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Minuteman III missile rumbles away from Vandenberg AFB

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 12:03 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 12:03 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at Vandenberg Air Force Base. U.S. Air Force

For the second time in two weeks, a Minuteman III missile with a mock warhead made a middle-of-the-night flight early Wednesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in a test of the weapon system.

The three-stage intercontinental ballistic missile blasted out of its underground silo on North Base shortly after midnight, the opening of the six-hour window.

Upon liftoff, the military tracked the weapon as it traveled for less than 30 minutes and some 4,200 miles southwest of Vandenberg to a predetermined target. The results of the test were not immediately available.

The low rumble was audible around the Santa Maria Valley, and mostly clear skies allowed spectators to observe the flight for several minutes, including as the weapon’s first stage engine fell away.

Air Force Global Strike Command, the Louisiana-based military organization charged with overseeing the nuclear-tipped ICBMs, said tests like Wednesday gather data on the weapon system system’s accuracy and reliability.

A similar test occurred April 26, a scheduling quirk after the delay of a test last year and not a response to recent global tensions.

Members of the 576th Flight Test Squadron installed the test-unique equipment on the weapon, with a task force of operators and maintainers assisting.

The United States has 450 Minuteman III weapons sitting on alert near Maelstrom AFB, Montana; Minot AFB, North Dakota, and F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming.

Later this month, Vandenberg may be the site a different test, this time involving a missile-defense system where an interceptor will attempt to shoot down a mock target.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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