Port Isabel Air Force Station

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Port Isabel Air Force Station (1959-1961) - A Cold War U.S. Air Force Radar Station. Located on the former Port Isabel Navy Auxiliary Air Station near Port Isabel, Cameron County, Texas. Initially assigned a Permanent ID of TM-190. Closed in 1961.


Established in January 1958 and became operational in 1959 as Port Isabel Air Force Station manned by the 811th Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron.

This station was one of eight stations established in the final phase of the Permanent AC&W Radar Program for the 33rd Air Division. The 33rd Air Division would remain a manual operation throughout the transition of the rest of the Air Defense System to the semi-automatic SAGE System. The Oklahoma City Manual Direction Center P-86 remained connected to these sites until they closed down one by one. Because the sites were never destined to become SAGE sites they received older less capable equipment and facilities and they were among the first to be closed when budgets constricted. The eight sites were:

33rd AD Mobile Phase III Radar Sites
1. TM-187 Ozona Air Force Station TX 5. TM-191 Rockport Air Force Station TX
2. TM-188 Eagle Pass Air Force Station TX 6. TM-192 Killeen Air Force Station TX
3. TM-189 Zapata Air Force Station TX 7. TM-193 Lufkin Air Force Station TX
4. TM-190 Port Isabel Air Force Station TX 8. TM-194 Lake Charles Air Force Station LA

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 the FPS-3A search radar and a FPS-6 height-finder radar.

Manual System Operation

In January 1958, the 811th AC&W Squadron moved to Port Isabel Air Force Station assigned to the 33rd Air Division Headquartered at Oklahoma City Air Force Station. The 33rd Air Division provided command and control over subordinate radar stations from the Oklahoma City Manual Direction Center P-86 also located on Oklahoma City Air Force Station. The Direction Center was connected to Port Isabel via telephone lines and track data could be passed from Port Isabel AFS Operations via voice, teletype, and encrypted teletype.

Port Isabel Direction Centers & Sectors
Assigned Direction Center Sector
8 Apr 1956 - 1 Jan 1960 Oklahoma City Manual Direction Center P-86 33rd Air Division
1 Jan 1960 - 1 Jun 1961 Oklahoma City Manual Direction Center P-86 Oklahoma City Air Defense Sector


The Pentagon publicly announced the closure of Port Isabel AFS on 18 Jul 1960, indicating it would close by 1 Jan 1961. A the time of the announcement the station was said to have some 90 officers and men. Port Isabel Air Force Station and the 811th AC&W Squadron were deactivated on 1 Jun 1961.

Port Isabel AFS Major Equipment List
Search Radar HF Radar Data Systems Comm
Unit Designations
  • 811th Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron (1959-1960)
811th Assignments

Port Isabel Air Force Station Partial Commanders List (edit list)
Assumed Relieved Rank Name Cullum Notes
bef 1959-02 aft 1960-05 Major Leigh, John N/A May have been the only commander

Note: From newspaper articles

Current Status

Now the Port Isabel ICE Detention Center. Little or no trace of the Air Force Station.

Location: Port Isabel in Cameron County, Texas.

Maps & Images

Lat: 26.15556 Long: -97.33778

See Also:


  • 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 102.
  • 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 157.
  • USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Database Entry: 2089926


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