The Whiteman Underground

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Buried deep under the Missouri mud at Whiteman Air Force Base, is a series of keys and buttons that, at one time, could obliterate an entire nation if necessary.

From 1963 to 1995, Whiteman was home to the 351st Strategic Missile Wing, which operated the Minuteman I and Minuteman II Intercontinental Ballistic Missile weapon system from the Oscar-01 launch facility an 14 other similarly constructed facilities throughout Southwest Missouri. In total, the wing operated 15 flights, controlling 150 Minuteman ICBMs that could reach the Soviet Union in less than a half-hour.

Facilities like Oscar-01 were designed to function even after the initial exchanges of nuclear war. The self-contained underground portion of the facility housed batteries, a power generator, telephone switches for the underground cable system, and air regeneration equipment.

"As long as they had adequate air supply, Airmen working underground could survive 30 days without any outside support," said Tech. Sgt. Phillip Fleming, 509th Bomb Wing historical property custodian. "Without air, that number goes down drastically."

On July 31, 1991, President George H.W. Bush and Premier Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty which called for dismantling and destruction of the Minuteman II ICBMs. Deactivation of the Minuteman II system began immediately. On January 8, 1993, the wing's first launch control center, India-01, shut down operations.

Whiteman's launch facility, the only such facility to be placed on a missile-support base, was preserved as a museum in a tribute to the thousands of men and women who sustained the ICBM force during the Cold War and ensured deterrence against a Soviet nuclear threat.

Second only to the B-2, Oscar-01 is one of Whiteman's largest attractions during tour season.

"We have averaged 4,000 visitors per year, lately," Sergeant Fleming said. "We used to average six to 7,000 when the Spirit Tours were more frequent."

Sergeant Fleming has been giving tours of Oscar-01 for four years, and also maintains more than 350 pieces of Air Force history that are featured throughout the base, including the static aircraft displays.

"This is the best job I've ever had," he said. "I get the chance to meet people from all over the world and show them a piece of Whiteman's history."

And of course, Sergeant Fleming answers the famous question:

"Where is the big, red button?"

To take a public tour, contact the historical properties custodian at 509 BW/HPC@whiteman.af.mil or call (660) 687-6560.