#498 – North Truro Air Force Station

Normally my holiday photographs are restricted to family snaps and the places we go, however, I always keep my eye out to see if there’s anything worth making a detour for, for example, last year I visited the Telamon when in Lanzarote and I visited the PS Ryde in the Isle of Wight a few years back also. No abandoned ships were to be found on this years holiday to Cape Cod though, but I found that the partially abandoned North Truro Air Force Station was only ten minutes from where we were staying.

The Air Force Station was not a flying base, rather it was a radar station and I’m thankful to Wikipedia for the history of the site.

North Truro AFS was one of the first of twenty-four stations of the permanent Air Defense Command (ADC) radar network. On 2 December 1948, the Air Force directed the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with construction of this and twenty-three other sites around the periphery of the United States.

The 762d Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron (AC&W Sq) began operations with a pair of World War II Air Transportable Search and Detection AN/CPS-3 radars at North Truro in 1951 and assumed radar coverage previously covered by a temporary Lashup Radar Network site at Otis Air Force Base (L-5), and initially the station functioned as a Ground-Control Intercept (GCI) and warning station. As a GCI station, the squadron’s role was to guide interceptor aircraft toward unidentified intruders picked up on the unit’s radar scopes. In 1955 these units were joined by an AN/FPS-8 model. Eventually converted to an AN/GPS-3, this radar left service in 1960. In 1956 a GE CPS-6B search radar was the main search radar.[citation needed]

North Truro AFS was the operational parent station for Texas Tower 2 (TT-2) offshore in the Atlantic Ocean from May 1956-15 January 1963. TT-2 was operated as an annex of the 762d AC&W Sq, its offshore personnel assigned to a flight of the 762d, although the facility was logistically supported by the 4604th Support Squadron (Texas Towers) at Otis AFB.

The years 1958 and 1959 saw the arrival of AN/FPS-6 and 6A height-finder radars. During 1958 North Truro AFS joined the Semi Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system, feeding data to DC-02 at Stewart AFB, New York. After joining, the squadron was redesignated as the 762d Radar Squadron (SAGE) on 15 December 1958.[3] The radar squadron provided information 24/7 the SAGE Direction Center where it was analyzed to determine range, direction altitude speed and whether or not aircraft were friendly or hostile.

In 1960 the 762d started operating an AN/FPS-7 radar. In 1963 the height-finder radars were replaced by AN/FPS-26A and AN/FPS-90 sets. In 1966, after the installation of a Burroughs AN/GSA-51 computer system, North Truro AFS became the first ADC installation configured as a Backup Interceptor Control (BUIC) BUIC II site. BUIC II radar sites were capable of incorporating data feeds from other radar sectors directly onto their radar screens. In 1968, North Truro also became the first radar station to be designated a BUIC III installation. These sites hosted the more capable Burroughs D825 digital computer and could support operations at eleven control consoles. During the early 1970s two BUIC sites were designated to serve as backup to each of the remaining six SAGE centers.

The 762nd Radar Sq was inactivated and replaced by the 762d Air Defense Group in March 1970.[3][6] The upgrade to group status was done because of North Truro AFS’ status as a Backup Interceptor Control (BUIC) site. It utilized BUIC III equipment (Burroughs D828 Computer system) for command and control of air defense aircraft in the event that the SAGE Direction Center at Hancock Field, NY was inoperable. The unit commander and in times of Level IV operations, overall air defense commander for the NORAD region, was Col. Alva D. Henehan (1969–71?). The group was inactivated and replaced by the 762nd Radar Squadron again in 1974 as BUIC sites were being removed from service. as defenses against manned bombers were reduced. The group was disbanded in 1984.

After the end of the Cold War, in 1994, the Air Force closed down operations at North Truro. Most of the land was sold to the National Park Service. In the late 1990s, an ARSR-4 replaced the AN/FPS-91A. when it joined the Joint Surveillance System (JSS).

NTAFS itself was given to the Cape Cod National Seashore and is now being redeveloped into the Highlands Center. This project includes the building of a performing arts center, and other facilities to meet the needs of the National Park Service as well as the community. It is also home to an FAA long-range radar site.

Eric Schlosser’s interesting, if somewhat long-winded book ‘Command and Control‘ is an accessible entrypoint into this period of history and while predominantly about the Damascus Titan Missile Accident, also gives a fascinating overview of the evolution of how the early days of the cold war arms race give rise to these command networks that were early pioneers of computers and computer networks.

The site was closed when I got there, and appears to only open to the public for special tours and events. I did consider hopping the fence, that rings the site, but a van arrived just after me and the driver unlocked the gate to let himself in, so I didn’t bother going in. Indeed, there did appear to be other cars and people on site. However, the former family housing area is not fenced so I took a wander round. The housing has suffered some vandalism but is still quite intact and I took a quick look in a couple of the houses and found the kitchens still more or less intact – this would never be the case in Britain, heck any abandoned wooden buildings in Britain would be firebombed within days!

Main site, behind the fence

The remaining FAA radar.

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