Atlas at Lincoln Air Force Base Nebraska
This World War II era training base was deactivated after the war. However, the Air Force returned in 1952, and by mid-decade, Lincoln serviced B-47 bombers and support aircraft for the Strategic Air Command. As a SAC base, Lincoln was selected to host Atlas ICBMs.
Operational sites at both Lincoln and Schilling AFB, Kansas, were originally slated to receive horizontal launchers. Site selection for three complexes of three missiles each (3 x 3) was completed in the fall of 1958. In early 1959, a decision to deploy missiles to nine separate sites required additional site surveys. As these surveys proceeded, Bechtel and Convair contractors achieved design advances on vertical launchers.
On November 27, 1959, Headquarters, United States Air Force determined that Lincoln and Schilling would receive the silo-lift configuration. During the subsequent bidding process, the number of silos to be built was increased to 12. These launchers were sited at Elmwood, Avoca, Eagle, Nebraska City, Palmyra, Tecumseh, Courtland, Beatrice, Wilber, York, Seward, and David City.
On April 12, 1960, Western Contracting Corporation earned the contract with a bid of $17.4 million for nine sites. A month later the contract price increased another $6.6 million to cover construction costs of three additional sites. Construction began on April 29, 1960.
Difficulties were encountered almost immediately. On June 13, at a site near Beatrice, builders had to combat sandy soils, which kept caving in. Two weeks later, miners briefly walked off four sites over the issue of work conditions. High water tables challenged engineers to battle a constant flooding problem. However, using the "cut and cover" method, progress was achieved on installing the 12 separate silos.
With the project one-third complete in October 1960, the Omaha District turned responsibility for construction over to the Corps of Engineers Ballistic Missile Construction Office (CEBMCO). Construction reached a peak later that month as some 1,900 workers worked "around the clock" on a 7-day schedule at 12 separate sites.
In February 1961, the President of Western Contracting testified before Congress to express his frustration with all of the change orders, yet continued expectations of meeting scheduled deadlines. He stated he expected to lose $12 million on the project. As a result of the hearings, finger-pointing began to affix blame for cost overruns at the several ongoing construction projects.
Construction at Lincoln proved costly in more ways than money. Seven men died during the building process in separate incidents, usually due to falls or being struck by objects. The final death occurred during the late summer of 1961, when a guard was hit by a tornado that lashed through the Palmyra site.
Besides developing a reputation for high fatalities, the Lincoln project also gained notoriety for labor unrest. By late April 1961, the Defense Department reported that Lincoln had suffered 33 strikes causing 1,743 man-days lost. During the following month politicians expressed rage against the work stoppages. As a result of such pressure, on May 26, the administration developed a plan that incorporated a no-strike/no lockout pledge and implemented an ll-man Missile Sites Labor Commission to settle all disputes.
In June 1962, the Strategic Air Command accepted the first silos at Lincoln for operational deployment of the Atlas F missile. On May 16, 1964, Secretary of Defense McNamara directed the accelerated phaseout of Atlas and Titan I ICBMs. Later that year, the 551st Strategic Missile Squadron received the last Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI) for such a unit. The Lincoln Atlas F missiles were deactivated on April 12, 1965, completing the phaseout of this weapon system.
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