Point Arena Air Force Station

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Point Arena Air Force Station (1951-1998) - A Cold War Air Force Radar Station first established in 1951 near Point Arena, Mendocino County, California. Named Point Arena Air Force Station after the location. Initially assigned a Permanent ID of P-37, later a Sage ID of Z-37 and a JSS ID of J-34. Abandoned in 1998.

History

Established in 1951 and became operational December 1951 as Point Arena Air Force Station manned by the 776th AC&W Squadron. The station initially had both a Ground-Control Intercept (GCI) and early warning misssion. 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 one FPS-3 search radar and one FPS-4 height finder radar. In 1955 a FPS-8 search radar was installed and later upgraded to become a GPS-3. One FPS-20 search radar and one FPS-6 height finder replaced the original sets in 1958. A FPS-6B height finder was added 1960, completing the basic configuration needed for SAGE System operation, one long range search radar and two long range height finder radars.

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.

SAGE System Operation

Former Beale SAGE Direction Center DC-18
Point Arena SAGE Direction Centers & Sectors
Assigned Direction Center Sector
1 Jul 1960 - 1 Aug 1963 Beale SAGE Direction Center DC-18 San Francisco ADS
1 Aug 1963 - 1 Apr 1966 Adair SAGE Direction Center DC-13 Portland ADS
1 Apr 1966 - 15 Sep 1969 Adair SAGE Direction Center DC-13 26th AD
15 Sep 1969 - 19 Nov 1969 Luke SAGE Direction Center DC-21 27th AD
19 Nov 1969 - 1983 Dec 9 Luke SAGE Direction Center DC-21 26th AD

The site began operation as a SAGE site in 1960 initially feeding the Beale SAGE Direction Center DC-18. The FPS-20 was replaced with a FPS-24 frequency diversity radar in 1961.

The two FPS-6 height finder radars were upgraded in 1963. One FPS-6 height finder radar was replaced by a FPS-26A and one was upgraded to become a FPS-90.

The FPS-24 was replaced with an FPS-93A about 1976. In 1979 the site was operating one FPS-91A and one FPS-116 as JSS site J-34.

776th Deactivation

The 776th Radar Squadron was deactivated in 1980 but elements of the 26th Air Defense Squadron continued operations at the site. In 1980 the military scope operators were replaced with civil service personel. In 1986 the last military personel left the site, leaving 40-50 civilians manning a operational USAF installation with no military members assigned. In 1987 the site came under the Southwest Air Defense Sector of the 25th Air Division. The site surveillance mission was assumed by the FAA/USAF JSS Rainbow Ridge FAA Radar Site, J-83A, equipped with an ARSR-4 radar.

Closure

The final retreat ceremony for Point Arena AFS was held on 30 Sep 1998 by members of the 9th Communications Squadron from Beale Air Force Base. Photos indicated that the site was operated at closure by OL A 9th Communications Squadron (ACC).

Gap Fillers

Point Arena 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 Point Arena AFS gap filler radar was located at Laytonville, California.

Point Arena AFS Gap Filler Radar Sites (edit list)
ADC NORAD Location State Type From To GPS Notes
P-37A Z-37A Laytonville CA FPS-14, FST-1 1958-02 1962-06 39.68643,
-123.58229
Building exists

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 27 unit housing area for married personnel.

A separate radio site housed the radio equipment for directing aircraft intercepts. Like most early radar stations, Point Arena 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.


Point Arena AFS Major Equipment List
Search Radar HF Radar Data Systems Radio
Unit Designations
  • 776th Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron (1951-1961)
  • 776th Radar Squadron (SAGE) (1961-1974)
  • 776th Radar Squadron (1974-1980)
776th Assignments
  • 1 Jan 1951 - Assigned at Point Arena AFS, CA, assigned to 542nd AC&W Gp.
  • 6 Feb 1952 - Transferred to 28th AD.
  • 1 Jul 1960 - Transferred to San Francisco ADS. (Beale)
  • 15 Jan 1961 - Redesignated from AC&W Sq to 776th Radar Sq (SAGE).
  • 1 Aug 1963 - Transferred to Portland ADS. (Adair)
  • 1 Apr 1966 - Transferred to 26th AD. (Adair)
  • 15 Sep 1969 - Reassigned to 27th AD. (Luke)
  • 19 Nov 1969 - Reassigned to 26th AD. (Luke)
  • 1 Feb 1974 - Redesignated 776th Radar Squadron.
  • 1 Oct 1979 - Reassigned to TAC. (ADTAC)
  • 30 Sep 1980 - Deactivated


Point Arena Air Force Station Partial Commanders List (edit list)
Assumed Relieved Rank Name Cullum Notes
Major Hagan, Ben M. N/A
1961-07 1962-08 Lt. Colonel Bunting, Harry E. N/A
1969 1971 Major Simmons, Homer M. N/A

Current Status

Still a USAF facility under caretaker status as of 2013. Some buildings, two radar towers, the operations buildings and GATR site remain in place.


Location: Point Arena in Mendocino County, California.

Maps & Images

Lat: 38.88899 Long: -123.54967

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 167.
  • 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 102-103
  • USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Database Entry: 2086564


Links:

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