By David G. Firestone
I’m not a traveler. I don’t really travel as much as I should, because I don’t fly well. This last March, I went to Tuscon, Arizona, and spent a week at my parent’s condo. We did a whole bunch of fun stuff, including the Titan II museum, located southwest of Davis–Monthan Air Force Base. Davis–Monthan Air Force Base was the home of the 390th Strategic Missile Wing of the Strategic Air Command. The Titan II was also used by the 381st Strategic Missile Wing at McConnell Air Force Base near Wichita, Kansas, and the 308th Strategic Missile Wing located at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas. Each of these wings had 18 Titan II silos, with fully contained launch facilities and crew quarters for the missile crews. A 4th group, the 1st Strategic Aerospace Division, located at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California had 3 silos for technical development and training.
The Titan II missile is a 3 stage missile carried nuclear warheads, and could be launched on several minutes notice. The launch process is carefully scripted to insure a false launch could not take place. Two individuals are needed for the missile to launch successful. Training was carefully planned. Regular inspections took place. The missile itself utilized a liquid fuel, Aerozine 50 and an oxidizer, Dinitrogen tetroxide. The two compounds were kept in separate tanks, and when the missile was launched, the two compounds were combined and the mixture caused the thrust needed to launch the rockets off the ground.
The Titan II museum consists of a tour given by former crew members. The majority of the museum is underground, but above it are a number of vintage items that were used on the base. To enter the base, you have to go underground through a staircase, and pass through a number of blast doors. You then get a tour of the control room, go through a launch sequence, and then you go see an actual Titan II, which was never fueled, and has been mounted in the silo. The blast doors are 6000 pound each, and require a special switch to secure and open them. I purchase one of them in the gift shop.
This particular door switch was used in Wichita Kansas, at the 381st Strategic Missile Wing at McConnell Air Force Base. When the silos were dismantled in the 1980’s, much of the equipment used was so obsolete, it couldn’t be recycled, so much of it was sold for scrapped. This was the only one they had in stock, and to hold a piece of the Cold War in your own hands is truly humbling. This was part of a machine that could have ended the world. While at the museum you can go to the top of the silo, and look down into the silo and see the missile and really get an idea of how big it is. There is a hole cut into the warhead because due to a treaty, this missile must not be able to fire or hold a payload. This hole and the permanently open silo doors conform to the treaty.