Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Titan Missle Adventures

by Fred Wagner

Davis-Monthan AFB – 1974-1979

The Light they didn’t even have a simulator script for!

There were simulator routines for almost every malfunction you would encounter in maintenance and EWO operations. And there was this one….

Background :

About every 18 months, the warhead on the missile would be removed and replaced, without defueling the missile. A Re-entry vehicle fresh from inspection/overhaul would be brought out from the base on a special truck, complete with Security Police escorts and a helicopter shadow with more armed SP’s on board. Very much like something out of a James Bond movie. And there was a special hydraulic crane that did the actual removal and replacement of the Re-Entry vehicle.

The Story:

The only time I ever happened to be on duty during the RV replacement, everything went according to plan/checklists, the convoy with the removed RV headed back down the mountainside (our site, 571-5 was 11 miles from the interstate via a 2-lane country road). They’d only been gone a minute or two, when I got the light that was never illuminated for practice – RV System Not Safe – as in “How can that complicated multi-megaton gismo in a nose cone NOT be safe?”

I ran the checklist, notified Wing Command Post and Job Control, and we determined quickly that the only people and test equipment to handle this were in the convoy headed back to base. Maintenance radios didn’t reach, but the Command Post got to the Helicopter and the SP’s in the Helicopter talked to the SP’s in the convoy, and they got turned around and came back. According to the book, the RV needed to be removed, and taken back to base and tested. But it had just come FROM the base, and had checked out there. The Wing Commander and I talked it over with the Maintenance Team chief, we left the Silo Door closed, and they brought the RV test equipment below ground, lowered work platforms, and disconnected the RV to missile cables. The tested the RV – OK. Tested the missile – OK. Not much else to check! The Wing Commander and I decided that it LOOKED OK, so the next thing to do was to reconnect the RV to the missile. We did, and the light went out. Good! Now we could all relax a bit! It’s amazing how much adrenalin you can generate with one red light!

The value of USAFA undergraduate required courses:

When I finished my tour at the 307th Strat Wing at U-Tapao (Bomber Ops team, and Command Post), my orders were to Titan II’s at D-M, with stops at Sheppard AFB (Tech School) and Vandenberg AFB (Operational Readiness Training). The Tech School added Titan-specific detail to material I’d had in my Engineering Mechanics, Physics, Aero, Thermo, Astro, and EE Courses as the Academy.

In some classes, after skimming the book, I could give the class presentation as well as the instructor. No at-home cramming needed (most of the rest of the class studied really hard to pass).

I’d kept up my interest in music, and saw in the local paper that there was a Summer Youth Musicals production of “Hello Dolly” getting started, cast members to be under 25, but any ages eligible for the orchestra. Since I was TDY, I had no instruments with me at all, but found a plastic clarinet in a pawn shop for $30, auditioned with the orchestra director, and she borrowed a Bass Clarinet and Bari Sax from the local university for me, and I played Reed IV in the orchestra for several weeks of evening rehearsals and two weekends of performances. I still love the tunes from “Dolly”. And I was the top graduate in my class at Sheppard!

When I got to D-M, a new Civic Orchestra was getting started, and I went to the auditions – lots of competition on Clarinet, but nobody on Bass Clarinet – I found a good used one in a music store, and for two years played Bass Clarinet parts when the charts had one, and sight transposed the second bassoon chart otherwise. Grand fun! After two years with the COT, I transferred to the Tucson Concert Band, as 2nd chair, 1st Clarinet.

How does this fit with the topic, USAFA Undergraduate courses ? Music Appreciation (English 455), of course! And while we’re mentioning Academics, I did take advantage of the Master’s Program offered on base, tailored to the crew schedule, and finished an MS through University of Northern Colorado.

Once done with that, I found out through the wife of one of the other crew members, that the local school districts were looking for subs, and that in Arizona, you could get a Credential good for subbing with a Bachelor’s degree in anything! My Deputy and I both got our teaching credential. Our crew duty schedules were published a month in advance, and we could count on a 0630 call from the District on any day we’d marked as available. Almost all assignments were secondary Math and Science, which tied in nicely with our AFA Academic background.

We were enough in demand, that on days when the changeover at the site was done before 9AM, we’d call the district, get a 3rd period assignment, get back to base, change clothes, and be at the school by 11. Teaching kept life quite lively and interesting.

The value of a really good antenna!

Titan II sites had the Red Phone Primary Alerting System (as did every SAC base with an EWO mission) which extended all the way to the sites. We also received traffic on a VLF teleprinter, which had a buried antenna. We had hardened Ground-to-Air UHF antenna on the ground level topside. My primary site was on a hillside, with line of sight to the base. I could actually call the Command Post on the UHF radio, taking note to ask for a Missile Controller (this had been stressed at VBG) because the Flying Wing’s controllers normally monitored the UHF. All the sites had HF, and a lovely Discone antenna topside. And only one site per Wing was required to monitor HF.

On the last half of my 4 years in Titans, when I was done with the Master’s program, I’d bring a small (50 Watt) CW Ham transceiver with me, and some extra coax and an adapter for the connections to the Discone. A few hours in the middle of the night, with a 60 foot tall antenna on the side of a mountain, made amateur CW on 3.5 Mhz operation a whole lot of fun.

The best RF path was northwest, and I’d work up into Washington state, Alaska, Japan, and even Asiatic Russia. Mainly exchanged name, state and callsign and equipment details, with the foreign stations, except for one night when I had a long chat (in Morse) with a Physician in Hiroshima Japan. Gave me a weird feeling, sitting at the Commander’s console on a SAC Missile site, talking to someone who was at the location of the first nuclear weapon employment !
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