Tin City Air Force Station

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Tin City Air Force Station (1953-1983, 1984-Present) - A Cold War U.S. Air Force Station, part of the Alaska AC&W Radar Network. Originally known as Cape Prince of Wales Air Force Station the name was changed to Tin City Air Force Station in 1957. Initially functioned as an Early Warning radar site, with a Permanent System ID of F-04 feeding manual track data to the Champion Manual Direction Center. Became a minimally attended radar site in 1984 and was redesignated as Tin City Long-Range Radar Site with a JSS ID of A-11. Tin City was the closest installation to the old Soviet Union, 150 miles from the former Soviet airbase at Provideniya. Now feeds radar track data to the FAA Anchorage ARTCC (ZAN) and to the Elmendorf NORAD Regional Air Operations Center (RAOC). Active Long-Range Radar Site (LRRS) with an FAA ID of ZTNC.

Tin City Air Force Station Upper Site, Lower Site in Background.

Tin City Air Force Station

Construction began in September 1950 and was completed in December 1952 by Gaasland & Company for $4,738,946. The site became fully operational in April 1953 as Tin City Air Force Station manned by the Detachment F-4 from the 160th ACWG of the ANG. The 710th AC&W Squadron was activated in December 1953 to operate and maintain the site. The AC&W facility at Tin City was unique in that a single three-story, concrete-composite operations building had replaced some 20 original wood frame buildings.

Tin City Air Force Station Lower Site.

Initial equipment included the FPS-3 search radar and one FPS-6 height-finder radar. The radars were upgraded to one FPS-20 search radar and one FPS-90 height-finder radar. Later the FPS-20 was upgraded to a FPS-93A search radar.

Aircraft track data from these radars was manually plotted on plotting boards and passed to the Champion Manual Direction Center on voice circuits. In 1965 the FYQ-9 Semiautomatic Data Processing and Display System was implemented on Alaska AC&W radar sites automating the passing of track data to the direction centers. The result was reduced manpower requirements and increased efficiency.

Further reductions came on 1 Oct 1977 when the Alaska Air Command (ACC) contracted with RCA Services for site support services. This was a part of an Air Force effort to reduce remote tours. Some 81 military positions were deleted. The remaining 14 were primarily in operations.

JSS common digitizers were installed on the AC&W radars sites, including Tin City, by 1982. This upgrade enabled transmission of radar track data via satellite to the new Elmendorf JSS Regional Operations Control Center (ROCC) near Anchorage. The Elmendorf ROCC was activated on 14 Jun 1983 and that event triggered a series of events that included the closure of the AC&W sites, the disbandment of the AC&W Squadrons, and the creation of Long-Range Radar Sites (LRRS) with full contractor operation and maintenance and new FPS-117 3D radars. The Tin City AFS was deactivated on 1 Nov l983 even before the FPS-117 radars were installed.

Tin City Long-Range Radar Site

Tin City Air Force Station FPS-117 Upper Site.

A new FPS-117 Minimally Attended Radar (MAR) was installed in the August - September 1984 timeframe and the site was operational on 24 Sep 1984 and re-designated as Tin City Long-Range Radar Site operated and maintained by contractors. The Long-Range radar site was connected to the Elmendorf JSS Regional Operations Control Center (ROCC) which was activated on 14 Jun 1983. The FPS-117 radar fed data to the ROCC FYQ-93 computers via satellite.

The Elmendorf ROCC evolved into a Regional Air Operations Center (RAOC) which now operates with the Battle Control System-Fixed (BCS-F) FYQ-156 computer system. The RAOC is currently a component of the Alaska NORAD Region (ANR) and is operated by active Alaska Air National Guard members, Canadian servicemembers, and active duty augmentees. Elmendorf AFB is now a part of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

By 2011 the MAR FPS-117 radars were outdated and increasingly unsupportable because parts and components were no longer available. In 2011 the U.S. Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin $46.8 million in contract options to begin modernization of 29 long-range radars. Under the EPRP contract, Lockheed Martin was to modernize 15 radars in Alaska including Tin City. The last FPS-117 site was upgraded in June 2015.

The EPRP program replaced four major subassemblies on the FPS-117: the Maintenance and Control System, the Beacon system, the Uninterruptable Power Supply/Communications Rack, and Local Control Terminals, which allow remote monitoring, troubleshooting, and control of the radars. The modifications reduced the line-replaceable unit count by approximately 80 percent, easing maintenance and the number of parts on the shelf. The program is expected to extend the supportably of the radar thru 2025.

Physical Plant

Tin City AFS Tramway.
Tin City AFS Tramway Path.
Tin City AFS Lower Site Composite Building in 2014.

The physical plant of the site was originally divided into an upper main site and a lower cantonment area. The main site housed the radar towers and the backup generators. The cantonment area housed the operations area, the enlisted quarters (BAQ), the bachelor officer's quarters (BOQ), the orderly room, the dining hall and other support areas in a single large three-story composite building. The upper and lower site were connected by road and by an overhead tramway. No family housing was provided as this was considered a remote unaccompanied tour (1 year).

During a violent storm at Tin City, the “last recorded wind speed was a gust of 200 knots [230 mph], before the wind gauge blew away. The radome and the radar antenna both tore loose and the wreckage was strewn out onto the ice in the Bering Sea”

The military airstrip at Tin City consisted of a weather shack and a 4,700-foot gravel runway with no navigation aids. The approach was dictated by prevailing winds from the south over the Bering Sea and the end of the runway dropped straight down 150 feet to the Sea. The resulting downdraft was terrific. In 1957 it caused a two engine C-45 to crash into the side of the cliff killing both pilot and copilot.

In May 1967 the Peter Kiewit & Sons Company of Seattle was the successful bidder on a contract to build a 68,400 sq foot concrete & steel composite building at Tin City to replace some 20 original wood frame buildings (see the original plan below). This building consolidated most of the lower site support and operations functions into the three-floor facility and provided some covered walkways to the outbuildings remaining. The building continued in use as contractors increasingly took over site operations and the military presence shrunk to just a few dozen personnel. After the deactivation of the Air Force Station and the AC&W squadron in 1983 two floors of the composite building were mothballed. The remaining floor continues to be used by the few contractors remaining to support the new FPS-117 MAR Long-Range Radar Site (LRRS) and visitors to the site.

Tin City Air Force Station Lower Site Original Plan. Most of these buildings were replaced by the Composite Building.

Air-Ground Communications

Separate radio facilities housed the radio equipment for communicating with aircraft.

Tin City White Alice Communications Site

After HF systems proved inadequate for command and control communications, the Air Force implemented the White Alice Communications System. 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 Tin City White Alice tropo site was activated on 18 Feb 1958. Tin City originally linked with Northeast Cape, on St. Lawrence Island (161 miles) with two-60' tropo antennas. Temporary 30' circular tropo antennas were later added to link Anvil Mountain and Tin City, bypassing Northeast Cape. The WACS site composite building was 4,960 square-feet with two POL storage tanks having a total capacity of 950 barrels. Other facilities were available at the Tin City AC&W site, 1.5 miles away. A passenger tramway was added in 1963 to transport workers from base camp to the WACS top camp. The cost to construct this and the Cape Lisburne tramway was almost $1.4 million. Repairs in 1967 and 1968 to the composite building were $4.6 million.

The WACS site was inactivated in February 1975 and the circuits were rerouted from Anvil Mountain, near Nome, via an ALASCOM-owned microwave relay terminal. The Anvil Mountain WACS was inactivated in June 1980 and Tin City communications were then routed through the ALASCOM satellite earth terminal at Tin City.

The specific links from Tin City (TNC) as/of July 1977 were:

Tin City (TNC)

  • 228 Microwave to Port Clarence (KPC)

Tin City AFS Major Equipment List
Search Radar HF Radar Data Systems Radio
Unit Designations
  • Det 532nd ACWG (1950-1951)
  • Detachment F-4 of the 160th ACWG of the ANG (1951-1953)
  • 710th Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron (1953-1983)

Current Status

Active long-range radar site but most of the original AC&W site buildings were demolished when the Composite building was constructed. The site has also had an environmental remediation project that has further erased signs of the old AC&W site and the White Alice tropo site. The three-story Composite Building remains with two of the floors presumably still mothballed.

Remaining Facilities
AC&W System Facilities MAR System Facilities
  • No. 119 - Storage facility
  • No. 142 - Solid waste disposal facility
  • No. 150 - AC&W operations facility
  • No. 201 - Radome tower
  • No. 85017 - Road system
  • No. 89004 - Tramway
  • No. 75339 - Airfield
  • No. 124 - Water supply

Location: Near Wales in Nome Census Area, Alaska.

Maps & Images

Lat: 65.57579 Long: -168.01207

  • Multi Maps from ACME
  • Maps from Bing
  • Maps from Google
  • Elevation: 2,275'

GPS Locations:

See Also:



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