Benton Air Force Station

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Benton Air Force Station (1951-1975) - A Cold War Air Force Radar Station first established in 1951 at Red Rock Mountain, near Ricketts Glen State Park in Sullivan County, Pennsylvania. Relocated on 1 Feb 1952 and named Benton Air Force Station on 1 Dec 1953 after the nearby town. Initially assigned a Permanent ID of P-30, later a Sage ID of Z-30. Site turned over to the FAA in 1975 now listed as Benton FAA Radar Site.

History of Benton Air Force Station

Established in 1951 and became operational in October 1951 at "Mud Pond" on Red Rock Mountain in Sullivan County, Pennsylvania, manned by the 648th AC&W Squadron. The site was relocated to nearby Ricketts Glen State Park, PA and later named Benton Air Force Station after the nearby town.

The station initially had both a Ground-Control Intercept (GCI) and early warning mission. The early warning mission involved tracking and identifing all aircraft entering their airspace while the GCI mission involved guiding Air Force interceptors to any identified enemy aircraft. Controllers at the station vectored fighter aircraft at the correct course and speed to intercept enemy aircraft using voice commands via ground-to-air radio.

Initial equipment included two CPS-6B V beam search/height finder radars. Two FPS-6B height finder radars were added in 1958 replacing one of the CPS-6Bs. This configuration established the requirements for the transition to the SAGE System operation, one long range search radar and two height finders. The CPS-6B would prove to be inadequate for SAGE operations and plans were made to replace it with a more modern set.

SAGE System Transition

The transition of the manual GCI system to the automated SAGE system began with installation of the FST-2 coordinate data transmitter and search radar upgrades. The FST-2 equipment digitized the radar returns and transmitted the digital returns to the SAGE direction center. Under the SAGE system interceptor aircraft were directed to their targets by the direction center computers and controllers, greatly reducing the need for local controllers and equipment at every radar station.

The FST-2 was a very large digital system using vacuum tube technology. Over 6900 vacuum tubes were used in each FST-2 requiring 21 air conditioned cabinets, 40 tons of airconditioning, 43.5 kva of prime power and usually a large new addition to the operations building. The FST-2B modification added two more cabinets but with newer solid state (transistor) technology to process coded responses from aircraft transponders. Benton AFS received FST-2 serial No. 1 circa 1958.

SAGE System Operation

Former Hancock SAGE Direction Center DC-03
Benton SAGE Direction Centers & Sectors
Assigned Direction Center Sector
8 Jan 1957 - 15 Aug 1958 Stewart SAGE Direction Center DC-02 Boston Air Defense Sector
15 Aug 1958 - 4 Sep 1963 Hancock SAGE Direction Center DC-03 Syracuse Air Defense Sector
4 Sep 1963 - 1 Apr 1966 Stewart SAGE Direction Center DC-02 Boston Air Defense Sector
1 Apr 1966 - 19 Nov 1969 Hancock SAGE Direction Center DC-03 35th Air Division
19 Nov 1969 - 30 Jun 1975 Hancock SAGE Direction Center DC-03 21st Air Division

Benton AFS joined the SAGE System, coming under the control of the Boston Air Defense Sector, on 8 Jan 1957. At that point in time the equipment for automated operation was not yet installed at Benton AFS (FST-2) so the input from the site would almost certainly have been manual track information input into the manual input side of the FSQ-7 computer. It is not known if automatic data was fed from Benton to the Stewart SAGE Direction Center DC-02 before control was switched to Hancock SAGE Direction Center DC-03 on 15 Aug 1958.

The site began operation as a SAGE site in late 1958, initially feeding the Hancock SAGE Direction Center DC-03. The search radar was upgraded to a FPS-35 in 1961 but it was not operational until 1962. In 1963 a FPS-26A replaced one of the FPS-6B height finders.

The FPS-35 at Benton AFS and the FPS-35 at Manassas AFS in Virginia, were used in 1962 as part of missile detection tests. The results revealed that the FPS-35s had limited value for detecting submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Benton AFS became a USAF/FAA Joint Use site in 1963 and the FAA personnel became responsible for maintaining the FPS-35 search Radar and a FPS-8 search backup radar.

The FST-2 was replaced in the early 1970s with a FYQ-47 or FYQ-48 Common Digitizer. In 1974 the FPS-35 was replaced with a FPS-67B in the same tower but with a radome over it.

Closure

The 648th Radar Squadron was deactivated on 30 Jun 1975 and the radar site was transferred to the FAA.

Benton FAA Radar Site

Now operating a CARSR FAA minimally attended radar from a small compound on the former radar site.

Gap Fillers

Benton AFS was responsible for the maintenance of two remote unattended gap filler radar sites. The unattended gap filler sites were placed in locations where the main search radar lacked coverage. These sites were equipped with short range FPS-14 or FPS-18 search radars and FST-1 Coordinate Data transmitters that sent digitized radar target data to a SAGE direction center and to the main radar site. Both the radar set and the FST-1 were dual channel to increase site up time. Maintenance teams were dispatched for regularly scheduled maintenance or when fault indicators on the FSW-1 remote monitoring equipment suggested the site had problems. The FSW-1 also allowed remote operation of specific functions such as channel changes for the radar and for the FST-1, it also allowed remote operation of the diesel generators at the gap filler site. The Benton AFS gap filler radars were located at Ulysses and Joliett, Pennsylvania. Several other sites were planned but were never built or were never activated.

Benton AFS Gap Filler Radar Sites (edit list)
ADC NORAD Location State Type From To GPS Notes
P-30E Z-30E Ulysses PA FPS-14, FST-1 1957-07 1968-06 41.880319,
-77.71421
Bldg & tower exist
P-30F Z-30F Joliett PA FPS-18, FST-1 1962-07 1969-06 40.609,
-76.46176
Bldg & tower pads exist

Physical Plant

The physical plant of the site was divided into a main site, a cantonment area, a housing area and a radio site. The main site housed the operations buildings, the radar towers, and the backup generators. The cantonment area housed the enlisted barracks, the bachelor officer's quarters, the orderly room, the dining hall, the motor pool and other support buildings. Apart from the main site was a small 15 unit housing area for married personnel.

A separate radio site housed the radio equipment for directing aircraft intercepts. Like most early radar stations, Benton originally had separate radio transmitter and receiver sites used by local controllers for voice direction of fighter interceptors to their targets. With the SAGE System, the SAGE Direction centers had the primary task of directing intercepts and the local radio sites were reconfigured, usually into a single site that was known as the Ground to Air Transmitter Receiver (GATR) site. The GATR site communicated with the interceptors from either the local site or the SAGE direction center via voice commands and/or a digital data link.


Benton AFS Major Equipment List
Search Radar HF Radar Data Systems Radio
Unit Designations
  • 648th Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron (1951-1959)
  • 648th Radar Squadron (SAGE) (1959-1974)
  • 648th Radar Squadron (1974-1975)
648th Assignments
  • 1 Jan 1951 - Assigned at Mud Pond, PA, assigned to the 503rd AC&W Gp.
  • 6 Feb 1952 - Transferred to the 26th AD.
  • By 1 Feb 1952 - Moved to Ricketts Glen State. Park, PA.
  • 16 Feb 1953 - Transferred to 4710th Def Wg.
  • 30 Jun 1953 - Transferred to 4709th Def Wg.
  • 1 Dec 1953 - Site redesignated Benton AFS, PA.
  • 8 Jul 1956 - Transferred to the 4707th AD Wg.
  • 18 Oct 1956 - Transferred to 4622nd AD Wg.
  • 8 Jan 1957 - Transferred to Boston ADS. (Stewart DC-02)
  • 15 Aug 1958 - Transferred to Syracuse ADS. (Hancock DC-03)
  • Feb 1959 - Redesignated from AC&W Sq to 648th Radar Sq (SAGE).
  • 4 Sep 1963 - Transferred to Boston AD. (Stewart DC-02)
  • 1 Apr 1966 - Transferred to 35th AD. (Hancock DC-03)
  • 19 Nov 1969 - Reassigned to 21st AD. (Hancock DC-03)
  • 1 Feb 1974 - Redesignated 648th Radar Sq.
  • 30 Jun 1975 - Inactivated.


Benton Air Force Station Partial Commanders List (edit list)
Assumed Relieved Rank Name Cullum Notes
1956-11 Major Tierce, Stanley R. N/A
1958~ Major Webb, Jones F. N/A
1965-12-03 1968~ Major Sheats, George H. N/A

Current Status

Now Benton FAA Radar Site near Red Rock, Sullivan County, Pennsylvania.


Location: Red Rock in Sullivan County, Pennsylvania.

Maps & Images

Lat: 41.35694 Long: -76.29028

See Also:


Sources:

  • Cornett, Lloyd H. & Johnson, Mildred W., A Handbook of Aerospace Defense Organization (1946-1980), Office of History ADC, Peterson AFB, Colorado, 31 Dec 1980, 179 pages, Pdf, page 156.
  • Winkler, David F., Searching the skies: the legacy of the United States Cold War defense radar program, USAF Hq Air Combat Command, 1997, 192 pages, Pdf, page 151.
  • USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Database Entry: 2086910


Links:

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