The Santa Clarita Valley is a recreational dream where you’re still likely to see a celebrity. You can enjoy many tourist attractions along with local hotspots that are a great place to unwind. But on August 16, 1956, the area was much more eventful in an unexpected way. The Battle of Palmdale was a mistake that began with good intentions. You can sugarcoat it however you like, but the Battle of Palmdale crash site tells another tale. The U.S. Air Force (USAF) missed its target and instead sent live rounds to bomb Palmdale, California.
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What Was the Battle of Palmdale?
A drone got away from the U.S. Navy on August 16, 1956, and the USAF tried to shoot it down. They missed and the incident has since been dubbed the Battle of Palmdale as it took place in the city within the Santa Clarita Valley.
This was a time in which an aerial threat during the Cold War was a key concern of the Air Force. While the Battle of Palmdale 1956 incident didn’t actually involve a conflict between multiple armed forces, it was still a dangerous situation that left behind an embarrassed military with more concerns than solutions.
Hitting a Drone With Rockets? Eh, How Hard Could It Be?
The Air Force had every reason to be excited about a runaway drone. This was a chance to prove its ability to intercept a potential enemy, aka to showcase its skills in case the Soviet Union got a little too cute.
Only it failed in this endeavor and in the process, took a potentially dangerous situation and made it much, much worse.
The Navy was researching missiles for the Battle of Palmdale, such as the AIM-7 Sparrow and AAM-N-10 Eagle. Drones, including the Grumman F6F-5K Hellcat, were used for missile tests. But on this day, a drone got out of control after leaving Point Mugu Naval Air Station. This was the USAF’s time to shine.
Interceptors from Oxnard Air Force Base took off and were able to catch the Hellcat. The Air Force’s primary interceptor was the Northrop F-89D Scorpion, and now the runaway drone threatened Los Angeles.
Despite multiple rocket attacks, they failed to shoot down the drone, which eventually crashed in a desolate area near Palmdale. It’s crazy enough, but that’s the one silver lining in all of this. Remarkably, the 208 unguided rockets shot at the drone and the drone itself didn’t kill anyone.
Shooting that many rockets is dangerous enough but in part because they all missed, you now had the issue of undetonated ordinances. During the Battle of Palmdale, this is exactly what happened. Multiple sets of rockets would be found on the ground that had never gone off. Thankfully, no one was hurt by these either.
But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t damage. A lot of property was either outright destroyed or damaged. In total, more than 1,000 acres would become scorched because of the Battle of Palmdale CA. If not for the 500 or so brave firefighters, who knows how much more?
Battle of Palmdale Remains an Obscure Part of Cold War History
Stories of near misses, including a vehicle traveling down the highway and another from a pair of men who had just moved from the area of impact, began to come out. But again, somehow no one was killed.
The real damage, besides the multiple fires wreaking havoc to SoCal, was that to the Air Force’s ego and reputation to stop Soviet bombers. Questions about how the Navy could allow a drone to get out of control in the first place also came about. The Battle of Palmdale could have been a lot worse. We’re all thankful it wasn’t.