ATLAS F STORIES
THIS AREA OF SILOWORLD IS FOR STORIES BY USAF MISSILEERS & OTHERS WHO WISH TO CONTRIBUTE TO THIS WEB SITE
The Making of a Missileer
I became a Missileer through an unplanned and, at times, humorous chain of events. My goal had been college after graduating from high school in 1961. I worked that summer and saved enough money for one quarter that fall. After that quarter, unable to land any part time work to finance my schooling, I wound up back to my Dad's farm and the same situation I had grown up with: My Dad's work ethic. It was very simple; I had to earn my keep if I lived there. Like a lot of others my age in those days, with no other job prospects, I started considering the military.
It became a question of what branch. My decision making was a process of elimination more than anything else. I had this idea I wanted to fly airplanes and that would be a big factor in my decision. I was interested in electronics, so that would be another factor. The Marines? They flew planes but their basic training? Forget it. The Army? I wanted to fly fighters, not helicopters. The Navy? They had lots of airplanes but I was never much of a swimmer. That left the Air Force. Lots of airplanes. Land based landing sites. An attractive list of schools in electronics. And, I loved the color of their dress blue uniforms. So, with the wisdom and objectivity of a nineteen year old Alabama country boy, I chose the Air Force.
With recruiting brochures in hand, I located the Air Force recruiter, Technical Sergeant Carlo G. Spiteleri. Sergeant Spiteleri quickly became my newest and best friend that March of 1962. Answering my questions with his crisp Massachusetts accent, he confirmed that a college degree was not yet required to get into the Aviation Cadet Program; and, yes, I surely would qualify. But, "It will be better to wait until you get in to apply," he told me. If Sergeant Spiteleri didn't pursue a second career as a used car salesman after the Air Force, he missed his true calling. Anyway, I believed him and signed up, naively ignoring the caveat in fine print about the Air Force's needs possibly coming before my stated preference of schooling in electronics.
I signed up on a Thursday and Sergeant Spiteleri asked when I wanted to go. I said as soon as possible. "How about tomorrow?" he asked. Whoa! I was ready, but not that ready - that was a little too soon. We settled on the following Monday. One more weekend at home, anyway.
On to basic training. We were subjected to the procedure of 'dismantling the individual and restructuring him as part of a unit.' What a colossal collective pain in the butt!
During that time we were giving aptitude tests of sorts and one of the other troops and I were offered language school for training as interpreters. We would be schooled on a college campus and would receive college credit. The other troop accepted it but I turned it down because I wanted to fly. Ah, such naiveté.
Toward the end we received our assignments for school. I was going to electrician school. I signed up for electronics and I was going to electrician school? I had ideas of working on radios or radars, not wiring buildings or whatever electricians did! As I found out, a couple of other troops that signed up for electronics were to be trained as diesel mechanics to maintain diesel engines that drove electrical generators. I remembered the caveat about the Air Force's needs and felt fortunate compared to them. It seems the electronic field was a broad one.
Actually, the school turned out to be interesting and fun as we went through very good hands-on training in everything from wiring building mockups, to motor controls, to climbing power poles and mounting transformers and other hardware. The most exciting part of being at Sheppard Air Force base was not the school; though, it was being there in tornado alley through tornado season. That was downright exhilarating at times.
Shortly after I arrived there I went to base personnel and inquired about applying for the Aviation Cadet Program. I was informed I could not apply while I was on 'pipeline status,' meaning while I was going to school. I would have to wait until I reached my permanent station. Hmm . . ., Sergeant Spiteleri had not told me that.
While there I heard there were some electricians being trained for the Atlas and Titan ICBM systems that were being built. It entailed another thirteen weeks of school and a promotion to E-3 and two stripes. I inquired about it and was informed that those people were picked by some unknown process nobody knew anything about. Oh well, I was going to fly so it didn't matter.
As my class graduation drew near we got our assignments to our permanent stations. Out of assignments to Texas, California, Oregon, Washington State, and New Mexico, I got the latter. At the time, all I knew about New Mexico was that it was one of those brown states on the map out west. With visions of deserts and desolation, I asked each of the others to trade assignments but got no takers. I even resorted to begging before I accepted my fate: I was bound for New Mexico.
So after graduation and a two week leave, I reported to Walker AFB, New Mexico on September 12, 1962 expecting to be assigned to the Civil Engineering Squadron. My 'processing in' began at the Base Personnel Office. Hunting and pecking at his typewriter, an obviously inexperienced clerk eventually finished his lob and directed me to report to a certain building number. I did so and, after more paper shuffling, was assigned an escort because I had to go onto the flight line to finish the process.
Walking inside the flight line fence, I was impressed with the gaggle of B-52s and KC-135s, and even more impressed when we entered a closed hangar and walked beside what I recognized as a shiny Atlas ICBM on a transport trailer. I didn't know it at the time, but I was in the Missile Assembly and Maintenance (MAMS) building of the 579th Strategic Missile Squadron.
It didn't occur to me that I might be in the wrong place until my escort turned me with my paperwork over to a burly Chief Master Sergeant whose stature belied his friendly nature. He immediately made me feel at ease inviting me to sit as he looked at my paperwork. After a bit he paused, looked up at me and asked, "Have you been to missile school?" As I answered negatively it dawned on me that the inept clerk must have sent me to the wrong place. He rose saying, "I'll be right back." I was left with the thought I would shortly be on my way back to Base Personnel to start over. At least I had the thrill of seeing an Atlas up close.
He was gone less than ten minutes. As he sat down he said, "The commander is wiring Sheppard to change your AFSC suffix from 'Z' to 'D.'" He explained the 'D' designated Atlas F Facilities Electrician. And, a Chief Master Sergeant, a Colonel and a telegram, had just made me one. I was amazed that they could do such a thing. I wouldn't be just a Civil Engineering Electrician after all.
My situation was unique in two more ways. The first was all the other troops in my shop had completed missile school and had been awarded a second stripe while I had only one. The other was they also had been investigated for and given 'Secret' security clearances and I had not.
My shop NCOIC, Tech Sergeant Clifton J. Garrett, who would prove to be a true mentor to me, promised that I would get my second stripe as soon as possible. I filled out the paperwork for a security clearance and was issued a temporary badge with the understanding I was to always be with an escort who had a clearance until mine came through. Since I had not had missile school Sergeant Garrett took me under his wing, initially keeping me in the shop and assigning a cram course of tech orders covering the systems on which I would be working. After a couple of weeks he started sending me out on simple jobs for indoctrination on actual systems. Things seemed to be working out well.
I wasted no time getting to base personnel to inquire about the Aviation Cadet Program. It was immediately obvious they weren't asked about that very often, if ever. The question went right up the chain of command until I was talking to the Captain in charge of the section. He admitted he was unfamiliar with such a request and said he needed to do some research. He asked me to come back the next day. As promised, he did the research and found the applicable regulation stipulating a list of forms that had to be filled out and submitted. The only problem: None of the forms could be found on base. They would have to be ordered from the Government Printing Office and that would take a few weeks. He apologized and said he would notify me when they came in. Not nearly as naive as I once was, I had begun to categorize Recruiter Spiteleri with used car salesmen.
Memories of my Air Force experience until this point are of interesting, almost fun times. Basic Training had been a drag, but school had been interesting and challenging. The missile squadron assignment had been unexpected but welcomed in that it was much more than what I had expected. I didn't know it but times were about to change.
During this time we all had heard the rumblings of a possible invasion of Cuba but we discounted them. President Kennedy and his brother Robert had bungled the Bay of Pigs Invasion so why would they do any different now? We would find out. I had been at Walker roughly six weeks when we suddenly went on DEFCON2 Alert. President Kennedy went on television and informed the nation the Soviets were placing nuclear missiles in Cuba. He showed U-2 photos as undeniable proof. He went on to declare a 'quarantine' of the island and threatened nuclear retaliation if it was violated. Thus began the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy and Khrushchev threatened and counter-threatened. It only lasted a week, but it was a grim week indeed. As threats and counter threats of nuclear attacks flew, it was very clear the world was on the brink of nuclear war and it was truly a scary time.
Our squadron was declared fully operational even though only nine of our twelve sites were considered so before. Hindsight shows it was all part of a bluff. The Soviets would have the perception of us being operational and that was what mattered. Hindsight also shows how part of the agreement that helped ease the crisis affected us. For the Soviets to agree to remove their missiles from Cuba, we had to remove our IRBMs from Turkey. With that reduction in our threat, the onus fell on the new Titan Is and our Atlases to make up the difference. So the pressure to get our system up to alert status and keep it there continued after the crisis.
Not only did the pressure continue, it got increasingly worse. The Atlas and Titan I systems were new designs, hurried into place to meet the demands of the escalating arms race. They went from blueprint to construction without any studies or testing of the myriad support systems. Weaknesses and even hazards of those systems would have to be dealt with during actual operation as they surfaced. And surface they did. Problems proved so pervasive that two years after the Cuban Crisis, we were deactivated.
Those were two years of almost unbearable pressure to accomplish the impossible task of keeping the sites 'on alert.' Fourteen and sixteen hour days were the norm. Standby was rotated through the shop roster and each of us could expect to catch it at least once a week and that meant twenty-four hour work periods and included weekends. A social life was almost non-existent. Naturally, morale suffered as no relief appeared in sight. I even volunteered for Viet Nam twice out of frustration but my paperwork never got out of the squadron. Even the most dedicated troops began to feel there was no hope that we would ever reach any degree of success in keeping the sites on alert.
There was an enclave in the MAMS building called Job Control that required a Top Secret clearance for entry. From there emanated work schedules and work orders. Sergeant Garrett was the only one in our shop who had a top secret clearance and allowed in there. Surprisingly, my clearance came back as Top Secret and I could enter there also. It was a large room, one wall lined with backlit Plexiglas divided into twelve panels, one for each site. The status of the sites and their systems were depicted in different color grease pencil. I exercised my privilege often and I never saw all the sites on alert at the same time. I saw the number as low as four at times. It was easy to see that information could be very valuable to our enemies and warranted keeping the room top secret.
It didn't take long for problems that were to prove truly hazardous to crop up. The main one was the use of liquid oxygen (LOX) as an oxidizer and the requirement that it be on loaded and offloaded the missile before and after Propellant Loading Exercise (PLXs) - practice launches to us peons. Roughly six months after the Cuban Crisis, there was a fire in one of the loading systems during the offload and the missile and silo were lost in the ensuing explosion. Nine months later we lost another site because of a LOX leak followed by fire and an explosion. Then, less than a month later another hazard involving the Launch Platform (L/P) elevator along with the LOX system caused the explosion and loss of a third missile and silo. We were shocked, bewildered and left justifiably wondering which site would go next. After each explosion when I visited Job Control, I would be struck by the sight of another panel gone eerily blank.
We were down to nine sites but the workload didn't decrease at all. I had gotten my paperwork to apply for the Cadet program and filled it out. I got my commander's signature on the main part of the application and turned in the stack of completed forms to base personnel just before the first site blew and my commander was fired. My paperwork came back. I had to redo it with my new commander's signature. It came back a second time because the required six month flight physical exam had expired. By the time I had it almost ready again, we lost our commander again because of the second explosion. Again, back to square one. The last time I turned it in I had just gone 'over two,' meaning my enlistment was over half over. It came back. The clerk I had type it for me had used carbons on the five copy main form which was allowed. But, when he turned it over, he had made the back of the fifth page the original and the back of the first page the fifth copy. I was beside myself. I said to hell with it and trashed the whole thing. I was going to fly; I would just have to do it without help from the Air Force.
The months went by and the expectation of another accident waned somewhat but the workload remained as heavy as ever. October 1964 came and some powers that be decided to send some Civil Engineering electricians to Sheppard for an abbreviated school on Atlas systems so they could give us some direly needed help. Someone noticed I had not gone to missile school and asked me if I wanted to go. Six weeks in school would be like a vacation and I jumped at the chance. That nameless clerk that had mistakenly assigned me to the 579th had set in motion a small comedy of errors which included my AFSC being changed with a telegram, my being awarded a top secret clearance which, along with allowing me access to Job Control, also allowed me to remain on level two of the sites' Launch Control Centers (LCCs) during practice launches, and now a chance to go to missile school.
School started the first week in November. My classmates were all CE troops; the instructors had spent all of two days of familiarization with the Atlas F systems at Altus AFB, Oklahoma. For me the course was a breeze and I made a real effort not to come across as a smart-aleck know-it-all. To add to the humor of this, half way through school Secretary of Defense McNamara made the surprising announcement that the Atlas and Titan I systems would be phased out on December 31st, two weeks after my return to Walker if I finished the course. The immediate question: Would we finish the course? The answer: Yes. Why did I bother asking?
School ended and I went back to Walker and two weeks later we shut down. Five days before we stood down, I took my first flying lesson at the local civilian airport.
To say the next year was different would be a gross understatement. All the Atlases were removed and shipped to California for storage. We put in eight hour days five days a week. Troops who had enough time left or who planned to reenlist were quickly reassigned and shipped out. Others like myself remained and were assigned to 'Site Surveillance Teams' with nothing to do except idle away eight hours a day at the sites playing cards or sun bathing. In February I was promoted to E-4 and in March the 579th was officially decommissioned and we were assigned to the CE squadron. We had to move into their barracks and remove our 579th patches and wear their orange caps with CE emblazoned on the front instead of our hard hats with the 579th's decal. I resented being stripped of our identity.
I took and passed my flight test for my private pilot's license in July of that year and requested a three month 'early out' which I got in January of the next year. By then I had built up seventy-five hours of flying time, no thanks to the Air Force and Sergeant Spiteleri.
I pursued a flying career as a crop duster, instructor and presently as a corporate pilot with over 14,000 hours of flying time.
My Air Force experience was good for me: It taught me the discipline to handle adverse situations; and, I learned a very good trade that I have fallen back on a couple of times. As far as not getting to fly fighters, my wife's rather blunt observation is, "You would probably have gotten your butt shot off over Viet Nam." Also, thanks to Sergeant Spitaleri, I learned to be wary of used car salesmen.
It's a sad fact we were always far short of our goal of staying eighty per cent launch ready, but we tried hard. I say we helped keep the Soviets at bay until better systems came along and that is our measure of success. I salute my fellow missileers, especially those who served with me during that trying period.
579th STRATEGIC MISSILE SQUADRON
SITE 5 ACCIDENT FEBRUARY 13, 1964
January 12, 1999
I am writing this account of my recollections for the purpose of providing this information to anyone who wishes to use it. I recognize that it may not be readily understood by those who are not already initiated into the weapon system, but who else would be interested, anyway. I would be happy to communicate with anyone who has interest in or would like more information about the incident which I describe herein. My address is:
Allan L. Kane
6609 S.E. 160th St.
Olalla, WA 98359
With the draft breathing down my neck, I enlisted in the Air Force on Dec. 14, 1961 and, following Basic Training, was assigned to Shepard AFB and attended the missile training school there. Following this I went to Walker AFB, arriving in Oct. 1962. I was assigned to Crew #60 and we traveled to VANDENBERG AFB in April, 1963 for our operational training. Shortly after our return to Walker my crew was deemed to be adequately qualified and we began regular duty rotation at the various complexes.
I have very little in the way of documentation and the majority of what I write is based upon recollections alone, and not hard data or documents. The only things I have are my note made just prior to leaving the Launch Control Center following the incident which destroyed the silo. On this scrap of paper I wrote the number 61-2475 which no longer has any meaning to me. It may identify the installation and I must have considered it to be something of significance to that particular site. I also wrote SM-65F, which is the military designation for the Atlas F weapon system, 13 Feb. 64, which is the date of the incident, 11:10:22, which is the time of day at which the clock in the LCC stopped, R-60, which was our crew number and Capt. V.P., Ford, Jr., the Crew Commander. I also have some artifacts from the site which I picked up as I left the site that day and which I collected during subsequent trips to the site. These artifacts consist of pieces of the missile skin, hydraulic system components (fittings, valve handles, component ID tags), an elapsed time clock powered by 400 cycle source (probably from a guidance system component or the 400CPS generator), the launcher platform ID plate, an ID plate from a Worthington compressor and a piece of steel decking plate (probably part of the launcher platform).
It was generally known, prior to the actual date of the test, that there would be a PLX at our site in the near future, but neither I nor other crew member knew when it would occur. It was clear that our site had been chosen, as the operational warhead had been replaced with a dummy unit, the engine ignitors had been replaced with the fuse block and other typical preparatory activities had been accomplished during the days preceding the test. As I recall, we were notified at our pre-departure briefing of the intent to initiate the PLX during our tour, but I am not certain of this. It was clear, however, as soon as we arrived at the site that the PLX was scheduled for our tour. There were a number of extra people at the site, or they arrived shortly after we did, who were obviously there to observe the event. I recall that our Sector Commander was there, along with others of the rank of Colonel and below. As I recall, we relieved Major Goons crew that day and I recall some of his crew members expressing relief that they had not drawn the short straw.
Our crew composition on that day was as follows:
MCCC - Capt. Vincent Paul Ford, Jr.
DMCCC - 1LT Howard Jones
BMAT - SSGT William Jenkins
MFT - A2C Allan L. Kane
EPPT - A2C (or A1C) Wayne Egnew
I remember being in the vicinity of the LCC prior to the initiation of the countdown, with all crew members present. Capt. Ford and Lt. Jones were discussing the procedure and how they felt about it. Ford offered that he was as nervous as a f---ing cat He remembered shortly after having said this that all conversations were being recorded and was sincerely mortified. He generally tended to be of a nervous temperament, and he clearly was now. This is not intended as a criticism, as we were all pretty apprehensive about what we were about to do. He just exhibited his apprehension to the tape.
We received the message from the airborne command post and the MCCC and DMCCC authenticated the message. I recall that the call name for one of the command posts was Looking Glass, but am not sure that the order came from this unit. At the defined time, the MCCC initiated the countdown and began the sequence. The countdown progressed normally through the initial phase with no malfunction or indication of anything out of the ordinary. It went as smoothly as one of the many tests we had run in the past using the Launch Signal Responders.
Following the successful completion of the initial phase of the countdown, the DMCCC took his key and moved to level 1 and to the Commit station at that level. The MCCC gave the order to Commit on my mark-MARK, and turned his key. The DMCCC obviously turned his key within the allotted time and we began the commit phase. The activities during this phase, as I recall, included final topping of the fuel and LOX tanks, guidance system checks and final setup and transferring of systems to internal control. The initial phase of the commit sequence proceeded normally up to the point at which the launcher platform began its ascent to the surface. One of my responsibilities was to monitor certain areas within the silo during countdown by use of closed circuit TV units. One of the cameras was installed in the missile enclosure area and provided a view from the bottom of the silo toward the underside of the launcher platform after it moved from its lowered position. As the launcher platform rose in the enclosure, I noticed a liquid cascading from the platform and falling into the silo. I notified the MCCC of this and informed him that this was not normal and that it was evidence of a problem. He acknowledged that he understood and that he would keep the missile at the cap by withholding the initiation of the Abort sequence after reaching the up and locked position. Normally, after reaching the up and locked position during a test the Commander would initiate the Abort sequence to cause the missile to lower into the silo, download the oxidizer back to the silo storage tanks and return the system to a stable condition.
It appeared that the liquid which I had observed was fuel, since the only things it could reasonably be were fuel or hydraulic fluid and it appeared to be less viscous than hydraulic fluid. We clearly had a problem which demanded an investigation before we lowered the missile back to a standby position. Because of the high probability that the fluid was of hydrocarbon nature (whether fuel or hydraulic fluid) and that, because of the location of the plumbing which conveys the oxidizer, it was likely that this plumbing had become contaminated. Transfer of the oxidizer through the contaminated system would be an invitation to disaster. We all knew that the mixing of hydrocarbon and liquid oxygen produces a gel material which is very sensitive to shock and will explode with very little provocation. The only way to transfer the oxidizer from the missile to the silo tanks was through this plumbing and we were unwilling to do this unless we were certain that the system was clean.
The EPPT and I were the ones with responsibility to investigate situations of this nature in the silo. The commander directed us to don our emergency gear and to proceed into the silo to see what the conditions were. Neither of us were enthusiastic about this, as the location to which we must go was at the lower levels of the silo, inside the missile enclosure, and we would have to use the stairway to both get down and to return. It would not be safe to use the personnel elevator with the potential for explosive gases in the silo, as the controls for this unit contained open relays which caused arcing during normal operation. These relays were, incidentally, quite troublesome at some site. The contacts tended to burn and weld, disabling the elevator.
At this time, one of the upper level officers (Colonel),an observer at the event, directed that the Non-Essential Motor Control Center be opened. The idea was that doing this would deactivate all of the non explosion proof receptacles in the silo. This would decrease the probability of ignition resulting from arcing within these fixtures. There are a number of other circuits which are controlled by this MCC, including the silo air handling equipment. None of us recognized the full significance of this action and it did seem reasonable to deactivate the open receptacles. I should add here that the situation which we were experiencing was not one covered by any existing emergency condition checklist, and we were making some of the procedures up as we went along.
Wayne and I prepared to enter the silo dressed in our asbestos suits and wearing our Scott Air Packs. Thus equipped, we had some difficulty maneuvering and I recall wondering how we would be able to make our way down and up the spiral staircase. Nevertheless, we proceeded through the first blast door (known as the debris door) and shut it behind us. We moved down the tunnel and had nearly reached the second door (this is the thick one) when the lights began to dim. The generator was slowing - obviously not a normal situation. Wayne and I returned to the LCC, as he was the one who would have to start the other generator and put it on line. We had operated both generators in parallel during the countdown, as both were required for a tactical launch. (I think we could actually get the launcher platform up with just one unit, but we used both for the PLX) Wayne started the other engine and during this time the operational unit began to pick up speed. He paralleled the unit and shut down the faulty unit.
At some point we heard what sounded like a muffled boom from the direction of the silo. I dont recall the actual sequence, but it could have occurred during our move through the tunnel.
After having restored power neither Wayne nor I was willing to proceed into the silo. There was clearly something serious happening there and we both knew that entering the silo would likely be the last thing either of us did. Fortunately, the commander recognized this and did not direct us to do so.
During this time there were at least two maintenance personnel involved in connecting the missile tank pressurization unit to the missile. This was a unit located on the cap, intended to provide the control required to maintain proper pressures in the fuel and oxidizer tanks during the extended stay on the cap. This was a normal procedure for a situation in which a missile must remain up and locked for an extended period of time. The two maintenance men were up on the L/P making the connections and I was viewing their activities by means of my cap mounted camera when I saw liquid oxygen begin to gush from the main fill and drain line. This line runs up the side of the missile from the vicinity of the engine skirt to a point above the intermediate bulkhead, where it enters the oxidizer tank. As I recall the line is approximately 8 inches in diameter, and could have been larger. The line was flowing full and, if it continued to flow, would dump the entire load of liquid oxygen from the missile tank in a very short period of time. When the maintenance people realized what was happening, they both climbed down from their positions on the platform and fled the scene. One took the truck, an International Crew cab, and the other ran for the main gate. I recall the one running made it to the gate before the one in the truck. At the time it made quite an impression on me, but the distance was not that great and the driver lost quite a lot of time getting to the truck and getting it started.
Shortly after this, I lost sight of anything on the cap. The cloud of oxygen enveloped the camera and most everything else on the cap.
The oxygen spread out around the cap and quite a lot of it must have flowed into the silo, as well. I am sure that a lot of it must have entered the silo in a liquid state, although I have no evidence to support this.
Shortly after this we all heard a fairly large boom, more intense than the first one, and we lost power in the LCC. We could do nothing but wait from that point on. I recall that as I was moving around the LCC I backed into one of the support structures of the LCC and my Air Pack banged against it making quite a loud noise. This caused most of those present to jump and to express great relief when it became clear that the noise had come from a source other than another explosion.
During this time someone in the silo was in contact with a person, via land line, who was stationed on a hill some distance from the site. As I learned later, this person was providing information as to what was visible from his vantage point and which we would not otherwise have known. He stated that there was a fire directly under the missile and that there was smoke issuing from the silo. He also said that at the time of the actual destruction of the missile, the warhead rotated 180 degrees and fell through the body of the missile.
I dont recall how long it took for the cap area to reach a condition allowing our escape from the LCC, but it was probably not longer than a half hour. The major action subsided relatively quickly, and the topside observer provided us with the information that the condition was safe for exit. It seems that we had some trouble in getting through the security area on our way out, but I am not sure. In any event we went up the stairway and out into the light. We had been cautioned to not touch anything as we left the complex, probably to preserve all evidence as it existed. I ignored this directive and picked up some things as I walked toward the gate. Others may have, as well, but I dont know.
I cannot recall whether we were taken back to the base in separate vehicles or not, but after arriving we were put in separate rooms and questioned individually. This went on for about an hour, as I recall, possibly longer. There were subsequent sessions during which we were asked to describe the event, and at one such session, there was a legal representative in presence. One area of questioning had to do with training and whether our crew had experienced all of the required instruction and testing. One of the training activities about which they had questions was one which was crew administered - the MCCC presented some information and was to have certified as to our participation. I dont recall the subject of the training, but failure to have properly performed it could have reflected poorly on the MCCC. I had reason to believe that something about our training session had not been entirely by the book and I refused to answer the questions. This caused some consternation on the part of the investigators, particularly when the attorney advised them that I did not have to respond and that they could not demand that I tell them why I would not respond. After some discussion and following their assurance that they were not out to hang Capt. Ford, I did answer their questions. My comments apparently did not cause him any harm, as he was promoted to Major shortly after the incident.
I am not aware of any formal, official statement regarding the actual cause of the destruction of the complex, but there were unofficial speculations as to what actually happened. I will detail that as well as I recall.
The fundamental cause of the incident was that the drain sequence for the fuel system did not occur as it should have. This sequence is intended to drain all of the fuel in the lines above the disconnect fittings on the launcher platform. These line are full during Commit to provide for continuous topping of the on-board fuel tank up to the time the L/P begins to rise. The drain sequence takes place during Commit, just before the L/P begins its ascent.
The residual fuel in the L/P lines drained out after they disconnected from the fixed portion of the fuel system. This was what I observed falling in the enclosure.
The speculation is that the fuel vapors were drawn into the silo main air handling exhaust plenum located on Level 2, just at the end of the tunnel. When the Non Essential MCC was tripped the fan in this plenum stopped running and allowed the gases to reach an explosive level. Something caused the vapor to ignite and the plenum disintegrated and sent shrapnel flying around Level 2. All of the electrical wiring which connects the silo with the LCC passes close to the plenum as it enters the tunnel. Some of the flying debris cut into the wiring harnesses and produced the signal which caused the main fill and drain valve on the missile to open. Once this happened there was no chance to save the site.
I have heard speculation to the effect that the fires under the missile, on the L/P, could have caused the ignitors in engine supply turbines to cook off. Since the fuel and oxidizer supply lines to the turbines would have been closed in preparation for the PLX, the turbines would spin without the resistance provided by the liquid. They disintegrated and sent particles of debris up through the tanks, causing their collapse. There was a report from the topside observer that there was a fire burning on the L/P just below the missile. This would support the theory of cook off.
I cannot explain the generator malfunction. It is possible that the quality of the intake air caused an upset in the combustion mixture. Whether that would produce the situation which we experienced or not, I dont know.
I have considered attempting to secure the official record of the investigation from the Federal Govt. through a Freedom Of Information action. I have not done so, but it seems that the files on this incident should have been declassified by now.
Following this incident, the AF issued a revision to the manual describing the PLX procedure which required that the liquid oxygen be replaced with liquid nitrogen in the silo oxidizer storage tanks as a normal procedure in preparation for a PLX. This may have occurred following the next loss. I think one of the losses occurred after this one, but I am not sure. In any event, the losses caused the AF to rethink the PLX procedure and conclude that using liquid oxygen in the procedure presented more hazard than it was worth.
I do not recall that our crew had any extended time away from duty, but I suspect that we did. We resumed duty at some point and continued in a normal rotation throughout the remainder of the life of the system.
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