Gettysburg Air Force Station

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Gettysburg Air Force Station (1956-1968) - A Cold War Air Force Radar Station first established in 1956 near Gettysburg, Potter County, South Dakota. Named Gettysburg Air Force Station after the location. Initially assigned a Permanent ID of M-99, a Sage ID of Z-99 and later an FAA ID of ZQJB. Abandoned by the Air Force in 1968. The FAA activated the Gettysburg FAA Radar Site in 1971 on a small site surrounding the old Air Force FPS-27 radar tower.

Gettysburg AFS Main Site area showing two radar towers (one without a radome), the operations bldg and the Telco Bldg? Taken in 2020.
Gettysburg AFS Cantonment Area showing the BAQ building added after the site had been operating for a while. Picture taken in 2020.
Gettysburg Air Force Station view of the remaining site in 2020. The FAA radar is on the old FPS-27 tower. The housing area is gone (relocated).


Constructed in 1955 by the contractor Lippert Brothers of Boone, Iowa, and accepted by the Air Force in January 1956. The initial cadre was 25 airmen, 3 officers and 3 civilians under the command of Captain A. M. Hedvall. The first meal was served in the newly constructed mess hall on 21 Feb 1956.

The site became operational on 5 Jul 1956 as Gettysburg Air Force Station manned by the 903rd AC&W Squadron. The station initially had both a Ground-Control Intercept (GCI) and early warning missions. 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-7 search radar and one MPS-14 height-finder radar. The radars were upgraded to one FPS-20A and one FPS-6A height-finder radar.

This configuration established the minimum requirements for transition to the SAGE System operation.

Gettysburg AFS Composite Plan thru 1969. Click twice on drawing for an expanded view.

SAGE System Transition

Former Gettysburg AFS Operations Building and abandoned radar tower. The roof of the Rec Building can be seen on the right, Photo taken in 2020.

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

Gettysburg Direction Centers & Sectors
Assigned Direction Center Sector
20 May 1953 - 1 Mar 1956 Malmstrom Manual Direction Center P-83 29th Air Division
1 Mar 1956 - 1 Jan 1959 Snelling Manual Direction Center P-36 31st Air division
1 Jan 1959 - Apr 1959 Malmstrom Manual Direction Center P-83 29th Air Division
Apr 1959 - 4 Sep 1963 Grand Forks SAGE Direction Center DC-11 Grand Forks Air Defense Sector
4 Sep 1963 - 1 Apr 1966 Sioux City SAGE Direction Center DC-22 Sioux City Air Defense Sector
1 Apr 1966 - 18 Jun 1968 Sioux City SAGE Direction Center DC-22 30th Air Division

The site began operation as a SAGE site in 1959 initially feeding the Grand Forks SAGE Direction Center DC-11. The search radar was upgraded to a FPS-66 and then replaced by a FPS-27 search radar circa 1962.

In 1963 the Grand Forks SAGE Direction Center DC-11 closed and control shifted to the Sioux City SAGE Direction Center DC-22. The Sioux City SAGE Direction Center DC-22 was then selected to close on 18 Sep 1968 and Gettysburg Air Force Station was closed just three months before that.


Gettysburg Air Force Station and the 903rd Radar Squadron (SAGE) were deactivated on 18 Jun 1968. Approximately one acre of land surrounding the vacant FPS-27 tower was set aside for FAA use and the remainder of the land was disposed of by the government.

Gettysburg FAA Radar Site

Gettysburg FAA Radar Site. The CARSR Radar is housed in the old Air Force FPS-27 Radar Tower.

The Gettysburg FAA Radar Site opened in January 1971 on a one-acre portion of the former Gettysburg Air Force Station. The FPS-27 had been removed from the tower and the FAA emplaced a FPS-67B search radar and radome on the FPS-27 tower. A FYQ-47 Common Digitizer was added to transmit the radar data to Minneapolis ARTCC and Denver ARTCC.

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. By 1990 the site was equipped with an FPS-67B search radar and a CD-2A Common Digitizer. The Gettysburg CD-2A was scheduled to receive an upgrade kit to implement three level weather data processing in March 1992.

Mode S Beacon System

Mode S Equipment Typical Installation

The Gettysburg FAA Radar Site was selected in the 1990s to become one of 21 long-range radar sites to have a Mode S radar beacon system installed. The Mode S system allowed operation in the existing beacon modes but added features to improve beacon operation by allowing aircraft identification with a single interrogation and two-way digital communication between controllers and pilots.

Besides the 21 long-range sites, there were other short-range radars to be upgraded for a total of 137 sites on the implementation list. Gettysburg was #132 on the list, scheduled to receive the Mode S equipment on 30 Jul 1995. Installation required interfacing with the radar system, addition of a beacon antenna on top of the search radar antenna, a new larger radome, interfacing with the Common Digitizer (CD-2) if installed, additional communication lines and equipment.


The nationwide replacement program converting FAA legacy radar systems to the CARSR radar configuration was completed by 17 Aug 2015 and Gettysburg 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 Gettysburg FAA Radar Site is now operating with the CARSR radar. The secondary radar at this site is a Mode S 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 Minneapolis ARTCC (ZMP) and adjacent ARTCCs. Other federal agencies have access to the data under the Homeland Security umbrella.

Physical Plant

Formet Gettysburg AFS Cantonment Area and GATR Radio Site. The old-style buildings can be seen left along with the new style BAQ on the right. Photo taken in 2020.
Gettysburg AFS Early pre-SAGE Configuration. Shows first small OPS building, small power plant, and a single height finder.
Gettysburg AFS Later Configuration with new SAGE Ops building, two height finders, FPS-20 search tower, and taller FPS-27 Tower. The GATR radio site is shown in the upper left and the Rec hall in the upper center.

The physical plant of the Air Force Station was divided into the main site, a cantonment area, a separate 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. Apart from the main site was a small 27 unit housing area for married personnel located just south of the cantonment area.

Because this site was initially considered a mobile radar site very few of the buildings were permanent construction and most were considered relocatable. This included the 27 unit family housing area which was relocated after the radar site closed. All of the cantonment area and the main site area buildings were left in place when the site closed and they were sold with the property.

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

Gettysburg AFS Major Equipment List
Search Radar HF Radar Data Systems Radio IFF/SIF/Beacon
Unit Designations
  • 903rd Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron (1956-1960)
  • 903rd Radar Squadron (SAGE) (1960-1968)
903rd Assignments
  • 20 May 1953 - Activated at Great Falls AFB, MT, assigned to 29th AD.
  • 25 Oct 1955 - Moved to Gettysburg AFS, SD.
  • 1 Mar 1956 - Transferred to 31st AD.
  • 1 Jan 1959 - Transferred to 29th AD
  • Apr 1959 - Transferred to Grand Forks ADS (Grand Forks DC-11)
  • 15 Jan 1960 - Redesignated from AC&W Sq to 903rd Radar Sq (SAGE).
  • 4 Sep 1963 - Transferred to Sioux City ADS. (Sioux City DC-22)
  • 1 Apr 1966 - Transferred to 30th AD. (Sioux City DC-22)
  • 18 Jun 1968 - Discontinued.

Gettysburg Air Force Station Partial Commanders List (edit list)
Assumed Relieved Rank Name Cullum Notes
1955-10-25 1956-05 Captain Hedvall, Alerd M. N/A
1956-05 1956-08-06 Captain Gabosch, Robert E. N/A
1956-08-06 1957-06-15 Major Willis, Lawrence N. N/A
1957-06-15 Captain Trembly, N/A
1957-09-16 1958-06 Major Farmer, Owen P N/A
1958 Major Dawson, Franklin W. N/A
1965-11 1967-01 Major Gillings, Ron L. N/A
1967-01 1968-06-18 Captain Clark, Byron N/A

Current Status

Abandoned by the Air Force to private interests except for about one acre used by the Gettysburg FAA Radar Site.

Location: Near Gettysburg in Potter County, South Dakota.

Maps & Images

Lat: 45.04972 Long: -99.95611

  • Multi Maps from ACME
  • Maps from Bing
  • Maps from Google
  • Elevation: 2,218'

GPS Locations:

See Also:


  • The Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota)
    • Fri, Oct 21, 1955, Page 7 Air Force to Take Over Gettysburg Station.
    • Sun, Jan 8, 1956, Page 13 Gettysburg Radar Station is Now Closed to Visitors.
    • Sun, Feb 26, 1956, Page 7 Serve First Meal at Gettysburg Air Force Station.
    • Sun, Aug 12, 1956, Page 21 New Commander.
    • Sun, Jun 8, 1958, Page 8 Housing Project - 27 Units.
    • Thu, Nov 13, 1958, Page 2 General Visits Radar Squadron at Gettysburg.
    • Thu, Mar 15, 1962, Page 4 To Build Tower.
    • Fri, Nov 15, 1963 Page 1 Approve Funds for Gettysburg Station.
    • Wed, Jul 28, 1965, Page 17 Army Engineers Offer Building For Sale 48' Square Tower.
    • Fri, Jan 27, 1967, Page 5 Honor 903rd Commanders at Gettysburg.
    • Sun, May 12, 1968, Page 1 Air Force to Close Base at Gettysburg.
    • Sun, Jun 30, 1968, Page 15 Gettysburg Radar Station Personnel Are Assigned.
  • Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, South Dakota)
    • Sun, Jan 8, 1956, Main Edition Page 16 Gettysburg Radar Station Accepted.
  • Deadwood Pioneer-Times (Deadwood, South Dakota)
    • Fri, Mar 14, 1969, Page 1 FAA Will Reactivate Radar Site.
  • Lead Daily Call (Lead, South Dakota)
    • Mon, May 11, 1981, Page 1 (FAA) Air tower keeping tabs on state's superhighways.


Visited: 1 Jul 2020

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