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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Rocketry Experiments

by Wynne Dough, 2006

Rocketry experiments were conducted in two locations along the North Carolina coast from the 1940s to the 1970s. After World War II, the U.S. Navy leased much of Topsail Island (Pender County) as a test range for multistage rockets and ramjet engines. The Kellet Corporation operated the range under navy contract, with assistance from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, until 1948, when the navy moved its testing activities to White Sands, N. Mex., and Cape Canaveral, Fla.

From 1962 to 1971 the Atlantic Research Corporation occasionally tested propellants for the Air Force Systems Command and other agencies by firing rocket engines attached to concrete pads at several sites along eight miles of the Currituck Banks. The road that the company desired was not built until after the tests were completed, and the expected flood of new jobs did not materialize. In addition, the task of determining how much of what substances entered the local groundwater from buried steel drums was still unfinished by the early 2000s. Concrete towers built north of Oregon Inlet (Dare County) in 1962 were used not for launching rockets, as rumors insisted, but for monitoring launches by the National Aeronautics and Space Agency from Wallops Island, Va., and Cape Canaveral.


David A. Stallman, Operation Bumblebee, 1946-1948, Topsail Island, N.C. (1992).

Additional Resources:

"Missile Tests." North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program.  (accessed August 22, 2012).

"Topsail Towers." Our State. UNC-TV.  (accessed August 23, 2012). Episode 408 (premiere date: 2/5/2009) Billy Barnes.

"Operation Bumblebee" Missiles and More Museum. 2012. (accessed August 22, 2012).

Brown, Joseph Parsons. "Missile Test First Begun At Holly Ridge." The Commonwealth Of Onslow: A History.  New Bern, N. C.: Owen G. Dunn Company. 1960. p.356.  (accessed August 22, 2012).

Stallman, David A. A History of Camp Davis. 1990.

Turberg, Edward F. “After You’ve Gone: Camp Davis, Topsail Island, and Their Place in History,” Carolina Comments. May 1994. 85-91.

Turnage, Sheila. “Operation Bumblebee,” Our State. March 1995. p. 33.

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