On June 8th 1959 the crew of the USS Barbero prepared for a launch of a Regulus Cruise Missile. The Regulus cruise missile was a ship or submarine launched turbojet powered and nuclear armed missile used between 1955 and 1964. The cruise missile was prepped and coordinates were mapped to the target. The target for this launch was Naval Station Mayport in sunny Jacksonville Florida.
Wait, you ask….Naval Station Mayport in sunny Jacksonville Florida? Yes, Naval Station Mayport in sunny Jacksonville Florida.
There was a small change made to the cruise missile.The nuclear warhead had been removed earlier and been replaced with two Post office mail bins.
Earlier the US Post Office at officially opened a post office branch on the Barbero. The Barbero under her new commander Robert Blount had left Norfolk, Va with some 3000 pieces of mail and traveled to a position somewhere off the northern Florida coast. The Regulus was prepped and fired. It roared out of the ocean being boosted by its powerful solid rockets. It flew under its turbo-jet engine for approximately 22 minutes before striking its delivery target at Naval Station Mayport.
The US Postmaster General at that time was General Arthur E. Summerfield. After witnessing the delivery he was quoted saying:
“This peacetime employment of a guided missile for the important and practical purpose of carrying mail, is the first known official use of missiles by any Post Office Department of any nation.Before man reaches the moon, mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.”
But rocket mail was not meant to be. The cost of the missile could not be justified and basic airplane based air mail became the solution that won the day.
A paper model by Eric Truax of the Regulus cruise missile can be found here