Press "Enter" to skip to content

Calumet Air Force Station

CAFS Front Page Pic
[4] The Calumet Air Force Station In The Fall When The Leaves Were Changing

The Red Scare, Dooms Day Clock, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

What do all of these have in Common? The Cold War.  Part of the United States first line of Defense during the Cold War was the 665th Radar Squadron.  One of the 28 radar stations built was the Calumet Air Force Station (CAFS).  The CAFS opened up for operations in 1951 and continued operations until it was decommissioned in 1988.  The CAFS was a slice of the Cold War that was experienced in the Keweenaw by many including the service men and women stationed there and the people who lived in the area around the station.  The main purpose of the station was to detect incoming aircraft, analyze their heading and speed, and determine whether the air craft was friendly or not.  The CAFS was also tasked with operating gap filler radar systems located in Upson, Wi and Painsdale, MI.  Gap fillers were used to expand the radar reach to where the systems located at the CAFS could reach.

The Cold War History

The “Cold War” is an infamous term in American history that is used to correlate a conflict between the Democratic United States and the Communist Soviet Union.  But how many people know the true definition of the phrase “Cold War”?  Merriam Webster defines Cold War as, “a conflict over ideological differences carried on by methods short of sustained overt military action and usually without breaking off diplomatic relations; specifically,  often capitalized C&W.”  Contrarily we also have the terms “Hot War” and “Warm War”.  A hot war is one in which diplomacy has failed and there is warfare taking place.   A warm war is one in which warfare has not occurred yet and diplomacy talks are continuing with a chance of a peaceful outcome, but the military forces are mobilizing and are ready for a conflict.  Although the United States and the Soviet Union never fought each other directly, they were involved in supporting conflicts that were popping up all around the globe.  This conflicts consisted of fighting between pro-communism and anti-communism groups.  Some of these conflicts were the fighting in Vietnam, Korea, and China.  The fighting that took place in these locations consisted of one country fighting and the other country giving support in the form of equipment and monetary aid to the rebels they were fighting against.  This was also prevalent in the middle east where the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and the United States supported the Afghan rebels by supplying them with weapons and equipment.  This ended with the soviets pulling out of the middle east and these weapons that were supplied to the rebels would eventually be used against the United States.  As tensions rose between the two nations, so did the need to provide greater deterrents.  This led to the infamous Cold War arms race.  Each side was developing more and more effective nuclear weapons that could destroy the other side.  Due to this arms race, each side began to occur a massive stock pile of nuclear weapons that were ready at a moments notice to be launched at their enemies.  This struck fear into the hearts of the American people who began to prepare for a nuclear war.  This preparation was in the form of families building fallout shelters in their backyard and schools running drills in which the students would get under their desks so they could shelter themselves from a blast.  Because of the expedient pace of the arms race, each side began targeting the other with espionage so they would stay up to date with the progress of the other side.  This is what began what is commonly known as the “Red Scare”. 

The Red Scare and Radar Stations

The Red Scare was a witch hunt that took place in the United States for people who supported communism because they were perceived to be spying and supporting the Soviet Union.  The Soviet Union had used espionage tactics inside of the United States before, especially during World War II.  This caused hysteria about whether there were communist supporters in the United States and whether they were helping the Soviet Union.  This movement to find communist supporters was led by the House Un-American Activities Committee, also known as the HUAC.  The HUAC was formed in 1938 before the entrance of the United States into WWII.  During the Cold War the HUAC was tasked with searching out communist supporters and charging them with a crime.  To aid in this search, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9835 on March 24, 1947.  This was also known as the Loyalty Order and it mandated that all federal employees be analyzed to determine if they were loyal to the United States government.  The HUAC also targeted the Hollywood film industry and accused hundreds of people associated with the film industry of being communists.  As the Red Scare was spreading across America so did thousands of accusations against everyday American citizens which led to disruption in their lives, loss of jobs, and in the cases where the accusations were true, convictions of crimes related to espionage and treason.  With all this tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, the United States needed a way to defend the American homeland.  One of their solutions was to build an extensive network of radar stations as a first line of defense against the Soviets.  One of those radar stations was the Calumet Air Force Station.

Life At The Station

The station consisted of large radar domes, a main control center, and a radio site.  it was also self sustaining with its own housing, schools, power generators, and general store.  There were many activities for the servicemen and dependents stationed at the CAFS.

[2] Abandoned Family Houses On Base

They had a bowling alley, movie theatre, chapel, and recreational facilities that included a gym, basketball courts, and playground for the children.  There recreation center also encouraged outdoor activities through the rental of boats and brochures so the families could go out into the keweenaw and explore.  The living facilities consisted of dormitories and houses for the families.  There were 45 houses located on station and there were split up into lower housing, middle housing, and upper housing based on the size of the house.  The station also offered its residents a barbershop to get their haircut, medical services open 24 hours an day, and even a veterinarian to care for the pets that they owned.  But for the men that operated this radar it wasn’t as glamorous as it was made out to be.  The Chicago Daily Tribune described this well when they wrote, “They are air force personnel who operate the radar network spread across this closest point to Russia.  They are part of the island defense the United States is pledged to maintain.  Hokkaido’s 34,267 square miles lie in the most critical area of possible communist attack in the event of World War III.” (Chicago Daily Tribune 1).   Although this quote does not directly mention the CAFS,  this is a good insight into the pressure and awareness that the men and women on duty at the Calumet Air Force Station had to have to endure to complete their tasks.

History and Technology


When the CAFS was first commissioned in 1951 it was used to help guide American aircraft towards unidentified aircraft in U.S. airspace and intercept them.  Their job was Ground-Control

[1] Radar Tower After The Dome Had Been Removed
Intercept in which they would communicate with aircraft using  ground-to-air radio on the course and speed they should take to intercept the unidentified aircraft.  To seek out these aircraft, the CAFS was equipped with FPS-5 and FPS-3 height finder radar systems that had the ability to detect aircraft up to 200-300 miles away. At this point in time the CAFS was designated as the 665th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron.  In 1956, the CAFS was upgraded and the FPS-5 was replaced with the FPS-6 height finder.  Upgrades came again in 1958 when the FPS-20 search radar was deployed on station.  The CAFS also operated two gap filler stations, NORAD ID Z-16B located in Upson, WI which was commissioned in 1959 and NORAD ID Z-16A which was located in Painsdale, WI which was commissioned in 1960.  Gap fillers were remote location sites where FPS-18, short range radar, was commissioned to fill the radar dead spots in between radar stations.  Also in 1960, the CAFS joined the Semi Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE).  The SAGE system was a network of warning stations around the country, and later in Canada, that searched the skies for nuclear threats in the form of Soviet bombers and Ballistic missiles.  This information was relayed to command centers where the appropriate response could be made.  This switch to the SAGE system was very important because this added the FST-2 which could digitalize the data and transmit it directly to the command center instead of having to use radio communication.  This made the system more efficient and required less personnel  to operate.  With joining the SAGE

[3] SAGE Computer System
system, the CAFS was designated as the 665th Radar Squadron (SAGE) and was put under the command of K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base located near Marquette, MI.


In 1961, the FPS-20 search radar system was upgraded and was redesignated as a FPS-64.  In 1962,  the CAFS became a BUIC I NORAD Control Center Site.  The BUIC system, also know as Backup Intercept Control, was put in place to be a backup just in case the SAGE system were to go down.  The first stage of the BUIC system, BUIC I, was to set up a system of existing radar stations that could operate in the same fashion as they did before the SAGE system by manually overseeing their designated airspace.  In 1963, the K.I. Sawyer AFB was closed and the CAFS came under the control of the Duluth SAGE Direction Center.  This change designated the CAFS as NORAD ID Z-16 and equipment turnover resulted in two new height finders, the FPS-26A and the FPS-90, and a new search radar, FPS-27.  In 1964, the decision to decommission the gap filler, NORAD Z-16B, located in Upson, Wi was made.  In 1965 the CAFS went operational as a BUIC II site.  The BUIC II was the next phase of the BUIC system which was to institute a computer based intercept system similar to the SAGE system.  The system was still designed to take over for the SAGE system in the event that the SAGE system was not able to complete its intercepting functions.  In 1968, the second gap filler, NORAD Z-16A, located in Painsdale, WI was decommissioned.  In 1970, the CAFS was selected to be  BUIC III site and was designated the 665th Air Defense Group (BUIC).  Due to problems with the BUIC II system,  the Secretary of Defense approved the BUIC III system.  This system upgraded the BUIC II equipment instead of replacing it by creating better displays and improving the coverage of the radar stations.  The FST-2 was also replaced with a more advanced data transmission method known as the FYQ-47.  In 1974, the decision was made the put an end to the BUIC system.  The CAFS went back to a Surveillance Radar Site feeding data to the SAGE system.  In 1979, the Air Defense Command was dissolved and their assets were transferred to the Tactical Air Command (TAC).  TAC made the decision to cease operations at the CAFS and the decommissioning of the station began.  On October 1st of 1979, the height finder operations stopped and on October 18th search radar operations stopped. In July of 1981, the CAFS came under the the control of the Hancock SAGE Direction Center.  The Hancock SAGE Direction Center eventually closed in September of 1983 and along with it the SAGE system was finally deactivated.  This led to the CAFS to come under the control of the Griffiss JSS ROCC facility.  The plan to decommissioned the CAFS was eventually overturned and on December 1st, 1983 a mobile search radar system, the MPS-11, was put online at the station.  On April 5th, 1985 two new fixed height finder radar systems, the FPS-91A and the FPS-116, went online.  On October 1st, 1984 the mobile search radar system was taken offline.  Finally, on September 30th 1988 the Calumet Air Force Station was decommissioned after 37 years of service.  Since the station was decommission it was home to a reform school and is now currently owned by Keweenaw County.  The site is also used now as radio site for cellular communications.

Calumet Air Force Station Timeline

(Click the Link)

Primary Sources

  1. 665th Radar Station Welcomes You to The Calumet Air Force Station. 1987, Accessed 20 Oct. 2017.
  2. “The Cold War.” John F. Kennedy: Presidential Library and Museum, Accessed 16 Nov. 2017.
  3. “U. S. RADAR MEN LOOK DOWN THE SOVIET THROATS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Dec 05, 1951, pp. 1-a1, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune,

Secondary Sources

  1. “Calumet Air Force Station.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, 1987,       Accessed 20 Oct. 2017.
  2. “Cold War History.”, E+A Networks, 2009, Accessed 16 Nov. 2017.
  3. Stanton, John. “Calumet Air Force Station.” FortWiki, FortWiki, Accessed 20 Oct. 2017.
  4. “Red Scare.”, E+A Networks, 2010, Accessed 16 Nov. 2017.
  5. Truman, C N. “What was the Cold War?.” The History Learning Site, 25 May 2015, Accessed 16 Nov. 2017.
  6. “SAGE Introduction.” FortWiki, Accessed 16 Nov. 2017.
  7. “BUIC System.” FortWiki, Accessed 16 Nov. 2017.
  8. “Cold War.” Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2017.


[1] IMG_6537. . Private Collection. Accessed 16 Nov. 2017.

[2] IMG_9475. . Private Collection. Accessed 16 Nov. 2017.

[3] SAGE computer system. . Private Collection. Accessed 16 Nov. 2017.

[4] Autumn Scene. . Private Collection. Accessed 8 Dec. 2017.