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Report - Titan II Missile Silo, Sahuarita (near Tucson), Arizona, USA - August 2012

Discussion in 'European and International Sites' started by 747_kirki, Aug 14, 2012.

  1. 747_kirki

    747_kirki Death Valley is Mine
    28DL Full Member

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    Not an ‘urbex’ as such, and this was very much a permission visit since this place is open as a museum. But Im flagging it up as if you are in Arizona it’s the most incredible place to visit. I went with my other half, and we had the run of the place to ourselves (pretty much). It was so quiet there were just three other people joining us for our hour-long tour underground.
    They do longer tours of the facility too - check out their website for more info. You can spend as much as 5 hours underground having a mega detailed look around... I'll be back!

    Anyway, here’s the background: The Titan Missile Museum, also known as Air Force Facility Missile Site 8 or as Titan II ICBM Site 571-7, is the only remaining Titan II site open to the public, allowing you to relive a time when the threat of nuclear war between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union was a reality.
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    The Titan II was capable of launching from its underground silo in 58 seconds and could deliver a nine megaton thermonuclear warhead to its target more than 5,500 miles away in less than thirty minutes. For more than two decades, 54 Titan II missile complexes across the United States stood "on alert" 24 hours a day, seven days a week, heightening the threat of nuclear war or preventing Armageddon, depending upon your point of view.

    The underground facilities consist of a three-level Launch Control Centre, the eight level silo containing the missile and its related equipment, and the connecting structures of cableways (access tunnels), blast locks, and the access portal and equipment elevator. The complex was built of steel reinforced concrete with walls as much as 8-foot-thick (2.4 m) in some areas, and a number of 3-ton blast doors sealed the various areas from the surface and each other.
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    The silo became operational in 1963 and was deactivated in 1982 as part of President Reagan's policy of decommissioning the Titan II missiles. It is a common misconception that this was the result of a weapons reduction treaty, but was in fact simply part of a weapon systems modernisation program. All operational Titan II silos throughout the country were demolished, including 18 sites around McConnell AFB in Wichita, Kansas, 17 sites around Little Rock AFB, Arkansas (one additional site previously damaged beyond repair in a mishap/non-nuclear explosion) and 17 other sites around Davis-Monthan AFB and Tucson, except for this one. It is now a National Historic Landmark.

    The facility's highest state of alert was November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was shot. When news of the shooting broke, the keys used to launch the missile were ordered to be placed on the tables at the launch consoles to prepare for a possible launch. The Pentagon did not yet know whether the Soviet Union had committed an act of war. The keys were not, however, placed in their switches. As an aside, it took two keys to launch - both used by seperate people. In a process which involved turning each key for a set number of seconds at the same time, the keys were deliberately far enough apart to ensure no one person could launch the missile.

    The 103-foot (31 m) Titan II missile inside the silo today has neither warhead nor fuel. In accordance with a US/USSR agreement, the silo doors are permanently blocked from opening more than half way (huge blocks of concrete are visibly blocking them on the surface, so the Russians can ensure this remains the case via their satellite imagery!). The dummy reentry vehicle mounted on the missile has a prominent hole cut in it to prove it is inert. All of the support facilities at the site remain intact, complete with all of their original equipment.

    At launch, orders from the National Command Authority would have specified one of three pre-programmed targets which, for security reasons, were unknown to the crew. The missile base that is now the Titan Missile Museum was at the time of closure, programmed to strike "Target Two". The missile's computer could hold up to three targets, and the target selected was determined by Strategic Air Command headquarters. To change the selected target, the crew commander pressed the appropriate button on the launch console. Target 2, which is classified to this day but was assumed to be within the borders of the former Soviet Union, was designated as an impact blast, suggesting that the target was a hardened facility such as a Soviet missile base. Targets could be selected for air or ground burst, but the selection was determined by Strategic Air Command.
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    A few points I found really interesting during my walk around the silo:

    Signs warning of rattlesnakes around the entrance to and exit from the stairs into the silo entrance. On the day we visited it was 110 degrees outside, and snakes like a cool place out of the extreme heat – so as today, the crew were advised to watch their step when entering or exiting:
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    About 55 steps take you down (once inside) to the working levels:
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    Inside the main control room:
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    Launch codes etc were locked in a safe which the two most senior people within the missile facility had to unlock together. If only one would unlock the safe, the contents could not be reached (dual padlocks):

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    Everything underground was prepared to survive a nuclear blast on the surface, and enable the US to “fire back”. Even the control room sat on huge shock absorbers (see the springs at the back of the room).

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    And the walkways, where all the cabling ran, had deliberate slack built into them – enabling them to be tugged in the event of a shockwave, and the wiring not to be pulled apart:

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    In all areas, except the crew rest room, crew had to go in twos – so there was no “lone working”. Working with live nuclear missiles, everyone was keeping an eye on everyone else.

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    Inside the silo itself – a huge Titan II missile, as used to power the first NASA / Gemini space flights:

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    Viewable through a glass canopy from outside the silo:

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    Pressure suits used when working with the fuel in the missile – the colour differences are all patches (like when repairing a puncture). These suits had a lot of repairs:

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    Antenna to ensure messages to launch were received. In the event of a bomb blast and these antennae being destroyed, the base had others underground which could be raised:

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    Four pairs of these strange looking security devices guarded the silo hatch, sending security beams between each other – if anything breached the beam, security could be called from the nearby AFB to check it out. The crew underground would not come out for any security issue, for risk of the base being compromised.

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    Cost to build each one in the 1960’s: $20,000,000.

    For Trekkies, you might be interested to know that several scenes in the 1996 film Star Trek: First Contact were shot at the site. The missile itself was depicted to be the launch vehicle for the film's Phoenix spacecraft.

    As I said, I know its not urbex, but this was a fantastic place to visit. Add it to your to-do list, for when you come and visit all the abandoned mines out this way...
     

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