NY missile silo finds new uses

Updated: Jun. 16, 2021 at 6:09 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A Cold War-era missile silo located in the Adirondacks is finding new uses today.

Tucked away in the Town of Lewis is a Cold War secret. In the early 1960′s, 12 missile silos were built around northern, New York and Vermont, ready to launch nuclear warheads in case of a Soviet first strike.

“They knew it was going to be targeted. They wanted to have a place with proper terrain and proper geology to plant it and a proper location on the planet, but they didn’t want it close to a major population center because they knew it was a primary target,” said Michael Hopmeier, the proud owner of the Atlas F missile silo, and founder Unconventional Concepts Inc.

He says the missile housed in the 190-foot silo thankfully saw no action during its five years in service. It was staffed 24/7 by a crew of missileers ready with keys in hand if the order came to launch. “It was a completely different type of stress they would have had at the time, knowing that their families were literally on the front lines with them,” Hopmeier said.

He says it was the most advanced facility of its kind, designed to withstand a powerful direct attack and keep out potential foreign invaders. “The wall is flat here. This is designed to be able to allow defenders to protect from anyone that was trying to invade,” Hopmeier explained.

As visitors make their way below ground, the temperature stays between 55 and 63 degrees, a chilly temperature for the airmen that staffed the silo until 1965, when it was decommissioned.

Since the government sold the land, it’s had different owners over the years. Hopmeier, a mechanical engineer with a long resume in national security, bought the property in 2015 to run his business. “We do testing on materials, we look at the effects of different types of propellant on different types of steel and cladding and coating,” he said. “We do remote sensing and diagnostics and evaluate the ability to do stand-off detection of different systems.”

He says he continues to work as a national security consultant for different government agencies and that the silo is used as a testing site, which is particularly helpful when it comes to bomb damage assessment. “The idea was if we had a hard, deeply buried target -- for example Saddam Hussein’s bunker -- we might drop a bomb on it and we might see a cloud of smoke come off the ground or detect a blast underground, but we could never be sure if that blast was inside the bunker or outside,” Hopmeier said. He’s found other research uses for the facility too -- above and below ground.

There is a lot of climbing involved to get to the bottom of the silo 195 feet down. Much of the equipment used to operate the missile silo remains, but wouldn’t be useful today. “What’s remarkable is all of the computing power that you see here is probably less than what is in my watch,” Hopmeier said. “Right here -- this bare paint spot -- used to be where they would hold the key vault.”

In an effort to preserve this part of North Country history, Hopmeier donated the keys to the Plattsburgh Air Force Base Museum. Hopmeier says the launch control pad and other ephemera preserved underground the last 60 years are a reminder of the courage, strength, and honor of the missileers from yesterday and today that keep the country safe. “Not only that they were willing, if they were ordered to defend the country, to kill 4 or 5 or 20 million people, not because they wanted to, but because that’s the only way we saw we could defend this nation,” he said. “If there is one thing to get across -- yeah, a missile silo is cool but it’s nothing compared to the men and women who staff them today.”

The Lewis missile silo is private property and is not open to the public.

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