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Pilot under F4D-1 Skyray carrier airplane [USN]

Air launch of the second Pilot [USN]

Pilot (ground launched) [USN]

Project Pilot was the first attempt to create a air launched satellite launch vehicle. The vehicle was better known by its nickname 'NOTSNIK', a combination of NOTS and Sputnik. The NOTS-EV1 was also the first all solid orbital vehicle. It was launched by a Douglas F-4D1 Skyray airplane. After separation from the aircraft, the first pair of HOTROC motors, derived from the SUBROC anti submarine missile, were ignited. Five seconds later, the second pair was ignited. After jettisoning the first stage, the X-241 and NOTS Extruded motors put the payload into a transfer orbit, which was circularized half a orbit later by the fourth stage, which was mounted backwards in front of the payload. As the vehicle was designed for maximum simplicity it featured no moving parts.

Four ground launched tests were made with only one pair of live HOTROCs. The first 2 failed due to exploding motors, the other two due to structural failure.

All launches apparently failed, most due to structural failures. Some rumors exist, that the payloads of the first and third orbital launch attempt reached orbit, but this remains very doubtful as an engineer involved in the project recalls, that there were some signals picked up by ground stations, but those were most probably not from the satellite.

After 10 launches the program was discontinued and an improved vehicle, called Caleb, was developed.

The project remained classified until 1994 and only then became known to the public.

Vehicle Aircraft Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4
Pilot (NOTS-EV1, Ground Launched) * - 2 × HOTROC, 2 × HOTROC-Dummies - - -
Pilot (NOTS-EV1H) F4D-1 Skyray 2 × 2 × HOTROC X-241 NOTS-100 NOTS Spherical
Performance (kg) LEO LPEO SSO GTO GEO MolO IP
Pilot (NOTS-EV1H) 1 - - - -
No  TNo:  Aircrft Type             Date           LS    Payload

 1    1   --     Pilot (Gr.Lau.)   04.07.1958 F  CL  * (R&D)
 2    2   --     Pilot (Gr.Lau.)   18.07.1958 F  CL  * (R&D)
 3    1   F4D1   Pilot             25.07.1958 F  In    Pilot 1
 4    2   F4D1   Pilot             12.08.1958 F  In    Pilot 2
 5    3   --     Pilot (Gr.Lau.)   16.08.1958 F  CL  * (R&D)
 6    4   --     Pilot (Gr.Lau.)   17.08.1958 F  CL  * (R&D)
 7    3   F4D1   Pilot             22.08.1958 F  In    Pilot 3
 8    4   F4D1   Pilot             25.08.1958 F  In    Pilot 4
 9    5   F4D1   Pilot             26.08.1958 F  In    Pilot 5
10    6   F4D1   Pilot             28.08.1958 F  In    Pilot 6

Launch sites:

CL  = Naval Ordnance Test Station, China Lake, California, USA USA
In  = Inyokern airfield, Naval Ordnance Test Station, China Lake, California, USA USA †

Pilot air launches used F-4D1 Skyray

Flight 1:   vehicle exploded after 1 sec
Flight 2:   vehicle exploded before lift-off
Flight 3:   Radio contact lost, possibly reached orbit
Flight 4:   vehicle exploded at ignition
Flight 5:   structural failure after 3.2 sec
Flight 6:   structural failure after 3 sec
Flight 7:   Radio contact lost, possibly reached orbit
Flight 8:   vehicle exploded after 0.75 sec
Flight 9:   Stage 1 failed to ignite, vehicle crashed into the Pacific
Flight 10:  one stage 1 motor failed to ignite causing structural failure


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