From 1958 to 1969, Thomasville was the location of an Air Force Radar Base which was home to the 698th Aircraft Control and Warning Radar Squadron. The mission of the 698th Squadron was to evaluate a prototype of the AN/FPS-35 long-range radar built by Sperry Gyroscope. This was the first of the large radars to be deployed.
The AN/FPS-35 radar was one of the largest air defense radars ever produced. The radar antenna, nearly the length of a football field, was over 70 feet high and weighed over 70 tons. The radar antenna at Thomasville was mounted on a huge 5-story concrete base that is about 85 feet tall.
The purpose of the 698th radar base was to guide interceptor aircraft toward unidentified intruders picked up on the unit’s radar. During the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, the radar was part of an improvised missile warning system for Soviet missiles located in Cuba. Additional stations in Texas and New Jersey were aimed at Cuba to detect possible missile attacks. The first sweep over Cuba came from the radar in Thomasville. It served this function until late December 1962 at which time it was again directed to detect incoming unidentified aircraft.
About 110 military personnel were stationed at the Thomasville Radar Station. The facility was divided into the main site, cantonment area, housing area and radio site. The main site housed the operations buildings, the radar towers, and backup generators. The cantonment area housed the enlisted barracks, the bachelor officer’s quarters, orderly room, dining hall, motor pool and other support buildings. There was also a 27-unit housing area for married personnel.
The base was closed December 31, 1969, and the property was subsequently transferred to the State of Alabama. Many of the buildings remain at this site along with the 5-story concrete base that supported the AN/FPS-35 radar antenna. The radar antenna was removed from the site several years ago.
The 698th Squadron Air Force Radar Base was located on the north side of Thomasville on Choctaw Corner Road (31.937690,-87.751425 – Google Maps).
Sources: 1) “Thomasville Radar Base” Historical Marker; 2) wikipedia.org/Thomasville_Air_Force_Station.
Black & white photographs courtesy of Sperry Gyroscope Company collection (Pictorial Collections Accession 86.273) at the Hagley Museum & Library in Wilmington, Delaware.