Titan Launch Site
By DAVE GJESTSON
The Titan missile system was a strategic United States deterrent against nuclear war and was coupled with ballistic missile aircraft and ballistic missile submarines to form a military system known as the Nuclear Triad. The U.S. Air Force operated the Titan II missile system at three, 18-missile complexes located near Little Rock, Arkansas, Wichita, Kansas, and Tucson, Arizona from 1963 to 1987.

The Titan missile was the largest, most powerful weapon ever used by the United States. Each missile carried a nine megaton nuclear warhead capable of delivering 300 square miles of devastation to targets 8,700 miles away inside of 35 minutes at speeds up to 16,000 mph! The nuclear explosion was the equivalent of nine million tons of TNT described as a train load of TNT stretching from Tucson, Arizona to some place in Kentucky!

Laura and I couldnt pass up the chance to visit a Titan II missile site museum located in Green Valley, Arizona, just 40 minutes from our casa in Rio Rico. We were joined by our good friends Keith and Janet Sewell making our reservations well in advance of the tour date. After checking in at the visitor center and watching a brief introductory film, we followed our guide to the underground control center.

Laura (in pink shirt) follows the tour guide to the command center entrance (note the missile silo protective cover in the center of the photo)

We were warned in advance to be prepared to negotiate a steep 55-step stairway to gain access to the command center. Additionally, we were all required to wear face masks and plastic gloves necessary to avoid contamination of the sensitive, historic facility.

Going down the steep, 55-step entrance was challenging for old folks! (The colorful lady on the left is our good friend, Janet Sewell.)

As youd expect, security was crucial during its operational phase. The three-acre grounds were encircled with fencing and razor wire, patrolled and under camera watch. Access was through a guard gate and then a system of four steel doors to access the command center. A telephone by each door had to be used with a daily changing password within a prescribed time limit for the door to be opened.

The steel blast-proof doors were immense! Almost a foot thick and weighing three tons, the massive doors were designed to withstand a blast from the latest Russian nuclear bomb delivered in the vicinity. The entire underground tunnel system as well as the missile silo were suspended on a series of hydraulic pumps that cushioned everything during an explosion.

Janet examines one of the four blast doors guarding access to the command center

In the command center, we learned that a team of two Air Force officers and two enlisted men (rotated with other four-man crews) manned it 24-7 for almost 25 years! A two-man rule was in effect at all times, meaning at no time was anyone allowed solo in the control room. Two floors contains additional equipment was located below the control room.

When the warning of an attack was received (in code) with orders to prepare to launch, two officers opened a two-key safe and withdrew several coded envelopes. Only the coded envelope that was identified in the order was to be opened with the target identified. Each officer inserted a launch key and, on signal, both turned the key at the same time. The launch button was displayed in red in front of each officer. A launch signal followed.

The command center.The two men are sitting where the two officers on duty monitored the missile and received their orders

We then walked down a long corridor to emerge on the second story of an eight-story structure enveloping the missile. Here we learned of the elaborate, daily maintenance schedule to keep the missile ready for launch. A sophisticated heating/cooling system kept the entire silo containing the missile at a steady 60 degrees.

While advance warning enabled the missile crew to start liquid fuel to start flowing into the rocket engine and water/steam to flow to keep temperatures controlled the missile could be launched in less than one minute!

The nose cone of the missile carried the nine megaton nuclear warhead


The missile measured 10 feet across and was 103 feet in length!

Leaving the silo, we returned up the 55 steps to the surface again and walked around the missile shield for a closer look at the silo protective cover and to get a look at the business end of the missile. We also got a look at the rocket motor and were surprised to see how small it was. After the Titan II system was abandoned for more solid fuel missiles in 1987, the Titan rocket was adapted to propelling the Gemini space program for many years.

As we left the command center entrance, the guide pointed out the telephone poles and noted that the missile was twice that length!


Looking from the top, we could only see the top half of the missiles 103 foot length


The rocket motor was surprisingly small (Laura reluctantly agreed to pose for the size perspective!)