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The RM Rocket and the Cold War in Montgomery County


The rocket that is installed at the entrance to Roy Lester Stadium is a Nike Ajax missile from the Cold War. These missiles once ringed Washington, D.C in the 1950’s and early 1960’s to protect the capital from approaching enemy aircraft.  Three main missile batteries were located here in Montgomery County. One just north and west of Olney, on 21515 Mt. Zion Road,  one in North Gaithersburg, at 8791 Snouffer School Road, and one west of Gaithersburg near NIST at 770 Muddy Branch Road. Each of these sites contained radar domes, housing for soldiers, launching platforms and/or underground elevators to hide and protect the missiles.

Most of the original facilities were closed in the late 1960’s as our defense system switched to larger and longer range anti-aircraft missiles. FEMA still uses part of the Mt. Zion facility, and in post 9/11 homeland security, it is manned and guarded 24 hours a day. The Snouffer School Road site has since been torn down and sold for development.  Part of the Muddy Branch site is on NIST property and part at the Consumer Products Safety site.  From what information I can find, this site still has buildings, a radar tower and one working elevator.

These missiles came in two forms, the early Ajax and the later longer ranged Hercules model, under ARADCOM (Army Air Defense Command). Our RM rocket is the earlier Ajax model. It measures 21 feet long; 12 inches in diameter with a 4.5 foot wing span. Each weighed 1,000 lbs (armed) and had a range of 25 to 30 miles.  It could travel at Mach 2.3 (1,679 mph), reach an altitude of 70,000 feet and each missile was guided by ground computers/radar. Three high explosive warheads, mounted in the nose, center, and rear sections, allowed for it to burst among approaching aircraft and ideally destroy or disable multiple enemy planes. I don’t know how or when the school came to acquire our Nike Ajax rocket, and if anyone in the community does, please send us the details. 

Article written by Mr. Hines, RM Social Studies Teacher