Historic Posts, Camps, Stations, and Airfields
Madera Air Force Station
by SGM Dan Sebby, CA SMR
Historian, California Military Department
Madera AFS circa 1961
With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force began reestablishing air defenses to protect the Continental United States against a feared manned bomber attack from the Soviet Union. Several air defense radar sites that were used in World War II were reactivated as was the establishment of several new sites. Many of these were temporary emergency sites, or in military parlance, “lashups”. (radomes.com)
One of the new lashup sites was located Northeast of the farming community of Madera, California. In late 1950, the U.S. Air Force began leasing farmland and constructing the station facilities. On 11 January 1951, the lead elements of the 774th Aircraft Control and Warning (AC&W) Squadron arrived at Madera to begin preparing for the arrival of the rest of the unit from Hamilton Air Force Base (AFB). By 24 January 1951, the entire squadron had arrived at the Site and began the task to install the station’s radar. By March 1951, the site was operational as Site LP-74. (774th AC&W Squadron Histories)
The site was originally equipped with the AN/TPS-1B search radar. This system was a portable system that made up the backbone of the U.S. Army’s radar defenses during the second half of World War II. However, this system was obsolete and only served as a stopgap measure until newer systems became available. At this same time was the development of the site into a more permanent installation. In 1951, construction began on several concrete and wood frame buildings to house the squadron’s radar and support equipment as well as its eight officers and 108 enlisted airmen and noncommissioned officers (NCO).
In January 1952, the Site was made a permanent site with the arrival of then state-of-the-art equipment and the formal naming of the Site as Madera Air Force Station (AFS) and its identifier was changed to P-74. The World War II era radar systems were replaced by new search (AN/FPS-3) and height finder (AN/FPS-4) radar sets.
The rest of the 1950s saw a steady improvement of the station’s operational, support and recreation facilities as the Site took on a more permanent nature. In 1956 the height finder radar set was upgraded to the AN-FPS-6A with the search radar being replaced by the AN/FPS-20 system in 1959. (radomes.com)
In 1955, the U.S. Air Force began the processes of purchasing the leased lands. The acreage that made up the sewage plant’s oxidation ponds were conveyed by direct purchase while the remainder of the station had to be acquired through the Federal condemnation process in 1956.
1956 saw the building of nine two and three-bedroom family housing units for married officers and NCOs. In 1960, 17 more three-bedroom and one four-bedroom housing units were added to the family housing area. Moral, Welfare and Recreation facilities at Madera AFS included a swimming pool, skeet range, athletic court and field, base exchange, and a three-hole golf course which contributed to the station’s unofficial nickname, “Country Club of the Air Force” (GSA records and radome.com)
In 1960, the Site was integrated into the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) command and control system. Data from Madera AFS's radar began to be fed directly into the SAGE system which allowed for headquarters at various levels of the North American Air Defense Command to receive senor inputs from multiple and widely dispersed stations in order detect, identify, and track targets and to provide interceptor direction. SAGE removed the Ground Control Intercept function from the station and reduced its manpower requirements. With this change, the 774th AC&W Squadron became the 774th Radar Squadron (SAGE) and the Site’s identifier changed to Z-74.
The integration into SAGE coincided with the further upgrading of the station’s radar systems. The AN/FPS-66 replaced the older AN/FPS-20 search radar. By 1963, the AN/FPS-90 height finder radar set was added to the station’s systems.
On 25 June 1966, the Madera AFS and the 774th Radar Squadron were both inactivated. On 30 December of that same year the U.S. Air Force issued a permit to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Department of the Interior to use the site as a school and vocational training center pending formal transfer of the site to that agency. On 3 April the former Madera AFS was formally transferred by the Headquarters, 78th Combat Support Group, Hamilton AFB, California to the BIA.
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Updated 8 February 2016