Bethel Air Force Station
Bethel Air Force Station (1958-1963) - A Cold War U.S. Air Force Station, part of the Alaska AC&W Radar Network. Located in southwestern Alaska, about 4 miles west of the town of Bethel and near the mouth of the Kuskokwim River. Initially functioned as a Ground Control Intercept (GCI) radar site, with a Permanent System ID of F-21. Later redesignated a surveillance site. The radar site closed in 1963 and was re-designated as Bethel Radio Relay Site, that site closed in 1979.
In the early 1950s, the Alaska Air Command (AAC) created an interim radar system using outdated World War II radar equipment relocated from Aleutian bases while waiting for funding of permanent facilities. Mobile radars, primarily CPS-5 search and TPS-1B height-finder radars, were installed at Bethel, Clear, Elmendorf, Farewell, Galena, Gambell, Kotzebue, Ladd, Naknek (King Salmon), and Nome. The resulting system became known as the Alaska "Lashup" radar system, patterned after a similar system in the lower 48 states.
The 626th AC&W Squadron operated the C-3 Detachment at Bethel manned by Federalized Alaska Air National Guardsmen from September 1951 until March 1952. Equipment listed included a TPS-1B and a CPS-5 was probably operated also there.
The construction contract for more permanent facilities at Bethel was awarded to the Morrison-Knudsen Company in 1955. The site became operational in June 1958 as Bethel Air Force Station manned by the 713th AC&W Squadron which had been activated on 8 Feb 1957 to operate and maintain the site.
Aircraft track data from these radars was manually plotted on plotting boards and passed to a Manual Direction Center on voice and teletype circuits.
The AAC decommissioned the Bethel AC&W site on 15 May 1963, and the 713th AC&W Squadron was inactivated on 1 Oct 1963. By December 1964, the Air Force had removed all equipment from the site and re-designated it Bethel Radio Relay Site. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was granted a permit to use the site and buildings. The BIA established its Bethel headquarters in the composite building and the GSA transferred the property to the BIA on 29 Oct 1964. The BIA headquarters has since closed.
The physical plant of the site was put in place as a single site with the operations area colocated with the cantonment area. The single site housed the radar tower(s), generators, communications sites, and a large composite building. Within the composite building, most of the operations and cantonment area functions were under the single structure including the enlisted quarters (BAQ), the bachelor officer's quarters (BOQ), the orderly room, the dining hall, recreation facilities, and other support areas. A small airstrip provided facilities for fixed wing aircraft and helicopters. No family housing was provided as this was considered a remote unaccompanied tour (1 year).
Annual bulk resupply shipments to Bethel AFS were sealifted during the summer months under the Mona Lisa and later the Cool Barge programs. Airlift of supplies, mail and personnel were available year-round, weather providing.
Air-Ground (A-G) Communications
Separate radio facilities housed the radio transmitter and receiver equipment for communicating with aircraft.
After HF radio systems proved inadequate for command and control communications, the Air Force implemented the White Alice Communications System (WACS). This was a system of tropospheric scatter and microwave radio relay sites constructed during the mid-1950s to provide reliable communications to Alaska Air Command (AAC) AC&W system.
The Bethel White Alice site linked to three other stations, Aniak (96 miles), Cape Romanzof (152 miles), and Cape Newenham (147 miles). The site had three pairs of 60' tropo billboards tropo reflectors and a 6,720 square-foot equipment building but no dormitory, the troops were quartered at the AC&W site. The Bethel White Alice tropo site was activated on 18 Jan 1958.
The specific links from Bethel WACS (BET) as/of July 1977 were:
Bethel WACS (BET1)
Bethel E.S. (BET8)
After the AC&W site closed in 1963 it became a local economy site requiring WACS personnel to live in the town of Bethel. The Bethel WACS site was inactivated in 1979.
Satellite imagery indicates that four radar towers are still standing along with parts of the composite building but the central core of the composite building appears demolished (2017 image). For years after the WACS site closed a single large billboard tropo reflector remained but it is now gone.