Museum restoration staff teams with AFRL engineers to display Titan IVB in new building

DAYTON, Ohio -- When the new fourth building of the National Museum of the United States Air Force opens to the public June 8, visitors will be able to view an important part of Air Force history and America's space program.

Thanks to a joint team effort between NMUSAF restoration specialists and technicians from the Air Force Research Laboratory's Aerospace Vehicles Division, Structural Validation Branch, Aerospace Systems Directorate, an impressive Titan IVB, with roots going back to the early days of U.S. Air Force and civil space launch, will be on display. The rocket is a significant addition to the museum's collection as it looks to share the story of USAF and USAF-enabled space operations in its Space Gallery.

The Titan IVB was the U.S. Air Force's largest and most powerful expendable single-use rocket. It was a space launch vehicle used to place satellites into orbit and boosting payloads into low earth orbit, polar orbit, or geosynchronous (stationary) orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida or Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

According to Greg Hassler, a supervisor in the museum's restoration division, the museum began receiving pieces of the rocket in January 2006, shortly after the Titan program ended. Restoration and assembly of the rocket began in February 2015 when the museum's restoration team began sorting through all the parts received from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Vandenberg Air Force Base. After conducting an inventory of the parts they had on hand, the team fabricated some of the fasteners needed to put the payload fairing together as they were no longer available.

"Once we started getting some of the pieces together, we determined that it would be almost an impossible feat for us to assemble the payload fairing by ourselves, so we contacted some folks here at AFRL and they were amiable to help us out," said Hassler. "I truly don't know how we would have assembled this piece without their help."

Restoration and assembly work was completed on the rocket in May 2016. "This is the largest artifact we have ever restored," Hassler said.

"The Titan IVB and the exhibit space around it will be crucial for telling the USAF space story," said Dr. Doug Lantry, museum curator. "These exhibits are important because they illustrate what the Air Force has done in space to defend our nation, how those jobs were and are done and by whom, and how the science, technology, engineering and mathematics of space work in the context of national defense history."

The Titan rocket family formed a critical component of U.S. access to space for nearly 50 years, with the first launch in 1959 and the last in 2005. More than 350 Titans were launched overall. The Titan family included two models of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and several variously configured types of space launch vehicles.

Although the museum's Restoration Division has worked on several missiles and space launch vehicles, including the Titan I and Titan II on display in the Missile Gallery, the Titan IVB was a unique project. Standing more than 200 feet tall, the Titan IVB is nearly twice as tall as other similar vehicles in the museum's collection and is displayed horizontally.

"The Titan IVB is just a giant," Hassler said. "Just one of its solid rocket motor units weighs 75,000 pounds, with a diameter of 10 and a-half feet."

"Titan-derived space launch vehicles boosted many important defense and civilian satellites and upper stage vehicles into orbit. This exhibit provides a great opportunity to talk about U.S. military space efforts and the story of USAF space launch," Lantry said.

Although the Titan IVB was not a missile (a weapon), it was developed from a long line of missiles and launch vehicles based on the original Titan Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). First launched in 1959, the Titan family of boosters served for nearly 50 years putting satellites and astronauts into orbit. Titan IVB flew from 1997 to 2005 with all 17 of its launches successful.

Titan IVB rockets carried several notable payloads, including classified National Reconnaissance Office satellites and early warning satellites. In 1997 a Titan IVB also launched NASA's Cassini-Huygens spacecraft to study Saturn and its moon Titan.

Col. Elena M. Oberg, vice commander of the 88th Air Base Wing, led the mission team responsible for hardware delivery and successful launch of the first Titan IVB on Feb. 23, 1997.  She was stationed at Los Angeles AFB, California, at the time and was the lead Air Force Systems Engineer and Mission Manager.

"Working with the Air Force and contractor team who worked through the final design integration and executing the first launch was truly the highlight of my Air Force career. The Titan IVB launched the heaviest and largest satellites in the Air Force and National Security Enterprise. While we launched a Defense Support Program satellite on that first launch, we knew our work was also critical to the success of the Cassini interplanetary mission which launched in October 1997," she said.

The front end of the rocket is the payload fairing. It protected satellites on the way through the atmosphere to orbit, then broke away to release the payload. Fairings varied in length according to the size of the satellite. The rocket on display has an 86-foot fairing, the longest one used. Titan IVB payloads could be as heavy as 23.9 tons, about the size and weight of a large tour bus.

"I think the most significant thing about the Titan IVB that we have is that it is the only one that you can see anywhere - it's the only one left. You can't go anywhere else and see a Titan IVB, only here," said Lantry. 

"The help that our restoration team got from our colleagues and partners at the Air Force Research Lab was absolutely critical to putting the payload fairing together," said Hassler. "We don't have a building tall enough to do that and you can't put those three big, long trisections together in a horizontal fashion. They had to be transitioned to a vertical position so they could be hung together and then joined together. That took some engineering and planning and a lot of AFRL expertise, along with our museum restoration team to work together to design some fixtures, lift the parts and put it together. We're extremely happy with our AFRL partners in this work," he said.

Using cranes and an AFRL hangar that were built in 1944, as well as state-of-the-art computer aided design tools, Todd Smith, mechanical engineer at AFRL's structural validation branch said that once they received the dimensions of the rocket, his team designed a spreader bar to hold all three pieces of the rocket at once to put it all together simultaneously.

"It's a great project to be involved with in designing the lift and I couldn't ask for more," Smith said, adding that he looks forward to bringing his wife and children to the new building to see the rocket so they can see what a project it was to put all together. He said he also enjoyed visiting the museum restoration hangar to see how the specialists there fabricate parts from nothing to restore old planes. "It's been a great partnership working with the museum restoration folks."

"The role of the Space Gallery is to further inspiration and education. The museum is fundamentally an educational institution. Our job is to preserve and interpret the past for the benefit of the present and the future. People will come here to learn about what the Air Force did and why and how, and be inspired to do those same kinds of things even better, in different ways we can't even imagine in their future careers," Lantry said.

The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, is the world's largest military aviation museum. With free admission and parking, the museum features more than 360 aerospace vehicles and missiles and thousands of artifacts amid more than 19 acres of indoor exhibit space. Each year about one million visitors from around the world come to the museum. For more information, visit www.nationalmuseum.af.mil.