Air Force Bases

Summary of the Titan I ICBM

The Air Force's next ICBM, the liquid-fuel Titan I SM-68A was an outgrowth of studies commissioned in the summer of 1954 to accelerate and reorient the Atlas program. From the outset the Air Force acknowledged that Atlas had obvious limitations, notably its untested airframe and stage-and-a-half propulsion system, but decided to ignore these shortcomings because it thought Atlas could be deployed before any other comparable system. To avoid becoming overly reliant on the untried Atlas, however, in January 1955 WDD requested permission to develop a new two-stage ICBM it called Titan. The Air Force approved the project in April 1955, and the following October WDD awarded the Titan I contract to the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company of Baltimore, Maryland.

An important consideration in the Air Force's decision to build a second ICBM was its desire to disperse the nation's ICBM production capability away from the East and West Coasts. The Air Force worried that Convair's facilities in Southern California were within range of Soviet bombers and Soviet submarine-launched IRBMs, and Secretary of the Air Force Harold Talbott insisted that the Titan facilities be built in the central United States. Martin decided to build its plant outside Denver, Colorado, on a sprawling 4,500-acre tract that would house production and test facilities.

Titan I was a larger, more powerful missile than the Atlas. The Titan I was 98 feet tall and its rigid, self-supporting airframe housed a powerful two-stage propulsion system. Unlike Atlas' stage-and-a-half propulsion system, when Titan's first and second stages were exhausted the engines and fuel tanks for those sections dropped off, thereby decreasing the weight and mass of the vehicle. This made the missile more efficient, which translated into a longer range and heavier payload capacity. Powered by two large liquid-fuel Aerojet engines, Titan I had a range of 6,350 miles and could carry a payload of 3,825 pounds, more than twice the capacity of Atlas. Titan I also incorporated other desirable features. From the outset the Air Force decided to base the missiles in hardened underground silos that would protect them against over-pressures of up to 100 psi. The Titan's larger airframe and two-stage propulsion system also made the missile more adaptable than Atlas, in terms of both range and payload.

Work on the Titan program began at the end of 1955 and construction of the Martin plant began soon thereafter. By September 1958 the Martin Company and its associate contractors had 16,000 people at work on the program. Flight tests began in early 1959, and a year later a Titan I fired from the Air Force Missile Test Center (AFMTC) at Cape Canaveral staged a successful 5,000-mile flight. While the missiles were being built, the Army Corps of Engineers was overseeing the construction of the huge Titan I launch facilities, the largest and most expensive underground launch complexes ever built.

These three-missile launch complexes resembled futuristic underground cities. Heavily hardened to survive a nuclear attack, the missile silos, control center, powerhouse, and various other support facilities were connected by almost half a mile of steel tunnel, all buried more than 40 feet underground.

The missiles could not be launched from within their silos. After a missile was fueled, an elevator carried it to the mouth of the silo, and then it was fired.

The Air Force activated its first Titan I squadron at Lowry AFB, Colorado, in April 1960. By 1962, the service deployed five more Titan I squadrons: another at Lowry AFB, Colorado; and one each at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho; Beale AFB, California; Larson AFB, Washington; and Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota.