MITRE Radar Test Sites
South Truro, Cape Cod, MA; Jug Handle Hill, West Bath, ME; Montauk LI, NY

[Click link above for map ~98KB]

Photos and notes by Tom Page


As promised, here are a photo and a map of the MITRE Radar Test Site at South Truro, on Cape Cod, and a scope photo from its search radar (used in National Geographic Magazine erroneously showing thousands of "common terns cluttering the radar scope" at Texas Tower #2).
The photo was one of the pictures I copied when I was at North Truro AFS (only four or five miles north of the MITRE test site). The MITRE test site had been closed down for many years when I was at North Truro (1979 - 1982). However, someone told me just where it had been, so my buddy and I went down there and explored the site. The foundations of the two radar towers were still extant, as was the foundations of the proto-GATR site. The site location is highlighted in yellow on the enclosed map.
Earlier, when I first got my orders to transfer to North Truro AFS, I wanted to find out about the area. I came across an old article (1962, I think) in National Geographic Magazine about Cape Cod, which also gave mention of Texas Tower #2 which was about 100 miles off the coast at the time.
The article included that nice color picture of TT-2 that I sent you earlier, and also showed a radar scope that supposedly was at TT-2 and showed thousands of "common terns cluttering the radar scope." Having just spent three years at Fort Fisher AFS, NC, a coastal site, I had seen sea clutter frequently which clearly outlined the coast. When I saw this National Geographic radar-scope photo (before I arrived at North Truro), I thought it looked like sea clutter, and suspected that the radar site might have been North Truro AFS, not TT-2 (if you rotate the picture 90 degrees, the scope display looks just like Cape Cod). Only after I had been at North Truro awhile did I realize the center of the radar scope appeared to be south of the North Truro site. This didn`t make sense at the time. Later, when I found out about the MITRE test site and located it, I realized that the scope photo had to have been for the radar site at South Truro.
Closer inspection of the photo revealed that it was credited to the "MITRE Corporation"! Further close inspection revealed the numeral "270" on the display, at the top. Rotating the picture so that "270" was on the left then showed a perfect outline of Cape Cod! Thus, I am absolutely convinced that the photograph in National Geographic Magazine was a scope display from the South Truro radar, not TT-2, showing sea clutter, not sea birds.
AN/FPS-31 Experimental Long Range Search Radar and FPS-6 Height Finder Radar - Bath, Maine. 1959.
[Photo courtesy MITRE Corporation]
Click for article on FPS-31 implementation.
Search Radar Installation in ESS (Experimental SAGE Sector) - South Truro, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. AN/FPS-20 Search Radar. It was used to track aircraft and transmit data over phone lines to the Whirlwind computer. 1959

[Photos courtesy MITRE Corporation]

Early photo of the South Truro GATR site

The MITRE Experimental Sites

The MITRE Gap-Filler at Foxboro

This photo, sent by Tom Wilk along with other MITRE photos, was taken some time in the early 1950`s. It had been our "Mystery Photo", until recently identified as the MITRE test facility at Montauk, LI.

Given that the site is indeed Montauk, the photo had to have been made between 1952 and 1955. The photo was a MITRE photo of one of their radar test sites. To the best of our knowledge, MITRE operated only three (3) long-range radar test sites (as part of the Experimental SAGE Sector): South Truro, MA; West Bath, ME; and Montauk Point, LI, NY. We have other photos of South Truro and West Bath, so we knew the pictured site was not either of those two. So, that left only Montauk Point. Further, it seemed very likely that the MITRE test site and the USAF long-range radar site at Montauk Point were one and the same facility.

The next clue that the site was Montauk AFS was the flag pole in the small triangular area at a 3-way intersection just to the north of the radar / Ops area. Other features that match up perfectly include the building immediately to the left (west) of the flag pole, the heating-plant building just up the road and northeast of the flag pole, and a barracks building just beyond that and across the road to the east.

In the radar / ops area, the four radar towers (two standing plus two others under construction) match up with the photo from the 1956 yearbook and with other more-recent photos. So does the Ops building, the 2-story building right behind it, and the rectangular building ("comm" building) to their east. Ergo, the pictured site is Montauk AFS.

In the "mystery photo," the AN/FPS-35 radar tower had not yet been built -- that would be added to the site in 1959. The power-plant building had not yet been built -- I do not know exactly what year that would be built, probably in the latter 1950`s (?). Also, the AN/FPS-26 radar tower would be built in the 1962 - 1963 time frame.

Also (and I did not realize this until now), it is obvious that the Ops building was expanded later, on its east side, to accommodate a BUIC-I or BUIC-II operation (I don`t know which). The blockhouse design is completely consistent with BUIC operation buildings. I also know Montauk AFS did not have a BUIC-III mission. So, it must have had BUIC-I or -II.

Here`s another interesting piece of trivia: The 1956 yearbook article says that radar first operated at Montauk Point during World War II in 1942 at Prospect Hill. In 1948, radar again operated on Prospect Hill (this would have been the "Lashup" radar site, "L-10"). From identifying the GATR-site location (north of the main highway) recently using Topo maps (see Topozone), I discovered that the GATR facility sat atop a hill named "Prospect Hill." So, it seems that the original and "Lashup" radar sites sat where (or near) the more-modern GATR site still sits today (though no longer active).