The Titan II
missiles were the largest ICBM
s ever deployed by the United States. A total of 54 Titan II launch complexes were built: 18 in Arizona
, 18 in Arkansas
and 18 in Kansas
. Each launch complex cost $8.3 million and took 18 months to build. All 54 were manned 24 hours a day for over 20 years by highly trained combat crews, starting in 1963. A crew was made up of two officers and two enlisted who worked 24 hour shifts together. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan
announced the phase-out of the Titan IIs as part of SALT
and by 1986 fifty-three launch sites had been destroyed, the never-used nuclear warhead
s dismantled and the missiles retrofit
ted for new duties as satellite delivery systems. Most of the launch sites were sold at auction
after the subterranean silo
s and control rooms had been salvaged and filled in with dirt. Only one remains intact: Complex 571-7, about 25 miles south of Tucson
near Sahuarita, Arizona, is operated as a museum
The Titan Missile Museum is the only place in the world where the general public can see these silent, menacing Cold War symbols. The tour starts in the "briefing room" in an above-ground building originally used by workers during construction of the complex. Visitors are shown a video outlining the purpose and powers of the Titan II missiles. Then everyone dons hard hats and follows the tour guide outside. During the active duty of the launch sites, there would have been nothing on the surface other than a fence, a few antennae and the massive launch tube cover. Today there are displays of the booster rocket engines, the Mark VI reentry vehicle and fueling trucks scattered across the gravel, surrounding the low concrete slab that covers the launch tube. The guide explains each detail, from the special ablative coating on the reentry vehicle to the combustion reaction between nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4) and Aerozine 50 (hydrazine/unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine) that would have propelled the missile through the atmosphere.
Next you step up on a small platform and lean over the railing, looking down the silo at a real Titan II missile, patiently resting below. The silo, made of reinforced concrete, is 146 feet deep and 55 feet in diameter. The walls of the tube are covered in sound baffles, retractable work platforms, fire control systems and lights. The closure door, designed to protect the missile from a near nuclear impact, is made of steel and concrete and weighs 740 tons. It is angled at the edges to sweep away debris as it moves. It could be opened in less than 20 seconds, but now is fixed half open, with huge concrete blocks positioned so that the door can never again be opened fully. Extra provisions were negotiated into SALT to allow this museum to exist; the door modification, which is visible to orbiting satellites, is just one of the safeguards required. Another is a large rectangular hole chopped in the side of the reentry vehicle to show that there is not, and never will be, a warhead inside. Before the museum was opened, other holes were cut in the empty Titan II propellant tanks and the missile was left above ground for 30 days so that Soviet satellites could photograph it.
After the view from the top, visitors are guided into the underground control complex. The guide describes how each incoming crew would have phoned the crew on duty before entering the area, then again at the access portal. The crew below would open the first door, allowing the relief crew into the "entrapment area" where they would be visually identified by closed-circuit TV before getting any further. Through another locked door and down the stairs, the relief crew must next pass through two sets of double blast doors, each one four feet thick, made of concrete and 2 inch rebar. The crew must go through the first door in each set and close it behind them before the second door could be opened. Not only was this good security, this procedure kept the complex "hard" (i.e. impervious to nuclear impacts) at all times.
The underground complex consists of the silo, a three-level control center, a cableway and various storage tanks. The control center has crew quarters (kitchen, dining area, latrine, equipment room and sleeping area), the launch control room, communications systems and electrical power generators. Food and supplies for 30 days were kept at all times. Electricity (28 Volt DC) was provided by two battery backups and a 500 HP Diesel generator. The entire control center is isolated from outside shocks by giant steel springs and a one foot wide "rattle space" between each level and the outer walls.
The tour guide will take you to the launch control room and describe the multiple steps in the procedure for launching the missile. First, orders are received and decoded by two crew members independently. The orders would include instructions for which of three preprogrammed targets should be activated. This was done by pressing a button labelled either 1, 2 or 3. The crew would never know the locations or names of these targets; reprogramming was done by loading a new set of targets from a paper tape. Also, the combination for the butterfly valve in the rocket engines must be correctly entered into a console. This valve allowed the fuel and oxidizer to mix; seven incorrect entries would destroy it, rendering the missile useless. Finally, two different crew members must turn two keys within two seconds and hold them for five seconds. These keys were positioned so that no one person could reach them both. After the missile was away, there was nothing else for the crew to do except wait.
The demonstration of this launch procedure is unexpectedly loud and somewhat frightening. Various klaxons and alarms signify different situations. Lights on the huge old computer modules flash. One imagines that in a real launch the floor would shake and the air vibrate with a terriflying rumble as the 327,000 pound missile lifted off. And yet, surrounded by evidence of Cold War paranoia, one person felt "the scariest part is not the missile itself, but the antiquated equipment that national security once rested on".1 Of course, these toggle switches, analog dials and paper tape readers were state-of-the-art in the 1960s and 1970s.
The rest of the tour is a short walk down the 200 foot cableway and personnel tunnel to the silo. The cableway is also suspended on shock-absorbing springs and the cables have plenty of slack to allow them to shift with the movement of the earth without breaking. Viewports have been cut in the walls of the silo to allow visitors to look at the gleaming metal sides of the last Titan II. Manequins in fuel-handing suits look like astronauts as they bend over gauges and check the rocket umbilicals. You are led back through the cableway and up the stairs to the surface. Deposit your hard hat in the bin and buy a souvenir in the gift shop before you depart.
1--This quote is from an article in Roadside America. http://www.roadsideamerica.com/attract/AZGREtitan.html
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