Christmas Valley Air Force Station
Christmas Valley Air Force Station (1985-2005) - A Cold War U.S. Air Force Radar Station. Established as an Over-the-Horizon Backscatter (OTH-B) radar transmitter site. Located near Christmas Valley, Lake County, Oregon. Closed in 1997.
Christmas Valley Air Force Station was first established in 1985 but the OTH-B radar station it housed never became fully operational. The station was manned by the 777th Radar Squadron, activated on 1 Oct 1988, as a part of the West Coast Sector of the OTH-B radar system, with the associated receivers located at Tule Lake Air Force Station, California. The 777th Radar Squadron operated the sector, with its headquarters at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. The 2,622-acre Christmas Valley site was located 16 miles east of the Town of Christmas Valley. Some $275 million was spent by General Electric Aerospace on on-site construction.
Initial equipment included the transmitter portion of an FPS-118 OTH-B search radar and some 216 antennas that range from 35 to 135 feet high.
There were actually three FPS-118 transmitters located at Christmas Valley AFS, one for each of the three 60-degree sectors it covered. The three sectors together provide a 180-degree arc of coverage of the west coast from 500 miles out to 1800 miles out from the station. The radar could not cover the first 500 miles because the radar beams skipped over that area. The east coast system provided the same amount of coverage but toward the east from Maine. The sectors were numbered from one to six with 1-3 in the east and 4-6 in the west
The receiver station associated with this transmitter station was located at Tule Lake Air Force Station in California. Data processing took place at the OTH-B Operations Center at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. Radar track data from the Mountain Home facility would have been fed to the then Northwest Air Defense Sector at McChord Air Force Base near Seattle, Washington and integrated into the air defense picture nationwide.
The Collapse of the USSR
The Cold War ended in 1989 as Soviet states in Eastern Europe overthrew their communist governments. The USSR turned inward, attempting to preserve what remained of the USSR. On 25 Dec 1991, the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned and the remaining twelve USSR republics emerged as independent states. It was not clear at the time what would happen as historical events played out but it was clear that the USSR with its massive military capability was devolving and it no longer posed the threat it once had to the West.
With the airborne threat thought to be essentially gone, the need for the new (and very expensive) OTH-B system came into question and the planned sites in Alaska and a southern facing site were outright canceled. Attempts were made to find other missions for the already constructed sites in Oregon, California, Idaho, and Maine but the proposed systems did not warrant the expense of operating the facilities.
Deactivation and Closure
The 777th Radar Squadron was deactivated on 15 Sep 1991 by Tactical Air Command Special Order GB-81 dated 13 Aug 1991. This ended formal military operation of the site with an air defense mission but the equipment remained in place in a "caretaker" status with a 12-month recall ability.
Christmas Valley AFS was next placed in "warm storage" status in October 1997 with the capability to restore operations if necessary. In 2002 it was deactivated and placed in "cold storage" with equipment removed from the site. In 2005 Christmas Valley Air Force Station was officially closed.
There are three transmitter buildings, one in each sector. Sectors 5 and 6 have identical buildings 235 feet in length by 60 feet in width, while the sector four building has an extension on the northeast side that adds 30 feet to the width for a length of some 108 Feet. This adds an additional 1110 square feet to the sector 4 transmitter building. There is also a "cattle chute" type paved entrance to the extension area indicating that this area served as a primary access point and probably contained administrative, security, and possibly communications facilities that served the whole site.
All three of the transmitter buildings are pre-engineered steel structures with insulated, corrugated steel walls and insulated, corrugated steel, gabled roofs, on a concrete foundation. There is a horizontal row of air intake and exhaust grills that span 3/4 of the building's length just below the roofline. The buildings contain no windows, with ventilation provided via the louvered vents and an air-conditioning system. From the photographs above the individual transmitter cabinets and the power tubes atop them appear to be water-cooled hence the large water tank by each building.
Transmitter Antenna Arrays
Sounder Antenna Array
The former Christmas Valley Air Force Station is now abandoned by the Air Force and all of the external radar equipment has been removed. Most of the high voltage AC switchgear and transformers have been removed and it appears that normal commercial three-phase power is directly wired into the three transmitter buildings and there were some sounds of fans operating during our visit (2018). There was no other activity, vehicles, or people observed during our visit. The three transmitter buildings and other structures remain in place, in good condition and the roads are in good condition. There was no evidence of current ownership.
The Lake County Assessor’s Office records indicate that the State of Oregon currently owns the site containing the three transmitter sites. The 2018 real market value of that 326.39 acre lot is $1,005,112 (Land $110,462 Structures $894,650).
Visited: 4 Sep 2018