Dickinson Air Force Station

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Dickinson Air Force Station (1959-1965) - A Cold War Air Force Radar Station first established in 1959 near Dickinson, Stark County, North Dakota. Named Dickinson Air Force Station after the location. Initially assigned a Permanent ID of TM-177, later a Sage ID of Z-177. Abandoned in 1965.

History of Dickinson Air Force Station

Established in 1959 and became operational in 1959 as Dickinson Air Force Station manned by the 706th AC&W Squadron. 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-3 search radar and an FPS-6A height-finder radar. A second FPS-6A height-finder radar was added in 1960.

This configuration met the basic requirements for the transition to the SAGE System operation.

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 Minot SAGE Direction Center DC-19.
Dickinson SAGE Direction Centers & Sectors
Assigned Direction Center Sector
1 Jan 1961 - 25 Jun 1963 Minot SAGE Direction Center DC-19 Minot Air Defense Sectot
25 Jun 1963 - 25 Jun 1965 Malmstrom SAGE Direction Center DC-20 Great Falls Air Defense Sector

The site began operation as a SAGE site in 1961 initially feeding the Minot SAGE Direction Center DC-19. The site radars were upgraded to one FPS-66 and two FPS-90 height-finder radars by 1963. Also in 1963 control was shifted from the Minot SAGE Direction Center DC-19 to the Malmstrom SAGE Direction Center DC-20 where it remained until the site closed.

Closure

Dickinson AFS was removed from service on 1 Mar 1965 and both Dickinson AFS and the 706th Radar Squadron (SAGE) were deactivated on 25 Jun 1965.

Gap Fillers

Dickinson AFS was responsible for the maintenance of three 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 Dickinson AFS gap-filler radars were located at Glendive MT, Alexander ND and McIntosh SD.

Dickinson AFS Gap Filler Radar Sites (edit list)
ADC NORAD Location State Type From To GPS Notes
TM-177A Glendive MT FPS-18, FST-1 1958-09 1960-01 47.04412,
104.68174
Bldg & tower pads exist
Short lived site
TM-177B Z-177B Alexander ND FPS-18, FST-1 1960-12 1967-12 47.67823,
103.78043
Bldg & tower pads exist
Adjacent to Watford FAA Radar Site
TM-177C Z-177C McIntosh SD FPS-18, FST-1 1960-02 1960-12 45.94208,
-101.38808
Bldg & tower pads exist
Short lived site

Note: There is some conflicting information on the operational dates for these gap-fillers and the designations. The Watford site was transferred to Minot AFS when Dickinson AFS closed in 1965.

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 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 9/27 unit housing area for married personnel.

A separate radio site housed the radio equipment for directing aircraft intercepts. Like most early radar stations, Dickinson 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.


Dickinson AFS Major Equipment List
Search Radar HF Radar Data Systems Radio
Unit Designations
  • 706th Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron (1959-1961)
  • 706th Radar Squadron (SAGE) (1961-1965)
706th Assignments
  • 8 Dec 1957 - Activated at Malmstrom AFB, MT, assigned to 29th AD
  • Jul 1958 - Moved to Dickinson AFS, ND.
  • 1 Jan 1961 - Transferred to Minot ADS.
  • 15 Jul 1961 - Redesignated from AC&W Sq to 706th Radar Sq (SAGE).
  • 25 Jun 1963 - Transferred to Great Falls ADS.
  • 25 Jun 1965 - Discontinued.


Current Status

Abandoned in Dickinson, Stark County, North Dakota.


Location: Near Dickinson in Stark County, North Dakota.

Maps & Images

Lat: 46.92056 Long: -102.73222

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 162.
  • 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 145.
  • USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Database Entry: 2087523


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