Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Last Titan

Green Valley, Arizona

The drive to the missile museum includes a stretch of Arizona desert with good specimens of saguaro and blooming ocotillo cactus.

The Titan II was placed in service about 1962 and retired 20 years later. There were 54 of these two stage ICBMs  in three rings around Tucson, Wichita and Little Rock. Each site was about 30 miles away from a central support Air Force Base. That probably would require a separate nuclear strike on each site to knock them all out. It had a 10,000 mile range and carried a single warhead. Notice the tubes on the tail of the engine. The toxic liquid rocket fuel was forced up and down these tubes to superheat the fuel (improving mileage on the first stage to 530 gallons per mile) and to keep the stainless steel from melting. Titan rockets were used in a variety a space programs, including the Gemini  and Voyager programs.

The rocket was protected by a huge blast door sitting over a nine story buried launch silo. This site was saved as a museum. All the other Titans were dismantled and the sites were bulldozed.

The safety procedures to prevent an accidental or unauthorized launch were impressive and redundant. One involved a valve in the rocket engine that could only be opened with the proper six digit hexadecimal code. After six false tries at the code the system shuts down

The whole underground complex was built on huge springs with blast doors and reinforced concrete as much as eight feet thick. Above ground was protected by Doppler radar to detect intruders. There were eight different methods of redundant communication between this site and SAC headquarters.One of the strangest was that two of the 1,000 Minuteman missiles were equipped with high frequency radios rather than warheads. These could be launched to an altitude that would permit them to communicate with all the missile silos in the continental U.S. We go underground and turn the keys for a simulated launch. The lights and buzzers all still work. Fortunately, the rocket is inert.

Ocotillo in bloom along the highway.

Ocotillo flower.

We colored Easter eggs in the evening and had a potluck dinner and barbeque. This egg was judged to be the best. A lady walks in to a Zen butcher shops and says that she would like the best cut of meat. The Zen butcher replies, "All my meat is best".

Jil and Tom do a great job with their eggs.

The Titan II was an improvement over earlier ICBMs because it used storable propellants, Aerozine50 and dinitrogen tetroxide. These toxic fuels allowed it to be launched from within the silo within 60 seconds. Previous rockets had to be raised from their silos, fueled and then launched. During launch, 100,000 gallons of water were poured on the missile to prevent it from destroying itself within the silo.

The missile in the silo was used for training and has never contained fuel or the 9 Megaton warhead that the Air Force claimed for a payload. That size warhead would devastate a 600 square mile area. In the "mine is bigger than yours" department, a single B-52 bomber could carry two 1.5 megaton Hound Dog missiles and four 24 megaton bombs.

Happy Easter...All my eggs are best.


  1. looks like a good time was had by all SIL

  2. me thinks your bloging has improved of late, please keep up the good work, respectfully, David