Bedford Air Force Station
Bedford Air Force Station (1956-1975) - A Cold War Air Force Radar Station first established in 1956 near Bedford, Bedford County, Virginia. Named Bedford Air Force Station after the location. Initially assigned a Permanent ID of M-121, later a Sage ID of Z-121. Abandoned by the Air Force in 1975 and part assumed by the FAA.
Established late in 1954 and became operational in 1956 as Bedford Air Force Station manned by the 649th AC&W Squadron. The Air Force Station straddled the line between Bedford County and Botetourt County on Apple Orchard Mountain near the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.
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.
SAGE System Transition
The transition of the manual GCI system to the automated SAGE system began with the installation of the FST-2 coordinate data transmitter and search radar upgrades. The FST-2 equipment digitized the radar returns and transmitted the digital returns to the SAGE direction center. Under the SAGE System, interceptor aircraft were directed to their targets by the direction center computers and controllers, greatly reducing the need for local controllers and equipment at every radar station.
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 and usually a large new addition to the operations building. The FST-2B modification added two more cabinets but with newer solid state (transistor) technology to process coded responses from aircraft transponders.
SAGE System Operation
The site began operation as a SAGE site in 1959 initially feeding the Fort Lee SAGE Direction Center DC-04. By 1958 the search radar was upgraded to an FPS-20A and two FPS-6 height-finder radars had been added in preparation for SAGE System operation. On 21 Dec 1959, the site began joint uses operation performing air traffic control duties for the FAA. The FPS-20A was later upgraded to an FPS-67B in 1963. One FPS-6 height-finder was removed in 1968.
Bedford AFS and the 649th were deactivated on 30 June 1975 and parts of the site were transferred to the FAA.
The physical plant of the site was divided into the main site, a cantonment area, a housing area and two radio sites. 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.
Separate Ground to Air Transmitter/Receiver (GATR) radio sites housed the radio equipment for directing aircraft intercepts. The GATR Receiver Site was located on nearby Thunder Hill while the GATR Transmitter Site was located adjacent to the main radar site.
Apart from the main site, near the town of Bedford, was Falcon Terrace, a small 27 unit housing area for married personnel. The housing area at about 1000' was 16.4 miles from the cantonment area at about 4000' and personnel navigated the sometimes hazardous route daily in POVs and USAF shuttle buses. Trucks were not allowed on the Blue Ridge Parkway so a separate truck route to the site was constructed.
The main site is now the Bedford FAA Radar Site operating the minimally attended Common Air Route Surveillance Radar (CARSR) system (ARSR-3 & 9200S Antenna). The old Air Force cantonment area has been leveled. The houses in the housing area are now in private hands. Access to the upper sites from the Blue Ridge Parkway is blocked by a locked gate and a ban on parking at the entrance. Access to the main site via the Appalachian Trail can be accomplished by parking at the nearest trail access point and hiking up to Apple Orchard Mountain. The trail passes right by the FAA radar site.
Visited: 28 May 2016