After more than half a century, Goddard Middle School's old missile has lifted off. A crew lifted the 41-foot-tall Nike Hercules missile from its footing in front of the west Littleton school on …
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After more than half a century, Goddard Middle School's old missile has lifted off.
A crew lifted the 41-foot-tall Nike Hercules missile from its footing in front of the west Littleton school on April 18, before securing it to a flatbed truck to head south to southern Colorado's Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum.
Littleton Public Schools officials made plans over the winter to remove the missile, which had been placed in front of the school when it opened in 1968. The removal was planned to make way for an expansion of the school's parking area and entryway.
The removal was originally slated before the beginning of June, but LPS officials chose to get a jump on the construction project during the COVID-19 shutdowns, said Terry Davis, the district's director of operations.
“Construction projects can take a while, and we wanted to take advantage of the extra time,” Davis said. “We were looking at a window of opportunity, and we wanted to make sure the missile made it to the museum without a hitch.”
School officials said moving the missile to another spot on the property would have been expensive and time-consuming, and eaten up precious funding better spent on expensive infrastructure upgrades.
Numerous Denver-area museums, including the Littleton Museum and Wings Over the Rockies, turned down the missile in Feburary, saying it was in poor shape or didn't fit their collections. Local cities and parks rejected the missile as well.
The Pueblo aircraft museum is paying the entire cost of the removal and shipping, Davis said.
As a crew from Duffy Crane and Hauling attached cables to the missile, five-year-old Ellen Mattson watched from the curb with tears in her eyes.
"I really liked it," Mattson said, her voice breaking. "I always got my picture taken by it when we go for walks."
Truck driver Travis Heikes of La Jara in southern Colorado volunteered to haul the missile to Pueblo for no charge.
“I wanted to do my part,” Heikes said. “Education and history are important.”
Once in Pueblo, the plan is to restore the missile to how it would have appeared on active duty protecting America from Soviet bombers in the 1960s, said Shawn Kirscht, the museum's curator.
“We're really grateful that we get a chance to restore this piece of history,” Kirscht said. “It's a rare opportunity.”
The missile will be third in line for restoration behind two other projects, Kirscht said: a replica Supermarine Spitfire fighter plane, like the ones that defended England from Nazi attack in the Battle of Britain, and a Bell UH-1 Huey helicopter, a type legendary for its service in Vietnam.
Kirscht said Goddard's missile is covered in layers of goofy paint colors applied over the decades, but the original Army olive drab paint is still visible beneath the coats of house paint.
Once the restoration is complete, perhaps in a year or so, the missile will join a Hawk and Pershing missile beside the museum, which is home to such memorable warbirds as a World War II-era B-29 bomber and F-15 and F-16 fighter jets.
Losing the missile is a bummer, said Goddard principal Bryan Breuer, but he's ready for the school's new chapter.
The oval drive is woefully inadequate to handle the line of cars dropping off students in recent years, Breuer said.
"Back in the '70s when more kids walked or took the bus, it was OK, but now most kids get dropped off by their parents, and the cars back up down the block to Lowell (Boulevard)," Breuer said. "It's time for a change."
The new controlled-access entryway will offer much better protection for kids, Breuer said.
"Moving the missile elsewhere on the property wouldn't have been a good use of taxpayer money," Breuer said. "When they put this here in the '60s, who knows if they even bothered to get a permit? Costs add up fast."
Breuer said he plans to add photos to the school's new entryway to memorialize the iconic missile.
Online, Littleton old-timers lamented the missile's departure, with many expressing frustration that the district didn't decide to keep the missile on the property.
"So many memories of conversations in the shadow of that rocket," wrote Lynette Sabin.
"Three years there as a student and 25 years of teaching there," wrote Kelly Seavall. "Hard to see that era end."
The missile's future is fitting, said Ben Millspaugh, the retired Littleton Public Schools science and aviation teacher who procured the missile for the school in 1968.
“That missile inspired generations of kids who came through that school,” Millspaugh said. “Now it can inspire future generations alongside other pieces of our military history. I'm looking forward to taking a drive down to Pueblo to see it in its original glory.”
Millspaugh sought the missile for the school to honor its namesake, Dr. Robert Goddard, who pioneered modern rocketry in the 1920s.
Going to Pueblo is a return of sorts for the missile: Millspaugh requested a decommissioned missile from the Pueblo Army Depot, expecting a 10-foot model, but was shocked when a truck rolled up to the school carrying the 41-foot Nike Hercules.
The missile was installed at the school amid great fanfare, including a performance by an Air Force band, speeches by Air Force officers and Lockheed Martin officials, and launches of Colorado-built Estes model rockets.
“It was the Space Age,” Millspaugh said. “It was a year before we put a man on the moon. It was a beautiful thing, and a tribute to Colorado's proud aerospace industry.”
Millspaugh said he knows old-timers will miss seeing the missile outside the school, but said it won't be far away.
“Those kids who grew up looking at it, you're adults now,” Millspaugh said. “Next year you can load up your kids and your wife and drive two hours south, and you can show them the missile that brought us so much pride. I'm satisfied.”
Read more about the decision to remove the missile: "Future is cloudy for Goddard Middle School's old missile," March 1
Read more about the missile's history and the decision to give it to the Pueblo museum: "Goddard Middle School's old missile is bound for Pueblo," March 6
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