Benton Air Force Station
Benton Air Force Station (1951-1975) - A Cold War Air Force Radar Station first established in 1951 at Red Rock Mountain, near Ricketts Glen State Park in Sullivan County, Pennsylvania. Relocated on 1 Feb 1952 and named Benton Air Force Station on 1 Dec 1953 after the nearby town. Initially assigned a Permanent ID of P-30, later a Sage ID of Z-30. The site was turned over to the FAA in 1975 and is now listed as Benton FAA Radar Site with an FAA ID of QRC.
Established in 1951 and became operational in October 1951 at "Mud Pond" on Red Rock Mountain in Sullivan County, Pennsylvania, manned by the 648th AC&W Squadron. The site was relocated to nearby Ricketts Glen State Park, PA and later named Benton Air Force Station after the nearby town.
The station initially had both a Ground-Control Intercept (GCI) and an 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 two CPS-6B V beam search/height-finder radars. Two FPS-6B height-finder radars were added in 1958 replacing one of the CPS-6Bs. This configuration established the requirements for the transition to the SAGE System operation, one long-range search radar, and two height-finders. The CPS-6B would prove to be inadequate for SAGE operations and plans were made to replace it with a more modern set.
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. Benton AFS received FST-2 serial No. 1 circa 1958.
SAGE System Operation
Benton AFS joined the SAGE System, coming under the control of the Boston Air Defense Sector, on 8 Jan 1957. At that point in time the equipment for automated operation was not yet installed at Benton AFS (FST-2) so the input from the site would almost certainly have been manual track information input into the manual input side of the FSQ-7 computer. It is not known if automatic data was fed from Benton to the Stewart SAGE Direction Center DC-02 before control was switched to Hancock SAGE Direction Center DC-03 on 15 Aug 1958.
The site began operation as a SAGE site in late 1958, initially feeding the Hancock SAGE Direction Center DC-03. The search radar was upgraded to a FPS-35 in 1961 but it was not operational until 1962. In 1963 a FPS-26A replaced one of the FPS-6B height-finders.
The FPS-35 at Benton AFS and the FPS-35 at Manassas AFS in Virginia, were used in 1962 as part of a missile detection test. The results revealed that the FPS-35s had limited value for detecting submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
Benton AFS became a USAF/FAA Joint Use site in 1963 and the FAA personnel became responsible for maintaining the FPS-35 search Radar and an FPS-8 search backup radar.
In 1974 the FPS-35 was replaced with an FPS-67B in the same tower but with a radome over it.
Benton 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 Benton AFS gap-filler radars were located at Ulysses and Joliet, Pennsylvania. Several other sites were planned but were never built or were never activated.
The 648th Radar Squadron was deactivated on 30 Jun 1975 and the radar site was transferred to the FAA.
A FYQ-47 Common Digitizer was probably placed in service by February 1973 when the USAF/FAA FST-2 to FYQ-47 replacement program was completed. In 1989 the FPS-67A search radar was modified to upgrade the radar receivers and moving target indicators from unsupportable vacuum tube technology to solid-state technology. This modification was known as the Solid State Receiver/Digital Moving Target Indicator (SSR/DMTI) modification and it was applied to 64 of the FAA legacy radars. By 1990 the FAA radar site was equipped with an FPS-67A search radar and a CD-2A Common Digitizer. The Benton CD-2A was scheduled to receive an upgrade kit to implement three level weather data processing in November 1992.
The nationwide replacement program converting FAA legacy radar systems to the CARSR radar configuration was completed by 17 Aug 2015 and Benton FAA Radar Site was a part of that program. Legacy FAA radars underwent a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) that replaced key components in the vintage ARSR-1, ARSR-2, FPS-20, FPS-66 and FPS-67 radars. The CARSR program replaced legacy klystron radar transmitters with a solid-state transmitter as well as renovating the radar receiver and signal processor. The CARSR modification also included common digitizer functionality making a separate common digitizer unnecessary. The Benton FAA Radar Site is now operating with the CARSR radar. The secondary radar at this site is a ATCBI-6 FAA Beacon set.
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 New York ARTCC (ZNY) and adjacent ARTCCs. Other federal agencies have access to the data under the Homeland Security umbrella.
The physical plant of the site was divided into the main site, a cantonment area, a housing area, and a radio site. 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 15 unit housing area for married personnel.
A separate radio site housed the radio equipment for directing aircraft intercepts. Like most early radar stations, Benton 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.
Now Benton FAA Radar Site near Red Rock, Sullivan County, Pennsylvania.