The Star-Herald

Remembering the SNARK

The military installation (Presque Isle Army Air Base 1940-1947 and then Presque Isle Air Force Base) once located in Presque Isle played a major role in the defense of the nation for two decades. 

In the 1940s, the base was the last military facility before leaving for the European theater and the first as soldiers returned to the US.  After the end of World War II, the world entered a new era with the threat of nuclear armament build-up and possible war between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the United States.  In 1958, it was announced that the Presque Isle Air Base would become the Strategic Air Command’s first SNARK Missile base.

The SNARK was the US Air Force’s first intercontinental ballistic missile.  It could be launched from the ground by a jet engine assisted by solid rocket boosters.

Sixty-three years ago this month, the first SNARK arrived in Presque Isle on May 27, 1959.  The SNARK was manufactured by the Northrop Corporation and used by the United States Air Force.  It was just over 67 feet in length, had a wingspan of over 42 feet, and flew at Mach .94 (or about 720 mph).  The SNARK was armed with a thermonuclear warhead.  

Why Presque Isle?  Presque Isle Army Air Base was the northernmost base in the continental United States.  It was the first line of defense from any possible attack from the USSR during the Cold War by any planes or missiles that flew directly over the North Pole — the shortest distance from Moscow to the United States.  That “short” distance was yet another reason Presque Isle was chosen.  The range of the SNARK was just over 6,300 miles.  By traveling directly over the North Pole, the distance from Presque Isle to Moscow was just within that range.  

The SNARK Program was short-lived, however, due to its lack of reliability.  Test failures over Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Florida soon turned into jokes about “snark-infested” waters.  As such, President Kennedy deactivated the SNARK program on June 25, 1961, and the Presque Isle base closed on October 1 of that same year.  The hangars and runways were then converted back to a regional airport.

Only five known SNARKs are still in existence today. They are at the Air Force Space and Missile Museum, Cape Canaveral, Florida; National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio; Strategic Air and Space Museum, Ashland, Nebraska; Hill Air Force Base, Ogden, Utah; and the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, adjacent to Kirkland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The public is invited to join Presque Isle Historical Society for the opening of the Maysville Museum, located at 165 Caribou Road on the corner of U.S. Route 1 and the Brewer Road, for its 2022 season on Saturday, June 4.  

One of the new exhibits for 2022 features the SNARK missile and hangars.  A brief presentation on this new exhibit will be given at 10 a.m.  Other exhibits at the museum include:  The Aroostook War, Presque Isle and the Civil War, Northern Maine Sanatorium, Agri-CULTURE, and Presque Isle’s One-Room Schoolhouses.  The museum also has a working telephone switchboard and a small gift shop.  

The award-winning museum, also designated as a “Distinctive Destination” (one of only three in Maine) by the National Register of Historic Places, is located in a historically significant building that served simultaneously as a one-room schoolhouse and the Maysville Grange.  The site was also the location of the Maysville Town Hall prior to the town’s annexation by Presque Isle in 1883.  

Admission to the museum is free.  The Maysville Museum will be open from June 4 through October 27, Monday – Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.  Volunteers are also needed to help “man” the museum.  For more information or to volunteer, please contact Presque Isle Historical Society by mail at PO Box 285, Presque Isle, ME 04769; by email at pihistoricalsociety@hotmail.com; or by phone at 207-762-1151.

Kimberly R. Smith is the secretary/treasurer of the Presque Isle Historical Society.

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