Flutterby™! : Missiles in Marin

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Missiles in Marin

2009-03-09 15:25:33.033659+00 by Dan Lyke 2 comments

Speaking of pieces of history that are easy to forget, on Saturday Charlene and I went down to the restored Nike missile site down in the Marin Headlands. On the first Saturdays of the month they have volunteer docents who are mostly guys who served on such sites, and the reminder that "we believed that the Russians were coming over the border at any moment" made the whole experience more real and relevant.

Also very cool was looking at some of the mechanical computing systems and talking with the guys about what they knew of the targeting computers. Trig was done with these huge mechanical devices that, alas, I couldn't peek inside, but because the guy showing me that bit referred to them as "pots", I assume that they were basically analog lookup tables. They had another device open that had a set of gears and cams wired to switches and, of course, gobs of vacuum tubes.

Get an approximate bearing and range from the scanning radar, turn the radar which tracked an individual target towards that, get the elevation, bearing and range from that as analog signals, feed that back into the lookup devices with the appropriate offsets from where the launcher was relative to the radar, broadcast that data forward into the missile. They weren't tracking inbound flights to SFO with the individual radar, but they did have the scanning radar spinning 'round, they cycled the launcher, and we rode the lift down into the hangar.

Telstar Logistics has some good pictures and a write-up.

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comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2009-03-10 17:33:53.673187+00 by: petronius

Back in the 50s and 60s they had similar sites along Chicago's lakefront, in the park. The one on the North side was next to the Belmont Harbor boat basin, where the well-to-do kept their cabin cruisers. A friend of mine told me that once his father, who worked for a photo shop, drove past the base with a station wagon full of flashbulbs. Apparently they were testing the radar bacause all of bulbs went off at once. There was a titanic flash, then his back seat caught fire. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. Apparently another semi-intact base across the lake in Indiana is still around.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-03-10 17:50:15.968125+00 by: Dan Lyke

Yeah, there were at least 300 of them across the country. The initial program was about launching surface to air missiles conventional bombs that deployed shrapnel and big lengths of wire as propeller entanglers. The later program launched nuclear weapons to be exploded above an incoming bomber fleet, and one of the guys there on Saturday was stationed at a site in Germany where they were set up to launch extremely dirty nukes a few tens of miles away against ground invasion, should the Soviets come across the border, and regular drills were the norm. Apparently the "so what do we do after we launch these things?" was an oft-repeated morbid topic amongst the 20 somethings manning the posts.

The ones in Marin were decommissioned in the '74-76 time frame.

I think many of these sites were just abandoned, so I wouldn't at all be surprised if buildings, platforms and bunkers are just sitting there.