Anatomy of a Titan Nuclear Missile Silo

Image of Mess of Pottage

Image of Mess of Pottage

For decades during the Cold War, massive Titan nuclear missiles stood ready for launch in subterranean silos across America.  In this article, we take a look at the inner workings of these sinister complexes, and venture deep beneath the Colorado farmland to explore the now abandoned lair of a Titan I missile.

Image by Reubenbarton

Image by Reubenbarton

Titan wasn’t just any old missile, but rather a family of U.S. rockets used between 1959 and 2005.  As an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Titan was a front line deterrent until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Images by U.S. Air Force

Images by U.S. Air Force

Had the warning come, Titan missiles would have roared from their silos, initiating a nuclear war that could have ended the world as we know it.  But Titan was also used for more productive purposes, launching all Gemini program flights into space, as well as scientific probes to Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Image by U.S. Federal Government

Image by U.S. Federal Government

The image above shows a typical Titan missile complex, with three silos connected by an underground corridor to a control center and power house.  Little more than the silo doors would be visible on the surface, shrouding this sinister subterranean world from the prying eyes of both friend and foe.

Images via U.S. Federal Government

Images via U.S. Federal Government

Most Titan rockets were the Titan II ICBM and their NASA operated civilian derivatives.  The massive 31.4 metre long Titan II used a hypergolic combination of nitrogen tetroxide and Aerozine 50 for its oxidizer and fuel – a volatile combination at the best of times.  Though less accident-prone than its predecessor, Titan I, a number of mishaps blighted the Titan II’s career, most in the confined and highly hazardous environment of the silo.

Images by jmuhles

Images by jmuhles

In one chilling incident inside a Titan silo near Damascus, Arkansas, a technician dropped a wrench that ruptured the fragile skin of the missile.  Leaking rocket fuel ignited and blew the 8,000 lb warhead out of the silo.  Incredibly, it landed harmlessly several hundred feet away.  Many others were not so lucky, with explosions and toxic fuel leaks common in silos.  The late 1980s marked the beginning of the end for the Titan as an ICBM.

Images by jmuhles

Images by jmuhles

Several former Titan silos exist today in various states of disrepair.  The Titan Missile Museum in Arizona, once called Air Force Facility Missile Site 8, takes everyday people behind the scenes of this former Cold War fortress.  The 1963 silo has eight levels protected by three ton blast doors (above) and eight foot thick concrete walls.

Images by jmuhles

Images by jmuhles

The missile doors that thankfully never opened in anger can be viewed from the top level, while Level 3 houses a large diesel generator.  Level 7 leads to the lowest part of the launch duct, while the “Beyond the Blast Doors tour” takes visitors deep into the bowels of the complex, directly beneath the missile.  Level 8, an impressive 140 feet down, houses the propellant pumps intended to fuel the missile for its nation-pulverizing one-way flight.

Images by jmuhles

Images by jmuhles

In the control room, the nerve center of the missile complex, a museum worker explains the ins-and-outs of the Titan II silo to visitors.  Even at rest, nuclear missiles are highly volatile due to the nuclear warhead and toxic propellant.  Technicians must wear protective clothing at all times around missiles (as illustrated above).  The museum’s Titan II has neither warhead nor fuel, and replaced a more active version when the silo was decommissioned.

Images via U.S. Federal Government

Images via U.S. Federal Government

A deactivated Titan II silo of the 308th Strategic Missile Wing (above) is shown in the process of being demolished to satisfy post Cold War U.S.-Russia relations.  Deep holes have been drilled into the concrete and packed with 7,500 pounds of explosives.  Once detonated, the silo would literally implode, with the results left in place for a Russian verification team.

Images by ritingon

Images by ritingon

But there are other long abandoned silos hidden among the long grass of farmland across the western and southern states of America.  The example (above and below) is a former Titan I complex in Colorado, photographed in 2007.  The entrance can just be made out (top image) in the undulating field, with what could be the silo roof beneath the electricity pylons.

Images by mangpages

Images by mangpages

The splintered wood across the entrance shows the military’s attempts to keep the missile silo off limits to curious members of the public.  But after decades of obsolescence it seems the authorities have forgotten about this shadowy relic of the Cold War.  Graffiti now adorns the concrete walls of the tunnels, while rusting internal components give away clues to the once top secret raison d’etre behind these dank subterranean chambers.

Images by mangpages

Images by mangpages

But if the more sensitive areas at the Titan Missile Museum are firmly locked away, the same does not go for this place.  The top left image clearly shows the steel steps descending from the portal high above.  Once arriving at the deepest level, the cavernous abandoned missile bay extends upwards into the darkness, an eerie reminder of the Titan that once stood here, poised for launch.

Images by mangpages

Images by mangpages

The depths of the silo where the propellant pumps once were are now waterlogged, while the remains of old pipework and other once-intricate technology line the walls.  Glancing up, the silo doors can be seen in the roof of the vast missile bay.  Beyond these doors the quiet Colorado countryside stretches for hundreds of miles on each side.  But down here, the world is a very different place.

This article builds on an earlier one entitled: Nuclear Days: Abandoned Missile Silos in America and Lithuania.  In addition to the Titan complex, this also features an abandoned  Soviet R-12U nuclear missile silo.  Important: abandoned missile silos are extremely dangerous places containing all manner of hazardous materials, and should not be entered for any reason.  While Urban Ghosts Media can report on these places, we cannot and DO NOT advocate entering them.

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  • been there, done it, never again

    Performed maintenance on Titan II missile’s for five years,spent numerous months out of my life underground in those silo’s. Dangerous ,hazardous, and detrimental to your health. I am very confident of that because of the health problems I am having now in my later years. For your health and safety, please stay out of abandoned missile silos,all kinds of nasty residue and s–t left there by the US Government, most of it toxic.Asbestos,PCB’s; chemicals such as: DMA,TFA, rocket propellant residue,(UDMH/Hydrazine,tetra zine,NO2/oxidizer)Titan II missiles leaked all the time, the smell of rocket propellant in any silo was not uncommon, but was always supposedly below permissible limits,(yeah, the check is in the mail) I never saw a bug,rat or any animal in a missile silo in all my years of working in them, get my drift.The Titan II system was built and put on alert in the early 1960s and was used way past it’s life span. There are many public recorded accidents,deaths and injuries at these silos. They were deactivated in the mid to late 80’s. All part of the strategic arms limitations treaties(yeah right), actually they were deactivated because they were an accident waiting to happen AGAIN!

  • http://twitter.com/catdumpling Cat MacKinnon

    being a Colorado native, i’ve been in that particular Titan I site about a dozen times. those photos don’t do it justice and certainly don’t convey just how massive that site really is….you could easily spent several hours down there exploring it. having said that, it IS on private property and the county sheriffs do patrol from time to time (and even though there is no owner on-site, there are several houses right next to it and they will call the sheriff if they see people on the property). when i was i younger i got a misdemeanor trespassing ticket for being there.

 
 
 
 
 
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