Interview with a Titan 1 Connoisseur


By Jonathan H

What is your life and career outside of your interest in Titan bases?

At the time I first became involved with the Titan base, I was actually a defense contractor out in Colorado and I stayed on that job until 2004. The business plan for the Titan facility in Colorado turned out to be economically unfeasible. The place is a mess, environmentally from a health standpoint. We saw that the cleanup wouldn’t get done any time in the near future. The federal funds had been there, and there’s an annual clean up budget, however, there were many higher priorities so we couldn’t count on those dollars.  In fact, an emergency came up in Colorado somewhere around 2002-2003 and they had to spend a pretty serious amount of money to fix it– over 200% of their annual budget in fact. Then the site in Colorado was sold. Along the same lines, we started a similar project out in Iowa, the idea was a secure data center.  We are now is inside of an old government communications bunker providing highly secure and reliable co-location.  Our company is InfoBunker ( and we provide secure location for people to protect their servers and data.

What first struck your interest in the Titan 1 in particular? How did your introduction transpire?

It’s probably easy to see such a place as interesting but when I moved out to Colorado around 1993, the first six months I was out there, somebody took me to one of the sites. He had been there once before and had taken some pictures, but he didn’t really have much in the way of technical information. He simply knew they were there. We went wandering through the complex for several hours and I was amazed at the scale. For a number of years after that nothing really came of it.  Later, around 1998, I mentioned this to someone else who became very interested in the sites and they found out that there weren’t just sites in Colorado and there were actually 18 of them altogether. He actually had a business plan in mind around the purchase of one of those sites and that’s how I got my access to that facility.  I turned out to be a sort of caretaker for the place.

How did the game map project start, and what was involved in it?

About 1998 the original Half-Life game came out and it came with game mapping software which allowed you to create your own levels. That was my first foray into everything.  I had trouble getting used to the mapping software and it was very easy to make it upset such that things didn’t work. About the same time another game came out called Unreal Tournament, which used a different editor, and it was slightly friendlier than the editor for Half-Life.  I had a big set of blueprints for the Titan base and I thought I could somehow translate these things into a game map– a sort of virtual Titan walk through. I looked into using CAD software, but it either came in a really limited student version, or you had a pay a bloody fortune for it. We were actually using professional CAD software where I was working called AutoDesk, the cost of which is astronomical – that wasn’t an option either.

What sort of time commitment did the game mapping work involve?

It was spread out over a period of about six months. I would spend an hour or two working in the evenings. I’m pretty sure I spent well over a hundred hours. It was really hard to fix things that went wrong in the editing software so I spent a lot of time re-working problems caused by my inexperience with it. Because of the Titan’s size it would become a performance issue in the game editor. It would run slowly sometimes going into the longer tunnels where there was a lot of rendering to be done.  The more you can see at once, the harder the CPU has to work to draw it. Going into the power house was a bit laggy. The files themselves were around 9 MB.

On your web site, you describe finding a Dash-1 in one of your early trips into the Titan base. What was it like finding these documents and what did they contain?

I was ecstatic when I found the Dash-1. We were just about ready to leave and I started digging through this pile of junk. It was bits of insulation and bits of scrap steel. As I dug down into the junk pile I found a stack of papers several inches thick. I had seen a scanned copy of a Dash-1 before, but to find one sitting there was something else. The more I dug the more I found – we probably found a good 120 lbs. of documents in there. A lot of it was parts lists and schematics of the guidance and communications systems and were very technically dense. Two interesting documents covered cleaning and maintenance of the facilities and launch consoles. They included the functions of the various buttons on the consoles itself and had a nice fold-out illustrations of the entire console panels. Any documents that were classified – that they (the Air Force) really cared about, went out the door with them, but these other documents were basically user’s manuals — or how-to maintenance guides, and parts lists. If any of the airmen had an interest in them, they would take some of the docs with them when the sites closed. I know some guys who had a collection of stuff from their career as a missile crew member. Typically a lot of these documents were destroyed by the Airforce as a matter of policy or simply thrown away. A lot of the ones I saw down there I haven’t seen anywhere else. Probably the only people that would have them would be the Air Force or the people who worked in those facilities.

There’s a very gripping narrative of your experience climbing to the top of an actual Silo. What was it like?

I can’t say that I wouldn’t do that again. After a while you kind of forget how scary something was and curiosity sets in again. It was insane but I just had to see it while I had the opportunity. It was probably one of the more frightening things I’ve experienced outside of being in a serious car accident. It took me about 30 minutes to make the ascent to the top but the descent was the worst of it. Part of that was working my way from the entrance to the silo. I had to work my way around the perimeter out to the liquid oxygen (LOX) tunnel. Once I got there, there were a lot of obstacles sticking out of the wall. There’s a very large water pipe for the fire suppression system which is an 18-inch conduit.  I had to get past that pipe going up and back down.  Imagine standing on a ledge in the dark that sticks out 18 inches over a very long drop and you can’t see any footholds below so you have to blindly lower yourself over the edge and hope you find something to step on so you can get down safely.

Have you spoken to past airmen? what were their recollections of the journey?

I did in fact speak with one person – there was a retired colonel and I think he worked out at one of the Washington sites. His name was Charles Simpson he was actually head of the AAFM:  the association of air force missiliers ( I asked him all kinds of questions like what was was it like to be down in one of these facilities – One of the things I was really curious was the power dome.  What was it like inside one of these massive domes when the site was in operation – he said, “It was very very loud.”

We never really got around to any good war stories. I did talk to somebody who worked with AMF (American Machine and Foundry) who had designed the flame deflector for the missile. A lot of the other structures in the missile silo were contingent on that design. They couldn’t build the silo until that was completed. He was the sole engineer on that project and it was entirely his design. Originally the deflector was going to be made entirely out of copper because of its thermal-dispersive properties as well as its very high melting temperature- he decided to change it and only line it with concrete. Other engineers were highly skeptical of his approach but it worked.  It would take some damage during launch but it was a simple matter of repairing it after the missile was launched.

Where do you see these bases in 100, or even 1000 years from now?

A hundred years from now I think access to some of them will still be possible because of the sites in drier areas. Definitely not some of the ones in South Dakota – they had a real problem with groundwater. Once they stopped running the sump pumps they became completely water logged. I think the drier sites will still be there in a hundred years. The tunnels in the wet sites will corrode to the point where they collapse into themselves but the concrete structures will likely still be there. The concrete domes– They’ll be there, I just don’t know if you’ll be able to get to them properly due to tunnel collapses.  At the apex of the domes the concrete was less than two feet thick. But the rebar makes it a very, very sturdy structure. From a geometry standpoint it’s like an egg which is a incredibly sound form. However, the tunnels in a lot of places will collapse I think.

One thing I found intriguing about your adventures is that you actually crawled around in the air ducting of the base. Most people don’t realize that there is an additional ventilation system beyond the blast doors. What was it like?

The entrance to that particular area is very inconspicuous. It’s about ten feet above your head in one of the blast locks. It’s fairly narrow – less than two feet in diameter. There used to be an access ladder and it would hang below that opening from a couple of hooks. But it was a very narrow tunnel 5-6 feet long and it never got any wider. Once you got up inside of it, it became more interesting– it is basically a miniature of the Power house air handling facility.

3 comments on “Interview with a Titan 1 Connoisseur

  1. Pingback: Discovering the History of a Titan I Base - Bearings

  2. Roy Gordon on said:

    This reply is in the order of a Question! Are you Enterested in Talking to any of the Titan 1 Member of Combat crews that were Station at “Ellsworth AFB,” in SD. in the “44th Strategic Missile Wing. This includes Some from the Maintanance Squardron which was the “44Th MIM’s”. If the answer is yes, Please send me a E-mail at the Above E-mail. The Sooner the better. If you were stationed at “Ellsworth AFB” And Assigned to either the “44Th MIM’s” or the “850Th Strategic Missile Squardron, You may also sent me a E-mail at the above “E-mail address”. We will be having a Reunion very soon. Ask for information on Reunion, or Send you Phone# and I Will give you a call when you want me to. By the way I love the Work That you Did on This “Titan 1 Site”. Thank you for doing this site. I am planning on making All Titan 1 people aware of this site. Hope to hear from you as soon as possible: (At that time- “1963 to 1967″, A2C Roy Gordon, Minuteman 1b Missile mechanic.)

  3. I have seen this stuff,and I’ve also done much research on these sites (even though I live in Pennsylvania). I must say these are one of the most interesting things I’ve ever seen in my life. I have always been into rocketry since I was a kid, and this Titan History (from a missile standpoint of view instead of just rocketry) is very interesting. Titans and Apollos (Saturn Vs) are my two favorite rockets to study the history about.

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