The Withering: Keno Air Force Station

The Withering: Keno Air Force Station

In Klamath County, Oregon, southeast of Medford and just a joyride north of the California border, the United States constructed the Keno Air Force Station in response to a 1953 request from Air Defense Command for more radar coverage in the Pacific Northwest.

The 827th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron started here in 1957 and in 1958, the installation became known as Keno Air Force Station to serve a Ground Control Intercept mission — track incoming aircraft and guide interceptors. The first operational intercontinental ballistic missile launcher would be built in the Soviet Union in 1959, but this was still the time when we feared Soviet bombers flying over our cities and dropping nuclear weapons.

Keno Air Force Station

Facilities like Keno were built all along our coasts and our northern border, even the Canadian far north, to track the enemy bombers that would inevitably come, but it would only be a few years, when our missile-filled nuclear future resolved clear, that places like this began withering.

Keno Air Force Station

We’ve been to places like this before… Fortuna Air Force Station, for example, on the Montana/Dakota Border. And Minot Air Force Station, in west-central North Dakota. A radar technician, Steve Sampson, who served at Fortuna circa 1976, also served at Keno from ’73 to ’76, and took these photos. When we asked him for permission to use his photos, he kindly informed us he had released them into the public domain in 1978 and that we were free to use them. Thanks to Steve for serving, and for sharing these photos and adding something to our understanding and memory of places like this.

Keno Air Force Station

Keno Air Force Station was a mountaintop outpost, a surveillance station at 6,600 feet on Hamaker Mountain, and it didn’t have the real estate for living quarters on the mountain, so crew were housed 13 miles away at Kingsley Field, Klamath Falls. Steve Sampson, said, in 1973, it was two Greyhound buses of people that would make the trip from Klamath Falls to Hamaker Mountain each day, but by the time he left in 1976, it was a half-empty bus, or even a station wagon.

Keno Air Force Station

In the photo above, the rubber dome over the radar has been destroyed in a wind storm. It was replaced with a fiberglass dome.

Keno Air Force Station, like the other facilities of its kind, was almost obsolete when it was constructed, outpaced by advances in the aerospace industry. The mission evolved to face a changing world, but with its original mission gone, Keno would wither in a windstorm of mergers and shutdowns in the 70s and 80s. The 827th Radar Defense Squadron was replaced by the 827th Air Defense Group in 1970, and the Radar Defense Squadron was deactivated for the final time in 1979. One of the radars had already been removed in 1976, and the remaining one was retired in 1988. Ownership transferred to the FAA, and the remaining structures from Keno AFS were taken down in the early 90s.

FAA Radar, Hamaker Mountain, Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

Today, an FAA unattended search radar operates in this spot on Hamaker Mountain.

More Keno AFS from Steve Sampson.

See also: Fortuna Air Force Station
See also: A Haunting Abandoned Port of Entry in Noyes, Minnesota

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