David Blackhurst was born in West Virginia and grew up in central South Dakota. Mr. Blackhurst began his Air Force career as a pilot where he flew missions over North Vietnam. In the early 70s Mr. Blackhurst came to Ellsworth Air Force Base to fly B-52 bombers. In 1974 he joined missile operations as a Missile Crew Commander. In 1979 Mr. Blackhurst went to topside operations as a facility manager. His main duty station as both a missileer and facility manger was at Launch Control Facility India-01. Mr. Blackhurst is one of only a few missile field personnel to ever work in both topside and underground operations in 44th Missile Wing.
Mr. Blackhurst was interviewed for the park's oral history collection in May 1999. Below are several excerpts from his interview:
So in event that you were ordered to launch, what would you do?
In each capsule there was a locked box that contained what we called the cookies that was basically the authentication codes. Each time we went through a training exercise in the training site on the base, we had to break these cookies open. We would get a message over the, I guess you’d say, the secure line that would come in and we’d get this “deedle deedle deedle” message and of course you had to authenticate it. Once you wrote down the codes, you’d break the cookies open, the commander and the deputy both had to agree that it was an authentic message. At that point we would insert the keys and go through a launch sequence and at the end was a three-two-one, on my mark, turn.
Can you tell us about the escape tunnels?
We often talked about it. From what we understood, there was an opening into the capsule and we were supposed to open this door and it was filled with sand. We weren’t sure totally how close to the surface the exit of it was. But it was like a corrugated, drainage tube or pipe, and it was filled with supposedly sand. We always hoped it was loose sand [laughter] so that if we ever had to go out that thing. But from what we understood, it ended probably ten to fifteen feet from the surface of the ground outside the physical fence of the site.
Supposedly you’d be able to crawl out. Well, this tube goes out at an angle, so you know, it got interesting. [laughter.] We hoped that if there was an air burst, or if there was a burst, that the sand inside that tube wasn’t turned to glass and then it wouldn’t slide out.
What can you tell us about winter time conditions and equipment?
We would go out and basically as a capsule crew, and as a facility manager I had the regular gloves, parka, and so forth. I guess thinking of that, just before Christmas when I left the missile field. My last Christmas out, we had a security crew get stuck in a snow bank. It was basically a blizzard, hundred mile an hour winds, and I elected to ask for permission to go get those kids. I took the front-end loader from the site, and we had the rope that we used to fasten to the leader if we had to bring somebody out of the capsule. We took that rope and I drove the front-end loader probably about ten miles out into the prairie. Well, [laughs] I had the other security people. They had had a team on site. I forget what they were called right now, but they were kind of like a SWAT team. They elected to drive in front of me, I guess it was behind me. They went with me, behind me, to help and I drove very slow. Like I say the winds were blowing, it was somewhere close to a hundred below zero, and the front-end loader didn’t have any heat. But I had on my long johns, my uniform, a pair of bunny pants and another pair of pants on. They were insulated like overalls and I had those on and I had my boots on with about two or three pairs of socks. I had two pair gloves on, my parka up around my face. Well anyway, we got out to site, out to where these kids were, they were stuck in a snow bank pretty good. I didn’t have to get out fortunately. I stayed in the front end loader. The cops in the Peace Keeper, which was a armored vehicle got out, fastened it to the back of the thing and we pulled those kids out. They had one of the little CJ-5 Jeeps. Then we drove back to the base, back to the site, back to India. When I got back in, I parked the front end loader in the garage, got back into the site, got into the building, when I went in I realized I couldn’t move my hands.
I had to ask somebody to help me take my gloves off. Because I couldn’t move my fingers. I went into the kitchen and turned on the water, the cold water, and stuck my hands under the water. It felt like I was sticking them in boiling water. To this day, I can’t go out without gloves on.
How seriously did you and your colleagues take your job?
Over the time period, it was kind of like we would go into the capsule and at first we were in there and everything was pretty good and you took it real serious. After awhile we had a saying that it was kind of like hours and hours of sheer boredom punctuated by seconds of panic. But basically it was a serious job.