Sembach Air Base
Hahn Air Base
Bitburg Air Base

Kadena Air Base
Osan AB
Tainan AB
Lowry AFB
Wheelus AB
Orlando AFB
Camp Happiness

Missile History I
Missile History II
Missile History III
The MM-1
Home Page

U.S. Air Force
Tactical Missiles 1949-1969
The Pioneers
Book Available Now

Support independent publishing - buy this book on Lulu.

The Jammed Launch Door

divider line

   "Airman Mindling, Airman Mindling, you have a phone call," the loudspeaker called out from the ceiling of the Bitburg Air Base NCO Club. I was totally surprised as I had never been paged before in my life. The first thing that raced through my mind as I headed for the office that Saturday afternoon was that something had happened back stateside. 
   "Hello, this is Airman Mindling!"

"Mindling, this is Major Shaw, get out to Rittersdorf and see what you can do to fix that damn launch door they jammed open. Get out there as soon as you can!" 

"Yes sir, I'm on my way!" I had no idea what he was talking about as I hung up, just that I had to take my fiancee (and future wife) back to Bitburg or she would again have to wait on me for yet another site dispatch. I raced across the street to our barracks and changed into fatigues in record time, and after dropping Ilse at her mother's apartment on Kyllburgerstrasse, was on my way to Site VII in my green, nearly clapped out 1954 VW. 

I was absolutely floored that Major Shaw, Chief of Maintenance for the 587th Missile Maintenance Squadron, called me, a two striper, to fix a launch site facility problem. How he had picked me was a mystery until I got the site, where, sure enough, one of the huge launch bay doors was stuck about a third of the way up.

"You the hydraulics expert from Flight Controls?" one of the launch crew members asked as I climbed the steps to inspect the jammed door.

"Uhhh, yeah, I'm from flight controls," not wanting to challenge the expert part of the statement. As I crossed to the inside of the launch bay, I checked the huge pistons, then secondly,  the control arm that ran parallel and directly above the two silver, polished exposed pistons. Sure enough, jammed between the control arm bar, used as a sensing switch bar, and the huge, traveling piston arms, was a bent and thoroughly stuck, metal cased PSM-6 multimeter. Someone had been troubleshooting a circuit during the assembly of the missile that had just been loaded and had thoughtlessly set the standard Air Force issue multimeter on the closest available shelf, the one that was formed by the pistons and the control arm. Then they forgot it was there. 

Hours later, during the final phase of the missile acceptance, the huge 100 ton door was to be raised and closed. The launch crew members in the launch bay, usually including the crew chief, are in direct contact by headset with the Launch officer 60 feet underground in the Launch Control Center. The innocuous grey PSM-6 apparently escaped detection by the launch crew. Apparently every thing had gone well until the door simply stopped. The raising process is as exciting as watching grass grow, and takes almost as long. It took a few moments to realize it had finally jammed. It was stuck just far enough up to prevent a launch, and it couldn't be reversed to go back down.

I disconnected the switch leads, but they were for the launch prevent position indicator and had no effect on the squealing hydraulic unit. We tried to stop, reset, and even reduce the pressure to the huge cylinders trying vainly to over power the jammed test set.  I had never seen the door system before, but simply tried to logically figure out how to satisfy the signal requirements to stop the door drive system. That didn't work, so we got a bigger hammer. 

We tried knocking, then leveraging the case out from between the arm and the piston to no avail. That was one PSM-6 that was never going to be used again. Time was running out as a command decision was made downstairs: blow the pressure and let the door down, one way or another. 

We all stood by on top and waited for the command, every body standing well clear of the door and it's revetment. At first, it appeared to be slow motion, but when it hit, it could have been heard all the way back to base. It cracked the concrete between the two adjacent bays with its impact. The door was open and the launch and AGE people were trying to figure out how to straighten the control rod. That bay was out of commission for a while, but at least the door was open. 

When I went to see Major Shaw the next morning in the Chief of Maintenance's office, he listened intently as I told him what had happened.

After a long pause, he said, "At least it's open!"

He finally managed a wry grin when I told him the PSM-6 wasn't one of ours. 

� George Mindling 1999 - All Rights Reserved

The damaged revetment at Rittersdorf

The damaged revetment at Rittersdorf. The crack on the left had been semi-repaired and filled in, but the crack on the right side remained until Site VII shutdown in 1969. Photo courtesy of Bob Sosenko (rsosenk1@twcny.rr.com)

divider line

I do remember the stuck door and I was there! I certainly don't remember all the details but as I recall we burst a hydraulic line in the power room trying to open that door. Being one of the smaller troops on crew, I got elected to be a gopher and crawl under the steel decking to clean up about 50 gallons of fluid. That actually turned out to be the easy part since everybody else was cleaning red fluid off the walls, ceiling and equipment. What a mess 3,000 psi can make in only a few seconds time..

Now, I'm really guessing here but if memory serves me right, there was a PSM-6 involved and I remember a light haired (maybe blonde), skinny dude (we all were back then..) working feverishly trying to figure out what some dumb-ass launch crew member did to a 100 ton door.....;-) That was you? I'll be damned. That's probably where you remember me from. I was a Mech 1 at the time but being trained in all positions except nukes, I and everyone else was in the bay at some point offering their two cents worth. We had to override the door interlocks so we could get access and that got the guards panties all in a bundle as I remember. When he saw 3 of us in the bay - all armed, he started breathing normal again and stopped hyper-ventilating over the two bay doors being opened (launch and access doors) after you fixed whatever it was.

Bob Sosenko (rsosenk1@twcny.rr.com) 71st TMS

divider line

U.S. Air Force Tactical Missiles

Now Available On Line at
Amazon.com and Lulu.com!

By the Editors of this Website!

Beyond the Web Page... The only book devoted exclusively to the Matador and Mace Tactical Missiles. The book reveals the story from the initial idea that became the first U.S. pilotless bomber, through the politically troubled development of the ever evolving deployment methods of the Matador and Mace Tactical Missiles. It covers the Units, Groups, Squadrons and Wing that fielded the missiles. From the United States test sites, Europe, Asia and North Africa nothing is omitted. All phases of the application of these two missiles by the U.S. Air Force (and West German Luftwaffe) are included, from the first tentative launches of the XSSM-A-1 Matador in January 1949, to the tense alert duty of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the final launch of a MQM13A in May of 1977. The maintenance, logistics and launch, the men, equipment and tactics are all there.

Support independent publishing - buy this book on Lulu.

"Bob, George, I finished your book 2 days after I received it. Couldn't put it down. It was incredible reading and incredibly detailed information."

Kent Washburn (KWASH55@aol.com) Mace B, Kadena, Okinawa

"George and Bob. I want you both to know how much I enjoyed reading and how much I admire and appreciate what you have accomplished in developing and publishing "The Pioneers". It is truly an outstanding piece of work, reflecting the time and effort required to produce it, but is also a formidable contribution to our military history. I mentioned in some earlier correspondence that I was a little disappointed in the relatively small amount of information regarding the Operating Location/Guidance Sites but you largely made up for it with this magnificent book."

Dale Lake (daleflake@yahoo.com) 601st Tactical Control Squadron, 38th TMW, Hamm, Germany

"I just finished your book, The Pioneers, et al. Please accept my "job well done!" Not only is it informative, but it's very readable. I'd also like to complement you on how well you footnoted it. You have shown that a scholarly work can be both instructive and enjoyable."

Michael Roof (lavinaschnur@hotmail.com) SGM USA (Ret.)

USAF Tactical Missiles - Book Cover

ISBN 978-0-557-00029-6

"Very good work with great detail."

Col. Charlie Simpson, USAF, Retired
Executive Director
Association of Air Force Missileers

"George, the book arrived on Tuesday while I was off to France. Of course, I quickly read the chapter about �Germany's quiet step into the realm of nuclear armament.� You know, this is still a widely ignored fact over here...
...For me it is fascinating to see what the picture really was in the 1950s and 1960s as opposed to what the official communication of the time wanted people to believe. A fascinating book shedding some light on the early days of tactical nuclear missiles as well as the political background that even today is still largely hidden behind the propaganda of the time. Can�t wait to read the rest of it."

Burkhard Domke
Harsefeld, Germany

Support independent publishing - buy this book on Lulu.

Available Now!, Click Here to Order
"U.S. Tactical Missiles 1949-1969 The Pioneers"

"I have your excellent book on USAF tactical missiles. I actually witnessed the decommissioning of the Maces at W�scheim back in 1966."

Paul Offen
Talitha, Tye Common Road
Essex CM12 9PX

"I just wanted to drop you a line and tell you how much I enjoyed the book that you and Bob wrote. The history was of particluar interest to me and my brother who was a history Professor at the University of Wisconsin. He also thought the book was well written, and he now knows what his little brother, (me), did while in Germany for three years."

George Joseph Snyder (gjsnyder@lanset.com)
71st TMS, Steinborn, Germany

"...by the way, I read your book, it was great, thanks for writing it."

Hack Hunton (hack@sstelco.com) Mace B, Kadena, Okinawa

US Air Force Tactical Missiles �2008 - George Mindling and Robert Bolton

Inspired by the 38th TMW Website, George Mindling and Robert Bolton co-authored US Air Force Tactical Missiles 1949 - 1969: The Pioneers �2008, the story of America's first operational missiles, from the Matador to the Mace, from Taiwan, Korea, and Okinawa to Germany, including Lowry, Orlando, Holloman, Santa Rosa Island at Eglin, and even Camp Happiness!

Dieses Buch ist ein Muss f�r alle, die im Rahmen ihres Dienstes bei der U.S. Air Force mit den fr�hen Marschflugk�rpern zu tun hatten, aber auch f�r deutsche Milit�rarch�ologen, die in der Eifel, im Hunsr�ck oder im Pf�lzer Wald schon �ber r�tselhafte Hinterlassenschaften gestolpert sind. Nach mehr als 40 Jahren wird endlich eine F�lle von Fakten, Informationen und Geschichten zu den zwischen 1954 und 1969 in Deutschland stationierten, mit Automwaffen ausger�steten amerikanischen Matador und Mace auf den Tisch gelegt. Ausf�hrlich und lebendig erz�hlen George Mindling und Bob Bolton von den jungen Missilemen, die im M�rz 1954 erstmals in Bitburg ankamen - noch ganz gr�n im Gesicht, weil auf dem Atlantik schwerer Sturm geherrscht hatte. Von den T-33-Flugzeugen, die aus �bungsgr�nden so taten, als w�ren sie Matador-Flugk�rper, �ber die Startstellungen hinweg in Richtung deutsch-deutsche Grenze donnerten und sich von der Gegenseite nur nicht erwischen lassen durften. Oder von der Kuba-Krise, als die US Air Force Europe auf DEFCON 3 ging und an die Mechaniker in Bitburg Munition f�r ihre Karabiner ausgegeben wurde.

Augenzeugen sagen dazu: "Wir h�tten die V�gel auf jeden Fall innerhalb von 15 Minuten in der Luft haben m�ssen!" Es ist lebendige Milit�rgeschichte, die nun nicht der Vergessenheit anheimf�llt, sondern jedermann zug�nglich wird - auch f�r die ortsans�ssige Bev�lkerung, die heute endlich erf�hrt, was sich damals in ihrer Nachbarschaft zugetragen hat. Den beiden Autoren geb�hrt der Dank.

Klaus Stark   (klaus_stark@t-online.de)
Berlin, Germany

divider line


This page is in no way sponsored or endorsed by the United States Air Force.
Opinions and views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Department of the Air Force.

Web Page Design and Development by
George Mindling - Port Charlotte, Florida

�George Mindling - 2003-2006 All Rights Reserved