Feed on

Titan Missile Museum

9-megaton warhead on a Titan missile

I forget how I came across it, probably Reddit, but I watched the movie Command and Control. It was a documentary focused on an accident in 1980 where a Titan II missile exploded in the silo outside of Damascus, Arkansas (wiki article). I was surprised I’ve never heard of the incident before because I grew up not far away in Oklahoma. I even asked my parents about it, they said they hadn’t heard of it before either. It’s a pretty good film, it explained a whole string of nuclear weapons safety issues over the years and it’s surprising we haven’t blown ourselves up several times over. I also read the book by¬†Eric Schlosser which the film was based on. Googling around I discovered there’s still a preserved, functional Titan silo complete with an inert missile and warhead in Arizona, so I had to go see it.

I found out there’s a few different tours, the one I took was just a basic one hour tour that went to the control center, another was directed by a former commander, and another was a “top to bottom” tour where you got to go to all levels. I really would like to do the latter, but slots and dates are limited and it didn’t match my schedule. Based on reading the book and watching the film several times I was pretty familiar with the missile and complex. The tour felt rushed, there was so much I wanted to look at and take photos of, but we were hustled through and back out.

The tour starts with a several minute long video that explains the Titan program, the 308th Strategic Missile Wing, and an overview of the launch complex. Next we went outside and into the access portal, a set of stairs and an elevator that went underground. We were told that from the moment the gate on the road opened, crews had three minutes to make it to the portal before alarms went off as a security precaution. First stop underground was another door/gate where personnel would call, read a passcode, then burn the piece of paper with the code in a red can on the wall.

Several floors down put you in front of blast door #6. This puts you into a blast lock, where door #7 on the other side of the room won’t open until door #6 is secure. The blast lock is designed to protect the crew from a surface attack. From here there’s a junction, one way leads to the missile silo, the other leads to the control center, each of which are protected by another blast door.

We went into the control center, which was on level 2. Level 1 above us was a crew quarters, level 3 below us was a mechanical room that contained the air conditioner. All three levels were suspended together from giant springs to protect against blast movement. There was a center console and a row of electronics along one wall, all of which still worked and was powered on.

The docent explained how the crews worked, what their daily routines were, what happened when a drill or launch order happened, and finally simulated what would happen if they launched. A little kid at the center console and the docent turned their launch keys, next thing that happened was a perimeter security alarm bell went off signaling that the silo door had opened, then a fire alarm went off indicating there was (surprise) a fire in the missile silo. After that he said, the missile was away, there’s no way to stop it, nothing else is left to do, and now the entire launch complex was now useless.

We then went over to the missile silo. There were a couple of open doors where we could see the missile from level 2 and look up at the warhead. After this we were shuttled back up to the surface where we were free to roam around topside. The silo door was partially opened with a glass lid, so you could look down into it from a platform. In a small shed were first and second stage engines on display, as well as a fuel truck on the fueling pad.

The gift shop had all sorts of interesting loot for sale, pieces of metal from the missiles, rebar, dosimeters, patches, technical books and diagrams, signs. Also in the lobby was a small exhibit of the Damascus incident, including a big socket like what was dropped down the silo. I want to go back for the top down tour, looking at their schedule they’re booked a few months out, so maybe January or February.

Leave a Reply