By Barbara Marriott
During the 1950s and 1960s the United States and Russia were involved in a political and defense policy called “The Cold War.” To defend our country from possible aerial attack the United States Air Force ringed the Tucson area with eighteen missile sites. One of these sites was in the northern tip of Oro Valley. Travelers on Oracle Road could see the chin-link fence and an unidentified truck, but little else. One of the most demanding and difficult jobs on the construction site was digging the silo, which was 150 feet deep, 55 feet in diameter, and built of heavily reinforced concrete. Nine levels of equipment rooms and access space were built into the silo’s sides.
The Titan II missile in this Oro Valley silo could hit targets 5,500 miles away from its launch site. It took only thirty-five minutes for it to reach its destination. The Titan missile was a two-stage booster design using liquid hypergolic propellants fuel.
In 1963 the missile surface covered a 600-foot by 600-foot area with a steel and concrete door that weighed 750 tons and could be opened in 20 seconds. Two exhaust ducts ran the length of the silo and vented on the surface.
During the 1963 construction stage, the dome-shaped structure that looked more like an observatory than a military center was put in place. This dome was 37 feet in diameter and contained three stories, which housed a control center, communications equipment, a mess, and sleeping quarters for two four-man crews.
The command center’s complex computerized system operated the launch and its vital communications. The fuel used was highly toxic, but the Oro Valley site remained safe during its twenty years of operation. On September 24, 1963, the northern Oro Valley missile site inserted a Titan II missile into the silo. The complete missile airframe weighed 15,000 pounds, but with a full load of propellant the weight soared to over 330,000 pounds.
Considering the site and uniqueness of this missile. The fact that no passersby remarked on this operation is a sign of not only the sparse habitation, but also to the lack of traffic on Oracle Road. Try it today and you’d wind up with smart phone photos and gawkers.
Fortunately for all, there was never a need to launch the Titan, and political policies changed, as did our weaponry. The missile site was deactivated on November 30, 1983. About 2,800 pounds of high explosives were used to destroy the top twenty-five feet of the silo, after the missile had been removed. The debris was plowed into the silo and capped with three feet of concrete.
Whereas the missile site was only a piece of land with some low concrete buildings, it is now the home of The Vistas de la Montana United Methodist Church. The Church’s cross can be seen for miles.
Have a yen to visit the past? Take a trip to the Titan Missile Museum, in Sahuarita. It is the only silo in the world that is open to the public. For more information visittitanmissilemuseum.org.
Titan II Missile in its silo.
Oro Valley History:
The Russians are coming