I visited Arizona as a young boy, but I had not been there in adult life. That is, until a business trip gave me the opportunity. It will not surprise my regular readers to learn that I traveled a day early so I could do some personal recon before settling in for the work.
Saturday, 4 Feb 2006
The flight from DFW to TUS was a smooth one, the only drawback being my view of the DC-9s right engine, and the accompanying noise. The W.W.II Tucson Municipal Airport, 32-07-30, 110-57-00, is now Tucson International Airport (TUS). During the war this airfield supported the adjacent Army Air Forces modification center. The Arizona Air National Guard has based units here since at least 1961, and the Air Force Reserves since at least 1981.
After deplaning and renting a Chrysler PT Cruiser, I made my way directly to Green Valley, home of the Titan Missile Museum. For several years, I've had e-mail correspondence with Chuck Penson, and I finally took him up on his offer of a personal guided tour. (Hey, being a research geek with a web site does have the occasional perk!)
I met Chuck and his friend Pez at the museum, which is still a USAF-owned installation, Davis-Monthan AF Missile Site #8 (FBPK). The operational designation for this site was 571-7, meaning it was site number seven of the nine controlled by the 571st Strategic Missile Squadron. This is the only one of 54 Titan II missile sites that was preserved, rather than demolished, in accordance with the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT) treaty between the U.S. and the USSR. The other 53 were damaged to render them unusable for their designed purpose. The Titan II missiles around Davis-Monthan AFB were operational from 1963 to 1982.
Looking around topside, the site is a bit confusing at first, because of the post-Air Force building which houses the museum operation. Also, the silo lid area has been modified with a viewing platform and skylight. The skylight offers a great birds-eye view of the missile. But, these are minor concessions to treaty compliance and visitor accessibility. The facility is in remarkably good condition, considering it was last used by the Air Force almost a quarter century ago. The soft HF antenna still stands, as does the soft water storage reservoir, and this hardened HF antenna is in the raised position. The intrusion detection antennas are still in place, as is the hardened UHF antenna. A water well still sits in its own compound, and one of the azimuth markers is visible beyond the fence.
As soon as you enter the access portal, it's as if you are stepping back in time. We went down the stairs, then through the blast doors past the decontamination shower into the tunnel. Moving down the tunnel past various features to the launch control center, the commander's and deputy commander's consoles are intact, along with a confusing array of equipment, much of it shock mounted for protection against a nearby nuclear blast. Chuck patiently explained everything we saw. The launch control center is filled with consoles and racks of equipment. Special suits were needed for fueling operations. Plumbing is carefully marked. Every available space seemed to be filled with some sort of control panel or equipment.
Walking through the tunnel to the silo itself, the missile is visible through various access doors that ring the silo. Taking the elevator between levels, I was amazed by the complexity of the equipment, especially the complicated flexible connections. From the lowest level, the view of the missile is impressive. Going down even further, we climbed down a ladder onto the center ridge of the "W," the curved concrete structure that would direct the missile's exhaust off to the sides and up the two giant exhaust ducts to the surface. We also went down into the sump pit, the lowest point in the silo structure.
Sunday, 5 Feb 2006
After an early breakfast, I met up with my newfound friends Chuck and Pez to start our day's adventure.
Davis-Monthan AF Missile Site #5 (571-4) (FBPG). The Air Force-vintage fill dirt on the site has been partially excavated. The launch control center, antenna silos, and other features are exposed. I couldn't resist waving to you from the top of the control center, and Chuck and Pez enjoyed the view from atop the dome.
Davis-Monthan AF Missile Site #4 (571-3) (FBPF). Excavation may allow entry into the launch control center. The access portal is partially excavated, and a hardened HF antenna silo is visible at this site.
Davis-Monthan AF Missile Site #3 (571-2) (FBPE). Visible features include the parking area, hardened HF antenna silos, a couple of hardstands, a fenced well, a soft HF antenna mount, and two separate survey markers.
Davis-Monthan AF Missile Site #2 (571-1) (FBPD). Surface features include a hardened HF antenna silo, a soft HF antenna mount, and a manhole.
Starting our return swing to the west, we stopped in Benson for lunch. If you're ever in town, try the Horse Shoe Cafe.
Davis-Monthan AF Missile Site #11 (570-2) (FBPN). Typical features were visible including a parking area along the access road, a hardened HF antenna silo, and a soft HF antenna mount.
Davis-Monthan AF Missile Site #10 (571-9) (FBPM). We noted helipad markings on the access road, and an azimuth marker still in good condition. Excavation has undermined a hardstand. A hardened UHF antenna on its concrete mount shows remnants of the radial elements. Several features are still in place, or demolished. The well site can be seen amongst much debris.
After all this fun, I was happy and tired when I arrived at Davis-Monthan AFB (1104, FBNV). The current base property includes a large parcel of land once known as Davis-Monthan Poorman Range. I spent the next two weeks working on the base, and staying in billeting.
Saturday, 11 Feb 2006
I had to work most of the day, but in the morning I awarded myself an hour off for good behavior and pointed the rental car south toward Sahuarita. There, I found the remnants of Sahuarita Flight Strip (SACV), 31-57-50, 110-55-20. Much of the former runway is crumbled and overgrown by brush, but a narrow strip in the center is now a road leading to a park at the NW end of the strip.
I drove east a short distance and looked north over the land that was formerly Sahuarita Air Force Range (UQRB), 31-57-50, 110-53-55. This bombing range was activated in 1942, and finally disposed of in 1980.
Driving back into Tucson, I drove on Hughes Access Road and noticed Air Force Plant #44 (2532, ACHA) off in the distance. The entry gate indicated USAF Plant 44 on the sign -- one of very few numerically-designated "Air Force Plants" still on the books. In World War II, this was Army Air Forces Modification Center #2, operated by Consolidated-Vultee Corporation. In the early 1950s, a plant was built to manufacture guided missiles. The Air Force purchased the facility as a Government-Owned, Contractor-Operated (GOCO) plant. Hughes Aircraft operated the plant, initially to produce Falcon missiles.
Saturday, 18 Feb 2006
Davis-Monthan AF Missile Site #13 (570-4) (FBPQ). This site has a new, non-original fence around it. The current owner has excavated the access portal and gained entry to the launch control center (LCC). Some topside features have been excavated but remain. A new building sits over the access portal, with new stairs leading down to the blast doors and the LCC. Interesting features include this sign on one of the blast doors, and this nearby telephone. Stairs connect the two levels of the LCC, with spring mounts and shock dampers visible. On the upper level of the LCC the curvature of the domed structure is clearly seen. The soft water storage reservoir is still in place. The hardened UHF antenna has been excavated showing the massive concrete base, and the hardened HF antenna silos are still there.
Davis-Monthan AF Missile Site #12 (570-3) (FBPP). Surface features at this site include two different survey markers, the parking area along the access road, hardened HF antenna silos, and an antenna support mount.
Davis-Monthan AF Missile Site #14 (570-5) (FBPR). The access portal is partially excavated. We also observed a fenced well, soft HF antenna support, hardened HF antenna silo, survey marker, and other features.
Davis-Monthan AF Missile Site #15 (570-6) (FBPS). D&T Tree and Cactus Inc. uses this site as a nursery. The access portal has been partially excavated. The hardened HF antenna silos and a concrete antenna support are visible, as are some excavated concrete features. Many of the distinctive features are obscured by the nursery operation.
Davis-Monthan ILS Outer Marker Annex (FBZV). I located this small NAVAID site on TerraServer, at 32-05-41, 110-48-22. I was unable to see it from the public road, as it's inside a gated business park. This annex was activated in 1958, declared excess in 1978, and disposed of in 1981.
I had hoped to explore the former Marana AB, but it is private property with no public access. Aircraft were visible from a distance.
Sunday, 19 Feb 2006
My plan to visit a few more locations was thwarted by an electrical problem on the rental car. I eventually got it running (barely) and returned it to the rental agency. I lost too much time to attempt the planned drive, so I caught an earlier flight home instead. From t-shirt weather in Tucson, I returned to fog and freezing drizzle in Dallas-Fort Worth!
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