Air-Minded: Cold War Nightmare Reawakened

Note: the photos from the original post (April 15, 2011) succumbed to web rot. I have replaced them, and have added the post to the Air-Minded category.

Thursday, as part of my Pima Air Museum volunteer training, I took a tour of the affiliated Titan Missile Museum south of Tucson. I’ve now audited each of the guided tours offered by the air museum and have to decide which ones I’m interested in leading. The next steps will include extensive reading, a test, live practice, and certification. I hope to have all that done by the end of May.

When I arrived at the Titan Missile Museum yesterday, I was just in time to tag along with a class of high schoolers from nearby Vail. I mention this because you will see a lot of students, and some teachers, in these two photos.

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USAF pilots of my era universally dreaded the possibility of a missile launch officer assignment. In the post-Vietnam drawdown, there weren’t enough airplanes to fly. Many of us were swallowed up by the Strategic Air Command to man missile silos. Captains and majors wearing both pilot wings and pocket rockets were a common sight. When you saw one of those benighted figures you’d turn around three times with your fingers crossed behind your back to ward off the curse.

Descending down into the launch control facility yesterday, I felt that old fear creeping up my spine. After all these years, SAC still gives me the willies. I’m afraid I’ll wake up to find myself 30 years younger, down in a hole in the ground, listening to endless alphanumeric radio transmissions from Omaha, thinking of the blue skies above.

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They can call it STRATCOM all they want … it’s still SAC, and it still sucks. This will not be one of the tours I volunteer for, though I admire the folks who do, because they do a great job (they certainly reawakened my Cold War memories).

And no, I really don’t want to hear how close we ever came to launching those missiles. I think I know anyway, and I think it’s “pretty damn close.”

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