308th Bomb Wing
308th Strategic Missile Wing
After the end of World War II, the 308th Bomb Wing was deployed in Korea. By January 1952 the 308th Bomb Wing was stationed at Forbes Air Force Base, Kansas. The 308th Bombardment Wing (Medium) was deployed at Hunter Air Force Base, Georgia in the mid-1950s, operating the B-47 bomber.
On June 22, 1960, the Air Force announced plans to establish 18 Titan II launch sites at the 5-year-old SAC bomber base located at Little Rock. Once a bombardment wing, the 308th was resurrected on April 1, 1962, with a new mission of manning the 18 Titan II silos under construction around Little Rock AFB, Arkansas. Components of the 308th Strategic Missile Wing consisted of the 373rd and 374th Strategic Missile Squadrons.
Crews from the 308th SMW held the distinction of being the first and last combat-ready missile crews to fire Titan 11s from Vandenberg AFB, California. Including the October 2, 1964, and June 27, 1976, launchings, Little Rock crews participated in 14 separate Vandenberg missile launchings.
On two occasions, tragedy marred the 308th SMW. On August 8,1965, at launch site 373-4, 53 contractor workers died in a flash fire while installing modifications to the launch silo. The cause of the accident was believed to be a rupture in a high-pressure line, which spewed hydraulic fluid on the floor. Ignited by sparks from a nearby welder, the resulting fire consumed most of the oxygen in the space, suffocating the workers.
The second event, although it produced only one fatality, became more infamous because of the way the disaster occurred and the incredible damage inflicted on launcher 374-7 near Damascus. An unfortunate sequence of events began on September 18, 1980, with an incorrect maintenance procedure to add pressure to the second stage oxidizing tank. During an incorrect application of a g-pound wrench socket to the pressure cap, the maintenance man accidentally dropped the socket, which fell onto the first stage and punctured the first stage fuel tank.
The fuel, unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine, is hypergolic, meaning contact with the oxidizing agent creates instant ignition. Eventually, the crew evacuated the launch control center as military and civilian response teams arrived to tackle the hazardous situation. Early in the morning of September 19, a two-man investigation team entered the silo. Because their vapor detectors indicated an explosive atmosphere, the two were ordered to evacuate.
At about 0300 hours, a tremendous explosion rocked the area. The initial explosion catapulted the 740-ton closure door away from the silo and ejected the second stage and its warhead out of the silo. Once clear of the silo, the second stage exploded. Twenty-one personnel in the immediate vicinity of the blast were injured. One member of the two-man silo reconnaissance team who had just emerged from the portal sustained injuries that proved fatal.
At daybreak, the Air Force retrieved the warhead and brought it within the confines of Little Rock AFB. During the recovery the Missile Wing Commander received strong support from other military units as well as Federal, state, and local officials. Arkansas's young governor, Bill Clinton, played an important role in overseeing the proper deployment of state emergency resources.
Interestingly, the wing received some of its greatest accolades in the wake of the Damascus disaster. Perhaps realizing the public confidence had suffered a blow, wing personnel made a stronger effort to reach out to local communities. This effort won Air Force recognition in 1983, when the wing became the first missile wing ever to win the General Bruce K. Holloway humanitarian service trophy for the year 1982. The unit also earned the Omaha trophy for 1982, recognizing it as the best in SAC.
In October 1981, President Reagan announced that all Titan II sites would be deactivated by October 1, 1987, as part of a strategic modernization program. The wing completed deactivation on August 18, 1987.
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