Kalispell Air Force Station
Kalispell Air Force Station (1961-1978) - A Cold War U.S. Air Force Radar Station first established in 1961 on Blacktail Mountain near present-day Lakeside in Flathead County, Montana. Named Kalispell Air Force Station after the town of Kalispell that was located at the head of Flathead Lake. Initially assigned a Permanent ID of TM-179 and later a Sage ID of Z-179. The site became an FAA-operated site in 1978 with an FAA ID of QLS and was renamed Lakeside FAA Radar Site after the USAF Air Force Station closed. In 1983 the site became a JSS System radar site with a JSS ID of J-78.
Bids for the Air Force Station construction contract were opened on 2 Jul 1957 and the contract was awarded to the J. G. Watts Construction Company of Salem Oregon who bid $2,550,000. This contract was for the construction of the lower cantonment area, the upper operations site and an access road connecting both sites to a public highway. Separate contracts were later let for the 27 unit family housing area and for a radio transmitter building (presumed to be the GATR building). The cantonment area was to have 8 major buildings, two enlisted barracks, a BOQ, a community building, a dining hall, a shop building, unit supply, and a combination admin/dispensary. The upper site would have an operations building, a technical supply building, a radio transmitter building, a radio receiver building, a powerhouse, three radar towers, and a gatehouse. Construction began on 11 Sep 1957 and the 716th AC&W Squadron personnel began to occupy the cantonment area on 1 Aug 1959 expecting to fully staff the site by the end of September 1959.
Initial equipment included the FPS-7 search radar and two FPS-90 height-finder radar sets. The FST-2 installation was completed by July 1960 and that allowed the site to go operational after testing was complete.
SAGE System Transition
Kalispell AFS was built for operation in the SAGE System and had no manual operation capability. The FST-2 coordinate data transmitter installation began in May 1960. The FST-2 equipment digitized the radar returns and transmitted the digital returns to the SAGE direction center. 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. The FST-2B modification added two more cabinets but with newer solid-state (transistor) technology to process coded responses from aircraft transponders. With the completion and testing of the FST-2 with the radar equipment and the direction center, the radar site was ready to begin SAGE System operation.
SAGE System Operation
The site began operation as a SAGE site in 1960, initially feeding data to the Malmstrom SAGE Direction Center DC-20 at Malmstrom AFB. With the closure of DC-20 in 1969, Kalispell was connected to the McChord SAGE Direction Center DC-12 at McChord AFB in Washington State where it remained until it was closed.
By February 1973 the USAF/FAA program to replace the unsupportable vacuum tube FST-2s was complete and Kalispell AFS would have been operating the replacement solid-state FYQ-47 Common Digitizer.
Kalispell AFS Closure
In preparation for closure, the FAA assumed 24-hour maintenance responsibility for the site equipment on 22 May 1977 at which time the USAF personnel numbered some 70 personnel including three officers. Kalispell AFS and the 716th Radar Squadron were deactivated on 1 Apr 1978 and a portion of the upper site that included the operations building and the three radar towers was turned over to the FAA. The lower site cantonment area and the housing area were declared surplus and prepared for sale to private parties.
The upper radar site continued operation as a joint-use JSS Site J-78, feeding radar data to FAA facilities and USAF direction centers. Operation and maintenance became an FAA responsibility. A team of USAF technicians remained as Detachment No. 1 of the 24th Air Defense Squadron out of Malmstrom Air Force Base at Great Falls, MT to maintain and operate certain pieces of USAF equipment. Initially, the detachment manning was 29 military and 12 civilians with Captain Eugene R. Nadeau commanding.
The FAA renamed the site Lakeside FAA Radar Site after the town of Lakeside that had grown up along Flathead Lake at the base of Blacktail Mountain.
The USAF FPS-7B search radar was replaced by an FAA ARSR-3 search radar by 1982. In 1982 an ADTAC listing of sites to be brought into the JSS System included Kalispell FAA Radar Site with an ARSR-3 search radar, an FPS-116 height-finder, an FYQ-47 Common Digitizer, and an ATCBI-5 SIF/IFF (Beacon) set. The FPS-116 height-finder required the Military Interface Modification (MIM) to connect to the digitizer functionality in the ARSR-3 radar. The modification allowed height-finder operators to process height requests and return height data to USAF direction centers.
The FPS-116 was removed about 1988. By 1990 the site was equipped with the ARSR-3 search radar and
The radar site data is now available to the USAF/NORAD Battle Control System-Fixed (BCS-F) operations centers (EADS & WADS) as well as the FAA Salt Lake City ARTCC (ZLC) and adjacent ARTCCs. Other federal agencies have access to the data under the Homeland Security umbrella.
Initially, Kalispell AFS was not slated to support any remote gap-filler radar sites. Gap filler sites were usually placed in locations where the main search radar lacked coverage. With the closure of Yaak Air Force Station in 1960 responsibility for the maintenance of their gap-filler radar site at Eureka, Montana shifted to Kalispell AFS. The Yaak AFS site itself became an unattended gap-filler site also the responsibility of Kalispell AFS.
These sites could send digitized radar target data directly to a direction center and/or to Kalispell AFS. Maintenance teams were dispatched from Kalispell AFS for regularly scheduled maintenance or when fault indicators suggested the site had problems.
The physical plant of Kalispell AFS was divided into an upper operations site on Blacktail Mountain and a lower cantonment area in the present-day community of Lakeside. The cantonment area included the housing, administrative and support facilities for the troops and an adjacent 27 unit family housing area. The upper site housed the operations buildings, three radar towers, and two separate radio sites (transmitter and receiver) that housed the radio equipment for directing aircraft intercepts. Like most early radar stations, Kalispell 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.
A 15-mile access road connected the two areas.
JSS Site J-78, Lakeside, Flathead County, Montana. An ARSR-4 FAA radar is currently in place on the upper site along with some commercial use for the two radio sites. The FAA operations building occupies the footprint of the old Air Force operations building but the shape is different and it is not clear if the building was modified or replaced. The lower cantonment site and the family housing area are currently in use by Youth With a Mission, a Christian service organization, and are in very good shape. The first 6.4 miles of the access road leading to the lower site and on up to the upper site is paved road while the remainder is a gravel road in good condition.
Visited: Upper Site 9 Jul 2019, Lower site 15 Aug 2014