After years of effort, the Stafford Air & Space Museum is pleased to announce the acquisition of a revolutionary cruise missile that is closely tied to the career of Lt. General Thomas P. Stafford.
Called “Tacit Rainbow,” this small, jet powered unmanned “mini” drone was conceived and developed by General Stafford when he served as the Air Force’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Research, Development and Acquisition at the Pentagon in the late 1970’s.
The project was developed using experience gained with anti-radar missiles in Vietnam that could zero in on radar sites when they were operating, but would often malfunction if the radar was turned off after the missile was launched.
To solve this problem, General Stafford pushed the development of this “smart” weapon that had a variety of unique qualities. It was ingeniously designed to be small enough to be carried by bombers and fighter aircraft to within striking distance of a potential target. When launched, the drone’s wings and horizontal tail would unfold out of the fuselage, and its small 70-lb thrust jet engine would fire up. An onboard computer was pre-programmed to steer the craft to a designated target area where it would loiter, waiting for an enemy radar site to be turned on. As soon as a radar signal was detected, it would immediately attack the radar installation. If the radar was turned off to avoid detection, the “Tacit Rainbow” would return to orbit the site and wait for the radar to be turned back on. It would continue to do this until the radar installation was either destroyed, or until it ran out of fuel.
Surviving examples of the “Tacit Rainbow” are extremely rare, with less than five still known to exist. Working closely with the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas – one of the locations of the aircraft – the Stafford Air & Space Museum was able to negotiate a mutually beneficial artifact trade. The Dallas museum received two space artifacts they needed, and we were able to bring another example of General Stafford’s many accomplishments back to the museum named for him!
The “Tacit Rainbow” should be on public display by the end of the summer!