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Launch stop in Tucson

By Rick Machie, courtesy Metro Tucson CVB

“It brings the Cold War to a different reality,” said Judy Wood, tourism sales manager for the Tucson Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Wood was talking about the Titan Missile Museum, 25 miles south of Tucson, which is the only publicly accessible Titan II missile site in the nation.

Combined with the sprawling Pima Air and Space Museum and tours of the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) airplane Boneyard, the Titan Missile Museum gives the Tucson area a triple-header of distinctive sites dealing with the 20th century.

The one-hour guided tours of the Titan missile silo begin with a short film, followed by a 35-foot descent into the underground missile complex. Visitors see the three-ton blast doors, the eight-foot-thick silo walls and a Titan II missile in the launch duct.

The tour concludes in the launch control center, where one person is selected to sit in the hot seat and push the button in a simulated launch.

“It’s just fascinating to go down there and actually visit the control area,” said Wood.

The Pima Air and Space Museum is one of the largest of its kind in the world. “We have 80 acres and 300 aircraft. There is a lot to see in terms of aircraft,” said Elaine Nathanson, the museum’s public relations director.

“There are lots of hands-on. You can pretty much touch everything in the museum; it is not just looking.”

The museum’s collection covers the entire scope of manned flight in military, commercial and civil aviation. “We go from the Wright brothers up to space modules,” said Nathanson.

There is a full-scale replica of the first Wright Flyer, a B-29 Superfortress, a supersonic SR-71 Blackbird, presidential aircraft and spacecraft.

“The docents we have add a special touch to what you are experiencing,” said Nathanson. “Many are standing next to planes they flew or built or maintained. The stories they tell are very personal.”
Although several of the planes are outside, many are housed in five large hangars, including a new one that features planes used in Hollywood movies.

On the outdoor patio of the museum’s Flight Grill, you can watch military planes take off and land at nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

The base is the site of the AMARG facility, known as the Boneyard, where more than 4,400 aircraft and 13 aerospace vehicles are stored after being retired from active use.

“We manage Boneyard tours, which is right across the street from the museum,” said Nathanson. “They recycle them [retired aircraft]. They are held in storage in case they are needed, and they take parts off of them.”

Visitors must stay on the bus during the hourlong tours through the highly secured area, the only one of its kind in the country.

“They are here because of the climate,” said Nathanson of the Boneyard planes. “It is very high desert. They are sitting on the ground, which is almost like natural cement.

“It’s overwhelming when you see all those planes.”