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Antenna Terminal Part III

1999, Lowry 724-C: My first visit to the catwalk level, I try to make sense of what I'm seeing, unaware of the mysterious object I would discover minutes later.


I made my way carefully up the ladder and paused at a lower access platform below the actual catwalk.  This platform was flanked by a retractable gangway that provides access to the antenna platform while the antenna is in the silo and allowed for ease of maintenance and repairs when the silo was "hard", or closed.


Circa 2002, Lowry 724-C: A small platform below the catwalk.  On the left you can see part of one of the big spring assemblies.  Movement of the spring was detected by the small switch contacting a rod at about 45 degrees.  As the springs compressed or expanded, this movement was detected by these small sensors.


From the platform I got a good look at the spring mounts supporting the entire antenna platform.  There were 6 of these springs supporting each antenna platform.  As I marveled at the obvious strength and durability of the whole construction, I found a laminated tag affixed to the steel cable with a piece of wire.  I took the liberty of liberating that tag:


Certification tag for the steel cable supporting the antenna platform.  Some pretty stout stuff I think you'll agree.


Looking at this tag, it shows that the certified capacity of each of the 6 cables supporting the antenna platform was 16 tons each for a total capacity of 96 tons!  Further inspection reveals that these cables were really capable of an absolute maximum of 192 tons or more!  


A better view of the massive springs supporting the antenna.  If you look very closely you can see the tag pictured above still attached to the cable near the top of the closest spring.


Climbing up the last 10 feet or so, I arrived at the catwalk level of the antenna silos.  There were lots of pipes and other head-hazards to look out for above and plenty of trip hazards protruding up from below through the deck, making for moderate treachery.


Hydraulic lines for the antenna up-locks and silo doors ran hither and yon along the walls, sprouting from control panels and branching everywhere competing with electrical conduit, heated glycol lines and other plumbing for space along the silo walls.


1999, Lowry 724-C: Gaps in the railings like this one were once protected by safety chains and the presence of the antenna platform which had occupied the empty space where now one could easily plummet some 25-30 feet to the unforgiving floor below.


Dodging these obstacles, I made my way around the catwalk while doing my best to describe what I was seeing to the folks below who opted not to experience the "ladder of questionable integrity".


OSTF: While there are many differences between the operational sites and the OSTF, fundamentally, the two are constructed almost the same.  Here you can see one big difference where the access to the antenna silo was actually at the catwalk level via a smaller tunnel.  The retractable gangway you see here covers the personnel tunnel when fully retracted.

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


OSTF: Door rams like these were rare as ball lightning in the salvaged sites.  I can recall seeing photos of them only once before on one of the launchers out west.  I am thrilled to see these pictures and I have to marvel at how clean and new everything looks.

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


OSTF: On inspection, you will notice that the shock assemblies in the OSTF silos use solid steel rods for support and not the cables or wire ropes you see at 724-C.

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


1999, Lowry 724-C: Catwalk level 


A Discovery on the Catwalk

My first visit to the catwalk level of an antenna silo was interesting and befuddling.  Like most of the details in the complex, these new features were strange and mysterious to me.  I had only a rudimentary idea of what the objects about me were for and this newly-discovered area was just one more set of riddles for me to solve.


Over time, most of these puzzles would be laid bare until nearly all of it made sense.  All of it* save for one thing.  This thing:


* Okay, that's a lie.  Not all of it, but most of it.


Side, front and rear views.  I tried to find someone who could tell me what this is around 2002 when I posted some really lousy, blurry photos of it that were so bad it's no wonder no one could help.


The large terminal has a really strange-looking connector that looks like it accepted some sort of plug or cable.  You can see other details better if you enlarge the image by clicking on it.


This mysterious object was discovered in 1999 on the catwalk level of antenna silo B at Lowry 724-C.  It is 12 inches tall, just over 4 inches wide and has 2 large terminals on the top with ceramic isolators.  It weighs about 12-15 pounds and when shaken makes a sound as though it is filled with oil and ball bearings.  It is made by Western Electric which makes me think it is associated with the antenna test equipment somehow but I cannot be certain if it is original Titan I equipment.


I absconded with the mysterious object but have been unable to divine its purpose all these years.  I simply have no idea what the hell it is.  What to do?


I'll put out a world-wide call for help, that's what I'll do!


Side, front and rear views.  I tried to find someone who could tell me what this is around 2002 when I posted some really lousy, blurry photos of it that were so bad it's no wonder no one could help.


Take the "What the Hell is That?" challenge!


*** (UPDATE - Challenge has ended) Thanks to those who participated! ***

Be the first to identify this strange object and its purpose and provide concrete evidence (e.g.: a document, link or some source naming the object and explaining its purpose and I will send you a small token of my appreciation for your efforts: an actual piece of a Titan I missile complex.


You heard right!  I will send you this handsome shock zone certification tag-- a real live Titan I artifact-- yours to admire and to pass on from generation to generation as proof of your grand achievement.


Roughly Actual Size!


Telling me that it is a transformer will not suffice as it even says that it is a transformer right on it, so you'll have to be more specific than that.  Good luck!!


Here are a few more photos to aid in its identification:


More shots of the top, bottom, sides, etc.  What the hell is that thing?!


The winner will have his or her prize shipped directly to them by mail free of charge!

Yes, all this can be yours!  Do you have what it takes?  Do you have some useless knowledge of esoteric gadgetry?  Can you answer the question: "What the Hell is That?"  Well can you?


If you think you have the answer, contact me with your astounding evidence supporting your claim to be the first person to tell me "What the Hell is That?" and receive your awesome* prize!


* Awesomeness of prize is subjective, no actual awesomeness guaranteed.  Individual perception of "awesome" may vary widely and qualitative property of awesomeness may in fact not be present at all either in or about the prize.


*** (UPDATE - Challenge has ended) ***


The Results of the "What the Hell is That?" Challenge:

For those of you out there kept in suspense by the answer to this challenge, I would be remiss if I allowed the mystery to torture you further, so here is the winner of the What the Hell is That? Challenge and the firstest and bestest answer to this oh-so-tantalizing question.


The Winner(s): Herein known only as "Lefty" and "Smoke"-- yes, it was a collective effort-- they were the first to respond with the correct answer and indisputable supporting evidence of that answer.


Lefty's hidden lair is rumored to be somewhere in the Tennessee hills, and Smoke's underground fortress is said to be ensconced deep within the bedrock beneath Michigan.


Congratulations Lefty and Smoke!  I hope you can find an acceptable way to split the prize-- perhaps by time-sharing or laser bisection.


Identity and purpose of the Mystery Item: A Pulse Transformer.  Lefty's email described it thusly: a "transformer to[sic] designed to transfer pulses of non-sinusoidal wave forms between circuits without basically changing the wave forms".  Okay, I thought.  I am going to have to learn a bit more about radar and the function of such a transformer before I can make sense of that entirely..  


Here's what I came up with-- please folks, if I get something wrong here, don't hesitate to correct me.  Radar is not my forté so I implore anyone who should see me engaging in misinformation here to let me know immediately!


Function of the Pulse Transformer in the Titan I Guidance Antenna:

Hang on, this can get a bit windy.  Here goes:


The Titan I missile uses a coded pulse to communicate with the missile to both relay steering commands and to make corrections to the missile's trajectory by timing the receipt of a beacon signal transmitted from the missile-borne guidance package.  The missile's beacon signal is omni-directional and allows the guidance antenna to properly track the missile and stay trained on its signal.


Transformers typically perform two basic functions using the property of inductance to "step up" or "step down" voltage using conductive coils of wire with differing numbers of windings in the coils.


Inside a transformer there are two coils-- a primary and secondary coil in close proximity so that any current in the first coil will create an electro-magnetic effect in the second coil; current on the primary coil will induce a current in the secondary coil proportional to the windings in the two coils.


A primary coil will induce a greater output current in a secondary coil with more windings and a lesser current in a secondary coil with fewer windings than the primary.  This is precisely how residential power is "stepped down" from high voltage mains at the power pole before it is routed to a home. 


Dash-1 rudimentary diagram illustrating missile guidance.  I added a few labels as you can see.  The pulse transformer was located inside the antenna dome.


* Regarding my little joke on the missile: I would like to point out that I strongly regret the adversarial climate that emerged between Russia and the US after WWII and which persists today.  I truly hope that any visitors to this site from the Russian Federation would not get the impression that it celebrates nuclear weaponry or fosters any misgivings between our nations.  I sincerely continue to hope that peace and diplomacy will one day make both countries wonder how such animosity ever came about.  I can dream can't I?


The pulse transformer is so called because it produces very rapid, very brief periods of high and low voltages-- pulses-- at precise power and frequencies.  These alternating high and low voltages produce the rectangular "non-sinusoidal" wave form used by the guidance system.


The coded pulse used by the antenna is greatly amplified by the pulse transformer for transmission with minimal distortion.  The "non-sinusoidal wave forms" described above refers to a rectangular wave form (as opposed to a sine wave) which is well suited to radar applications due to its distinctive nature.


Amplifying the signal without changing the waveform (very much) is important because a specific amplitude and frequency are required by the missile-borne guidance package.  If the wave form is too distorted, the missile's guidance package will not recognize the signal and will ignore it.


The transformer was needed to increase the signal strength so it would be capable of the range needed to communicate with a missile many miles above the Earth as it raced toward apogee, at which time all guidance ceased and the re-entry vehicle separated and continued to the target using only gravity.


This pulse transformer was apparently removed from the guidance antenna before its removal from the antenna silo, perhaps with the intention of being kept as a souvenir by someone on the salvage crew, but it looks as though it was left behind.


Lefty and Smoke sent me this link, which provided the objective evidence of their claim, which shows all three part numbers (shown in the earlier photos above) positively identifying it and also showing that one can apparently still purchase such a transformer!  A little follow-up reveals that you can buy your own GA-52814 Pulse Transformer for around $3000-$4000 US dollars.


My thanks to all those who responded!


*** (Challenge has ended) ***


1999, Lowry 724-C: Catwalk level looking at one of the 3 guide rails and up-lock assemblies.  


In the above photo, the light gray painted steel apparatus near the top center is part of the up-lock mechanism.  Arranged around the perimeter of the silo mouth at 120-degree intervals are 3 locking mechanisms that engage and lock the raised antenna platform in place to maintain absolute stability during missile acquisition, guidance and tracking.


For accurate guidance it was imperative that the antenna, given ample freedom of movement when the silo doors were closed, not be able to move one iota while guidance operations were underway.  The up-lock mechanisms made certain that this stability was assured.


Once up and locked in place, the antenna platform itself effectively acted as a weather-proof and blast-resistant seal for the mouth of the silo while the antenna was in use.


Of course, I knew none of this in 1999 as I stood on the catwalk's steel decking and concocted haphazard theories about the valves and equipment surrounding me.


1999, Lowry 724-C: This is a favorite of mine.  Proof that surprises await you at every turn in a disused missile complex.


If you look closely at this picture you will find a beer bottle setting on a ledge near the lower left of the image.  Hmmm...  This area is a good 30 feet above the floor with no stable access anymore so I have a few ideas of how it came to be there:

  • Years after the site was closed, some adventurous soul climbed up that rickety ladder carrying one or more bottles of beer along and pondered the function of what he saw in the dim beam of a flashlight while enjoying a lukewarm libation.

  • This bottle was left by one of the salvage workers, probably after the antenna was removed and while the doors were still open.

  • Working in the operational Titan I sites was way more relaxed than I have been led to believe.

I think option #3 is the least likely.


What you really see pictured here is part of the heated glycol snow melt/defroster system for the silo doors.  This take-up reel kept the glycol hose properly stowed, letting out line and moving as the doors opened and then reeling the hose back up when they were closed closed again.  This same system was also installed at the entry portal's heavy doors.


The missile silo doors actually used a different system of "break-away" hydraulic rams to "nudge" the doors slightly to break the grip of any accumulated frost, ice or any sticking between the door surfaces so the main rams wouldn't be overloaded when opening the doors.


OSTF: A very clean and well-maintained look and fresh-looking paint for a place built 5 decades ago.  The OSTF had the luxury of a powered winch for the gangway platform seen here.  The Lowry sites had a hand operated winch instead.  You can see the door ram at center and the large elevator platform ram on the right.

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


OSTF: Catwalk level showing the bottom of the antenna platform.  The antenna has been removed here allowing the platform to be in the up and locked position even though the doors are closed.

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


OSTF: Platform again with one of the door rams and guide rails.

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


1999, Lowry 724-C: Looking at the inside of the silo doors.  Water has been leaking in for so long there are soda straw stalactites forming on the doors.  Part of the up-lock mechanism can be seen in the background.


All things considered, the doors look pretty good after decades of neglect, a bit of sanding and a new coat of paint and I think they would look new from the inside.  The outside is another matter as the concrete has cracked and spalled and may have been damaged during salvage operations if they were allowed to slam shut as in the case of the missile silo doors.


The rest of the interior, though dirty and cluttered with junk would clean up quite nicely.  Oddly enough, there was a mummified rabbit carcass on the antenna crib platform in one of the silos.  I really can't figure out how it got in there as there are no visible openings to the surface.


1999, Lowry 724-C: Looking down into the silo from the catwalk level at the the cribwork


OSTF: Looking down into the silo from the catwalk level.  This gives a good picture of just how much is missing from the Lowry picture above as well as the often subtle differences in construction and placement of equipment.


It also underscores how lousy my camera flash was in my dark, underexposed photos.

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


OSTF: Another view of the silo from the catwalk level.  This shot better shows the ring structure used at the OSTF which can be seen arcing through the photo.

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


OSTF: View from the catwalk

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


1999, Lowery 724-C: Another contrasting shot showing just how stripped out the silos are


OSTF: View from the catwalk

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


OSTF: View from the catwalk

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


OSTF: View from the catwalk

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


OSTF: View from the catwalk

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


For all the talk of uncertainty concerning a given piece of equipment's function, the item in this next photo seemed to generate the most speculation.  It is a rather sinister-looking bit of apparatus, like a cross between a fiendish death ray device and an air raid klaxon.


1999, Lowry 724-C: The often misunderstood Feedhorn Assembly.  What is that thing?


Indeed, we truly thought it was an alarm annunciator at first, but on closer inspection discovered that it was supplied some kind of radio signal via wave guide channels.  Still, it seemed an odd appliance to have down in the silo, but it was clearly a precision instrument as it had finely calibrated scales for precise positioning in 3 axes.


There are one of these assemblies in each of the antenna silos mounted overhead at the catwalk level and directed toward the center of the silo.


1999, Lowry 724-C: A closer look at the enigmatic feedhorn assembly.  Here you can see some of the waveguide channels that split and route microwave signals to a horn at each of the corners of the assembly.


So what is this feedhorn assembly for you may well ask?  Well, I had my suspicions years back, but no way to confirm them until years later.  I will go into greater detail on this in a section on the Titan I guidance system where I will cover its components and workings.


For now I will say that this instrument was part of the guidance system's exercise and test set which allowed the guidance system to be tested while the antenna silos were in the hard condition.  The antenna itself would interface directly with the feedhorn to run testing and diagnostics by sending guidance signals back and forth.


OSTF: The feedhorn assembly here has obviously been scavenged-- possibly for replacement parts, but more likely for souvenirs.  The 4 transmission horns at each corner are missing along with the waveguides that carried signals to and from them.

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


OSTF: Another view of the feedhorn.  Also visible here are the platform hangers, made of solid steel instead of cables as they were at the Lowry sites.  Behind the feedhorn is the Lid Drive Panel (lid refers to the silos doors in this case), which is a hydraulic transfer panel that supplies one leaf of the silo's doors.  There is an identical panel on the other side of the silo to operate the 2nd leaf.

Image courtesy of Fred Epler, photo by Lance Wright


Feedhorn Assembly G-332541


To wrap up this section, just a couple more photos at the entrance to antenna silo A.


2005, Lowry 724-C: The indicator panel for antenna silo A


1999, Lowry 724-C: Blast door for silo A.  Looking at this vestibule gives you a good look at the reinforcement around the doors where the concrete was in excess of 2 feet thick to protect against blast transmission into the tunnels.


The antenna terminals were a dark and mysterious place when I first trundled up the long personnel tunnel and lacerated my head on a jagged pipe as I leaned in for a closer look at something.  I hope these sections have shed some light on the subject for the casual visitor and the history enthusiast alike-- without the head wounds!


In the next section there will be a pictorial explanation of the Titan I guidance system, greatly (I hope) demystifying its components, function and operations.



Antenna Terminal Cont. (forthcoming, please be patient)


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