Blaine Air Force Station
Blaine Air Force Station (1951-1979) - A Cold War Air Force Radar Station first established in 1951 as Birch Bay Radar Site near Blaine, Whatcom County, Washington. Named Blaine Air Force Station on 1 Dec 1953 after the location. Initially assigned a Permanent ID of P-46 and later a Sage ID of Z-46. Abandoned by the Air Force in 1979.
Established in 1951 and became operational on 14 Mar 1951 as the radar site at Birch Bay manned by the 757th AC&W Squadron. The name was changed to Blaine Air Force Station in 1953. The station initially had both a Ground-Control Intercept (GCI) and early warning mission. The early warning mission involved tracking and identifying 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 a pair of FPS-10 radars that were essentially stripped down CPS-6B radars with both search and height-finder capabilities.
SAGE System Transition
The transition of the manual GCI system to the automated SAGE system began with the 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 air conditioning, 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.
SAGE System Operation
The site began operation as a SAGE site on 1 Apr 1960 initially feeding the McChord SAGE Direction Center DC-12. The search radar was upgraded to an FPS-20 and the height-finders to a FPS-6 and a FPS-6A height-finders. The search radar was upgraded again in 1963 to an FPS-24 and the FPS-6 height-finder was replaced by an FPS-26A.
Gap Filler Radars
Blaine AFS was responsible for the maintenance of one remote unattended gap-filler radar site. 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 Blaine AFS gap-filler site was located on Mount Erie at Anacortes, Washington. This gap-filler site was constructed but may not have become fully operational before being deactivated. Another site was planned for Concrete, Washington but it was never built.
Blaine AFS became a BUIC I GCI site in 1962 and went operational as a BUIC II site on 1 Mar 1966. The BUIC II system provided a backup for a SAGE direction center and provided the ability to display sector-wide radar data on consoles for local weapons controllers. The BUIC II system duplicated the functionality of the vacuum tube direction center computers with a GSA-51 computer and replaced the FST-2 with a more up-to-date coordinate data transmitter, the FYQ-47. Blaine was not selected as a BUIC III site and in 1969 the BUIC mission terminated and the site returned to a surveillance mission. As the threat from a Soviet bomber fleet lessened, the decision came to mothball the entire BUIC system in 1974. Blaine AFS and the 757th were deactivated in January 1979.
The physical plant of the site was divided into the main site, an adjacent cantonment area, two separate housing areas and a radio site. The main site area housed the operations buildings, the radar towers, and the backup generators. The cantonment area contained the four enlisted barracks, a recreation building, the bachelor officer's quarters, the orderly room, the dining hall, the base exchange (BX), the motor pool and other support buildings. Apart from the main site were two small housing areas for critical married personnel. The first built housing area had 9 small units and the second area had 18 larger units.
A separate radio site housed the radio equipment for directing aircraft intercepts. Like most early radar stations, Blaine originally had a radio transmitter site and a separate radio receiver site 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.
Most of the major cantonment buildings still exist, most repurposed for use as the Lions Camp Horizon within the Bay Horizon Whatcom County park. Both family housing areas still exist with the homes in private hands. The only part of the operational area remaining is the FPS-24 radar tower. The operations building and the FPS-26 radar tower are gone, demolished about 2009. The May 2009 Trail Mitigation plan for Bay Horizon Park shows the layout of the old Air Force Station with the buildings that were removed in 2009 shown in cross hatch and the remaining buildings in solid black.
Visited: 3 Jun 2019, 21 Aug 2015