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Missile made to be a master of disguise

March 13, 1998

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

In the 1950s, a secret Air Force project to build a fleet of thousands of jet-powered decoy missiles was developed by Fairchild Aircraft in Hagerstown.

Radar reflectors inside the missile, nicknamed "Goose," gave the missile the same radar signature as a B-52 Stratofortress bomber.

Engineers envisioned building thousands of the missiles to confuse enemy radar systems and protect the vulnerable B-52, but only about 20 were built and tested at Cape Canaveral, Fla., before the program was canceled.

The sole remaining copy of the decoy missile had been lying in a patch of woods along Interstate 81. It was salvaged about two years ago by the Experimental Aircraft Association, said Walter Green, association treasurer.

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The missile is now the first aircraft on display at the future site of the Hagerstown Aviation Heritage Museum at the intersection of Jarkey Drive and U.S. 11 at Washington County Regional Airport.

The association was given a certificate of appreciation by the museum for loaning the missile.

John Seburn, a member of the museum's board of directors, said getting the first display piece is an important step toward development of the museum.

"Hopefully that will get the momentum rolling," he said.

Seburn said the museum board would welcome donation of a temporary modular building so the museum could be started before a permanent building, which could cost $2 million, is constructed.

Top priorities for the museum are acquiring an A-10 Warthog tank killer from the Air Force and a C-119 Flying Boxcar, Seburn said. Both planes were built in Hagerstown.

Allen Clopper, the former chief of flight test engineering at Fairchild, said the missile's reflectors could be changed to look like different aircraft.

"It was a great idea," said former Fairchild chief test pilot and Hagerstown aviation pioneer Richard Henson.

Henson said he hopes the museum in some form will be ready to open in about a year.

Clopper and Henson said Fairchild, with up to 11,000 employees at its peak, was the largest employer in the history of Washington County.

The A-10 was the last military aircraft contract Fairchild completed before it closed its Hagerstown doors in 1984, according to a comprehensive book on the company, "Fairchild Aircraft, 1926-1987."

A museum would be a fitting tribute to the area's aviation history, they said.

Henson, 88, grew up in Hagerstown and started flying in 1930. He still flies his turboprop plane into town regularly from his home in Salisbury, Md. He has ordered a new Cessna Citation jet for delivery in May.

"I still love it," he said.

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