Major Locales of the Titan I Complex

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LOX Tunnels and Loading Vents

Lox tunnel and loading vent viewed top-down.  Missile silo at upper left and propellant terminal at upper right and loading vent at lower middle.


LOX tunnel and loading vent, side aspect showing "fuel tunnel" at right

The LOX tunnel is a 3 gauge corrugated steel structure, 12 feet in diameter and roughly 25 feet in length measured from the lower level of the propellant terminal to the concrete firewall that separates it from the missile silo.  Through this conduit the various gasses required for the oxidation of fuel and operation of the missile systems along with compressed air were conveyed via two openings in the silo wall.  


The LOX vent is a 3 gauge corrugated steel structure 9' 6" in diameter rising 53' 9" from the LOX tunnel to the surface through which the silo and propellant terminal vented evaporated LOX, gaseous nitrogen and helium and through which the supply of LOX, nitrogen and helium were replenished from the surface.


A smaller tunnel, 6' 6" in diameter branching from the main LOX tunnel and given the misnomer "fuel tunnel" carried helium, liquid and gaseous nitrogen and compressed "utility air" which was used for pressurizing and blanketing fuel and oxidizer tanks as well as for actuating valves and other pneumatic components of the missile systems.


LOX tunnel bulkhead and openings at the entrance from the propellant terminal (see next image)

The entrance to the LOX tunnel viewed from the lower level of the propellant terminal

Reaching LOX Tunnel #1

Access to the propellant terminal was complicated by the removal of the upper level platforms that interfaced with the personnel tunnel.  Upon arrival to this area I was greeted by a good 12-foot drop ending in rusty water of indeterminate depth (see the propellant terminals section).  This presented an effective deterrent for a year or so until I found myself faced with the prospect of not being able to continue visiting the site as it was up for sale.  My curious nature of course got the better of me as I plotted out areas of interest to which I had not yet gained access or taken any photos.  One of those was of course the LOX tunnel.  From the personnel tunnel, you can see the LOX tunnel but that's about it--you cannot make out what lies beyond.  That would never do.  I had to see for myself what was back there.


Blueprints showed a multi-branched tunnel with lots of piping and ductwork, but the flat blue drawings were hardly satisfying and only served to whet my curiosity all the more.  After some thought, I devised a plan to safely access the LOX tunnel.  Like many plans, its execution proved more difficult than anticipated.  Old scratch--always lurking in the minutiae.

Looking toward Propellant Terminal #1 from inside the LOX tunnel.  Rust has devastated this area since the propellant terminal is filled with standing water that leaks in from many sources and flows into the missile silo through the LOX tunnel.

There was a ladder in one of the antenna silos which would handily surmount the obstacle that the propellant terminal posed, but it was at least ten feet long, heavy and obviously bulky and awkward to carry.  It was also a couple thousand yards distant from propellant terminal #1--my intended goal.  Still, it seemed the fastest and easiest way to gain access.  My plan was hatched: I would schlep the ladder out of antenna silo #2, up the lengthily antenna tunnel and into the launcher tunnels, through blast lock #2 and negotiating the corners there and making my final approach to the propellant terminal where I could easily drop the ladder down to the water.  Once in place I hoped my rubber boots would be sufficient to cross the water after descent, allowing me access to the mysterious LOX tunnel.

Looking toward Propellant Terminal #1 from inside the LOX tunnel.  Note the spring shock mounts that once carried piping through the tunnel.  Since a large portion of fixtures and conduit were stainless steel, little remains of the plumbing of the propellant loading system (P.L.S.).

Armed with my rubber boots, trusty flashlight and respirator (mesothelioma is no laughing matter) I set about executing my plan.  First stop: antenna silo #2 to nab the ladder.  Well, it turned out that the ladder was more like 15 feet in length and not ten feet, and it was also secured to a high platform in the antenna silo with twisted wire.  There was a good reason for this of course, as falling from a height of over 12 feet onto concrete and steel in the cold dark just cannot end well.  Unfortunately, to secure the ladder for my purposes, I had first to unsecure it from the platform which meant climbing back down after removing the securing wire without the benefit of the safety it had offered.


I survived this first test easily enough and then found myself presented with an interesting physical puzzle to solve: how to maneuver a 15 foot ridged metal ladder out of such a constricted space.  


The antenna silos are 37' in diameter, more than enough room for the ladder except that the center of the silo is occluded by the antenna platform and its associated machinery.  This meant I could not lay the ladder down flat to get a straight approach to the doorway.  Also, the door opens inward meaning that it also partially blocked the way giving me even less room to wrangle the ladder through.  Imagine trying move such a ladder through your home, say from the bedroom and out through the living room to outside with all your furniture in place and you might begin to envision the difficulty.


In short I spent a good 15 minutes or more just trying to get out the door with the ladder.  Once I succeeded I was immediately met by another obstacle as the antenna terminal meets the connecting tunnel at a 90 degree angle.  This turn is populated by pipes and ducts and other blockage that made the task a living hell.  In the end, I actually had to run the ladder into the other antenna silo for clearance of the corner and then lift, pull, push forward and back again multiple times to free the ladder from the antenna terminal's tenacity.  This took about another 15 minutes to accomplish.


I was tired, cursing, and out of breath, and I hadn't even moved the ladder 30 feet.

Looking toward Propellant Terminal #1-- a light fixture rests on pipe supports amidst the terrific corrosion

Now I am not in bad shape at all, I don't weigh much and stay very active, but wearing a respirator invariably hinders breathing and the element of danger stressed me out so I was wearing down much more quickly than usual.  I took a short rest before moving on.


Balancing the ladder on my shoulder to keep the ends from dragging on the ground I made my way to the main tunnel junction fairly easily though my shoulder was sore.  Now the antenna tunnel has a nice flat non-skid concrete floor and was a cinch to navigate, even with an awkward burden in tow.  The launcher tunnels in contrast are filled with loose metal debris, mud, water of varying depths and innumerable jagged metal protrusions and precarious footing.  This was the path that awaited me as I held a flashlight in one hand while the other kept the ladder balanced on my shoulder.  Walking down the middle of the launcher tunnels is not really desirable as it is there that the mud and water and debris are in greatest concentration.  It is far easier in general to walk along the top of the pipe supports on one side of the tunnel--easier that is if you have a hand free to steady yourself that is.  Walking on the supports requires good balance and you have to step over steel brackets every 10 feet or so which in the best of circumstances really begs for you to steady yourself with one hand and pull yourself up over these brackets as you go.


Now consider my situation: no hands free; ladder balanced on and digging into one shoulder; balancing on a narrow steel rail with mud, debris and water below if I should slip.  Every so often I have to move the ladder to my other shoulder because it has become too painful.  This maneuver is also tricky given the terrain.

Looking toward Propellant Terminal #1-- this picture was taken at another Titan I site which has far less water in it, at least in this area.  

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

Finally I reach blast lock #2 where the water becomes very deep in places so I must be very careful not to take a bath by accident.  At least the turn toward launcher #1 is easy to negotiate and the tunnel beyond is dry though still littered with junk.  At the launcher I have one more 90 degree turn and then arrive at the propellant terminal--finally.  Total time to accomplish this feat was in excess of 90 minutes!


I lowered the ladder down into the water and found it to be about 2 feet deep at the time--higher than my boots.  Hmmm.  I desperately wanted to avoid getting bootfuls of cold water, it would be a long squishy walk back to the main tunnel.  Worse still would be a full dunking.  Not fun.


After securing the ladder with some cable, I climbed down to inspect the route before me.  The water was freshly clouded by the addition of the ladder so I could not see anything below the surface.  About 20 feet of wading separated me from my goal.


With no options, I probed the water with one foot and found some conduit following the curved wall.  I hoped it would continue over to the LOX tunnel as I left the relative stability of my ladder and clung to electrical conduit above as I shuffled sideways along the wall.  

Looking down the LOX tunnel toward the missile silo.  The rope you see was undoubtedly used by scrappers when they salvaged materials in this area.

About two-thirds of the way along, the conduit disappeared leaving me with no foothold.  Again I plumbed the depths with a foot and found some submerged junk to stand on and finally made my way to the LOX tunnel opening which only had an inch or two of water in it.  Success!

Another view down the LOX tunnel toward the missile silo

I looked around the new terrain I'd entered and surveyed the devastation time had waged there.  Every bit of steel and iron in sight was absolutely ravaged by rust, the paint that remained either gone or peeled and scabrous, waiting to fall off.  Only stainless and galvanized metal were relatively unscathed by corrosion and decay.  A lot of the stainless steel piping of the propellant loading system was gone, but some remained, apparently abandoned by tight scheduling of the scrapping contract deadlines.

Looking down the LOX tunnel at the concrete firewall between the tunnel and the missile silo.  Once again, this photo is from a different site and is included to show details not easily discerned in the rusty photos of 724-C.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

Sections of the steel bulkhead had been cut away with a torch to remove stainless piping and empty pipe hangers and supports festooned the ceiling and walls.  The floor was damp and covered with pipe insulation, some fiberglass and some of it consisting of an odd pumice-stone sort of material.  I presumed the latter form was used for extremely cold applications like liquid nitrogen and oxygen.

Similar view as the previous photo, but much, much more corroded.  The dark gray concrete of the firewall is very, very dense to protect the propellant terminal from the ever-present danger of fire or explosion.  A large piece of pipe insulation lays at bottom center.  This entire area was covered with a pumice stone like insulation that had been stripped from the pipes.  It crunched underfoot and floated in water.

There was also a lot of mold growing in the LOX tunnel.  It seemed to favor cellulose as a culture medium and had established itself on the paper covering of the pipe insulation and on the scum collected on the floor of the tunnel where it grew in white splotches and wispy clumps.  Not the best environment for asthmatics or probably for unprotected breathing by anyone perhaps.

A pressure accumulator tank and the stainless steel bulkhead of the LOX vent shaft.  The tank was for operating the blast valve located behind the bulkhead.

Along the floor, the water trickled enviably toward the missile silo making its way through the concrete blast wall via a piping penetration and dripping into the giant well that was once the launcher tube to join the millions of cubic liters collected there.

The LOX vent bulkhead from another Titan I site.  This site has more ductwork still in place.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler


The LOX vent bulkhead from another Titan I site--closer view.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

The LOX loading and vent shaft lies behind a very large stainless steel bulkhead through which many pipes and ducts pass.  Behind this barrier is another concrete blast wall to prevent shock waves from traveling down the shaft and damaging the missile complex.  A single blast valve allows venting of air and gasses from between these two surfaces, waiting to slam shut in a fraction of a second if a blast were detected.

The bulkhead between LOX Tunnel #1 and the LOX loading vent at 724-C propellant terminal #1.  Beyond this bulkhead lies another concrete firewall and a blast valve to allow venting to the surface.


The concrete firewall and 4' 3.75" blast valve in the LOX vent as well as some stainless steel fill lines.


The concrete firewall separating the "fuel tunnel" from the LOX tunnel.  

Close to the silo blast wall, a smaller 6' 6" concrete wall seals off the "fuel tunnel" through which run a large return duct from around the 100 foot level of the missile silo and some helium, nitrogen and compressed air lines.  At left you can see the rather constricted 20 inch man access which has been uncovered.  Obviously quick and easy entrance to the tunnel was not a high priority.


I had to get a closer look so I set about squeezing through the opening.  For those with a full figure, this is not recommended.  I had to start with one arm and shoulder first and then the other before I could fit.  Hanging onto piping on the inside, I both pulled myself through and held my upper body out of the 12 inches of water inside the fuel tunnel.  I pondered the seriousness of getting trapped in such a place as my hips just barely fit through the opening.  Not a pretty thought as I likely wouldn't be found for a week or so.

Looking into the LOX tunnel from inside the fuel tunnel through a 20" man access hatch.  My trusty 6 volt flashlight rests in the opening.


Another view inside the cramped fuel tunnel.  Water had leaked in around the water stop seals that connected the tunnel sections and there was about a foot of rusty water in here when I visited this area.


The fuel tunnel piping and ductwork entering the missile silo.  The large duct enters the silo and heads toward the personnel tunnel and then straight down beneath the murky depths of the water that has collected for decades.

Once inside my own private burial chamber I saw it was a very short and cramped space with little head room.  I got a few photos and hoped like hell I could get back out again.

The concrete firewall in the LOX tunnel viewed from inside the LOX tunnel.  The missile silo is one the opposite side of this wall.

Back in the less claustrophobic LOX tunnel I looked at the very dense silo blast wall.  The largest LOX line had been removed but a smaller line was still in place probably only because the pipe flange prevented it from simply being removed.  As I looked more closely I noticed that water had pooled at the base of the wall.  The floor was wet so I thought nothing of the narrow strip of water along the wall as I scrutinized the LOX lines, stepping closer to the blast wall as I did so.  As I stepped in the water at the base of the wall my foot disappeared into a gap perhaps 2 feet deep and I pitched over sideways into the wall striking my head soundly against it as I lost my balance.  This was when I became very thankful for the cheerful yellow hard hat I'd been wearing on my journey.  Instead of being knocked silly I simply startled the hell out of myself.


What had appeared to be just another patch of wet floor, was in fact a gap between the tunnel and the silo wall disguised by pooled water.  Truly one has to be careful when exploring such a place, and this was a friendly reminder of that fact.


Carefully I peered through the blast wall opening into the missile silo and saw the unique branched portion of the LOX line and the soggy launcher beyond.  The hole was larger than the access to the fuel tunnel so I knew I had to go through and see the other side.  You can see here that the LOX opening on the silo side has chamfered corners and is asymmetrical.

Looking into the missile silo through the penetration through the firewall once occupied by the 18" LOX line.  The remaining run of the LOX line can be seen continuing on into the silo where it branches to serve both stages of the missile.


A closer look at the LOX supply line on the silo side of the firewall. 

These next few pictures are actually of the LOX tunnel opening at launcher #2.  I climbed along the conduit and ductwork once again to reach the LOX opening--much easier than scaling to the catwalk level I have to say.

A flexible LOX connection on the silo side of the firewall.  This feature was removed from the other 2 silos.


Delusions of grandeur: the flexible LOX connection in the missile silo.


On the missile silo side of the LOX tunnel. This was launcher #3 which was flooded to a greater degree than #1 or #2.  The LOX tunnel here is flooded to over 3 feet deep.


Another LOX line showing another flexible connection.


A sump-well between the firewall and the missile silo walls.  Note the black and white speckling of vibrant colonies of mold all around.  This is back at silo #1 again.


Another flexible LOX connection on the silo side of the firewall.  These smaller lines are likely topping lines that fill the last portion of the missile tanks at a slower and more controlled rate until they are full.  Other lines are drains and returns for excess LOX.  Another shot at silo #1.


High pressure nitrogen, oxygen and helium lines, penetrating the concrete blast wall between the LOX tunnel and the launcher silo.  This view is on the silo side of the blast wall at launcher #3.


Another view at launcher #3 where flooding was far greater.



Piping and supports on the silo side of the blast wall at silo #3.


Construction photo of the silo side of the LOX tunnel

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler


Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

The LOX loading and vent shaft was one of the few places I never ventured because there was no easy way to get back there without dismantling a blast valve.  As a result, I never got any photos there, but I did find a few operational-era photos taken at the surface featuring the enigmatic A1C Brannon going over maintenance procedures at the valves and fill connections.

Platform 4' below grade where fill valves and piping are located

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

At 724-C as with some other sites, the LOX loading and vent shaft appears to have been filled in with dirt and covered over.  I decided to find out if this was the case and with the aid of a shovel found that the vent shafts (at least at 724-C) are in fact not filled in but simply covered over with corrugated tin and a layer of soil about 6-8 inches deep.  Still, I did not try to go down there.  Too much trouble even for a determined explorer like me.

Another view of the LOX loading and vent shaft with A1C Brannon

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

This concludes the LOX tunnels and loading vents section.  Select another location to explore below or go to the main map for other locations.

Current Location: LOX Tunnels and Loading Vents

Blast Lock #1 Blast Lock #2 Main Map Launcher Area Air Filtration Launcher Area Air Filtration Fuel Terminal Power House Air Intake Power House LOX Bay #1 LOX Bay #3 Equipment Terminal #1 Missile Silo #1 Propellant Terminal #1 LOX Tunnel #1 Propellant Terminal #3 Missile Silo #3 Equipment Terminal #3 LOX Tunnel #3 Utilities Tunnel #1 Utilities Tunnel #3 Launcher Tunnels Launcher Tunnels Launcher Tunnels Launcher Tunnels Launcher Tunnels

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