The Flying Monkeys
If you a planning a trip to Zion National Park this year there is a wondrous place that not many people know about. Located in the majestic healing red sand cliff mesa’s of Southwest Utah, 17 miles from the west entrance to the park is an important piece of history that still affects us all today. Following World War II America’s rapidly advancing military technology produces jet planes that could reach in excess of 500 miles per hour. The SMART Supersonic Military Air Research Track was needing to be constructed for a place to invent a way for pilots to eject out of planes before they crashed. Too many good men had been killed in service. So hence the invention of seat belts, rocket sleds and ejection systems, just to mention a few, were created and tested up on the Hurricane Mesa.
In 1953 the Air Force awarded a $2 million contract to the Coleman Engineering Company of Torrence, California, to construct the track.The Air Force selected the flat, arid Hurricane Mesa as the site for the facility. The regions mild weather allowed year round testing, the mesa’s flat bedrock provided natural flat table land to secure anchor for the track, it’s 1500 foot drop into the Virgin River Valley was also barren enough for the safety of it’s towns citizens, and the Virgin River supplied all the necessary water for the hydraulic brake system. The track consisted of 12,000 feet of welded, heavy-duty rails that formed the longest rocket research track in the United States. Coleman completed the base after starting the summer of 1954, and finishing and date of the first test was July 1955.
Testing at the site involved hurling a rocket sled, carrying a seat with a dummy, known as “Sam”, strapped to it, along the track at a speed of 1,050 miles per hour (Mach 1.3). Sam was a highly instrumented anthropoid simulator with electric equipment and a radio connected to it. Just before reaching the edge of the cliff the ejection seat mechanism would fire and fling the dummy over the side where a parachute opened and it floated to the valley floor. In one series of tests Hurricane Sam was replaced by monkey’s (apes). This was to determine the effects of ejection on live beings.
At one point they even set a world land speed record when the 9400 pound sled rocketed down the track at 1800 miles per hour. Other testing facilities also utilized the site including a powered comparator for high-speed motion pictures, a 1956 IBM 706 computer, and 1960 Bendix G-15 computer. Closure of the testing site in 1963. Since then the Hurricane Mesa site has been purchased and ran by different research companies. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZtdGEbqek4
This past October in Virgin, Utah The Heritage Museum held a Informational display and film concerning the making and use of the track. There were original pictures of the track being built amongst all kinds of interesting historical facts about the affects on the community and surrounding areas of having such a big operation in their region.
The trials of the homesteaders were to build a 1800 foot road for access to the test site. They also helped to build the 15,000 foot pipe carrying the essential water from the Virgin River to the top of the mesa.
The wonderful volunteers, Jean Krause and Linda Collette that toured, collaborated and hosted the display, mentioned that many of the homes and businesses have incorporated the use of the rocket sled track tubes making fences, railings, post boxes and decorative uses throughout the town.
A good distinguishing land mark, remnants of the mesa is to locate the two round water towers on the edges of the mesa cliff off Highway 9 as you top the first ridge. Then you know you are looking at the US Air Force SMART sled track mesa. But if you need further assistance in locating it please feel free to stop by the HISTORIC 1866 CHURCH in VIRGIN, UTAH
Built by Mormon Pioneers of adobe and timber in a European technique called “noggin”, this building served as church, city meeting hall, and recreation center for Virgin and surrounding communities between 1866 and 1969. The town of Virgin has completed the restoration and upgrading of the meeting house and square for public use.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column]