ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. | After 30 years inside a hangar at Ellsworth Air Force Base, a Titan I missile was moved to its final resting place at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum in Box Elder, Aug. 16, 2017.
Before a crew from the 28th Civil Engineer Squadron transported this historic behemoth to the cradles that hold it now, the retired nuclear missile was more than a shell.
“Back in the 1960s, Ellsworth was one of the few bases to host nuclear missiles,” said Dan Keucker, the executive director of the Ellsworth Heritage Foundation. “The Titan was really important because it was the first nuclear missile to deter Russian aggression while we waited for a newer, better weapon to replace it.”
The technology fueling the Titan I missile went on to be used by NASA for space exploration.
“This missile was the genesis of that technology,” Keucker said. “We felt it was important to have one of these on display to signify its importance in history.”
The project to move this nearly 12,000-pound missile began in 1984 when the Ellsworth Heritage Foundation had it shipped from a base in California. Its home for the last 30 years was in a hangar on the flightline, collecting dust until two years ago when attempts were made at transporting the missile.
“We had three cracks that needed to get repaired before we could move it,” said Master Sgt. Mark Wight, the curator for the SDASM and lead logistics director for the project. “It took three different types of repair attempts before we could get it solidly fixed and ready to move.”
Maintenance, among other hurdles, delayed the missiles final voyage to the museum – but other agencies pitched in to help. The South Dakota School of Mines and Technology helped design the cradles that hold the shell of the Titan I missile, construction crews built the supports, and Airmen from the 28th CES physically transported the parts and put them in place.
“There were a lot of obstacles,” said Keucker. “We had to make sure it was structurally sound and safe, and ensure it can withstand the elements and be preserved.”
Wight said the whole process cost $35,000 and saved the Air Force $136,000 by not contracting the job out.
The project will be finalized by the end of September when the nose of the missile is added, and will include a dedication board with more information about the historic importance of the weapon system, Keucker said.