Zapata Air Force Station

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Zapata Air Force Station (1957-1961) - A Cold War Air Force Radar Station first established in 1957 near the town of Zapata in Zapata County, Texas. Named Zapata Air Force Station after the location. Initially assigned a Permanent ID of TM-189. Abandoned in 1961.


Established in 1957 and became operational in 1959 as Zapata Air Force Station manned by the 742nd 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 an FPS-6 height-finder radar.

Gap Fillers

Zapata AFS was responsible for the maintenance of two remote unattended gap-filler radar sites. 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 Zapata AFS gap-filler radars were located at Delmita and Laredo, Texas.

Zapata AFS Gap Filler Radar Sites (edit list)
ADC NORAD Location State Type From To GPS Notes
TM-189A Delmita TX FPS-18, FST-1 1960-04 1963-06 26.64801,
Building still exists
TM-189B Laredo TX FPS-18, FST-1 1959-10 1963-06 27.726,
Building still exists


Zapata AFS and the 742nd were deactivated on 1 Jun 1961. The GSA sold the base on 27 Sep 1961 but reacquired it in 1966 due to a surveying error which had resulted in part of the base being constructed on property other than the land that was acquired. The final disposition of the corrected property took place during 1968 when it was sold to private ownership and the County of Zapata.

Physical Plant

The physical plant of the site was divided into the main site, a cantonment area, a housing area, and a radio site. The DOD acquired about 100 acres of property for the site between 1955 and 1958. 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 Ground to Air Transmitter/Receiver (GATR) radio site housed the radio equipment for directing aircraft intercepts.

Zapata AFS Major Equipment List
Search Radar HF Radar Data Systems IFF/SIF/Beacon
Unit Designations
  • 742nd Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron (1957-1961)
742nd Assignments
  • 8 Sep 1956 - Activated at Oklahoma City AFS, OK, as the 33rd Air Division.
  • 1 Jul 1957 - Moved to Zapata AFS, TX.
  • 1 Jan 1960 - Transferred to Oklahoma City ADS.
  • 1 Jun 1961 - Discontinued.

Current Status

Abandoned in Zapata, Zapata County, Texas. After being sold, part of the station was divided into small lots and sold individually to private owners. The remainder of the site is vacant. The property then reverted to Zapata County.

Location: 2 miles north of Zapata in Zapata County, Texas.

Maps & Images

Lat: 26.95222 Long: -99.27528

  • Multi Maps from ACME
  • Maps from Bing
  • Maps from Google
  • Elevation: 509'

GPS Locations:

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 101.
  • 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: 2090232


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