Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Pillar Point Air Force Station
(Pillar Point Military Reservation, (including Seacoast Searchlights Nos. 34 and 35, and SCR-296 Radar Set No. 11; Pillar Point Air Station)
Point Pillar AFS (Image courtesy of the California Coastal Records Project)

US Army Corps of Enginners Sacramento District History (2006) by Dan Sebby

Pillar Point AFS was initially established as part of the Harbor Defenses of San Francisco (HDSF). The reservation consisted of three separate concrete Base End Stations that provided fire control azimuth data to Battery 244 (two six-inch guns at Milagra Ridge Military Reservation), Battery Richmond P Davis (two sixteen-inch guns at Fort Funston), and Battery 129 (two sixteen-inch guns at Fort Barry). One map shows a location for a Base End Station for the uncompleted Battery 130 (two sixteen-inch guns at Milagra Ridge Military Reservation). However, neither a USACE Report of Completed Works nor documentation transferring this bunker to the HDSF was located at the National Archives. In addition to these bunkers, there was a fortified powerhouse that contained a generator that provided electrical power in the event that the commercially provided power was interrupted.

In June 1944, an SCR-296 radar set was installed at the Site in order to provide target detection and ranging data to Battery Richmond P. Davis at Fort Funston. This installation was located on the highest point on the Pillar Point and consisted of an aboveground, prefabricated 20 feet x 20 feet corrugated iron transmitter house, a 50-feet high TR-46 antenna tower, a power house and a gasoline tank. This installation was declared obsolete on 17 January 1946 and the equipment was removed soon thereafter.

Pillar Point AFS also had two searchlight stations (HDSF numbers 34 and 35) and two .50-caliber machine guns for anti-aircraft defense (HDSF numbers 65 and 66). USACE documents also indicated that single concealed "hutment" was constructed to provide housing and messing for sixteen soldiers. This structure was located approximately 100 feet north of the Base End Station for Battery 129.

All of the above mentioned installations are within the boundary of the current Pillar Point AFS.

By 1949, the USACE terminated all of the leases for the land less 1.05 acres that was retained by the U.S. Army for a right-of-way. On 4 September 1959, the Department of the Army transferred the federally owned and leased property to the Department of the Navy for use as a missile tracing station in support of Point Mugu. Almost immediately, the U.S. Navy reacquired all but approximately three acres of the former Coast Artillery Fire Control Station by lease.

At sometime in the 1960's the Site was transferred to the Department of the Air Force who assumed the missile tracking responsibilities from the U.S. Navy. The Site was expanded by condemnation proceedings to encompass all but seven acres of the Pillar Point AFS, now known as Pillar Point AFS. Pillar Point AFS is subordinate installation to Vandenberg AFB's 30th Space Wing.

In the 30th Space Wing Launch Safety Assessment (published February 2000):

The Pillar Point AFS is the northernmost instrumentation site [of the Western Missile Range].
It is located along the California coast, south of San Francisco. It's geographical location provides an aspect angle for launch operations which diminishes challenges which could result from looking into the flame of an outbound launch vehicle. Pillar Point also provides extended coverage off the coast of California for aeronautical tests. It is just one of the Northern California elements in the total 30th Space Wing data collection capability. At the Pillar Point facility, there are two tracking radars: the FPQ-6 and the MPS-36;a telemetry system that includes a 40 foot antenna; and the CT-4, Command Control Transmitter. Metric and telemetry data acquired by the Pillar Point facility is used for real-time decommutation and display as well as post flight processing.
The 40 foot antenna uses an elevation over azimuth pedestal. The system is capable of automatically tracking any inter-Range Instrumentation Group, telemetry modulation in the L-band and upper and lower S-band frequencies. This telemetry antenna provides a valuable "side-look" during Vandenberg launches.
The FPQ-6 C-band Radar is a high accuracy, long range, amplitude comparison monopulse tracking system that can operate in both skin and beacon modes. It is of the Missile Precision Instrumentation Radar class and has undergone various upgrades to the antenna drive system, console, receiver, transmitter, and RF feed sections. The antenna is a 20 foot parabolic Cassegranian reflector supported by an elevation over azimuth pedestal.
The radar subsystems provide the data handling interface with time, range, azimuth, elevation, doppler frequency, and radar status information. The radar embedded computer system formats data for on-site recording, display, and off-site transmission.
The MPS-36 is a C-band monopulse tracking radar. It is considered a mobile radar and is contained in three trailers plus an antenna lowboy. The antenna is a 12 foot parabolic Cassegranian reflector.
The MPS-36 has an Integrated Circuit Digital Range system which assists in the acquisition of skin and beacon targets. Target range, azimuth, elevation data, and time are output to a console for display, and recorded for post operation data production.
CT-4 is an operational command control transmitter site located at Pillar Point to provide additional command control flexibility for operations. CT-4 is used to support both Vandenberg and naval operations and can be controlled from both Vandenberg and Point Mugu. The directional antenna is a 15 foot parabolic dish antenna.
Documentation supports that there were no buildings, fortifications, or activities in the approximately seven acres that are not included in the current Pillar Point AFS.

Globalsecurity.com History

The Pillar Point AN/FPQ-6 and AN/MPS-36 radars are highly accurate G-band radars owned by the VAFB's Western Range (WR). These radars can be used for tracking objects off the coast of central California. Data from the Point Mugu and VAFB metric radars are exchanged over 16 multiplexed channels for TSPI track and sensor positioning.

The AN/FPQ-6 is a Missile Precision Instrumentation Radar (MIPIR) class monopulse tracking radar used to provide position data on aircraft, missiles, space boosters, and orbiting bodies. The site can track in either skin mode or in conjunction with vehicle-borne transponders. The radar's large antenna and high power coherent transmitter make the site's data quality very high. The sensor can also provide Doppler-derived range rate data on skin or coherent transponder tracks. Non-owners may utilize the services of the radar, but site operations and maintenance is limited to the Western Range contractor.

The Sea Range metric radars provide precise, accurate tracking of range operation participants using four radars at Point Mugu and four on SNI. Additional metric tracking support is available from six Western Range radars located at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB), Tranquillon Peak and Pillar Point. The WR radars provide high altitude tracking over the Sea Range and extend operational support to areas west of VAFB.

The California Coast has few protective points. Pillar Point is one of them. The Point at night with its string of lights looks like the largest battleship in the American fleet. On top of the point is the Pillar Point Air Force Station. Beneath the tracking station is the harbor. It is the only harbor between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. This natural harbor has been used by coastal fishermen for centuries, but the harbor, with its tracings of rip-rap breakwaters, was first constructed in 1961. The inner breakwater was added in 1982.

Source globalsecurity.org. Used with permission


US Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District History

On 10 October 1940, the U.S. Army purchased 12.68 acres and leased 36.28 acres. The total acreage acquired for the subject site was 48.96 acres.

The site was known as Pillar Point Military Reservation (Harbor Defense of San Francisco [HDSF]), California. The site was situated in San Mateo County, 15 miles south of the City of San Francisco. The site was used as a harbor defense facility and primary artillery site for the City of San Francisco. The improvements constructed at Pillar Point consisted of barracks, concrete bunkers, cyclone fences, and an overhead and underground electric system.

On 30 November 1949, the lease on 34.17 acres terminated. On 30 June 1953, the lease on 1.06 acres terminated. On 04 September 1959, the lease on 1.05 acres terminated, the 12.68 acres originally purchased by the U.S. Army were transferred to the Department of the Navy. The 36.28 acres were again leased in 1959 by the U.S. Navy for use as a radar facility. In the early 1960s the 12.68 purchased acres were transferred to the U.S. Air Force and a missile tracking installation was established on the site. The property owned by the U.S. Air Force continues to be used as part of the missile tracking installation. Four of the remaining seven acres are currently owned by the San Mateo Harbor District and are being developed into a wetlands habitat. The remaining three acres are privately owned and undeveloped.

Source: US Army Corps of Engineers


Site Map, Pillar Point Military Reservation, HDSF

Site Map, Pillar Point AFS


Reports of Completed Works - Seacoast Fortifications

Fire Control Structure for Battery Construction No. 129 (Fort Barry)


Fire Control Structure, Battery Davis (Fort Funston)

Fire Control Structure, Battery Contruction No. 244 (Milagra Ridge Military Reservation)

SCR-296 Seacoast Radar for Battery Davis (Fort Funston)



SCR-296 Radar

Description: Fixed Coast Artillery gun-laying medium wave radar, assigned to modern 6 inch or larger batteries.
Uses: Set is designed to track a surface target in range and azimuth. Data are sent to the plotting room and used in firing. An SCR-296-A normally is assigned to one battery, but may furnish data to more. Works with IFF RC-136-A.
Performance & Sitting: Range is shown on "A" scope. The target is tracked in azimuth with a pip matching oscilloscope or a zero-center meter. Range accuracy is about ± 30 yards while azimuth accuracy is about ± 0.20 degree under the best conditions. The set has a dependable range of 20,000 yards on a destroyer size target when employed at a height of 145 feet. Site should be not less than 100 feet above sea level; 150 to 500 feet is recommended.
Mobility: Shipment includes areas and separate generator. When crated the total weight is 91,763 lbs. Largest unit is 5,270 lbs.
Installation: SCR-296-A includes a tower, an operating building, and two power plant buildings. The tower is obtainable in heights of 25, 50, 75, and 100 feet. Concrete floors must be put in locally.
Personnel: Operating crew consists of 5 men in addition to a power plant operator and maintenance man who should be available at all times.
Power: Primary power of 2.3 KW is supplied by PE-84C -- commercial or auxiliary 110 V, AC single phase. Generator needs high octane gasoline.

Information from Naval History Library Online.

Power Station

Datum Point

Aerial Photographs

Pillar Point Military Reservation 1946
Pillar Point AFS 1998



Updated 13 July 2015