Sunday, January 12, 2014

The AN/FPS-35 radar was one of the most powerful in the world.

But not foolproof.

It is covered now with a dome but it was uncovered when I lived on the site then called Benton Air Force Station. Shortly after we left everything changed. We went to Green Park and then to Tachikawa and then to Grant Heights. All of them gone. It is like leaving a wake of destruction in one's path, tactical air force bases and stations are gone now, dilapidated as the twin radar in New York that Benton was hooked up to, but not Benton. Benton is still there, the radar intact and presently used by nearby Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International as auxiliary. The whole base is turned over to Red Rocks Job Corp Center, part of Job Corps, itself part of U.S. Department of Labor. Free of charge vocational training for ages 16-24. It is run as a private little fort within the Ricketts Glen State Park, a little fiefdom unto itself. My brother Barry said he went there and was turned away at the first gate. For it is their place now, not yours.

As if Barry does not know how to get into the place. Ha!

All of your bases are belong to us!


Imagine having this in your back yard.

Except the dome was not there when I was there so the radar was exposed. The dome put on later, like the next year. The picture is taken amongst the wild blueberry bushes. When I lived there the top was open and looked like this

Turning continuously. Never stopping. Ever vigilant. Were this a Fitzgerald novel this here radar would be my optometrist's billboard never-blinking all-seeing eye.

Dad worked inside that brutalist concrete box. Inside the box looks like this model.

And smells inside exactly like a Bang & Olufsen demonstration room. It hits you, ozone all over the place, every gray thing lit by eerie green light. Impossibly shined floors.

There were a line of such radar sites along the Appalachian chain .

At 2,200 ft, the mountains are not that high compared to Colorado but the road up the mountain, Rt 487 is treacherous in winter.

A beautiful spot in the middle of somewhere. It is congested with trees. Kind of bare of civilization all around and hardly any pictures pinned through all the nearby towns. Odd, because it is gorgeous at all times of year.

A nine-year old boy has this whole area to explore every day. Pack a sandwich and we're off, from breakfast to dinner. No questions asked. And bare of people as it seems there are still endless thing to get into. Creeks all around, ponds lakes, animals all over, deer, porcupines, turtles, lizards all sorts of strange things. Geography, you're soaking in it. Just sit down somewhere, pick up a nearby rock and something will scramble off. Snakes, insects, reptiles, furry things, dangerous things, hazardous plants, vegetable things to eat. Fish. We have fishing pole and we go fishing whenever we want. Catch worms anywhere.

The X's are things built after we left. They are not part of the station. The top O is apple trees, a proper orchard, and the bottom O is wild blueberries.

You can pick these things and eat them.

A gated community within a gated community. Huh. Apparently Dad was a key personnel. Odd, he is the hero of all his own stories, I'd think he'd have mentioned that. This website says housing was built for key personnel so that in case of all out emergency they will be right there.

My dad talks like this: "And then I said to him, I said..., and then do you know what that ignorant son-of-a-bitch said to me? That ignorant son-of-a-bitch said to me..."

There are two-story barracks. Still there. Barry and I went through everything at will. Nobody ever chased us off. We went through the airmen barracks, the BX, theater, all the things they have there for the technicians and airmen we had access to, pool tables, firing range, small theater, library, cafeteria, officers club, NCO club, airman's club. We walked right into the guard huts, examined offices, every facility with an open door. There was hardly the usual separation because the station is so small, and even so kids get away with everything, military kid discipline notwithstanding. We got into everything possible on and off the site. It is a perfect place to be a boy.  For a year. Two years max. Anything beyond that, not perfect.

I'd go in to a recreation hall and say, "Hey, watch me draw Mickey Mouse flying Minnie Mouse in jet airplane." And the adult Air Force guy goes, "Yeah, I'd like to see that."

Schwing, schwing, circle, circle, circle, oval, oval, oval, crosshatch, crosshatch, blacken, blacken blacken, done. "Let me play bowling ball."

"Okay. Lane 2." There are only two lanes.

Top arrow, our house. Bottom arrow the best playground ever. Now removed.

We did see the radar turning on approach to the place. It is all so martial.

Not foolproof because the radar was jammed regularly. All the scopes lit up making them useless for a half hour each day.

The manufacturers of the new radar and U.S. officials were called in. This was a serious breach. Traffic was stopped on 487, surely someone was driving by jamming. At length the problem was narrowed down to a faulty UHF tuner on a home television. A woman in one of the houses on the Benton site caught a soap opera at the same time each day. They replaced her tuner (his as well, he would be working on the base) and separated the power source for the radar from that of the homes. Duh. See, now you need technicians to tell you the power for the most awesome radar in production needs to be separate from the homes around them.


rhhardin said...

If the power system uses an earth return as in some countries, then the radar and the homes have a component in common, the earth.

The homes notice a buzz on everything when the radar is on.

Chip Ahoy said...

You know what? You just reminded me. It was at that house my dad build the biggest aerial I've ever seen. With a motor on it. Attached to the side of the house it extended well above it. From inside we could make it rotate. Talk about a perfect toy for kids. We could actually climb the pole. That aerial system followed with us for five or so more houses before dropping to oblivion somehow.

AllenS said...

I was in an Army military hospital in Tachikawa, Japan.

Are these Nike Missile sites? There are two close to me. One in Roberts, WI and the other in East Farmington, WI which has been converted into a Lutheran Retreat.

rhhardin said...

The Nike Hercules radars in East Hanover NJ was how you found the airport at a distance until they removed them.

Whippany nearby also had a couple, though I think those were Nike Zeus radars, and there was no difficulty finding Morristown airport next door anyway.

AllenS said...

The one in Roberts is a storage center.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Sometimes it's kind of fun to throw a little rock up in the air and watch a bat swoop in on it before it veers off and give you a dirty look and calls you an asshole.

Michael Haz said...

My dad signed in to work construction of DEW (distant early warning) radar sites in Greenland in the early 50's.

I feel like part of the Radar Brotherhood here.

AllenS said...

It sure was a different time back then.

Buck said...

It is covered now with a dome but it was uncovered when I lived on the site then called Benton Air Force Station.

Different radars. Benton probably has an FAA air route surveillance radar (ARSR) these days, in lieu of the -35. None of the FPS-35 antennae were enclosed in domes, the antenna stretched out beyond the edges of the building it sat upon, so a dome just wasn't feasible. There were four or five FPS-35s located in various parts of the US.

I know a little bit about the -35, as I worked on the one at Fortuna AFS, ND for a year, where I was the NCOIC of the FPS-35 antenna crew. Working on that antenna deck in sub-zero cold was no flippin' picnic, let me tell ya.

virgil xenophon said...

Chip, Buck (as you can see by the link) is an ex AF retired radar guy your Father's age (and mine), a supremely hedonistic iconoclast cigar & beer aficionado and twice-divorced ex off-the road moto-racer (also was an IT guy in his 2nd career-- along with two sons in the armed services, one an AF Major and one a Navy Lt CDR) and has his own blog (where I comment frequently,) so I tipped him on your post for comment.

(PS: You can thank me by depositing "mass quantities" of bitcoins to my paypal account. :) )

virgil xenophon said...

PS: He's a HUGE Hockey and Detroit RedWings fan...lives & breathes..

Buck said...

You're too kind, Virgil. That's why I love ya... in that brotherly way.

Chip Ahoy said...

It is different radar, the one inside the dome. Actually, a sphere. The more powerful radar sticks out beyond the edges of the box.

rhhardin said...

The most interesting thing about radars then was chirp.

They sweep the frequency of the transmitted pulse, and have a frequency-sensitive delay line in the receiver.

The pulse goes out long and comes back into the receiver piled into one place, giving a huge signal to noise advantage without having to bust the transmitter with power.

Slight complication: doppler range shift. A moving target shows a shifted range owing to the de-chirp delay.

Nowadays they have pseudo-random pulses, to get what they call the ambiguity diagram they want. Nothing so nice as a chirp.

North Coast Hot Jobs said...

My dad also worked on those big radars. Mostly on mountains. When we were in Japan, he went TDY a lot to JASDF locations. He was based out of Naha, Itazuke, North Camp Drake and then Fuchu. For the last two bases, we lived at Grant Heights. There is a Facebook page that covers Camp Drake (Momote Village), Grant Heights and Mutsumi Dai. Here is the address, Have a good one. Jim