Red Bluff Air Force Station

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Red Bluff Air Force Station (1956-1970) - A Cold War Air Force Radar Station first established in 1956 near Red Bluff, Tehama County, California. Named Red Bluff Air Force Station after the location. Initially assigned a Permanent ID of SM-157 and later a Sage ID of Z-157. Abandoned by the Air Force in 1970. A portion continues today as Red Bluff FAA Radar Site, FAA ID of RBL.

Former Red Bluff AFS LRR Operations Building.
Former Red Bluff AFS Recreation Hall.
FAA Radar on Former Red Bluff AFS. FPS-6 Tower pads in the foreground.

History

Established in 1956 and became operational in 1956 as Red Bluff Air Force Station manned by the 859th 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 one MPS-8 height-finder radar and one MPS-11 search radar.

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 Adair SAGE Direction Center DC-13
Red Bluff AFS Direction Centers & Sectors
Assigned Direction Center Sector
8 Sep 1955 - 1 Mar 1959 Hamilton Manual Direction Center P-48 28th AD
1 Mar 1960 - 1 Apr 1966 Adair SAGE Direction Center DC-13 Portland ADS
1 Apr 1966 - 15 Sep 1969 Adair SAGE Direction Center DC-13 26th AD
15 Sep 1969 - 19 Nov 1969 Luke SAGE Direction Center DC-21 27th AD
19 Nov 1969 - 30 Sep 1970 Luke SAGE Direction Center DC-21 26th AD

The site began operation as a SAGE site in 1960 initially feeding the Adair SAGE Direction Center DC-13. The search radar was upgraded to one FPS-67, one FPS-6 height-finder and one FPS-90 height-finder radar. In 1964 Red Bluff became a Joint Use FAA/ADC facility.

Closure

The Pentagon announced the closure of Red Bluff AFS and the deactivation of the 859th Radar Squadron on 5 March 1970. The official deactivation date was 30 Sep 1970. A small portion of the site was transferred to the FAA (see below). By the end of 1972, the remainder of the station was transferred to Tehama County, who developed it into Ridgeway County Park. The station's family housing annex was auctioned off to private parties.

Red Bluff FAA Radar Site (RBL)

In 1971, the GATR site and the operations portion of the main station, including the search radar tower and the operations building, were transferred to the FAA who continued to operate the FPS-67B search radar as part of the Joint Surveillance System (JSS) into the 1990s. It is assumed that a FYQ-47 was installed to replace the Air Force FST-2 Coordinate Data Transmitter.

The FAA 2013 Radar site list shows the site operating ARSR radar equipment without specifying the exact type. The FAA has recently upgraded the facility to the CARSR minimally attended Common Air Route Surveillance Radar (CARSR) equipment.

Gap Fillers

Red Bluff 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 Red Bluff AFS gap-filler radars were located at Janesville, Whitmore, and Hayfork, all in California

Red Bluff AFS Gap Filler Radar Sites (edit list)
ADC NORAD Location State Type From To GPS Notes
SM-157A Z-157A Janesville CA FPS-18, FST-1 1960-06 1967-12-31 40.26079,
-120.55725
Building exists
SM-157B Z-157B Whitmore CA FPS-1?, FST-1 196? 1962 40.74220,
-121.78997
Slab remains
SM-157C Z-157C Hayfork CA FPS-18, FST-1 1960-06 1960-12 40.65887,
-123.21950
Building exists

Physical Plant

Former Red Bluff AFS Housing Area.

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 16 unit housing area for married personnel and the Air Force leased an additional 20 homes in Red Bluff.

Recreational facilities included a small swimming pool, a baseball diamond, an NCO club and a recreation hall/gym.

Former Red Bluff AFS GATR Site.

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



Red Bluff AFS Major Equipment List
Search Radar HF Radar Data Systems Radio
Unit Designations
  • 859th Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron (1955-1960)
  • 859th Radar Squadron (SAGE) (1960-1970)
859th Assignments


Red Bluff Air Force Station Partial Commanders List (edit list)
Assumed Relieved Rank Name Cullum Notes
1960~ Major Leroy, Malden J. N/A
1962~ 1963~ Lt Colonel Crispen, Marshall F. N/A
1968-09 Major Bilbo, Ray N/A
1968-09 1970 Major Yates Jr., Floyd N/A

Current Status

Ridgway Park Sign.

Abandoned as an Air Force Station. The old cantonment area is now Ridgeway park and the operations area is an FAA Radar Site. The housing area is in private hands and is a part of a larger housing complex. The GATR radio site is intact but repurposed.

The metal cantonment area buildings (Butler type buildings) were largely sold off and removed when the site transitioned to the FAA. The foundations remain for the most part. The old style barracks buildings were totally removed with no remains. The firehouse and the recreation building remain in use.

Red Bluff Air Force Station Composite Plan.


Red Bluff AFS Structures (edit list)
Number Building Area Currently
Exists
Notes
100 Long Range Radar Operations Operations Partial SAGE Annex may be reduced to a foundation.
101 Search Radar Tower Operations Yes
105 HQ Admin Cantonment No
106 Dispensary,Tng, Rec Cantonment No
107 Dining Hall Cantonment Foundation
108 Power Production Operations Foundation
109 Unit Supply Cantonment Foundation
110 Tech Supply Operations Partial
 ??? Firehouse Cantonment Yes
 ??? Gate Shack Cantonment Foundation
 ??? Pool Cantonment No Filled in.
 ??? Pool House Cantonment Yes
 ??? FPS-6 Tower Operations No
 ??? FPS-6 Tower Operations No
202 New Recreation Building Cantonment Yes
203 BOQ 1 Cantonment No
205 BOQ 2 Cantonment No
207 Barracks Cantonment No
208 Barracks Cantonment No
209 Barracks Cantonment No
210 Barracks Cantonment No
211 Barracks Cantonment No
212 Barracks Cantonment No
213 Auto Shop Cantonment Foundation
215 Ammo Storage Cantonment Yes
216 Hazardous Materials Cantonment Yes
220 Water Pump Bldg Cantonment Yes
320 Radio Site/Commissary Radio Foundation
342 Sewer Plant Cantonment No
349 Storage Cantonment Yes

Location: Near Red Bluff in Tehama County, California. Zoom out to see the housing area and the GATR site map points.

Maps & Images

Lat: 40.14611 Long: -122.30444

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 172.
  • 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 105.
  • USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Database Entry: 2086565

Links:

Visited: 26 Aug 2017


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