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Antenna Terminal Part II

When I first laid eyes on the antenna terminal at Lowry 725-A in 1994, I had absolutely NO IDEA what the hell I was seeing.  None.  There were helpful signs on the blasts doors to each silo stating: ANTENNA SILO A and ANTENNA SILO B.  That gave me a bit of a clue, but only a little.  Gazing about in the darkness at the mysterious equipment, dust swirling in the swath of my flashlight, I tried to discern exactly what the function of all the bewildering forms I saw might be.


Uneducated as we were as to U.S. missile systems past and present and their guidance systems, my fellow sojourners and I could only grope blindly in the dark (much as we were doing in real life at that moment) at theories regarding what we saw.


In most cases I'm sure we were way off.

The antenna terminal room begins straight ahead where the tunnel widens.  Flanking this aisle were rows of control equipment for climate controls, the antennas, communications and a cabinet of guidance hardware.

It would be nearly seven years before I would see such a sight again.  A series of implausible events would bring me to Lowry 724-C in the Fall of 1999 to inspect the site with a potential buyer where I found the surreal scenery familiar but somehow different.


I was more educated this time; I knew I was looking at a Titan I complex and was generally familiar with the layout and features of the site but I was still bewildered by most of what I saw.  Also, I found that I could not escape the nagging feeling that although this was another Titan I site I was seeing, it was somehow different in many ways from the one I'd seen some six years earlier.

The antenna terminal room, looking upward at the overhead platform where the heating and cooling equipment hides.  The electric motors were gone as per usual but everything else up there appeared to be untouched.  Ahead and to the left and right (not visible here) are the antenna silos.

Most of what seemed different could likely be attributed to poor memory as I didn't get any photos of 725-A while I was there-- something I regret deeply.  Hell, I didn't even own a cheap camera back then, let alone one that could pierce the darkness and capture images of reasonable quality.


As I looked around 724-C, things seemed odd, out of place and it became clear that the two sites had been dismantled in very different ways and to varying degrees in the many parts of the complex.

Terminal room at the personnel tunnel end--basically this is what you see when you first enter the antenna terminal and turn to look to the left.  Cabinets of equipment once straddled openings in the floor where chilled air was forced up from below to keep the delicate electronics cool.  This hole is actually an access panel and cable pass-through for a pneumatics control panel that was once mounted above it.  On the left is the insulated supply duct that cooled the cabinets.


A tangle of hot and cold water supply and return lines.  All these pipes are currently suspended by hoses on each end and little else.  It's amazing that they haven't collapsed under their own weight.  If you look closely you can see a very taut section of black rubber hose attached to the pipes and passing behind the curved beam at a 45 degree angle.  This end of the pipes are resting partly on the gray pedestal just right of center.


I was particularly wary of standing under this death trap.


Tunnel section connecting the 2 silos.  You may be wondering: "Hmm.  I bet hitting my head on that jagged pipe while not wearing a hard hat would probably hurt."

The answer: HELL YES!

Remember folks, always wear your safety gear when visiting an old missile complex.  The Titans are a vengeful lot and will seize any opportunity to damage or dismember you.


2005: I noticed this colorful formation on my last visit to 724-C.  It is a stalactite of iron oxide deposits encrusting a flange on the sump discharge line formed by ongoing water seepage since the 1970's.

We did our best to guess what some of the strange equipment around us was for, but I suspect that in all but the most obvious cases we were way off the mark.  This area was really dry since the tunnel that leads to the antenna silos slopes upward to an elevation about 20 feet higher than that of its entrance.  Any water that entered this area quickly flowed down the tunnel back toward the main tunnel junction.

1999, 724-C: Mr. X assists with the photographing of the exhaust vent and blast valve therein.  This vent extends out and runs to the surface.  You'll have to forgive the rather grim visage produced by obscuring Mr. X's face.


Schematic titled "Antenna Terminal Hot and Chilled Water Supply and Return" mounted outside of antenna silo A detailing the intricate plumbing and proper valve positions in the antenna terminal.


In between the silos looking from silo A toward silo B, 1999: Environmentally encapsulated, I lurch toward the silo door.  The hazardous pipes hang at the middle left.


1999: Door to antenna silo B and blast dampened ductwork above.  You can see here that a section of the I-beam structure was cut out from overhead.  Perhaps to allow clearance for removal of some of the climate systems equipment.


1999: This is basically an indicator panel except for the over ride switch.  From top to bottom, the labels read:


"Antenna #2 Panel" - The designation Antenna #2 and B are used interchangeably in blueprints.

"Ant. & Fire Door Open" - Refers to the blast door at the personnel level and not the silo doors.

"Antenna Door Open" - Refers to the silo doors at the surface.

"Antenna Door Closed" - Refers to the silo doors at the surface.

"Interlock Over Ride" - This switch allows both silos to be open (soft) at the same time during maintenance, installation or repairs.  Normally this is prevented by the interlock mechanism to prevent both antennas from being vulnerable to attack simultaneously.


1999: Blast door at antenna silo B.  This is exactly the same type of door used in the blast locks to protect the launcher areas.  This photo shows the wall thickness of the silo at the doors where they are heavily reinforced.


1999: The lower platform of the antenna where the hydraulic pump and accumulator and other equipment were located.  Note the hole in the center of the structure to allow for the hydraulic ram to pass.  Though flooded, the area below is about 23 feet deep.


1999: Hydraulic reservoir for the antenna platform and doors.  The platform on which this gear rests is suspended from above by six insanely robust steel cables.

Of course all the operational sites are pretty much trashed or scrapped out rather heavily so it is difficult to tell what the complex looked like before it was salvaged, graffiti-tagged, flooded and left to rot for decades.  If only there were some example of what things once looked like before the ravages of time and trespassers took their toll.  (if only!)


It just so happens that there is. (sort of)


California is not only the home of Beale AFB which had its own Titan I squadron, the 851st SMS, but also the home of Vandenberg AFB and the Titan I OSTF.


In order to test the integration of major systems of the WS-107A-2 prior to the activation of the first operational squadron, a Titan I facility was constructed at Vandenberg AFB and was designated the Operational System Test Facility or OSTF.


The OSTF was a scaled-down version of a Titan I operational complex.  It had only 1 launcher silo, one antenna terminal and the power house and control centers were above-ground block-house style buildings instead of heavily hardened domed structures.


Diagram of the Titan I OSTF (on the left) and the 395-A Test Facility at Vandenberg AFB showing the single launcher and antenna silo.

Image courtesy of Fred Epler


The OSTF was short-lived however and the launcher silo and nearby structures were destroyed or severely damaged in December 1960 by an explosion during a dual-propellant loading exercise.  The dual-propellant loading exercise (PLX) meant that both LOX and RP-1 were onboard the missile during a simulated launch-- a rare test due to the obvious hazards presented by the situation.  Normally only RP-1 or LOX were loaded alone on the missile during exercise-- not both at the same time.


A fully-loaded missile was being lowered back into the silo when it was observed that its descent was abnormally rapid-- the result of a failed braking system on the launcher elevator.  Unhindered as it was, the missile, its fuel, and oxidizer all plunged to the bottom of the silo where the airframe and its tanks were split wide open under the impact.  The volatile LOX ignited producing a tremendous explosion that rendered the facility unusable and too costly to repair.  Unbelievably, no one was injured by the blast that threw debris miles away from the complex.


Since the accident, the OSTF has remained relatively untouched mostly, leaving its single antenna silo (which was located a good distance from the silo) in very good shape.


Mr. Lance Wright was fortunate enough to be able to see the site in person some years back and took lots of pictures of this very rare Titan I antenna silo that hasn't been completely scrapped out.


Thanks to Lance and Fred, I can share those photos with you here:

OSTF antenna silo: Here is the very same platform as in the previous photo with the hydraulic reservoir and all the equipment just as it was installed in the operational sites.  A little grimier perhaps, but otherwise unchanged.  The plumbing, electrical and hoses are all in place and unmolested.

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


Another look at the platform in the OSTF antenna silo showing the hydraulic equipment.  Even the electric motors have been left undisturbed!  Note the plastic that has been placed over the electrical control box on the right.

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


OSTF antenna silo.  Another view of the hydraulic equipment.

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


OSTF antenna silo.  You can see a ladder to the catwalk level in the background.  These ladders were removed at 724-C making ascension rather more difficult!

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


1999, 724-C: the lower level of both antenna silos were almost completely flooded.  That's about 23 feet of water down there.  Not sure why the barbed wire is there.  Most likely it was thrown in while the doors were open during salvage operations.


Lower level of antenna silo at the OSTF: the column you see here is the hydraulic ram that raised the antenna to the surface.  This was removed from all operational sites I've ever seen.

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


1999, 724-C: space between the platform and the silo walls


1999, 724-C: looking up toward the catwalk level.  Here you can see one of the 3 pairs of shock-mount springs that supported the antenna platform and allowed it to sway while the silo was in "Hard" condition (silo doors closed).


OSTF antenna silo: Flexible hydraulic lines bridging the gap from the equipment platform to the silo wall to supply power to the silo doors.

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


OSTF antenna silo: equipment platform and high-pressure hydraulic pump unit

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


1999, 724-C: Looking up toward the catwalk level.  You can just see a bit of the silo doors overhead.


2005, 724-C: Another look up at the catwalk level


1999, 724-C: Looking up at the doors and catwalk.  One leg of the antenna platform support and shock mount runs down the center of the photo.


1999, 724-C: Looking up once more.  You can see a ladder on the left side leading to a small service platform.  That is just a section of aluminum extension ladder tied in place with a scrap of wire.  Another service ladder leads further up to the catwalk.  This is the same ladder I dragged all the way to propellant terminal #1 so I could explore the LOX tunnel.  

The real access ladders for both silos appear to have been cannibalized and used for climbing makeshift towers on the surface which were fashioned from the old missile flame buckets.

Of course I was very keen to see what exactly might be up on the catwalk level of the antenna silos and this was where one of my first rather hair-raising episodes of exploring the site came in.  Up to this point I had braved asbestos, unknown chemical contaminants and murky water of unknown depths, floors with gaping holes in them which invited a 16-foot drop to a concrete floor littered with jagged metal debris, narrow and dark enclosed spaces, treacherous and slippery metal stairs covered with condensation and spooky, unexplained noises as I explored the complex.


As unsettling as all those trials were, this was worse.  This was an old section of aluminum ladder about 16 feet long that under the circumstances could only be charitably described as unstable.


Now 16 feet doesn't look or sound like much, that is until you turn it from horizontal to vertical and then put yourself at that height, in the dark,  and are supported only by questionable means.  Such was the only route up to the catwalk level owing to the removal of the original ladders.

1999, 724-C: Guide rail and shock mounts again at center with the silo doors far overhead


For comparison, this is a shot inside of a Washington state Titan I antenna silo.  Similarly scrapped but livened up with primer-red appointments.  One major difference is the complete removal of the the suspended antenna platform.  Only the guide rails remain of the antenna elevating mechanism at this site.

Photo courtesy of Walter Silva


Back at the OSTF: The raised elevator platform and supporting ram.  The actual antenna appears to be gone, but its hard to tell in this shot.  Given the height to which the platform is raised with the doors closed, it would seem that the entire antenna pedestal and assembly must have been removed.

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright

There was no way I was letting a shaky ladder deter me, nervous though I was.  In hindsight this ladder would turn out to be a mere trifle compared to the absolute white-knuckle terror of the Insane Missile Silo Ascents I would make a few years later, but at the time, as the aluminum rig pitched to and fro and rattled and shook as I climbed, my fear certainly kept me focused on what I was doing!


When I reached the small platform about 10 feet below the catwalk, I found the ladder lashed rather carelessly in place with a piece of twisted wire and a decaying length of rope.  Well, at least there was a backup!  


The over-built steel access ladder up to the catwalk was far more reassuring and after a brief rest and a few photos, I continued upward to the higher reaches of the antenna silo.


Well, enough of this neck-strain from looking straight up!  Next we'll get a look around from the catwalk and explore further.


Antenna Terminal Cont.


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