Madera Air Force Station
Madera Air Force Station (1950-1966) - A Cold War Air Force Radar Station first established in 1950 near Madera, Madera County, California. Named Madera Air Force Station after the location. Initially assigned a Temporary ID of LP-74 then a Permanent ID of P-74 and later a Sage ID of Z-74. Closed in 1966.
Established in 1950 and became operational in March 1951 as Madera Air Force Station, site LP-47, manned by the 774th AC&W Squadron and operating a TPS-1B radar. The "LP" designation indicated that because of difficulty in obtaining new production radar equipment, this site initially received radar equipment from a former Lashup site to expedite operational status. Construction began on more permanent facilities and by January 1952 the site had been assigned a permanent ID of P-74 and was operating an FPS-3 search radar and a FPS-4 height-finder.
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.
In 1958 the FPS-4 height-finder radar was replaced by one FPS-6 and one FPS-6A. In 1959 the FPS-3 was replaced by a FPS-20 search radar. In 1960 the FPS-6A was upgraded to a FPS-6B. This was a standard configuration for the transition from a manual site to automatic SAGE System operation.
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 in 1960 initially feeding the Beale SAGE Direction Center DC-18. By 1963 the FPS-20 had been upgraded to an FPS-66 and was operating with one FPS-6 and one FPS-90 height-finder. When the Beale SAGE Direction Center DC-18 closed, control was transferred to Norton SAGE Direction Center DC-17 on 1 Aug 1963. The Norton SAGE Direction Center DC-17 then closed in 1966 and control was shifted to Luke SAGE Direction Center DC-21 on 1 Apr 1966. The site closed less than three months later.
The official announcement of the closure of Madera AFS came on 19 Nov 1964 from Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara at the Pentagon. Originally slated to close in July 1967, the deactivation was accelerated to align with the reconfiguration of the SAGE System in April 1966. Madera AFS and the 774th were deactivated on 1 Apr 1966. The site was transferred to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) on 3 Apr 1967 for use as a vocational training center. The site later transitioned into private hands.
The land for this site was originally leased farmland in Madera County, California. The land was later acquired by the U.S. Government through direct purchase and by condemnation. The site was unusual for radar sites because it was located on flat farmland at a low elevation, 325 feet. The physical plant of the site was divided into the 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, orderly room, dining hall, motor pool, recreation building and other support buildings.
A separate radio site housed the radio equipment for directing aircraft intercepts. Like most early radar stations, Madera 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.
Private Industrial Park in Madera County, California.
Visited: 12 Sep 2017