Othello Air Force Station

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Othello Air Force Station (1951-1975) - A Cold War long-range U.S. Air Force Radar Station first established in 1951 near Othello, Franklin County, Washington. Named Othello Air Force Station on 1 Dec 1953 after the nearby town. Initially assigned a Permanent ID of P-40 and later a Sage ID of Z-40. Abandoned in 1975.

Othello Air Force Station Main Gate, Motor Pool in Background.
Othello AFS Orderly Room, OPS Building, Radome and Radio Site in Background.
Othello AFS, two FPS 6s on the left, FPS 3 in the bubble and Operations building on the right, circa 1959.

History

Othello Main Gate 2010

Established in September 1951 with the relocation of the 637th AC&W Squadron to the newly constructed radar station. Initial equipment included the FPS-3 and FPS-5 search radar sets. The site radar equipment evolved into an FPS-3 search radar with two FPS-6 height-finder radars while the site was still a manual Ground Control Intercept (GCI) site.

SAGE System Transition

Othello AFS Remains of Radar Towers in 2010

The transition to the automated SAGE system began with the installation of the GPA-37 analog intercept control system which allowed local controllers to vector interceptors to their targets. Operation of the GPA-37 continued even as the site was being upgraded to the automated SAGE system with the FST-2 installation and the search radar upgrade to the FPS-20. 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.

SAGE System Operation

Former Larson SAGE Direction Center DC-15, now a Commercial Data Center
Othello Direction Centers (Manual & SAGE)
Assigned Direction Center Sector
6 Feb 1952 - Jan 1953 McChord Manual Direction Center P-4 25th Air Division
Jan 1953 - 8 Oct 1954 Geiger Manual Direction Center SM-172 4702nd Def Wg.
8 Oct 1954 - 15 Aug 1958 Geiger Manual Direction Center SM-172 9th Air Division
15 Aug 1958 - 1 Sep 1958 McChord Manual Direction Center P-4 25th Air Division
1 Sep 1958 - 15 Mar 1960 Geiger Manual Direction Center SM-172 4700th AD Wg.
15 Mar 1960 - 1 Sep 1963 Larson SAGE Direction Center DC-15 Spokane ADS
1 Sep 1963 - 31 Mar 1975 McChord SAGE Direction Center DC-12 25th AD

The site began operation as a SAGE site on 15 Mar 1960, initially feeding the Larson SAGE Direction Center DC-15 at nearby Larson AFB. With the closure of DC-15 in 1963, Othello was connected to the McChord SAGE Direction Center DC-12 direction center at McChord AFB. The search radar was upgraded to an FPS-7C and that was later modified to become a FPS-107. A FPS-26A height-finder radar was installed in 1963-64.

BUIC System

Othello AFS was selected as a Backup Interceptor Control (BUIC) site to back up the Sage direction center in case of failure. BUIC I operations began in 1962 and ended 1 Mar 66. BUIC III operations began in the late 1960s with the installation of the BUIC III, GSA-51 computer system. Othello AFS was not originally on the list to be a BUIC III site but was substituted for the third Canadian site that the Canadians declined to build. As the threat from Russian aircraft attack changed to a missile threat, the need for the backup BUIC systems evaporated and it was deactivated in 1974. Othello AFS reverted back to a SAGE surveillance radar station role with the removal of the BUIC facilities.

Closure

Othello AFS and the 637th were deactivated on 31 Mar 1975 as the need for the SAGE system itself was reduced.

Gap Fillers

Othello 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 Othello AFS gap-filler radar sites were located at Wenatchee and Okanogan, Washington.


Othello AFS Gap Filler Radar Sites (edit list)
ADC NORAD Location State Type From To GPS Notes
P-40B Z-40B Wenatchee WA FPS-18, FST-1 1964 1967 47.50889,
-120.24028
On Badger Mtn
P-40C Z-40C Okanogan WA FPS-18, FST-1 1960 1967 48.52820,
-119.94279
Building foundation only
Tower pads only
On Starvation Mtn
Transferred from Colville AFS at closure

Physical Plant

The physical plant of the site was divided into the main site, a housing area, and a radio site. The main site housed the operations building, the radar towers, the enlisted barracks, the bachelor officer's quarters, the orderly room, the chow hall, the motor pool and the backup generators. Just outside the main gate was an NCO club.

Across Radar Road (now Sage Road) from the main site was a small housing area for critical married personnel. The housing area was initially built with 9 units and later expanded to a total of 27 units.

North of the main site was a separate SAGE System Ground to Air Transmitter/Receiver (GATR) radio site housing radio equipment for directing aircraft intercepts from the SAGE direction center. Before the SAGE System was implemented there were separate radio transmitter and receiver sites for local controllers to direct aircraft intercepts. The original transmitter site was repurposed as the SAGE GATR radio site while the receiver site was used for storage.



Othello AFS Major Equipment List
Search Radar HF Radar Data Systems IFF/SIF Comm
Unit Designations
  • 637th Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron (1947-1960)
  • 637th Radar Squadron (SAGE) (1960-1970)
  • 637th Air Defense Group (1970-1974)
  • 637th Radar Squadron (1974-1975)
637th Assignments


Othello Air Force Station Partial Commanders List (edit list)
Assumed Relieved Rank Name Cullum Notes
Major Richardson, N/A
Lt. Colonel Kundrat, N/A
1953-12 Lt. Colonel Trueblood, Charles N/A
1953-12 Major Hudgens, Clifford E. N/A
Colonel Friend, Robert N/A
1959~ 1960-03 Major Neblett, Murrell F. N/A
1962-08-01 Major McElroy, Wilson F. N/A
1962-08-01 1965-11-01 Major Meyer, William S. N/A
1965-11-01 1969-08 Major Colburn, Lewis K. N/A
1969-08 1971-05 Lt. Colonel Werner, Paul B. N/A
1971-05 1973-04 Lt. Colonel Marvin, George C. N/A
1973-04 1974-07 Lt. Colonel Postas, John R. N/A
1974-07 Major Erickson, Donald W. N/A
1974~ Captain Klenke, Duane E. N/A
Dates are formatted in yyyy-mm-dd to sort correctly.
The Cullum Number is the graduation order from the United States Military Academy by year and class rank and links to a page for the officer on the website version of the Cullum Register. Listings without a Cullum Number indicate that the person was not a graduate of the United States Military Academy.
Othello AFS Plan circa 1975 when the site closed.


Current Status

Display T-33 Jet and Plaque Remember the Radar Base.

Now private property. Many of the Air Force buildings remain, including three radar towers. No public access. A memorial plaque and a display jet T-33 aircraft are located in the Othello City Park.

The Othello Community Museum is now open with limited hours at Third & Larch streets in Othello, WA. The museum has information and displays for Othello Air Force Station.


Location: On Radar Hill, 7 miles south of Othello, Franklin County, Washington.

Maps & Images

Lat: 46.721389 Long: -119.18

See Also:

Sources:

  • 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 165.
  • 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 85, 155.
  • USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Database Entry: 2089743


Links:

Visited: 23 Aug 2016, 13 Oct 2010, 1958-1960


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