Palermo Air Force Station

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Palermo Air Force Station (1948-1970) - A Cold War Air Force Radar Station first established in 1948 near Ocean City, Cape May County, New Jersey. Named Palermo Air Force Station after the location. Initially assigned a Lashup ID of L-13 a temporary ID of LP-54 a Permanent ID of P-54 and later a Sage ID of Z-54. Closed in October 1961 and in the process of becoming a gap-filler site when it was reestablished 1 Jun 1962 to compensate for the loss of Texas Tower 4 on 15 Jan 1961. Abandoned in 1970.

History of Palermo Air Force Station

Established in 1948 and became operational in March 1950 as Lashup Radar Site L-13 later manned by the 770th AC&W Squadron on 1 Jan 1951. The station came to have 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 a CPS-5 search radar a TPS-1B and a TPS-10A height-finder. The site became a part of the permanent network as site LP-54 using the same lashup equipment until April 1952.

In the spring of 1957 one of the first FPS-20 radars was installed at Palermo AFS along with two FPS-6 height-finders in preparation for the SAGE System implementation.

SAGE 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.

The site began operation as a SAGE site in June 1958 initially feeding the McGuire SAGE Direction Center DC-01.

The site was inactivated in October 1961 and was in the process of becoming a gap-filler site when it was reestablished on 1 Jun 1962 to compensate for the loss of Texas Tower 4 on 15 Jan 1961. The site was reestablished and manned by the 680th Radar Sq (SAGE) from the deactivated site at Yaak Air Force Station Montana.

The search radar was upgraded to an FPS-65 in 1963.

BUIC System

Palermo AFS became a BUIC I GCI site in 1962 and was operational as a BUIC II site before the end of 1965, the second operational BUIC II site after North Truro. The BUIC II system provided a backup for a SAGE direction center with the GSA-51 computer system and provided the ability to display sector wide radar data on consoles for local weapons controllers. The system duplicated the functionality of the vacuum tube direction center computers with the more up-to-date GSA-51 computer system and the old FST-2. Palermo AFS was not chosen to receive the updated BUIC III system.


Palermo AFS and the 770th were deactivated on 30 May 1970.

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 housing area for critical married personnel. A separate Ground to Air Transmitter/Receiver (GATR) radio site housed the radio equipment for directing aircraft intercepts.

Palermo AFS Major Equipment List
Search Radar HF Radar Data Systems
Unit Designations
  • 770th Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron (1948-1958)
  • 770th Radar Squadron (SAGE) (1958-1961)
  • 680th Radar Squadron (1962-1970)
770th/680th Assignments at Palormo AFS
  • 1 Jan 1951 - 770th assigned at Palormo AFS, NJ, assigned to 503rd AC&W Gp.
  • 6 Feb 1952 - Transferred to 26th AD.
  • 16 Feb 1953 - Transferred to 4710th Def Wg.
  • 1 Mar 1956 - Transferred to 4709th AD Wg.
  • 18 Oct 1956 - Transferred to 4621st AD Wg.
  • 8 Jan 1957 - Transferred to NY ADS.
  • 1 Oct 1958 - Redesignated from AC&W Sq to 770th Radar Sq (SAGE).
  • 1 Oct 1961 - Transferred to Washington ADS and moved to Ft. George G. Meade, MD.

  • 1 Jun 62 - Reactivated as the 680th Radar Sq (SAGE) and assigned to NY ADS at Palermo AFS, NJ
  • 1 Apr 1966 - Transferred to 21st AD.
  • 1 Dec 1967 - Reassigned to 35th AD.
  • 1 Apr 1968 - Reassigned to 33rd AD
  • 19 Nov 1969 - Reassigned to 20th AD
  • 30 May 1970 - Inactivated.

Current Status

Main site overbuilt by a housing development. The GATR site has at least one antenna pole remaining. The housing area is in private hands.

Location: Ocean City in Cape May County, New Jersey.

Maps & Images

Lat: 39.22194 Long: -74.68722

See Also:


  • 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 166.
  • 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 137.
  • NORAD/CONAD Historical Summary Jan-Dec 1966, dated 1 May 1967, Command History Division, HQ NORAD/CONAD, Unclassified (originally classified Secret), pdf, pages 28-31, Backup Intercept Control Systems
  • USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Database Entry: 2089746


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