Friday, February 17, 2017

TITAN MISSILE II - Now That's Scary!!

Way, WAY back in the day, I sat on the couch of our neighbor who was on a ship off the coast of Cuba during something called the Bay of Pigs.  I remember being VERY scared that we were all going to die from nuclear bombs being dropped at a base near Santa Barbara where another family friend worked on the deployment systems for the bombs.

That was pretty scary times we lived in, even if no one realized it.  I think we were minutes from destruction when a peace treaty was finally resolved.  Those in the military were allowed to telephone their families the news that we were all going to live.  We received one of those first calls.

Yesterday, I got an up close and personal view of the weapon that would have resulted in the end of the world basically.  I know touring a missile site sounds pretty boring, but believe me, you're going to be fascinated by the history and the mechanics of this place, the Titan Missile Museum.
This site became active in 1963 after a prominent Arizona Senator (does Goldwater ring a bell?) lobbied for 18 missiles to be placed south of Tucson.  Here's a picture of this original site.
Nowadays, it has grown into the towns of Sahuarita and Green Valley.  In 1982 this site and all the other 53 or 54 were deactivated.  All of the missile silos were destroyed except this one made into a museum with all of the original equipment still in tact.  
Ladies, don't think this is just another boring tour with your husband ... it's really fascinating to hear about the security and the first woman to have the authority to turn the key.  These weird outer space looking things shoot a radar beam at each other.  If the beam is broken, alarms and bells go off underground and an army is called to greet you.
The doors, once opened by huge hydraulic cylinders, are permanently stuck open just enough for you to see down inside the silo.  
If you were one of four people coming in for your 24 hour shift, you would call in at the gate, then again as you headed down the stairway.  The doors weren't opened for just anyone.
As we entered the facility, we walked down 55 or so stairs.  There were lots of numbers and information thrown out there, forgive me if I get some of them wrong.
At this huge door, you would call again, and one more time at the next even thicker door.  This place was built to survive a nuclear blast or any stray earthquake that may come by.  Some of the walls are EIGHT FOOT thick. 
Down this hallway to the end you would go, turning left to the control room.  
How would it survive an earthquake?  It's all hanging on springs and shock absorbers.  The hanging wires aren't sloppy work ... they are loose so they won't break, even if the ground shifts 18 inches up, down or sideways.
This is the control room.  Four people worked here, two enlisted men and two officers.  One of the security measures was that no one was allowed to be alone.  Two Person Zone meant there was always two people to watch each other.  Our tour guide James is leaning on the launch control panel where the local librarian sat with control of the key when she was in the military.
All of the other panels you see are reading data about the missile and it's systems.  There were actually TWO keys to be turned at the same time, spaced far enough apart that one person could not reach both.
Should the President decide to launch a missile, he would send information over a ticker-tape type machine for the two commanding officers to open this file cabinet.  This contained the protocol they would use in order to launch the missile to one of three locations.  No one ever knew what those locations were ... and it's still kept a secret today.
Unlike most of the rooms where the separate pieces of equipment are on shocks, this entire room is suspended by these springs.  
Upon receiving specific information from the President, they would open one of these paper envelopes which had numbers on a little plastic chit.  Those numbers were entered into the little black square in the very top left of this image.
Once that was done, the person sitting at this desk would turn the key at the same time as the second key (see the circle thing at top center?)  It took something like 58 seconds to launch the weapon of mass destruction.  As the lights lit up across the board, you could see each system starting up.
Once the keys were turned, the two types of fuel were dumped into the rocket.  They spontaneously ignited and she was on her way.  Here's Miss Patty launching the missile.  No big red button, no big red phone, just a key like your car's ignition.
From the control room, we walked down a long hallway suspended on those same shock absorbers to the actual missile silo.
This shows the underground facilities.  We walked down the stairs in the middle, turned left to the control room, then back down the hallway to the silo.
Here she is!!  Top, middle and bottom.  That black part on the tip ... that's what carried the bomb.

These are maintenance platforms that swing down into place should they needed to work on something.
Because the Russians don't trust us (and vice versa I'm sure), a hole had to be cut in the nosecone to prove she is inert.  It was done this way so they can see it on satellite images.  After all, this really IS a museum.
As the rocket is launched, these huge fire-hose-like contraptions pump water into the bottom of the chamber.  All that smoke you see upon launch is really just steam, used to help deaden the sound underground and keep things cool.
Back up top, they have one of the tanker trailers that pumped fuel to the underground storage containers.  This stuff was not only dangerous in the flammable way, but would kill you if you breathed it.  At this site, no fuel was ever loaded into the missile itself, so there's no danger of exploding.
I know that was a lot of pictures ... but really, it's just the tip of the iceberg.  If you have an extra hour or two while in Tucson, be sure and take the short drive South to this amazing piece of history.  If you want the tour that goes to the very bottom of the missile, make reservations WAY in advance.  Of course you have to exit through the gift shop, but you'll be proud to know I didn't buy one single thing!!  

There's so much going on this weekend ... horse shows, dog shows, rodeo, Civil War reenactment, drag racing ... I can't see it all, but I'm going to give it a shot!!


  1. Replies
    1. It was VERY interesting ... even for me, and I'm not a war/bombs/military type of person.

  2. Wow. Some how Joe missed that when we were in Arizona. I'm sort of glad....Sounds like your really enjoyed the tour though.

    1. I'm sorry Joe missed it Betty. I think he would have found it fascinating.

  3. Bay of Pigs 2day invasion of which was a farce and a flop was 1961.
    It was basically a clandestine operation by where the American force chickened out
    There was no nuclear involvement between American and Russian or Cuban. (was to be a land offensive only)

    the 12day (Caribbean crisis) or the Cuban missile crisis was in 1962
    However in 1962 there were nuclear tipped missiles in Cuba
    Being on a sea-tug at sea knowing that they have nuclear tipped land deployed rocket based at Miami, Key West NAS fort bliss AFB homestead AFB Fl, now that was scary
    If that missile silo became active in 1963 and the missile crisis had escalated it would've been dust, along with Tucson

    It also may be interesting to note 1959 that Cape Canaveral AFS USED to have a Minuteman nuclear site. that site now is the sealed gravesite of the Challenger space shuttle

    1. I just remember it being scary for a kid!!

  4. I was scared too, and we did not have anyone in the military, but dad did work at the Sacramento Army Depot. Sacramento had two AF Bases and the Depot, and Capital of California, so we figured we were at ground zero for a few missiles if they were ever launched. And, of course, there were the "duck and cover" drills under the school desks. Like that was going to help? Can't forget the every Wednesday noon siren tests either. Those were the days...