Former Rocket test area collage header

Army Rocket Test Area

Former Rocket Test Historic District Sign

The Army Rocket Test Area Historic District (also known as the “1500 Area”) lies along Hart Road, in a wooded area off Lake Denmark Road adjacent to the far northeast part of Picatinny Arsenal, though off the installation proper.  Built over a period spanning the late 1940s to the 1960s, the district includes the remnants of two Cold War Army testing facilities.  One is a set of test stands, conditioning chambers, and support buildings for testing jet-assisted take-off (Jato), rocket, and missile components, located in the central part of the district. The Army’s rocket and missile testing program served basic research purposes and was part of the broader US response to a perceived Soviet threat following World War II, but this was a time when outsourcing to private industry and academic institutions increasingly came to dominate military spending on both R&D and production.  Picatinny was one of the Army’s six old-line manufacturing arsenals that participated in major weapons programs after the war, and the assignment to this installation of nuclear munitions development in 1950 ensured that it would continue its rocket testing program throughout the ensuing decade.  Important weapons systems for which components are known to have been tested in the 1500 Area include LOKI, SAGE, HONEST JOHN, REDSTONE, NIKE AJAX, SHILLELAGH, and PERSHING I.  Other systems that Picatinny Arsenal participated in developing, such as the CORPORAL, LACROSSE, NIKE HERCULES, HAWK, LITTLEJOHN, SERGEANT, LANCE, PATRIOT, and PERSHING II, also probably underwent components testing here.  Following the Cold War, the test stands of this historic district continued to be used for static testing of thrusters, for a variety of tests on projectiles in development at Picatinny, and for Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) tests.

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Former Rocket Test Area Overview Map

(click on the image for a separate close-up view)

The second constituent of the district is a group of pyrotechnics research facilities.  These structures stood in two locations within the district: high-altitude simulation test chambers and related buildings were on the west end of the district, near the entrance off Lake Denmark Road, and a group of research laboratories and storage buildings were at the east end of the district.  Picatinny had led pyrotechnics development for the Army from the time the War Department created the Pyrotechnic Board after WW I, and the Arsenal was given oversight of national programs after WW II.  The 1950s facilities were sited within the relatively remote rocket test area partly for safety reasons. The pyrotechnic facilities built here were state-of-the-art for their time, but were largely obsolete by the end of the 1970s. 

Bazookas to Guided Missiles

Picatinny had already developed an antitank rocket (the "bazooka") and the M8 light artillery rocket during World War II. In the late 1940s, research at the Arsenal turned to rocket boosters and jet assisted take-off (Jato) units, and the Army Rocket Test Area was built at that time. This helped place Picatinny in line for further R&D funding in the nuclear weapons era. In 1949, the Army received its first nuclear assignment, for a 280-millimeter atomic shell capable of being fired from a conventional artillery gun, the "Atomic Annie."  Its success led to other assignments in the nuclear field. During the ensuing decade, money for weapons research and development increasingly flowed to private industry and academic institutions via government contracts, spawning the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower famously warned the nation of as he left office in 1961. As new technologies in jet propulsion and atomic energy advanced, the old-line Army manufacturing installations such as Picatinny were less equipped than private industry to support major R&D programs. But while much R&D was contracted out, work conducted in-house at Picatinny focused on developing fuzing and warhead technologies and particularly on mating warheads with launch and delivery vehicles – i.e., missiles and rockets – beginning with the Nike guided missile program. See Lassman 2008 and The Firepower Story

Rocket Testing Area Layout Plan
Safety plug in control panel

Safety plug in control panel for static firing

Zig Zag Fuse Test Setup

Zig Zag Fuse Test Setup

T-34 Jato being placed in test stand

T-34 Jato being placed in test stand

A view of a solenoid cell screen set

A view of a solenoid cell screen set looking from the muzzle of the launcher

Rocket test setup

Test setup for pressure and thrust measurement of 3.5" rocket

These photographs were part of a 1951 Rocket and Jato Testing manual used at the 1500 Area.

Rocket Rivalry

  • Army missiles

    Display of Army missiles Honest John, Nike Ajax, and Corporal, 1955. (U.S. Army)

  • In the large, wooded triangle of land south of the intersection of Lake Denmark and Snake Hill Roads, Army and Navy rocket testing areas operated within 2000 feet of each other throughout the 1950s. Moreover, the private rocketry firm of Reaction Motors, Inc. (RMI) occupied immediately adjacent facilities on the Navy base. Chosen because of its remote location, this small corner of the New Jersey highlands was, ironically, a rather crowded neighborhood for rocket research. The late 1940s through 50s was a period when the military branches vied for control of rocket and missile development. The Army had suffered from reduced funding (in absolute terms as well as in relation to the other branches, including the newly formed Air Force) following World War II, but nevertheless pushed forward with its own rocket and missile programs. At Picatinny, direct rivalry was kept in check as Army research and testing focused on solid propellants, while next door the Navy and RMI focused on liquid propellants. Solid propellants are stable, can be easily stored and transported, and provide superior initial thrust, but once ignited, they burn up completely. Liquid propellent engines, on the other hand, are fragile and require complex pumping systems, but can be shut down or throttled up and down during flight.


Rocket Test Area

The "Rocket Testing Station" as described in 1956 consisted of an enclosed area approximately 750 x 1,000 feet, with 2,500 feet of woods extending beyond the enclosure as a buffer. Test stands were generalized structures in which a variety of equipment could be set up as needed for specific types of tests. Instrumentation measured thrust, pressure, time, temperature, acceleration, and deformation. There was a spin test fixture (up to 20,000 rpm), and facilities also included conditioning chambers for temperature and humidity testing and salt-water spray.

Army programs and the components that underwent testing in the Historic District from 1951-1960 included:

  • LOKI - fuze development, rocket motors, loading and assembling warheads
  • NIKE AJAX - The world’s first surface-to-air missile - high explosive fragmentation device for warhead
  • SHILLELAGH - for combat vehicles - development of warhead and fuze system, motor propellant and igniter, gas generator, propellant and igniter
  • HONEST JOHN - United States’ first tactical nuke - warhead and fuzing system
  • REDSTONE - warhead
  • PERSHING I- warhead, motor components
Moving an Honest John at Picatinnyr Honest John ready for testing at Picatinny

Two photographs of the Honest John during testing at the 1500 area in 1953

I Worked Here

Ken Klingaman

Ken Klingaman

The test stands continued to be used for various purposes, including thruster and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) tests, through the early 21st century. Picatinny Test and Evaluation Engineer Ken Klingaman describes spin testing for EOD here.

Test stands in 1951

The test stands in 1951

Test stands in 2012

The test stands in 2012


Pyrotechnic devices are used for communication, illumination, training exercises, and protection, as well as for delayed ignition or detonation. After World War II, Picatinny was given responsibility for research and development of all military pyrotechnic devices and compositions for the Army and Air Force, as well as for all compositions and some devices for the Navy. The facility in the 1500 Area (built mainly between 1947 and 1956) included four laboratories with conventional equipment as well as specialized instrumentation and equipment, including High-Speed and Electronic Spectrographs, Analog and Digital Integrators, an Integrating Photometer, Micromerigraph, and a High-Altitude simulation chamber. Although the mid-20th-century facilities eventually became obsolete, Picatinny continues to lead the Army's pyrotechnic research and development, now housed in the 2nd Lieutenant John T. Wroblewski Pyrotechnics Research and Technology Complex.

Wroblewski pyrotechnics research and technology complex
Test stands in 1951

Flare tunnel showing laser experimental instrumentation

I Worked Here

Russell Broad

Male silhoutte

Russell Broad, a technical expert in pyrotechnics who worked at the 1500 Area for over 20 years,  here explains what pyrotechnic devices are and gives examples of how they are used in the military.

U.S. Navy photo

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Lenny M. Francioni/Released

Air support conditioning exercize

U.S. Army photo by Spc. Shawn M. Cassalt/Released

Visual Intel

Photo by Gary E11, courtesy of U.S. Air Force