If you decide that hunting down an old radar site sounds like a fun thing to do on Sunday afternoon, be sure to take your camera, a notepad & pencil. We'd like for you to share photos of the site as it currently exists, and any notes you take regarding condition, directions to the site, current owners, things to watch out for, etc., would be very much appreciated. And, as always, we'll return you photos after scanning.
The issue is, "I'm planning a trip that will take me close to a certain closed AC&W radar installation. I'd like to take a short side trip to see this old site, and possibly take a few photographs. However, I havenıt a clue as to where to start looking. Do you have any suggestions?"
The following text addresses just that issue: helpful hints to try and locate the former AC&W radar sites around the country, or at least whatıs left of them.
The radar station was typically named for the nearest city or town; but not always. Most of the time, the city or town can be located on a standard map or road atlas. However, the radar station might be located many miles from that city or town!
Knowing the site's original name often provides additional clues as to its exact location. For example, Benton AFS, PA, is a fair distance north of the town of Benton, maybe 20 miles or so. However, the site was originally called "Ricketts Glen State Park" (inside whose boundaries the radar site was located). Indeed, the Benton radar site, still in use today by the FAA, is located at the northwest corner of the park, just off PA Rte 487. (A list of dual-name sites is located at the end.)
In many cases, a US Geological Survey topographic map provides better information than your typical road atlas, especially USGS maps created in the 1960's or early 1970's when many sites were still active, as the USGS maps typically show the location of all the military installations in their precise locations, along with roads and other useful landmarks. USGS maps can be costly, however.
When searching for a site, do not overlook the obvious: Radar sites were (and still are) almost always situated on the highest point of land in the immediate area (sometimes only on a slight rise or small hill).
Active sites can often be spotted by their large white radome(s). Closed sites sometimes can be spotted by the tall, bare towers. However, without the radomes, ex-radar sites are much less conspicuous.
In both cases, hills, buildings, and foliage in the foreground can often block your view. Also, even when you can see the towers from a distance, finding the exact road that leads to the site can be tricky. Usually, though, the roads that do lead to the site are paved. For abandoned sites, the roads usually have old, boken pavement. Sometimes these roads are closed and barricaded, leaving the only way in to be on foot.
Asking the locals for directions sometimes works, especially if the installation is still active or only recently closed. Sites that closed in the 1950's and 1960's tend to be less well-known to the locals. Real-estate agents, newspaper personnel, police, and fire & rescue personnel sometimes know the exact locations, especially if the property is in use for other purposes now. In fact, the local newspaper office might still have archived photographs of the radar station when it was still active ... a long shot, but it doesn't hurt to ask!
Recognizing that surplus government property was often disposed of in certain ways offers still other clues to locating a closed-down radar station. A road sign may point the way to a facility by its new use. Here are some of the uses today of former USAF radar facilities: