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A trip to ‘SAC’ headquarters

May 7, 2011
By HOWARD RILEY (hjriley@adelphia.net) , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

If the space shuttle "Endeavor" got off a few days ago there will be one more flight; "Atlantis" will shoot into space in June and disappear; at least disappear as the last flight for NASA's space program.

It got me to thinking how a bunch of us 21 years ago got to see the Strategic Air Command (SAC) Headquarters in Nebraska in June of 1990 with no thought that we were some of the last visitors to see that incredible place before it too disappeared; SAC was ordered to "Stand Down" two years later in June 1992 by General Colin Powell with high praise for the role they played in defense of the United States.

Following is an edited version of the story that I wrote at that time for the Lake Placid News which never run in the Enterprise.

Article Photos

DEPLANING IN OMAHA — In the front row, from left, are Robert Hall, Roger Tubby, John Knox, Paul Maroun, Steve Erman, Bill McBride, Joyce Morency, Howard Riley, Art Thompson, Cristina Lussi, Brig. Gen. Charles T. Robertson Jr., Peter Roland, Ron Butler, Joe Pickreign, Clyde Rabideau, Dan Adams, Glen Harris, Tom Amoroso, Lutz Goesser, John O’Neil and Chris Ortloff. Back row: Keith Tyo, Bradford Arthur, Glen Ashley, David Petty, Tom Christopher, Tom Tobin, Gerry Eagan, Roger Forrence, Clyde Lewis, Dan Kastle, John McKenna, Robb McIntyre, Bob McIntyre, Tom Doty, Dick DePuy, Howard Baker, Jack Ward, Tom Small, Gordon Stone and Bill Frenette.
(Photo provided)

"You always knew there was someone up there looking after youbut you were never quite sure. Well, on Friday, June 1 we found out who that was.

"The Strategic Air Command (SAC) has had an airborne command post aloft over the United States continuously for the past 29 years. The EC-135, dubbed Looking Glass, flies three eight-hour missions daily in a random pattern over the central United States and has been doing this since February 1961.

"Early that Friday 40 people from the North Country joined our host Brigadier General Tom Tobin (U.S. Air Force, retired; now retired again to his beloved farm in Nebraska) president of the Adirondack North Country Association. We met at Plattsburgh Air Force Base for a flight to SAC Headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska, to take part in a public relations effort by the Air Force called the Commander's Distinguished Visitors Program.

"Our flight aboard a Boeing KC-135 stratotanker was a unique experience for us while the crew was performing tasks that were simply routine for them. The job of the tanker is to do aerial refueling for fighters and bombers. We were allowed to take turns down in the boom operator's control room, where the aerial refueling is done. It is located under the tail section where the operator lies flat on his stomach on a long, narrow leather covered bench, surrounded by glass, looking at the landscape 40,000 feet below.

"The crew actually did the refueling on two F-111 fighters as we cruised along at 300 mph. Here is some trivia for you; the amount of fuel transferred through that boom in one minute would operate the average car for a year.

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Looks like a movie set

"The SAC Headquarters complex has seven floors, four above ground and three stories underground. In time of war, the underground would be sealed off by closing these huge steel doors; with its emergency power system, Artesian wells and stored rations the underground unit could maintain operations without outside support for an extended period of time.

"Needles to say, security is tight, access is limited and visitors are escorted at all times. Getting off the elevators way underground, we entered this gigantic room with a huge stage facing desks stacked on levels like a college classroomexcept that each desk was covered with lights and buttons, phones and other digital equipment. The room had giant television screens flashing red lights, monitors, computers and people. It looked like it must be a movie set for Star Wars. The officer who greeted us was in voice communication with planes in the sky and with every SAC base around the worldand we could hear the response as he called each of those bases. President and Mrs. Bush had visited the Command Center in February.

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A look through the looking glass

"Now back to those people in the sky who are looking after us. If ground launch control centers become disabled that Looking Glass in the sky can assume direction of the bomber and missile force, execute emergency war orders at presidential direction and launch the Minuteman and Peacekeeper missile force. It also has the same safeguards against unauthorized launch as the ground control centers.

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What about the Soviets?

"I considered the Soviet military power briefing the most interesting and perhaps startling. The Soviets have continued to deploy new strategic offensive weapons (intercontinental weapons) such as rail and road ICBM's, new silo based ICBM's, new ballistic missile submarines that carry even more accurate missiles that can reach the U.S. from their home portsand new bombers. The Bear H is a cruise missile-carrying bomber and their Blackjack is the biggest and heaviest bomber in the world.

"Lt. Casey Mahon of PAFB was our official escort for the day and we returned to Plattsburgh at about 8 p.m."

 
 

 

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