Minuteman Missile
Historic Resource Study
NPS Logo
Section II — Life on the South Dakota Plains: Before, During, and After Minuteman

Chapter 4:
Chapter 4: Delta-01 and Delta-09 (1960s—80s)

Overview of the Complex

The Minuteman missile is a technological wonder. Designed to launch at a moment's notice, it is capable of achieving speeds exceeding fifteen thousand miles per hour and then striking its target half a world away. Though created to deter war, its destructive capabilities exceeded anything known to previous generations. This force waited beneath the ground, in silos buried eighty feet beneath the surface, directed by operators housed miles away beneath unimposing buildings that dotted the windswept plains. Untold numbers of unsuspecting travelers passed Minuteman installations as they drove across the region's highways and roads. Those on a pilgrimage to such popular destinations as Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, Wall Drug, and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, or those just traveling home or to a new life across America, passed a portion of the nation's nuclear arsenal. This chapter explores the physical layout and features of the Launch Control Facility (LCF) and Launch Facility (LF), the structures that comprise Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

Delta-01 and Delta-09 are located in rural South Dakota about fifty miles east-southeast of Rapid City, South Dakota. Built in accordance with the Air Force's dispersal strategy, the LCF and the LF lie approximately ten miles apart. The two facilities were originally linked by a system of blast-proof underground cables and a radio communications network, known as the Hardened Intersite Cable System (HICS). On active duty from 1963 until 1991, the LCF and LF were part of an operational unit, collectively known as Delta Flight, consisting of one LCF and ten missile LFs. Delta Flight was one of five flights assigned to the 66th Strategic Missile Squadron (SMS) of the 44th Strategic Missile Wing (SMW), headquartered at Ellsworth Air Force Base, near Rapid City.

Delta-01 and Delta-09 were turned over to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) on 1 November 1963, making them among the first Minuteman sites to be activated at Ellsworth. With the introduction of modifications to the Minuteman missile, the Ellsworth missile field, including Delta-01 and Delta-09, was upgraded to a Minuteman II installation in the early 1970s. No major structural modifications were necessary for this conversion, and over the years, these facilities were subject to limited new construction and remodeling. In September 1991 all 450 of the nation's Minuteman II missiles were taken off alert. Delta-01 and Delta-09 were deactivated in early 1993 and placed on "caretaker status." Deactivation included the removal of the Minuteman II missile and warhead from Delta-09 and the removal of classified electronic equipment, hazardous materials, environmentally sensitive materials, and equipment saved for use at other sites from both Delta-01 and Delta-09. To the greatest extent possible, the facilities were left to appear as they had when they were first taken off alert.

In 1993 the United States Air Force and the Rocky Mountain Regional Office of the National Park Service initiated studies to determine whether Delta-01 and Delta-09 could be preserved as a unit of the National Park Service. In 1999 Congress designated Delta-01 and Delta-09 as a National Historic Site and the bill was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The facilities, including all cultural materials of the sites such as furnishings and objects, have been transferred to the National Park Service. The buildings, structures, and landscapes are all important features of Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. The following pages offer a description of these facilities. [286]

Launch Control Facility Delta-01

Delta-01 occupies an open, grassy tract of land on the west side of Jackson County Road CS 23A, approximately one-half mile north of Interstate 90's Exit 127. Delta-01 occupies approximately 6.4 acres of the South Dakota landscape with approximately 1.85 acres located within the security fence. Approaching the site from the Interstate, it looks like a lone ranch house in the open grassland. Over the years, most travelers on the nearby Interstate probably did not give the site a second look or even know what military capabilities lay within the South Dakota plains.

The area surrounding the site, outside of the security fence, is open grassland with a few small privately owned agricultural buildings located several hundred feet to the northwest. Terrain at the site rises gradually toward the north. A chain-link security fence, topped with strands of barbed wire, encloses the site's buildings and structures. Access to the site is provided by a gently curving gravel driveway on the west side of the county road. The driveway passes over a steel cattle guard and through a remote-controlled, chain-link, sliding gate in the security fence. The LCF support building and the vehicle storage building are located just inside the security fence, with an asphalt drive and parking area to their front. The Launch Control Center (LCC), accessed from the LCF support building, is located below ground and is not visible. Even though Interstate 90 is visible to the south of the site, it has a largely isolated feeling, with the wind whipping across the plains frequently serving as the only companionship.

The remaining area encompassed by the security fence is covered with native grass that was routinely mowed by the Air Force. The area inside the security fence includes a variety of electronic, mechanical, and recreational features designed to support operations and provide diversion for crew assigned to the facility. These features include a volleyball court, horseshoe pit, underground diesel storage tank, aboveground diesel storage tank, water well, gas pump, basketball hoop, flagpole, and utility poles. A code burner, used to destroy security codes, consisting of an open metal drum mounted on metal legs, is located near the volleyball court. Larger-scale resources within the security fence include the hardened high frequency (HF) transmit antenna, hardened HF receive antenna, hardened ultrahigh frequency (UHF) antenna, survivable low-frequency communication system antenna, Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) super-high-frequency satellite terminal antenna, television satellite dish, and HICS. A concrete helicopter pad, two sewage lagoons, and the cathodic protection rectifier are located outside of the security fence to the south. A barbed-wire fence with wooden posts surrounds the lagoons.

Launch Control Facility Support Building

The LCF support building is the most prominent surface feature at the site. Located inside the sliding security gate, the support building provided accommodations for Air Force personnel, served as a security control center for the entire flight, and housed environmental, mechanical, and electrical systems for the underground LCC. The support building is an unpretentious, one-story, ranch-form structure with its principal facade facing southeast. It is built of conventional wood-frame construction, and has a low-pitched, side-gabled roof. The main portion of the building is rectangular in plan, measuring approximately thirty-three feet wide and 128 feet long. The southeast wall projects forward near the northeast end to form a wide bay for the installation's security center. A gabled-roof, one-story mechanical wing extends from the building's northeast side, measuring approximately twenty-one feet deep and thirty-four feet wide.

The support building rests atop a concrete-slab foundation. The outer walls are sheathed with wide-lap, steel, clapboard-style siding embossed with a wood-grain pattern. Painted tan, the siding was installed between the mid-1970s and early 1980s to replace the original cement asbestos siding. The roof has minimal overhangs, and is covered with brown, asphalt, T‑lock shingles. [287] Large sheet-metal ventilator hoods are located on the roof and back wall of the mechanical wing, and several smaller ventilator hoods project from the roof of the main building above the kitchen and utility room areas. There are steel, ogee-profile gutters at the eaves. Fascia boards, gutters, and verge rafters are painted dark brown.

Windows in the support building are one-over-one, double-hung, sash fitted with white combination storm/screen units. These windows were installed in 1976 to replace the building's original wood sash windows. Although most of the windows are arranged in groups of two or three, the security center windows are placed closely together, forming a nearly continuous band that extends across the southeast wall and wraps around both sides of the bay, providing the security controllers a clear view of the security gate and entrance road.

The southeast side of the LCF support building has a communication equipment room, water treatment room, and boiler room that are accessed through exterior doors. The boiler room can also be entered from the interior of the building. The rear of the support building has an attached very-high-frequency (VHF) antenna and an air conditioner.

The support building's main entrance is located on the main facade, adjacent to the security bay. A doorway on the northeast side of the main entrance hall opens directly into the security control center. This room served as headquarters for the Air Force security police who maintained a constant vigil over the facilities of Delta Flight. Positioned beneath the windows inside the center is a desk-like console containing telephone and radio equipment. Guards seated at this console could observe the main entrance, operate the entrance gate, check the credentials of visitors to the site, and monitor radio transmissions. An expanded-metal cage set into one corner of the room provided storage space for weapons. A small enclosed vestibule behind the security center served as the sole access point to the underground LCC.

The support building includes both residential spaces, such as the day room, bedrooms, exercise room, and kitchen, and operational and mechanical spaces, such as the security control center, water treatment room, diesel generator room, and boiler room. The interior finishes of the residential spaces at Delta-01 largely date to the late 1980s. Interior spaces in Ellsworth's LCF support buildings were decorated and furnished by the people who occupied them. As part of an ongoing "self help" program, the base supplied materials such as paint, tile, and wall paneling, and Delta Flight personnel supplied the labor required to put the materials into place.

The LCF's main entrance hall leads into the spacious day room area. The day room provided dining and recreational space for topside support personnel. Furnishings include three couches, a television, and both dining tables and booths. The day room walls are covered with wainscoting of pre-finished hardboard or varnished wood. The east wall of the day room is decorated with a large mural depicting a woodland scene. The day room and other rooms in the residential area have suspended acoustical tile ceilings with recessed fluorescent lighting fixtures. A dedication plaque, dating to November 1966, is located inside the day room and reads "as a tribute to the goodwill and mutual understanding between the citizens of this community and the Air Force." A kitchen and pantry are located off the day room. The kitchen and pantry feature metal cabinets and industrial kitchen appliances. The wall of the pantry retains a menu and price list of food items available for purchase by the staff. The kitchen walls are covered with melamine panels and the floors are vinyl.

A doorway off of the day room opens into a long central hallway flanked by seven bedrooms, men's and women's latrines, a boiler room, and a utility closet. The women's latrine was added in the mid-1980s, when the Air Force began to assign women to the duty roster at Minuteman sites. The bedrooms feature carpeted floors, walls finished with fabric-covered sound board, and suspended acoustical ceiling tiles with recessed fluorescent lighting fixtures. The bedrooms were furnished with beds or bunk beds, a desk, and freestanding wardrobe closets. The facility manager was the only personnel to receive his or her own bedrooms. The VIP bedroom has two bunk beds and could sleep four. The two bedrooms assigned to security personnel were outfitted with blackened windows and were provided with sound insulation to allow for daytime sleeping as security alert team personnel and flight security controllers rotated twelve-hour shifts on their three-day alert. One of the bedrooms for security personnel also includes a locker for weapons and a rifle clearing barrel or a secured can to dummy fire weapons into to verify that they are unloaded.

The wing on the east end of the support building originally contained a single-stall garage and two mechanical equipment rooms. The garage was enclosed in 1975 and converted into an exercise room for staff. The equipment rooms contain a diesel-fueled generator for emergency power, as well as air conditioning and filtration equipment for the LCC.

Launch Control Center

Buried approximately thirty-two feet below ground, the LCC is entered from the LCF support building through a ten-foot-square, reinforced-concrete access shaft that descends from a small vestibule at the back of the security center. This structure served as the command post for the ten dispersed missiles of Delta Flight. Its entry shaft contains a small elevator and a steel-rung ladder surrounded by an open safety cage. The base of the shaft opens into a low-ceilinged vestibule that provides room for a bank of lockers and swing space for an eight-ton, steel-and-concrete blast door that seals the entrance to the control center. One wall of the vestibule is painted with art work depicting a missile labeled "USAF" blasting through the tattered flag of the former Soviet Union.

A small sign on the wall of the vestibule and a yellow line painted across the floor demarcate the beginning of the control center's high-security "no-lone zone, two-man concept mandatory." Any person entering the restricted area had to be accompanied or observed by a second person who was trained to detect erratic behavior, improper activity, or sabotage attempts. Launch control officers carried sidearms to protect the nuclear resources controlled from within the "no-lone zone," and use of "deadly force" was authorized. A piece of art work on the blast door serves as a darkly humorous reminder of the LCC's defining purpose. Emblazoned on the door's outer face is a crudely painted depiction of a red, white, and blue pizza delivery box, labeled "Minuteman II." A hand-lettered legend framing the illustration reads: "World-wide delivery in 30 minutes or less, or your next one is free." [288] Decoration of the blast door and the area outside LCCs was common. Another Ellsworth LCF site, Oscar-01, featured a portrait of Sesame Street's Oscar the Grouch with missiles in his paws painted on the wall.

The blast door is secured by twelve hydraulically operated latchpins placed around its perimeter. Emergency procedures allowed for the door to be opened by the facility manager from outside the LCC, but this would take about fifty minutes. When these pins retract, the door swings open on massive roller-bearing hinges to reveal a low, tunnel-like passageway leading to the LCC. Approaching the LCC, one passes the enormous blast door, crouches down to pass under a header of the tunnel, crosses a narrow walk between the outer and inner shell of the capsule, and then through an opening into the control center.

The LCC itself consists of two separate structural elements, nestled one inside the other. On the outside is a protective shell, shaped like an enormous gelatin capsule, that measures twenty-nine feet in diameter and fifty-four feet in length (outside dimensions). It is constructed of heavily reinforced concrete, with walls three to four feet thick, and is lined on the interior with a quarter-inch-thick steel plate. Suspended inside the shell is a box-like acoustical enclosure containing the launch control consoles, communications equipment, missile monitoring equipment, and spartan accommodations for the two-person Air Force launch crew. The acoustical enclosure is rectangular in plan, measuring approximately twelve feet wide and twenty-eight feet long. It rests atop a twelve-foot-by-thirty-two-foot, steel-framed platform. The corners of the platform are suspended by a large pneumatic cylinder called a "shock isolator." Hung from heavy chains attached to the ceiling of the shell, the isolators are designed to let the enclosure bounce as much as two feet in any direction without major damage. An articulated, steel-plate bridge spans the gap between the platform and the access tunnel. The floor of the acoustical enclosure is made of removable steel plates covered with sheet vinyl. A strip of light brown carpet lies over the floor plates.

Compartments beneath the floor contain survival equipment, emergency batteries, and a motor generator. The walls and ceilings of the enclosure are made of hollow-walled, perforated-steel panels filled with sound-absorbing material. One early visitor to the Ellsworth facilities, Richard B. Stolley, reported that the noise inside the LCC was "almost overwhelming—a high electrical whine. It was comforting proof that all equipment was working, but my ears rang for hours after I left the capsule." [289] A beige fabric headliner is attached to the ceiling framework with Velcro. The headliner was installed in 1990 to help reduce noise levels inside the enclosure, which had previously disturbed crewmembers. Four recessed fluorescent lighting fixtures centered in the ceiling illuminate the enclosure's interior. Emergency task lighting is provided by adjustable spotlights mounted on the ceiling. Virtually every surface inside the enclosure is painted pale green. "It's a color we've learned to detest," observed one Ellsworth missile crew member in 1964. [290]

Upon entering the LCC, one feels that he or she may have stepped back in time or onto a movie set as the communication and computer equipment within largely dates to its installation in the 1960s. The equipment appears "ancient" by today's standards, but continued to be fully functional into the early 1990s when the site was deactivated. The LCC contains two desk-like consoles placed about twelve feet apart. Positioned in front of each console is a swiveling, high-backed, aircraft seat fitted with seat belts and a shoulder harness. The launch control (commander's) console is located at the east end of the acoustical enclosure, directly opposite the entrance. It has an illuminated panel that allowed the commander to continually monitor the operational and security status of each of the ten missiles and launchers in Delta Flight. The communications control (deputy commander's) console is centered against the south wall of the enclosure. It contains an array of radio and telephone equipment that enabled the crew to communicate with other LCFs, base headquarters, and SAC. At the side of each console is a small panel containing a spring-loaded, key-operated launch switch. The keys to these switches were kept in a double-padlocked, red steel box mounted above the deputy commander's console. If crew members had received an order to launch their missiles, they first would have unlocked their padlock (placed on the box at the beginning of their shift) on the red steel box and removed the launch keys and preset authenticators. Then, if the Emergency War Order (EWO) had been determined to be authentic, the missile combat crew members would have inserted the codes they had received into the enabling panel, inserted the keys into the switches, and turned them in unison. If their launch command was verified by a second LCC, one to ten Minuteman missiles would have blasted out of their silos and streaked toward preassigned targets halfway around the world. This system was designed to make it impossible for a single individual or crew to launch the flight's missiles.

Lining the walls of the acoustical enclosure are heavy aluminum electronic racks containing computer equipment, radio transmitters and receivers, a telephone relay system, and a power control panel. The acoustical enclosure is also equipped with a stainless steel latrine, a small refrigerator/microwave oven unit, and a curtained sleeping compartment. Installed in 1991, the sleeping compartment replaced a military cot that had occupied the same space. Virtually everything in the LCC was strapped down or permanently mounted, including the coffee pot and seat belts for the combat crew seats.

The LCC ordinarily used commercial electrical power to run its motor generator, and drew its clean and cool air supply from air-conditioning equipment located aboveground in the LCF support building. However, the center was also capable of operating for sustained periods of time without any support from topside. In the event of a nuclear attack or higher state of readiness, an automatic blast valve system was designed to seal the capsule off from the surface. For extended periods of time crew members would then activate a hand-pumped oxygen regeneration unit to obtain breathable air. The storage batteries and motor generator beneath the floor would provide emergency electrical power and an emergency air-conditioning unit would prevent vital electronic equipment from overheating. Crew members trapped in the capsule after an attack could theoretically reach the surface through a three-foot-diameter, corrugated-steel escape tube that angles upward from the east end of the LCC. To maintain rigidity, the tube is sand-filled and plugged at its lower end. To make their exit, crew members would have removed the plug, dug out the sand, and climbed up the tube to ground level.

Heated Vehicle Storage Building

A large vehicle storage building, erected in 1968 to provide heated parking for vehicles, stands near the northwest corner of the LCF support building. It is a one-story, three-stall, wood-frame garage with a low-pitched, front-gabled roof. Resting on a concrete slab, the building is rectangular in plan, measuring approximately thirty-two feet by forty feet. Its outer walls are sheathed with wide-lap steel, clapboard-style siding embossed with a wood-grain texture and painted tan. The roof has slight overhangs and brown asphalt T-lock shingles. The main facade includes a large central garage door flanked by two slightly smaller openings. Each of the three openings contains an insulated-steel, overhead door with horizontal flush panels.

The building was constructed to accommodate a front end loader used for snow removal, among other vehicles. Its interior walls are sheathed with hardboard panels. The ceiling is insulated but unfinished. Steel pipe columns between the bays provide additional structural support for the roof. A small enclosed furnace room is in the building's west corner. An enclosed tool storage room, built c.1986, adjoins the rear wall.

Communication Antennae

Delta-01 includes numerous antennae. A blast-hardened, HF transmit antenna, constructed in 1963 and deactivated in the early-1970s, stands near the east side of the compound, about 140 feet due south of the access road. This structure consists of an underground, reinforced-concrete cylinder, approximately twenty-one feet in diameter and fifty feet deep (outside dimensions). The well of the cylinder contains a telescoping, four-sided radio antenna originally capable of extending to a maximum height of 120 feet.

A hardened HF receive antenna is set into the ground about 160 feet south-southeast of the LCF support building. Built in 1963, this structure consists of a reinforced-concrete cylinder covered by a concrete cap and measuring approximately sixteen feet in diameter and thirty-seven feet deep (outside dimensions). Distributed evenly around the perimeter of the structure are five small ports. Each port contained a slender, ballistically actuated, steel, monopole antenna. This antenna system was deactivated c.1987-88. [291] When it was still in use, one monopole extended from the cylinder at all times. If the exposed antenna were to have been damaged during an attack, a replacement could have been quickly deployed through the detonation of an explosive squib in an adjacent port.

A hardened UHF antenna stands near the southwest corner of the LCF support building. It was installed by the Motorola Company in 1976 to provide "unprecedented reliability to radio communications between the base and the missile field." [292] The hardened UHF antenna consists of a massive, cast-steel frustum, bolted to a thick, reinforced-concrete slab sixteen feet square. Surmounting the frustum is a conical, white fiberglass weather dome.

The survivable low-frequency communication system (SLFCS) antenna is buried in the ground about 140 feet east of the LCF support building and is not visible from the surface. Installed in 1968, the SLFCS is part of the facility's EWO communication system. The ICBM super-high-frequency satellite terminal antenna was installed at the rear of the LCF support building c.1992, at the same time missile sites were being deactivated in Ellsworth's 67th Strategic Missile Squadron (SMS).

Other structures associated with Delta-01 include the cathodic protection rectifier, television satellite dish, and HICS. An electronic device installed in 1963 to protect underground features such as fuel tanks from corrosion, the rectifier is located just outside the security fence on the north side of the access road. Its aboveground portion consists of a white-painted steel electrical box mounted on a wood pole, while the below ground portion consists of a well approximately 220 feet deep, containing eleven graphite anodes. A television satellite dish installed in 1987-88 sits in the grassy area in front of the LCF support building. [293] The HICS was an underground communications link that connected the LCC at Delta-01 with all ten Delta-Flight LFs, including Delta-09 and the rest of the LCFs and LFs of the 66th SMS. The system employed a double-walled cable, pneumatically pressurized so that ruptures could be readily identified. In accordance with the Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics on Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START Treaty), the HICS link was permanently disabled. To demonstrate compliance with the START Treaty, the HICS cable was severed and portions were removed.

A concrete helicopter pad and two sewage lagoons are located outside of the security fence to the south. The two large sewage lagoons used for treating waste materials lie approximately 240 feet southeast of the LCF support building. The original sewage lagoon, constructed in 1963, is an open settling basin, 118 feet square, surrounded by an eight-foot-high earthen berm. In 1970-71, an additional lagoon was appended to the southeast corner of the original structure. The new overflow lagoon is irregular in plan and is considerably larger than the earlier basin. Built in 1970-71, the large helicopter pad provided a safe landing area for the helicopters that were used to transport personnel and equipment between the LCF and Ellsworth Air Force. The helicopter pad consists of a flat concrete slab fifty feet square, surrounded on all sides by a wide shoulder of gravel and asphalt.

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 19-Nov-2003