THE HISTORY OF MONTAUK AIR FORCE STATION
The area of Montauk is known for having played a role in every war in which the United States has had involvement. In 1776, during the Revolutionary War, the infamous Battle of Long Island had many effects on the town and people. Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders utilized Montauk during the Spanish-American War, to recover from Yellow Fever before he and his troops returned to New York. During World War I, the Army stationed dirigibles, an aeroplane, troops and Coast Guard
personnel at Montauk. Fort Hero, which was the original name for Montauk Air Force Station, was built by the Army during this time to house and train troops.
World War II brought many more changes to the quiet peninsula. The Navy acquired Fort Pond, a small area west of Montauk, and relocated the entire village to another area. The Navy also took over the Tower and Montauk Manor, as well as built
new facilities to support their troops and operations. Docks, hangars, barracks, and other buildings sprang up quickly.
The Army built up Fort Hero, renaming it Camp Hero, the whole of which eventually consumed 278 acres. Camp Hero supported the coastal gun emplacements and other Army operations. Four 16-inch guns were placed there to protect the coast
from enemy attack and invasion.
Camp Hero itself was designed and built in the style of a small village to avoid detection from the air. Most of the original buildings were designed to give a false impression when viewed from above, such as the gymnasium, which was built to look like a church.
After the end of World War II, the base was deactivated and used by the Army Reserve for summer training periods. In November of 1950, the Eastern Air Defense Force activated the 773rd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron, which occupied
the western portion of Camp Hero and provided basic aircraft mapping information. In 1952, the 773rd was transferred to the 26th Air Division and operated as an Air Defense Direction Center. Their mission was to supply surveillance, detection and
interception of all aircraft entering their area of responsibility.
In November of 1957, the Army transferred Camp Hero and all property to the ownership of the Air Force. At that time Camp Hero was officially renamed to Montauk Air Force Station, and the Army ceased all operations there.
In 1958 SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) was installed at Montauk. The enormous radar dish, a large parabolic reflector array, was officially commissioned on Camp Hero in 1962. The reflector was 126 feet long and 38 feet tall, weighing 40 tons. The rotor base weighed 30 tons. The reflector was serial number two.
From this point, until the Air Force officially shut down its radar operations on July 1, 1980, the role of the 773rd remained the same: provide IFF (Identify Friend or Foe), height determination and radar mapping to other Air Defense SAGE units. The 773rd provided this data directly to the 21 st North American Air Defense Command Region Control Center, which was McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey.
The Air Station was closed in 1980 and a small care-taking detail was left in charge. On February 8, 1984, the General Services Administration (GSA) auctioned off all the surrounding property. The Air Force Station itself was donated to the New York Parks Department. Some military living quarters, located along Montauk Highway, were converted into limited income housing in 1983. With the exception of this housing area, the remains of the Montauk Air Force Station are completely enclosed by Montauk State Park. The majority of this area is accessible to the general public. The base itself is considered off-limits.
It is interesting to note that currently portions of the Montauk Air Station are being demolished. A minimum of five structures are known to have been destroyed thus far, including the power station, the heating building, the enlisted man's club and two other buildings of unknown use. According to the Montauk Historical Society, the base is still under the control of New York State Parks Department and is being cleared of hazardous materials. It is unknown whether the station will be made part of
the park, and opened to the public for use. Why it took the New York Parks Department ten years to begin demolition has never been satisfactorily explained.
THE HISTORY OF SAGE
The roots of the SAGE radar system installed on Camp Hero are deeply imbedded in a little known project called Whirlwind. Whirlwind is well hidden within the pages of history, which will prove to be odd, given the significance of the technologies that were developed to complete the project. Most of the available information on Whirlwind comes from a variety of works detailing the history of the computer, as well as bits and pieces from those who still remember the project.
Whirlwind was born in December 1944 when the Navy approached the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to begin a feasibility study of a general purpose flight trainer. The system would be used to train pilots and test new airplane
designs. To fulfill its purpose, the trainer would have to respond instantly to a variety of real-time data and simulated tests. The system would have to interact with the pilot in real time.
Real-time operation was not a new idea. There were the emerging developments in digital ideas such as ENIAC and von Neumann's IAS machine. Yet the prevalence of operational and testing facilities was geared to analog technologies. Jay Forrester, the young engineer from Nebraska who headed Project Whirlwind, decided early on that the machine must operate in real time. The analog technology of the era was slow and tedious to program. Forrester saw the advantages of using the new, emerging digital designs, which solved many of the problems he would have faced with an analog solution.
In 1947, Forester and crew completed a design for a high speed digital computer that could function in real time. Although the original purpose of Whirlwind was to build a Navy flight trainer, by 1948 the project's only goal was construction of a
real-time, digital computer. At the end of another year's time, all hell broke loose and the scope of his project changed once more. It was September, 1949. The United States had just lost a critical edge in the theater of world operations. In deep Siberia,
the Russians had just exploded their first successful nuclear weapon. Long-range bombers also happened to be present on Russian air bases, capable of delivering a payload deep into the continental United States. It appeared, to the defense community and others, that we were at a great risk. They wasted little time in developing both offensive and defensive strategies.
In December,1949, the Air Force approached MIT to design and build a computerized air defense network. This network would have to detect an enemy attack early enough so appropriate action could be initiated. In 1950, Forrester's lab and project were taken over by the Air Force to develop this system. Whirlwind became the cornerstone of SAGE, which in turn became the cornerstone of the defense of the United States.
In addition to its sophisticated computer technology, SAGE was different tactically. The previous defense network was strictly point-and-shoot. It could indicate that there was an object in U.S. airspace, but the intercept calculations were manually computed and then fed to the nearest airfield for intercept by aircraft. Each radar station of both the MEW (Microwave Early Warning) and earlier systems stood alone. Their control was kept local, as was all the data they gathered. No other station knew, in real time, what the other stations were tracking or where they were tracking it. SAGE was intended to change all of this.
In 1951, the Whirlwind/SAGE hybrid passed its first official test. It correctly mapped, identified and plotted intercept courses for eight simultaneous objects over the New England area. This data would have been available to other installations, had they existed. When the entire network was later linked to the sophisticated missile installations, it became a formidable air defense system.
To facilitate the installation of SAGE, the airspace over the United States and Canada was divided into 25 distinct sectors. Each sector was to have the ability to monitor and respond individually, as well as to pass data and act in accordance with the greater whole. Several main control stations were planned and built, such as McGuire Air Force Base and Mount Cheyenne, to funnel and link all sectors together. In 1952, the prime contractor for the SAGE computer was found: IBM.
By the late 1950's, SAGE installations were being planned for a variety of locations. Although nothing has been found docu- menting and describing all SAGE installations, the scope and intent appears to be primarily coastal. According to the Air Force Historical Research Agency, the 26th Air Division became the first fully operational SAGE air defense system within the Air Defense Command by January 1, 1959.
The lineage of the 26th Air Division lists 24 squadrons and 18 detachments designated as SAGE. Public documentation that is available regarding SAGE locations references only seven actual installations by name. Given the fact that SAGE operated in the UHF frequency band it only had an effective range of 300 miles (line of sight), seven installations could not possibly have covered all of the U.S. coastline. In The Annuals of the History of Computing (a periodical that was dedicated to documenting the entire history of computers) the final number of SAGE installations that were completed is given as 25. Twenty-four of these were in the United States and one was in Canada. This difference in what was actually installed is an anomaly until further information surfaces.
Oddity: The announcement of the SAGE Radar Network to the general public occurred on January l6th, 1956, during a preview of the new system and its capabilities by Dr. George Valley, Associate Director of Lincoln Loboratories, and retired Rear Admiral E.L. Cochran, Vice President of MIT. As reported by the New York Times 2 days later, on January l8th, Valley and Cochran had ominously described the SAGE system as " ... the mating of man and machine. "
Also worth mentioning are the astounding innovations Whirl- wind/SAGE eventually incorporated. It was the first system to utilize a 16-bit word structure (short words helped real-time operations) instead of the longer formats geared for scientific
annotation. Whirlwind was the first digital system to operate in real time and utilize interactive CRTs. Whirlwind/SAGE became the first system, in 1953, to use magnetic memory for storage instead of electrostatic tubes and mercury delay lines. This
dramatically increased the machine's speed, over double the previous rate, and maintenance time dropped dramatically. It was also the first system that was completely redundant (2 CPUs, 2 Memory's, etc.) due to the nature of its task. SAGE had to operate twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Other contributions on the SAGE-first list are light pens and keyboards, digital data transmitted over standard telephone lines (this was how the remote sites, such as Montauk, were connected to the direction centers) and module-like circuit packaging. Note that, even though Whirlwind/SAGE broke new ground at every turn and virtually set the pace for our modern computers, it is a little known leap forward in computing technology.
The SAGE system became obsolete in the early 1980's with the advent of satellite technology. In January of 1983 there were only six SAGE systems still running. By January of the following year, all SAGE installations had been shut down. Smaller
bases were permanently closed, primarily the remote sites of the SAGE network, such as Montauk Air Force Station. Facilities the size of Luke and McGuire Air Force Bases are still operating today, in support of different missions.
To state that SAGE was the most important computer system of the twentieth century would not be far from accurate. It incorporated, for the first time, many of the technologies that enable current systems to perform as they do. It also, in all likelihood, holds another significant record: The longest life span of any computer system-a total of 25 years, from 1958 until 1983- before technology overtook and put the system out to pasture.
MONTAUK AIR FORCE BASE TODAY
The investigation of the Montauk Air Force was accomplished over a period of one year (October 1994 through October 1995) incorporating several different visits. Armand, my partner in this crime, was a close friend and psychic who lent invaluable
guidance during the investigations. Armand was responsible for detecting and documenting the Iey lines that cross the Point, as well as communicating the ethereal perceptions that still haunt the grounds.
When I say `crime,' I mean that literally. It is a misdemeanor to be on base grounds without permission from the New York State Parks Department, punishable by a couple of days in jail or a fine of fifty dollars. We were caught, in October 1994, but
were not fined. It is interesting to note that, even though it was a Parks Department officer who confronted us, he was accompa- nied by a civilian. The civilian seemed highly upset. The reason for his agitation was not made clear. It was this civilian who did all the talking. The Parks officer was very calm and said little. What authority this civilian had is unknown.
During the investigative trips, we were able to compile a very accurate map of the base layout which is the only known map of the Montauk Air Force Station. Although these and other Army Engineering documents should be available in the National
Archives, the documents from the Montauk Air Force Station are missing, as well as the World War II Army documents on Camp Hero. This is odd, since an abundance of data exists for other locations in the Long Island Sound Defense Sector. We will examine the most important features of Montauk Air Force Station found during the investigative trips, both through detail and photographic records. While there is a huge amount of data regarding these visits, only the most relevant (to the legends of Phoenix) will be covered. The rest is simply historical information. This information is fascinating, but has little to do with the scope of this work.
The area surrounding Montauk Air Force Station is an intimidating mix of thick woodlands and dense underbrush with patches of moorlands woven in and out. It was these characteristics that saved the base from being turned over to resort developers in 1984. The GSA had plans to sell the base, four years after its closure, to the highest bidder. The Montauk Moorlands Association stepped in and turned up the heat in early 1984 and prevented the sale. The Association cited the same report the GSA had compiled in 1981, to prevent the base from being sold initially. The report stated that approximately 215 acres of the land should be kept as open space for environmental reasons.
It is interesting to note the GSA compiled a report in 1981 to retain the base under a care-taking detail (remember the big finale of Phoenix occurred in 1983, when it was linked to Philadelphia), but then changed directions at the end of 1983 and wanted to get rid of the station!
Located on the furthest tip of Long Island is the Montauk Lighthouse, a mere three miles from the Montauk Air Station. Situated next to the lighthouse is a splinter-proof concrete structure. This was the primary Fire Control Station for the Long Isiand Defense Sector, which included the large 16-inch guns on Camp Hero.
Just down the hillside from the lighthouse, located on the beach, is an oddity. This is an immense, overturned block of concrete, which appears to be an old dock mooring. No maps of Montauk Point have ever indicated a dock at this site. Examination of the block reveals it is hollow with a metal rung ladder inside. Only a quarter of a mile further down the coast is another example of these concrete moorings, still upright and in place. This could be evidence of the underground network, so often spoken of in the Phoenix legends.
Recent information that has been uncovered suggests that these structures were actually part of an underwater submarine mooring location. Since the only relevant location of interest in the area is the Air Station, an underground connection to the Air Station is almost certain.
The underground network may stretch from these two moorings, probably with a connection to the Fire Control Station, then extend outward to the base. Once on the base, connections would likely be to the bunkers and other buildings. The network would then traverse into the town of Montauk itself, ending at the Montauk Tower. The legend states that test subjects, usually runaways or derelicts, were brought from the streets of Long Island to the Tower, and then sent via the underground to the base.
More indicators pointing to the existence of an underground network are the location just east of King's Point and is an unexplained outcropping of large boulders. Not only are the size of these boulders out of place along the shores of the Point, but so is their shade and color. One speculation is that they were blasted and hauled out of the under ground at some point during its construction. Also noticeable in this area is a distinctive, and somewhat unpleasant, metallic smell. It reminds me of the smell generated when circuit boards are submersed in etching fluid.
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Posted and Created: Saturday January 10, 2004 06:43:34 PM -0800