September 19th, 2006
Portland Air National Guard Base (NE Portland)
The Oregon ANG 142nd Fighter Wing is probably the last remaining active vestige of our state’s Cold War legacy. Leasing 246 acres at Portland International Airport, the fighter wing formed in 1946 and saw action during the Korean War. After returning to Oregon, the 142nd took on the task of intercepting long range enemy aircraft from northern California to the Canadian border. A number of jet fighters were used in that capacity over the years, including the F-86, F-94, F-89, F-102, F-101, and F-4C. Today, the 142nd operates state-of-art F-15 fighters, but their days here in Portland may be numbered. Rumours in Washington seems to suggest the 142nd’s aircraft may be transferred to New Jersey where homeland security needs are greater. Interventions by Oregon’s elected officials have kept the fighters in Portland for the time being, but I’m guessing the 142nd won’t be around much longer due to mounting expenses from the war in Iraq.
I have fond memories of the 142nd’s F-4Cs. When I was in elementary school, the annual Memorial Day parade down main street McMinnville was always something to look forward to. At the end of every parade, two F-4Cs would appear low over main street and those cheeky pilots would light-up the twin J79-GE-15 afterburners as they banked skyward. The elderly would plug their ears and curse while all the kids would scream and jump for joy in the wake of the sternum rattling noise.
A 142nd F-4C from what looks like the ’70s
This is what I remember the 142nd’s F-4Cs looking like. This picture was probably taken in the ’80s.
Kelly Butte Civil Defense Underground Headquarters (SE Portland)
Built in 1956, the same year as Mt. Hebo (see below), the Kelly Butte Civil Defense Underground Headquarters reflected a pervasive ‘50s paranoia that a Soviet bomber attack on North American was imminent. This underground bunker in SE Portland was designed to hold up to 250 emergency officials for up to two weeks. 26 inch reinforced concrete walls provided protection, while a radio tower above ground kept personal in touch with those not so fortunate to be safely tucked away underground. Footage of this complex can be seen in The Day Called X…featured on my DVD release from two years ago titled On Guard: Educational Films from the Cold War Era.
The bunker continued operation until the late 1960s, when local civil defensive efforts began to wan. The facility was eventually turned into a 911 call center for the county, but proved to be unpopular with the staff who often complained of sick building syndrome. While the radio tower has been torn down, you can still visit the site and see the entrance to the bunker (although it has been covered by dirt from a bulldozer).
The Day Called X
Oregon Historical Society Picture and Info
Mt. Hebo Air Force Station (Near Tillamook)
The Mt. Hebo Air Force station was built in 1956 as a radar tracking complex tied into the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system (see first entry from this week). Actual data analysis and fighter jet interception dispatching took place at McCord AFB in Washington just south of Tacoma. The remote facilities at Mt. Hebo were really quite extensive, featuring barracks, family housing, a dining hall, and gym facilities. The base was essentially a small town, a necessity due to extreme isolation (Mt. Hebo has an elevation of 3,154ft and is deep in the coast range).
The station took a severe beating in the Columbus Day storm in 1962 when wind gauges topped out at 130mph. Damage to the radar domes suggested a wind speed of around 170mph though. But the station was repaired and continued operation for almost two decades. The 689th Radar Squadron remained at the site until 1979, when they were moved to McCord. Detachment 2 of the 14th Missile Warning Squadron stayed at the station providing ballistic missile tracking until 1980. After that, the site was dismantled and all that remains are building foundations and a small plaque. I’m planning on going up to the site this fall to take pictures if anyone is interested in joining me.
Note the tunnels between buildings. This was necessary because of winter snow.
Adair Air Force Station (Corvallis)
Located on a former World War II Army base, the Adair Air Force Station was built in 1957 as a SAGE site [see first entry from this week]. In addition to the SAGE site, the Air Force proposed building a BOMARC missile base as well. The BOMARC missile was a surface to air interceptor missile with a range of several hundred miles and was capable of carrying small nuclear warheads. $10 million was allocated in 1958 for construction of the BOMARC site and 56 former Camp Adair buildings were removed to make way for the missiles. The base was built and completed, but by that time, the BOMARC had become obsolete. Adair was officially deactivated on September 15, 1969, but the main SAGE building still remains. According to reports on the web, the SAGE site has been recently vandalized, with thieves stealing much of the ferrous metal — no doubt to fund someone’s meth habit.
Photos and Info
BOMARC Missile Info
Entry Filed under: The Cold War