by Steven M.
The early days of the Vertical Launching System (VLS) ED program at Martin Marietta in the 1970s were fraught with challenges. There was a perception of the Navy’s skepticism of how to prevent the missile exhaust blowing into the bowels of warships. We designed a ducted plume exhaust system coated with heat-resistant tiles. We also built a mock-up for an early demonstration of an eight-unit module. The Navy furnished standard missiles with a miniscule amount of propellant for the demo, to barely eject the missile from the launcher. We built landing nets and bungee cords to catch the missiles for later reuse. The big day came, and the back yard was filled with Navy and Martin brass. When the first missile fired, it soared off, almost leaving our property. There were some red faces, but ultimately it was determined there was a miscalculation the amount of propellant needed. We received more missiles with less propellant, and subsequent demos worked as planned. Meanwhile, the exhaust system always worked perfectly, which had almost been lost in the excitement of the missile over flight. VLS continues to be the premier worldwide shipboard missile launching system throughout the free world, nearly 40 years later.