Today, we see cruise missiles as very accurate. This was not always the case. In fact, one cruise missile has the distinction of hitting the wrong continent – and it was quite a miss.
The missile in question was the SM-62 Snark. It was intended to help deter Soviet aggression. According to Designation-Systems.net, with a maximum range of 6,000 miles and a top speed of 550 knots, it had a W39 nuclear warhead with a 4 megaton yield – 20 times as powerful as the W80 used on the Tomahawk cruise missile and the AGM-86 Air Launched Cruise Missile.
It flew at 50,000 feet – which at the time made it hard to intercept with enemy anti-aircraft missiles.
The Snark needed the big warhead. The closest it came to hitting its target was within about eight miles. That is a very far cry from the 260 feet that Designation-Systems.net cited the early models of the Tomahawk cruise missile achieving.
But Air Force magazine described the miss to end all misses. On Dec. 5, 1956, a Snark was launched with a flight plan to cruise to Puerto Rico and return to its base in Florida. Only, it stopped responding to signals.
Even a self-destruct command didn’t work. The Air Force scrambled fighters to shoot down the wayward missile, but they couldn’t pull off the intercept – proving that the design got that part right.
Ultimately, the missile went beyond tracking range – last seen headed towards Brazil. The missile would remain missing for 26 years until some wreckage was found in that South American country.
According to a Reuters report in the Regina Leader-Post, unidentified Brazilians found the parts and reported them.
Designation-Systems.net reported that the Snark would achieve a brief period of fully operational service from February to June 1961 (an initial operating capability was established in 1959). But then-President John F. Kennedy ordered the one active wing to stand down, largely due to the development of inter-continental ballistic missiles.