guidance system.

By 1954, however, improvements in ballistic missile technology offset Snark's early advantage. The advent of thermonuclear weapons shrank the size of the warhead from 7,000 to 1,500 pounds, yet increased the explosive yield 50 times. In conjunction with improvements in the warhead, American engineers also made great strides in developing large liquid-fuel rocket engines, new guidance systems, and a new series of blunt- body reentry vehicles.

The net effect was that by the late mid-1950s ICBMs promised to deliver nuclear weapons far more efficiently than Snark. In comparing the two weapon systems Air Force planners envisioned that the ICBMs, based in heavily protected underground silos, would be much harder to destroy than the Snarks in their above-ground hangars. Snark was also far more vulnerable in the air. Once in flight the ICBM would be all but invulnerable, whereas the subsonic Snark, lacking both defensive armament and the capability for evasive maneuvers, could be intercepted by conventional air defense systems.

In 1958 General Donald Irving, the commander of the Air Research and Development Command, the organization charged with overseeing the missile program, cited Snark as an outstanding example of unwarranted funding. SAC commander General Thomas Power also harbored serious reservations about the missile, arguing that Snark would add little to SAC's already potent nuclear strike force. Tired of the endless debate, Power wanted to either fix the missile or terminate the program.

Tests by SAC missile crews in the late 1950s graphically demonstrated Snark's poor reliability and accuracy. Of the first seven launches conducted by Air Force crews, only two of the missiles reached the target area and only one warhead landed within 4 miles of its aiming point. Further tests revealed that on flights of 2,100 miles, on average, Snark had a degree of accuracy of plus or minus 20 miles. Accuracy was not the missile's only shortcoming. Random mechanical failures also marred the test program. Based on the last ten test Snark launches, the Air Force estimated that the missile stood only a one-in-three chance of getting off the ground.

On Oct. 31, 1957, a SM-62 Snark missile launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., flew 5,000 miles to a target on Ascension Island.  The missile, originally designated as the B-62, was an air breathing intercontinental weapon. It carried a nuclear warhead and was launched from a mobile platform by two booster rocket engines. No Snark was ever used in actual combat and had a short life span in the Air Force inventory.

The booster rocket engines propelled the Snark to flying speed in four seconds, at which time they were jettisoned and the missile continued in flight, powered by its internal jet engine. The missile and its ground support equipment could be lifted by an aircraft, such as the C-124, and could be set up and ready for launch soon after arrival at a site. Its flight path was controlled by an internal celestial guidance system. When the missile arrived over its target, the nose section containing the warhead separated from the fuselage and fell in a trajectory onto the target. The now useless Snark was destroyed on impact.

The first Snark operational unit was activated by Strategic Air Command in 1958 at Presque Isle Air Force Base, Maine, and went on alert on March 18, 1960. On Aug. 25, 1960, the Air Force launched a SM-62 Snark missile on a 6,000 mile course. SAC declared the missile wing operational in February 1961; however, a phase-out of the missile was directed because it was "obsolete." Since intercontinental ballistic systems were being perfected at this time, newer systems were chosen over the Snark. SAC dismantled the missile and it was removed from service.


One of the 'oldies' on my most wanted list has been the Lindberg Snark. Thanks to the scarcity of kits and the ridiculously high prices these kits got on the auction sites, my only hope was that someday it would be reissued. Well, thanks to J Lloyd International out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a company that purchased Lindberg from the original owners (and also bought Hawk, if I'm not mistaken), we now have this kit back in circulation.

Not only that, but we can get it for much less than the astronomical prices this was fetching just a short time ago and get usable decals tossed in with the bargain.

Make no mistake, this is not a 21st Century 'Vunderkit', but a prime example of 1960's model technology. This means lots of additional bits and as many working parts as one can stuff in the box. Thankfully, this latter feature is pretty much limited to an operable maintenance stand, removable rear fuselage to show the engine and a launching platform that can be raised or lowered. These areas are highlighted in the instructions by the 'do not cement' admonition that also includes the wheels on the launch stand.

Since this isn't a new mold, it is not surprising to find some flash here and there, but the molds are in remarkably good shape. Sure, there are ejector pin marks where you'd rather not have them, and some of the parts are a bit on the large size. No engraved panel lines, either. Nicely done rivet detail that looks appropriate to the era. If you don't like it, sand it off. As the fuselage halves had been separated from the rest of the sprue, I gave them a test fit. They are a bit warped, but it should be quite easy to glue this one in stages to get it to fit properly.

I mentioned the separate tail section, and it has a separate nose as well. The missile also comes with RATO boosters and long range fuel tanks. A goodly number of figures is part and parcel of this one. Some of the figures are a sort of vinyl as are all the tires and the caterpiller tracks. The instructions recommend using Loctite to attach the track ends.

The instructions are clearly drawn and look very much like they could be original as there are written construction steps in addition to the drawings. This is brought out as the instructions suggest providing color information as well as the part number. Originally this was molded with the missile in red and all the rest in yellow. The modern boxing is all white plastic as you can see from the image. No color and markings diagram is provided, but there are a considerable number of images of a built up model to use as a reference. The decals look to be quite well done and are in register. The yellow bits, however, seem very transparent and those on the SAC badges disappear into the white background.


The kit box lets us know that this is not a small kit as it is bigger than most.I'm not sure how many of these were made, but they should be hugely popular, especially as they are at an extremely reasonable price. If you have any interest in the subject, I'd recommend grabbing at least one.


Part of the historical background and part from the official USAF website. Guess which part is from where!

March 2008

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