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NTS News Bulletin – March 4, 1983

The Tonopah Test Range

If you work at the Nevada Test Site (NTS), you’re probably somewhat nonplused about remote desert locations where exotic testing takes place. But, for even the commute-jaded NTSer, the locale of the Tonopah Test Range (TTR) is remote. A desolate reach of desert terrain ringed by snowcapped, jagged mountains, visibility is about 1,000 miles! The real rub for NTSers is, that even though TTR is 160 air miles from Las Vegas, the Sandia National Laboratories personnel (plus some federal and contractor personnel) get there in 30-40 minutes. They commute there in a DC-9 operated by EG&G contractor Ross Aviation for Sandia.

People who work at Tonopah seem to be genuinely interested in and excited by their work. On the plane, Ed Revell, from Department of Energy Nevada Operations Office (DOE/NV), whips out photographs from his briefcase to illustrate his spontaneous commentary about Tonopah. Clearly his favorite photograph was the one showing the herds of wild horses which inhabit the Range. Hack Runnels, Reynolds Electrical & Engineering Company Inc. (REECo) Tonopah Test Range department manager, makes tongue in cheek remarks about the amount of planning required to live in Tonopah (“if you plan to make a purchase, you must do it by 6 p.m. because nothing is open later than that in Tonopah! – Having been accustomed to a 24-hour town, it is a change”). But he also obviously finds his work stimulating. Sam Moore, Sandia Range Manager, was assigned temporarily to Tonopah for two years, 16 years ago. Interviewed in his modern, attractive office in the Sandia complex, he is surrounded by photos of Sandia missions at TTR and he talks proudly of their work.

“We test weapons systems instead of nuclear devices. In our research we are interested in ballistics, aerodynamics, parachute performance of weapons, interim functioning of weapons, detonators, and fuses as they will perform in real combat. We also test artillery shells. We fire the shells, check the ballistics, internal components and so on. We also fire a fair number of rockets for evaluating parachute performance or for research activities. Additionally, we support reimbursable tests requested by the Department of Defense agencies.” Examples of such tests are the cruise missile tests, which they do quite a number of, and the Tomahawk landings. There is no involvement with nuclear systems in their work at TTR.

Sandia National Laboratories manage TTR work in support of The Department of Energy’s Albuquerque Operations Office. The Range base support is provided by DOE/NV contractor, REECo.

In addition to running the base support operations, REECo people also assist the Sandians in various recovery operations. The Sandia staff is made-up almost entirely of technical people (engineers and electronic technicians). Their small administrative staff is augmented by “on-loan” personnel from REECo.

As part of the base support operations, REECo people provide the cafeteria, fleet, power and communications, maintenance and construction services. EG&G Inc. supplies photographic support service. Advanced Security Inc., as a Sandia contractor, is responsible for Range security.

Moore anticipates that the present level of operation is going to continue for awhile. According to Moore, “It’s been like this for years and years (since 1958). Somehow Albuquerque has us locked in concrete!”, he laughingly says. Sandia’s budget for fiscal year ’83 is $14,000,600. That figure includes the expenses for REECo, EG&G and security support. It does not include any reimbursable work they may acquire.

To provide an idea of the scope of their operations, Moore outlined a comparison of their operations in fiscal year ’82 and ’83. It is as follows:

FY ’82 FY ’83 (as scheduled)

63 76 airdrops

166 116 gun tests

15 19 rocket tests

6 22 cruise missile tests

——- ——–

250 233

Somehow the small town atmosphere which pervades the Range doesn’t contrast with the high-tech experiments and modern control centers. People are quick to point out that everyone knows everyone else (and their business!) There is an amiable, easygoing rapport among the people. And, it all adds up to a job well-done…which is not bad for work done in the middle of nowhere!

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