HISTORIAN'S CORNER - March 2006

BY:  Matt Grogan
 

Those of you who have not yet obtained your TITAN DVD set, go get it.  It’s terrific.  It gives a great perspective of the legacy of the Titan program from Titan I to the last Titan IV and is a must have for all Denver retirees, even for guys like me who never worked on the Program!  When I was viewing the DVDs, I was reminded of a Titan II story that Dabby Dabkowski mentioned to me while I was researching the X-24B, and thought it might be appropriate to tell at this time, as it demonstrates the dedication and sacrifices made by many Denver retirees that worked on Titan. 

 

Dabby told me that in his 47-year career with Martin Marietta, the most stressful time he had experienced was the seven months he spent in 1963 on the Titan II Operation Wrap Up Project here in Denver.  This project was the result of leaks in the oxidizer tank welds and mechanical joints that were discovered after the first missiles had been initially loaded with liquid propellants at their operational sites in Arkansas, Kansas, and Arizona starting in December 1962 (Ref 1).  The oxidizer used on Titan II was nitrogen tetroxide, a room temperature storable propellant, with a nasty habit of finding extremely minute, undetected flaws in containment tanks and fluid delivery or service lines which results in small leaks of vapor or liquid.  These leaks would then combine with moisture in the air surrounding the Titan vehicle. This combination resulted in highly corrosive nitric acid, which further compounded the problem by back-etching the leak paths resulting in larger leaks, thereby rendering the vehicle operationally unsuitable. As a result, “Seventeen missiles of the 60 deployed or waiting deployment were recalled to Martin Marietta’s Denver plant for inspection and rewelding” (Ref. 2).  The urgency of this intense effort, which Vern Selby remembers starting in the late spring/early summer of 1963, was due to the strategic importance of the new fast response Titan II ICBM during the Cold War days of the early 60’s.  Indeed, the Cuban missile crisis had just happened in October of 1962, so the US needed the Titan II.  All 18 missile launch complexes were back on alert as of 30 November 1963 (Ref. 3), after the completion of Wrap Up.

 

Operation Wrap Up operated 24 hours/day, 7-days/week at Denver, with most people working 12-hour shifts for about seven months.  Joe Marcus remembers the missiles being brought to the I-Building for processing and trailers being set up on the north side of the factory where meetings were held to manage the effort.  Dabby remembers the discussions were frequently “heated”!  The Denver work involved reexamining each oxidizer tank weld, “and the problem areas were rewelded and then tested by pressurizing the tanks with helium and using a helium detector to evaluate each rewelded area” (Ref.2).  Dabby also remembers using hair dryers to dry out the welds and at one point they didn’t have enough dryers so they sent a procurement specialist to May D&F in the middle of the night to acquire a couple of cartons of hair dryers!  Dabby and others clearly remember the lack of any social life or time with family during these seven months.

 

As part of Operation Wrap Up, Buck Reynolds remembers going to Little Rock Air Force Base with a team of 9 Missile Mechanics, Tooling Mechanics & Supervisory Personnel for 17 days and working 12 hour shifts to perform the repairs that could be done on site.  He tells about making a plaster-of-paris cast of a tank area that needed a patch to supplement a field weld repair.  This plaster cast was then taken 90 miles to a Little Rock machine shop where the shop duplicated the shape of the plaster contours using a plate of full strength aluminum.  Buck waited for the shop to do this work and then drove back to the site to install the new aluminum patch using Huck-bolt fasteners. He also remembers that the Air Force would only let them work on two missiles at a time in order to keep as many missiles on alert as possible.  Buck said that other teams went to the other Titan II locations to perform on-site modifications.

 

In addition to the welds inspection and repair, Joe Marcus recalled that problems with seals, bolted joints, manhole covers, and pressure caps were also discovered and repaired during Operation Wrap Up.  Toward the completion of the project, a Mechanical Joint Improvement Team was formed under Joe’s leadership to re-engineer the mechanical joints.  The Team’s goal was to find a more permanent solution to the Titan II leakage issues and the effort was funded under a Development Study Request approved by the Air Force.  The results of this study were utilized on Titan II as the missiles were refurbished over the life of the program and adapted for the subsequent Titan versions up to the last Titan IV that flew this past October.

 

I would like to thank Dabby Dabkowski, Joe Marcus, Buck Reynolds, and Vern Selby for sharing their memories and their time.  Other names mentioned as involved in Titan II Operation Wrap Up were Al Kullas (who had just taken over as Chief Engineer for Denver), Walt Lowrie, George Rodney, Nevin Palley, Ron Drobnik, Bill Day, Pete Krause, Hans Rheinheimer, Dan Tuschar, Joe Borgerding, John Adamoli, Gene Sobke, Keith Wanklyn, Gene Horack, and Art Welch.  I am sure there are many missing names so my apologies to those I left off.  Anyone who can add to the list please let me know and I will mention the new names in the next issue.  Anyone who wants to add their memories to the story, please send them to me and I will see that they are published.

 

References:

  1. Stumpf, David, “Titan II”, (University of Arkansas Press, 2000), pg 134
  2. Ibid. pg 51
  3. Ibid. pg 135