Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division
Public Affairs Department
Code 750000D, Stop 1014
China Lake, CA 93555-6100
Phone 760-939-8404 : Fax 760-939-2056

Navy ship named after China Lake pioneer

Date: 03-Dec-08
News Release Number: ECL200812031

Dr. William B. McLean
Dr. William B. McLean, pioneer designer of the Sidewinder missile, seated at his desk as technical director of the Naval Ordnance Test Station, China Lake, Calif., November 1960. U.S. Navy photo.
Mr. Meeacham and Dr. Bill McLean
Mr. Meeacham and Dr. Bill McLean look at Sidewinder missile hardware being fabricated in the machine shop of Michelson Laboratory, NOTS China Lake, in April 1956. U.S. Navy photo.

Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter announced yesterday the names of four new Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo/ammunition ships (T-AKE) as William McLean, Mathew Perry, Charles Drew and Washington Chambers. All of the Lewis and Clark ships are named in honor of American explorers and pioneers and are being built by General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard in San Diego, Calif. The selection of William McLean, designated T-AKE 12, honors Dr. William Burdette McLean (1914-1976), who conceived and developed the heat-seeking Sidewinder air-to-air missile while serving as a physicist for the Navy. During World War II, McLean worked on ordnance equipment and testing at the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C. Following the war, he moved to the Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) in China Lake, Calif., where he led the project team developing the Sidewinder missile from 1945 to 1954. In April 1954, he was appointed technical director, the senior civilian position on Station, a position which he held for 13 years.

McLean's design of the Sidewinder missile remained as a premier weapon for more than 50 years, until it was updated about nine years ago. The architecture of his design is still a model for success. The newest T-AKE 12 will be the first Navy ship named after McLean. The T-AKEs are 689 feet in length, have an overall beam of 106 feet, a navigational draft of 30 feet and displace about 42,000 tons. Powered by single-shaft diesel-electric propulsion systems, the T-AKEs can reach a speed of about 23 miles per hour. As part of the Military Sealift Command's (MSC) Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force, the T-AKEs are designated United States Naval Ship (USNS). Unlike their United States Ship (USS) counterparts, the T-AKEs are crewed by 124 civil service mariners working for MSC, as well as 11 sailors who provide supply coordination. When needed, the T-AKEs can also carry a helicopter detachment. More information on dry cargo/ammunition ships can be seen at For additional information about Dr. McLean, contact Susan Read, Public Affairs Support Division, China Lake, at (760) 939-6047.

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