Saturday, December 20, 2014

Visiting the Titan Missile Museum

A few months ago, I attended a great presentation about the Titan II missile program at the USAF Museum. It was part of their excellent guest lecture series. At the end of the lecture, the presenter - David Stumpf, who literally wrote the book on the Titan II - gave out his email address and told everyone we were welcome to get in touch if we ever made it out to Tucson.

Now, I had never been to Arizona. It wasn't even on my radar. But, a month or two later, I found out I'd be in Phoenix for a conference in early December. You can probably imagine how quickly I dug out that address and sent David an email.

He responded and we communicated back and forth. Within a few weeks, he had - incredibly kindly, to say the least - set me up with a personal tour of the silo. When I arrived at the Titan Missile Museum on December 6th, I met David and a former Missile combat crew officer. Over the course of a few awesome hours, I got to climb up, through, down, and around the complex with two personal tour guides. It was an incredible experience, a wonderful history lesson, and an amazing illustration of just how differently we operated during the Cold War.

Follow along below for photos from my tour of the museum.

Topside of the missile complex from outside the security fence.

Elevator from the topside to the access portal adjacent to the Blast Lock Area.

Stairway from the topside to the Blast Lock Area - crews had to pick up phones and verify secret codes at 4 or 5 different doors before they ultimately gained access to the complex.

Exterior blast door at the entrance to the Blast Lock Area, built to withstand 1000 psi.

Control Center - note one of the massive springs that supports this floor of the complex across the room.

Control Center - the cabinets on the right were originally full of guidance computers; they were replaced by a single guidance computer during an upgrade in the 1970s - technology improves quickly!

Control Center - note the slack in every cable; the entire complex is suspended by springs that hold it 12" away from the outer concrete shell to survive the shock of a nearby nuclear blast.

Control Center - the two officers on duty each had their own padlock (they purchased it on their own and only they knew the combination) so both people were required to open the safe to access the secret codes in the event of a launch command.

Control Center - this is the launch control board that displayed the stages of the launch sequence.

Sleeping Quarters - pretty spartan! Crews rotated on 24 hour alerts the entire time the complex was active. This and the kitchen were the only places they were permitted to be alone.

Sleeping Quarters - you can see the 12" gap between the floor and the outer concrete shell, along with a copper grounding strap.

Cableway connecting the Control Center and Silo - fully suspended and isolated from the outer concrete shell by massive hydraulic pistons.

One of the many massive shock absorbers in the cableway that connects the Control Center and Silo.

Level 2 of the Silo - this is what you see immediately after crossing the Cableway from the Control Center.

 T'was a festive season to visit a former nuclear missile silo!

Looking down at the retractable work platforms and Titan II from Level 2 of the Silo.

Look closely and you'll get a good idea of when this complex was decommissioned.

Like every critical component in the complex, the lights were supported by long springs to cushion against the shock of a nearby nuclear blast.

Significant slack was left in all wiring and hydraulic lines to withstand the shock of a nearby nuclear blast.

The collection of air tanks that supplied pneumatic power to the complex on Level 7 of the Silo.

Manual shutoff valve that allowed the crews to run launch sequence drills without actually flooding the silo with thousands of gallons of water.

Base of the Titan II missile on the hardstand (engines removed) - the entire 135 ton missile rested on 4 small explosive bolts that detonated at launch.

Looking up from Level 7 of the Silo.

Looking down into the flame deflector; at launch, thousands of gallons of water were released, which instantly turned into steam to help reduce shockwaves within the complex.

The hardstand (that the missile rested on) was attached to and supported by these massive spring mounts, which were secured to the silo at the missile's center of gravity to increase overall stability and withstand attack.

Looking up from Level 7 of the Silo.

One of the water injection nozzles below the missile; at launch, thousands of gallons of water were released,which instantly turned into steam to help reduce shockwaves within the complex.

Looking up from the flame deflector; the work platforms on Level 7 are all extended above.

Note the areas with and without rivets - the missile structure was reinforced around the fuel and oxidizer tanks.

The hardstand (that the missile rested on) was attached to and supported by these massive spring mounts, which were secured to the silo at the missile's center of gravity to increase overall stability and withstand attack.

View of the missile from Level 5 of the Silo.

The hardstand (that the missile rested on) was attached to and supported by these massive spring mounts, which were secured to the silo at the missile's center of gravity to increase overall stability and withstand attack.

Backup diesel generator on Level 3 of the Silo. In the event of an attack, the entire complex was sealed from the outside - so the generator would only be able to run on (and exhaust into) whatever air was trapped in the silo.

View into the missile - you can see the forward dome of the oxidizer tank at the top of Stage I.

View into the missile at Level 3 of the Silo - you can see the forward dome of the oxidizer tank at the top of Stage I.

The chilled water system, which cooled the entire complex, located on Level 2 of the SIlo.

One of the primary communication antennas and a hardened backup antenna that would have remained underground unless the primary was destroyed by a nearby nuclear blast.

Lights and a claxon atop poles on the topside that would have warned of an impending launch.

Topside of the Titan II launch site. You can see the rails that the silo door rode on in the background.

These radar surveillance security systems formed a ring around the silo topside and were the primary form of security at all missile installations. Extremely sensitive, they would sound a loud alarm in the control center if anything crossed their invisible beams. Then, security forces from nearby Davis-Monthan AFB would be dispatched to investigate. Given the secure nature of the missile complex, crew members would never go outside themselves.

If anything triggered the radar surveillance security system (usually coyotes) MPs from Davis-Monthan AFB would be dispatched to the site in a Jeep like this to investigate.

Looking down into the silo from the topside; the closure door is now permanently fixed in a partially open position.

The silo door has been partially cut away - you can see the 3" thick steel. Below that was more steel and concrete. All told, the original door weighed 743 tons, rode on rails, and could be opened in 20 seconds.

Stage I engine assembly.

Stage II engine assembly.

As I hope you have seen, it is a spectacular museum and very worthy of your visit. I'm grateful I was able to take advantage of such a great opportunity. Let me once again thank David for his generosity and hospitality. If you're ever in the Dayton area again, David, there is certainly a Cub ride with your name on it!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Flying a few friends in the Cub

Plane: Cub, 85 hp 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Overcast, 37 degrees, wind 290 degrees at 8 knots

Two of our friends, Stephanie and Stuart, drove down to visit today. Gina was one of Stephanie's bridesmaids and the converse was true for our wedding three years ago. We don't get to see them very often, since they live in Texas now (though we actually flew down to visit over Labor Day weekend).

I had to work but managed to leave a little early and met them all down at Stewart. We had been hoping to all fly together but the 172 was booked, so we decided Cub rides were the next best thing. By the way, in this pilot's opinion, Cub rides are the best thing, but I digress.

Stuart elected to go first (or maybe Stephanie just told him that's what was going down, I'm not sure - marriage and all that) so he hopped in front after I explained the contortions required to board a Cub. The engine was totally cold and it took a while to get it turning - thanks to Ed for having more patience than I do when it comes to hand-propping. Once the oil temperature reached a happy place on the gauge (which took a few minutes) we took off on Runway 26.

Gina was on the ground and captured rare videos of me flying from outside the cockpit!

I meandered south towards I-71 and pointed out a few things along the way. He made a few comments about the views and enjoyed the new perspective. As I was making my way back towards the airport he asked if there was a dam (spoiler alert - there is, as is the case with most large bodies of water in Ohio) near the lake over to the right. So, as is conveniently doable when flying a small plane, I turned towards Caesar Creek Lake to give him a better view.

Daylight was fading and I still had one more passenger in the queue so I again turned towards the airport. I touched down reasonably softly on Runway 26 and was reminded that winter is nearly here at the end of my rollout; the engine began to sputter. A quick advance of the throttle kept everything purring and I taxied back over to where Gina and Stephanie were waiting.

Taxiing to the runway after Stephanie climbed on board

I turned the engine off and Stuart hopped out - or, more accurately, Stephanie manhandled him out of the front seat. She's a registered nurse and, well, sometimes it shows. :-) He was instantly where he needed to be (safely out of the plane) and she quickly traded places after doing her own version of the Cub dance to climb aboard.

Everything was now warmed up so I taxied back down to the end of the runway. Wanting to try something slightly different, I held the brakes and used a short field takeoff technique. We were off the ground in roughly the span of a set of cones - you can see yourself in the video above.

Stephanie was up for a little more in the air; I slowly eased her into the sensations of light airplane flying with progressively steeper turns. We ended up doing a 45 degree bank, give or take, before I turned out over the lake for some more sightseeing. A few minutes later, with daylight fading and needing to head back to land, I did a pseudo-steep spiral to lose 500 feet to get to pattern altitude. She got a kick out of it.

I crossed midfield and turned downwind, the only plane in the pattern. The wind had shifted since the first takeoff, no longer directly down the runway but now a slight right crosswind. So I used a right forward slip on final to lose some extra altitude and speed, rolling out 50 feet or so above the ground. It sure felt like all three wheels grazed the grass at the same time, a total greaser.

My two rookie Cub passengers for the day

Stephanie and Gina after we landed and tied the airplane down

Both Stephanie and Stuart said they really enjoyed their short flights. I wish we'd had more time to fly but I'm glad we managed to squeeze in a few minutes. We sometimes only see them every couple years and it was nice to show them a little bit of what we love here in Southwest Ohio.

After the flying ceased, we continued on down US-42 to Mason where we all enjoyed a delicious dinner at the Wildflower CafĂ©. If you live nearby or are ever in the area, I highly recommend the place. Awesome local food, daily specials, and a great beer and wine list. What's not to love?

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.8 hours
Total Time: 323.4 hours