Next door to Ellsworth Air Force Base in Box Elder, SD is the excellent South Dakota Air and Space Museum (free to everyone, donations happily accepted), which contains dozens of airplanes, helicopters and missiles both indoors and outdoors.
The exhibit includes planes that were flown out of the AFB, such as the B-52 Stratofortress, EC-135 Looking Glass, B-29 Superfortress, and the B-1B Lancer, which is currently in use at the base. There is an optional tour available of the base ($8, free with VIP pass). It was the first time we had been on an active military base, and we were happy to venture out with our friends Forrest and Mary for the tour. Our tour guide stated they normally do not put a “current model” out on display, but this plane had been heavily damaged, so they scraped it for parts, and placed it prominently on display in front of the museum.
We were impressed by the massive size of the B-52 plane.
It’s predecessor, the B-29 Superfortress, was also a great looking plane.
The EC-135 Looking Glass was another plane used at the base.
The photo below has the Nike-Ajax Missile in the center, the F-101 Voodoo on the far left, the C-47 Gooney Bird and the C-131 Samaritan on the far right.
More planes on display
The photo below has the T-38 Talon on the left, and the A-7 Corsair – II on the right.
The tour of the base was approximately one hour, with a stop at the Minuteman Missile Silo right on the base. Currently, there are over 3,000 people living on the base. At its peak, during the Cold War era, over 7,000 members were assigned to the base.
The AFB used to contain the 44th Missile Wing, which was in charge of the Minuteman Missile Sites. The base contains a silo that was used for training on all facets of the program. The first silo was installed in 1963 near Wall, SD. By the end of 1963, over 150 missile silos were dispersed across South Dakota. All training for the personnel was done at the AFB. The end of the cold war was reached in 1991, and the missiles were deactivated. The 44th Missile Wing was disbanded in 1994. You can read more on the history of the 44th and the Minuteman missiles here.
The missiles were brought to the sites using the maintenance vehicle below. The back-end of the vehicle would raise up and over the missile site in the ground, and they could lower the missile down into the silo.
The next vehicle to arrive would contain the actual nuclear warhead and would also sit over the site. They would put covers down over the hole, and would complete work on the installation.
The entrance into the silo required a secure, double entry system.
Since this was a training facility, the officers grew tired of having to go down the hatches every day, so stairs were built at this silo.
We were able to look down into the silo at the missile.
There are electrical components surrounding the silo.
The museum also contained a display of the launch control center, which were capsules buried underground throughout South Dakota. Each center was in charge of 10 missile silos.
The museum and tour of the base was an excellent and informative lesson in our military history. It is definitely a “must see” item if you come out to this area. There is also a Minuteman Missile Site and Launch Control Facility operated by the National Park Service about 60 miles East of the base. We have not yet visited that facility, but hope to do so before we leave this area in a few weeks. You are not able to go down into the missile silo at the park service facility, as they do not have stairs like the AFB had put in their training silo. But they do offer tours of the launch control facility on a first come-first served basis. And they are only able to take 6 people down at a time in the control center. So if you are interested in the missile site, it would be a good idea to tour the museum and Ellsworth Air Force Base as an alternative.
Quote for the day: “If you can walk away from a landing, it’s a good landing. If you use the airplane the next day, it’s an outstanding landing.” – Chuck Yeager