Bedford Air Force Station

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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.

Radar Site Entrance, Cantonment Area was Straight Ahead, now Leveled.
Former Radar Site Housing Area Entrance, Units now in Private Hands.
Former Bedford Air Force Station now Bedford FAA Radar Site viewed from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

History

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.

Initial equipment included the MPS-11 search radar and an MPS-8 height-finder radar.

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

Former Fort Lee SAGE Direction Center DC-04.
Bedford AFS Direction Centers & Sectors
Assigned Direction Center Sector/Air Division
26 May 1955 - 1 Mar 1956 Roslyn Manual Direction Center P-3 26th Air Division
1 Mar 1956 - 1 Jul 1961 Andrews Manual Direction Center SM-171 85th Air Division
1 Sep 1958 - 1 Apr 1966 Fort Lee SAGE Direction Center DC-04 Washington Air Defense Sector
1 Apr 1966 - 19 Nov 1969 Fort Lee SAGE Direction Center DC-04 33rd Air Division
19 Nov 1969 - 30 Jun 1975 Fort Lee SAGE Direction Center DC-04 20rd Air Division

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.

Closure

Bedford AFS and the 649th were deactivated on 30 June 1975 and parts of the site were transferred to the FAA.

Physical Plant

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.


Bedford AFS Major Equipment List
Search Radar HF Radar Data Systems
Unit Designations
  • 649th Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron (1956-1959)
  • 649th Radar Squadron (SAGE) (1959-1974)
  • 649th Radar Squadron (1974-1975)
649th Assignments


Bedford Air Force Station Partial Commanders List (edit list)
Assumed Relieved Rank Name Cullum Notes
Captain Ingvoldstad, Carl P. N/A
1954-12-02 Captain Solomon, Richard N/A
1955-03 Major Sharkey, Howard C. N/A
Major Wood Jr., James M. N/A
Major Grizzle, Howard K. N/A
1958-10 Major Krupski, Charles A. N/A

Current Status

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.


Location: Apple Orchard Mountain in Bedford County and Botetourt County, Virginia. Zoom out to see the housing area map point.

Maps & Images

Lat: 37.51722 Long: -79.51028

See Also:

Sources:

  • 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 156.
  • 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 161.
  • USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Database Entry: 2086837


Links:

Visited: 28 May 2016


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