We have all heard of Ballistic Missile Submarines, Guided Missile Destroyers and Frigates, but how many of you have heard of a tanker with a ballistic unguided missile capability, not many I would wager.

Olwen_miss

In early 1987 RFA Olwen had two very special tubes fitted to her flight deck; each tube was around 30 feet long and 21 inches in diameter and gave the ship the appearance of an old Battleship with the tubes looking like main armament.  One of the tubes had been mounted on a base plate that was cut into Olwen’s flight deck and the other was on a portable platform.  The tubes were steered on two axes and had to be aligned to the ship’s centre line to operate effectively.

 

We have all heard of Ballistic Missile Submarines, Guided Missile Destroyers and Frigates, but how many of you have heard of a tanker with a ballistic unguided missile capability, not many I would wager.

 

Olwen_miss

 

In early 1987 RFA Olwen had two very special tubes fitted to her flight deck; each tube was around 30 feet long and 21 inches in diameter and gave the ship the appearance of an old Battleship with the tubes looking like main armament.  One of the tubes had been mounted on a base plate that was cut into Olwen’s flight deck and the other was on a portable platform.  The tubes were steered on two axes and had to be aligned to the ship’s centre line to operate effectively.

 

RFA_Missile_2

 

When the tubes had been fitted to the flight deck, the containers that they had arrived in were converted to a control centre and assembly bay for the missiles and provided that the ship’s heading, pitch, roll and yaw met certain criteria, then the missiles could be launched.  Olwen conducted firings on the 13 February 1987 whilst on Caribtrain 1987 deployment. In all six missiles were launched at the assembled British, Canadian and American warships as ‘targets’ for the warships missile systems.

 

Petrel_2

 

Petrel was initially conceived in 1967 by Bristol Aero-Jet in conjunction with the Science Research Council as a low cost ‘sounding’ and Meteorological rocket for civil purposes and was later produced by Meggitt Defence Systems Ltd as a target for the Royal Navy.  The first use of the missile as a target took place in 1979 and over 600 successful launches were carried out before the system was abandoned.

 

petrel_target_missile

 

The rocket must have been something to see as it exited the launch tube.  The rocket itself was about ten feet long and 7.5 inches in diameter, when it was fired, the two stage rocket exited the launch tube at 0.5 mach and accelerated to 4.8 mach, by which time it was around 12 miles downrange, after about three minutes the missile fell into the sea. 

 

The RFA has been called on to undertake some unusual tasks throughout its history most of which hardly raises an eyebrow, but I am sure you will all agree that a ballistic missile tanker is a whole new concept.

Copyright © 2008 – 2017 Christopher J White

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