Sled park preserves high-speed history

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Siuta B. Ika
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
'Go Mach 10' reads the sign posted along the entrance to the 846th Test Squadron's facilities, and their mission is to operate world-class test facilities for high-speed sled track testing.

Their unique mission has allowed them to receive world-wide recognition such as setting and breaking land speed records and developing the seatbelt, but their newest addition -- a heritage sled park -- has Team Holloman rekindling past tests.

The park's production began with the vision of former 846th TS commander, Lt. Col. Angela Suplisson, said Capt. Julius Puentes, a rocket sled project engineer.

"The project started in September 2008 when Colonel Suplisson wanted to make a memorial to the past," said Captain Puentes. "We all wanted a way to sort of preserve history for everyone to see what has been done in the past, as well as what we are working on now and what we plan to do in the future."

The park is unique in that some of the sleds on display will be rotated out of display for testing, and then put back, pending mission requirements of that particular sled, he added.

"Most of our sleds are used for testing multiple times," said 1st Lt. Matthew Lawrence, an 846th TS rocket sled project engineer. "We designed the park in a way that we could easily access any of the sleds for use when needed."

In the past, all of the sleds were held in the sled "bone yard" -- an area that was originally designated for rusted and old sleds, said Lieutenant Lawrence.

"The bone yard definitely wasn't the most pleasant of sights, not to mention dangerous with all the snakes and other wildlife out here, so not only is the area better looking, it's also safe," he said.

The production, maintenance and upkeep of the sleds is the responsibility of the 846th TS, but the 49th Civil Engineer Squadron's Engineering Flight, Environmental Flight and Fire Protection Flight assisted in making the park a reality.

"Before we put the park into place, there was nothing but rocks and gravel," said Lieutenant Lawrence. "All of the guys here really came together to coordinate through the 49th CES to make this happen. Everything completed was done through self-help."

The park currently features six sleds, a piece of the test track and a sample of track from their magnetic levitation capability project. The park is tentatively scheduled for completion by the end of 2011, and the grand opening is slated to coincide with a design completion where students from the University of Texas at El Paso, New Mexico State University and New Mexico Tech will try their hand at sled design, hosted by the squadron.

The 846th TS hopes to add seven more sleds to its display by the completion date.

"I'm honored to be here as the park opens. The squadron has a long and rich history dating back to the beginning of supersonic aviation," said Lt. Col. David Dunn, 846th TS commander. "The Sled Park gives us a chance to honor the work that has been done in the past and showcases the incredible feats that have been accomplished by the exceptionally skilled craftsman and engineers here at the 846th."

Many sleds on display have made history here at Holloman. One sled, a replica of the Sonic Wind No. 1, allows people to see the vehicle design on which Lt. Col. John Stapp became the "Fastest Man on Earth" in 1954, at 632 miles per hour.

Currently, the 846th TS uses the test track for ejection seat and supersonic weapons testing. They also conduct tests as a part of the Hypersonic Upgrade Program to increase capabilities of the sleds to meet hypersonic test needs for the Department of Defense. These new capabilities will be used on upcoming missile defense warhead test programs. The tests are preformed to demonstrate improvements in rocket sled design, rail alignment and rocket propulsion.

Hours of operation for the park are 6:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Because the park is in a controlled area, anyone interested in visiting the park should contact the 49th Wing Public Affairs office at 575-572-7381.

For more information on the Holloman High Speed Test Track and the unit that operates it, visit the 846th Test Squadron factsheet.