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The Training Silo

    These silo photos were taken at the training silo, located at Ellsworth Airbase. This is within the base, and can only be seen by taking the bus tour, which loads at the entrance to the South Dakota Air and Space Museum. As of this writing, museum entry is free; but the bus tour is $6.00. It is worth the cost, and I recommend it. Our tour was led by a man who had served in the Air Force, and was informative, and quite a bit of fun. The high point of the tour was the entry into the missile silo.The South Dakota Air and Space Museum is located off of exit 67, on Interstate 90. This is about an hour drive from Minuteman Missile NHS.

This is how you get a Minuteman missile into it's silo. This is a missile erector, and it is used to transport and install the Minuteman missile. The trailer of the truck is designed to rise up, like the bed of a dump truck. The missile is then lowered down on cables. This transporter only delivers the missile itself; there is no warhead carried. The warhead is installed separately.

This is the training silo at Ellsworth Air base. It is a standard, functional silo; but contains a training missile, and has this warhead installation truck, parked permanently overhead. The only major difference between this silo, and the silos out in the missile fields, is that there is a stairway leading down to a hole cut in the side, for easier access. The standard entrance hatchway, is visible to the lower left of the photo.

 The entrance to the silo. The standard procedure, for maintenance, was to send two teams out. The first team would have the combination to this door. Once the correct combination is set, the door pulls straight out, to reveal another door underneath. The second team has the combination to the second door. Under the second safe door, are the controls to open the hatch. The hatch is blocked by a hydraulically controlled plug of concrete, which weighs five tons. The block lowers, when the controls open the door.

The upper level of the equipment room consists of a steel framed platform covered with a rolled steel deck plate. Cast into the east outer wall is a narrow, steel faced bench, calibrated with compass bearings. The bench originally supported an "autocollimator"  that was used to align the missile's guidance system. Directly above the bench is a canted cylindrical porthole with bulletproof glass, that is now welded shut. This sight tube is aligned  to point through the open access hatch, which allowed technicians to establish visual references to a pair of azimuth markers located on the surface outside of the security fence.

This is the side of the training missile. The little mirror on the side, was used in conjunction with the navigation bench shown above. This allowed the missile navigation system to sight to the benchmarks outside, and thus determine it's position. The large connection towards the left of the photo is not a fuel line. These are solid fuel rockets. This line contains electrical and command circuit connections. It also allows the missiles to be reprogrammed, for hitting different targets.

A look down the silo. At the bottom is a shock mounting system, to protect the missile in case of a nearby nuclear detonation.

In service since 1965, the Minuteman II was a three stage, solid propellant, intercontinental ballistic missile. Because solid propellant is so stable in storage, the missile can be stored almost indefinitely and yet be ready to launch on short notice. This ICBM had a range of over 7,000 nautical miles and carried a single nuclear warhead. 450 missiles were fielded at one time. Today, the Minuteman II has been decommissioned and the missiles disassembled.

A look at the top of the missile, and at the inside of the silo cover. These missiles carried W-56 warheads, with a yield of 1.2 megatons. To put things in perspective, the Hiroshima bomb had a yield of 12.5 kilotons, making the W-56 about 100 times more powerful.

Some of the equipment racks which line the walls of the service room. This is a circular room, which girds the top of the silo, like a donut around the top of a Coke bottle.

Another look at the electronics racks in the service room. To the left of the photo can be seen the wall of the silo itself. The silo wall has several openings to allow observation, and servicing of the missile.

The ladder near the center of the photo is the normal entrance. Once the outside entry hatch is open, and the five ton concrete plug drops, missile techs would descend the ladder, do their work, and then leave. The security team, which has the combination to the first safe door, remains on the surface to guard the opening. The security team does not enter the silo at all.

This is the hydraulic ram, which flings the heavy silo cover off, and allows the missile to be launched.

One last shot of the silo wall, from the training entrance. The Minuteman force is no longer a part of SAC, which ceased to exist in 1992. These missiles are capable of putting objects into orbit around the Earth, so the missile force is now considered to be a part of Space Command.

At the bottom of the stairs leading to the training silo. The wall is decorated with maps of the Ellsworth missile fields. The blue field on the lower portion of the map, is the delta field. This is the field that contains the two elements that were preserved for the Minuteman NHS.

The upper landing to the training stairs. As with many military facilities, the personal were encouraged to decorate, and personalize the area.
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Minuteman II ICBM
Length: 57 ft. 6 in.
Diameter: Approximately 6 ft. at the widest point
Weight: 65,000 lbs. at launch
Armament: W-56 Nuclear warhead 1.2 megaton yield.
Engines: Three solid-propellant rocket engines: first stage of 167,000 pounds thrust, second stage of 49,200 pounds thrust, and a third stage of 18,900 pounds thrust.
Cost: $1,315,000
Max. speed: Over 15,000 mph.
Max. range: +7,000 statute miles
Max. altitude: 700 statute miles