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This page updated 2006 April 28, 2015 June 2, 2021 November 30.

Kodiak Alaska Military History

Air Force Tracking Station at Chiniak


The Air Force operated this tracking station during the early days of the space program. It was originally built as an aircraft control facility (AC&W Site) , never activated, and converted later. The facility operated as a tracking station from 1958 to 1975. The two AC&W sites in the Kodiak area: The Chiniak AC&W site was built by S. S. Mullen, Inc., Seattle, for $2,117,347. The Sitkinak, AC&W site was built by J. A. Jones Construction Co., Seattle, for $3,972,930. Also see the statewide Military History in Alaska , 1867 - 2000

From remains found at the site in 1998, we determined the phone number was (907) 486-3248 and the Autovon number was 652-1212. The site had an Automatic Electric model 300-3T Strowger type telephone switchboard equipped for 100 lines. There were several direct-inward-dial trunks. All communications to the site was via a Lenkurt model 74 microwave and type 45 mux from the WACS site on Pillar Mt.

The Kodiak Mirror reported the following article on March 17, 1975:
     Col. Robert Van Arscale, commander of the Air Force Satellite Control Facility, announces the closure of the Kodiak Tracking Station.
     The colonel, who arrived from Los Angeles, held a debriefing for the 123 employees of the facility.
     Employees were told of the closure of the facility with only one day's official notice.

As of 2000 the site has been reduced to bare gravel with only the garage remaining.

There was another similar AC&W station at Ohlson Mountain in Homer.

The official Air Force history of the AC&W system is on their web site.

For one story of the Chiniak station read the story by Tony Smaker.

Bob Siptrott wrote a background on the whole satellite tracking system with a really good detailed description. Also be sure to visit his GUEST BOOK.

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Gerry Brookman was at the station in the early days.

QUEST the History of Spaceflight Quarterly. Quest is edited by Dr. David Arnold, a professor of space history at the Air Force Academy.

Video of KODI by Rondomon Oct 31, 2012

First Team September 1959

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Back row: Don Jacob, Dale Thompson, Dixie McGehee, Joe Weitzell, Bobby Smith, Jim Warren, Marion Reed, Jim Swarthout.

First row: Floyd (Smitty) Smith, Dick Sewell, Frank Lopez, Bob Martin, Stan Shoup, Hank Ciano, Stan Frisby, Jerry Brookman.

Kneeling: Bill Emerson, Cliff Spencer, Lee Louffbrow, Bob Grilli, Lou Espinoza, Gene Banks, Reuben Dominquez, Bill farley.

Image courtesy of Bob Grill, Houston Texas, 2015 May.

Pictures from Summer 1998 and January 1984

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1 - Entrance gate from the main "highway".
2 - Main building on the left, graveyard shift bunks with prelort radar behind. The prelort antenna dome was rigid. (2000 note: The antenna may survive behind the Chiniak post office and the dome at the Gibson Cove highway shop.)
3 - View from T hill back toward main facility. The lake on the left was the source of drinking water.
4 - Helix antenna mount and day crew bunks. The dome for the helix antenna was inflated. Bob Hornel kept it blown up.
5 - Substation, water tanks, helix antenna mount "C".
6 - This garage building was built as the facility was being closed. It was never used by the Air Force but was used during 1998 as the headquarters for a logging operation. The supply building is just visible on the left along with a corner of the main building.
7 - Bore sight tower. Aluminum scaffolding with stairs. This tower was used with surveying instruments to align antennas.
8 - Composite building. Roof area with vents is the chow hall, just beyond is a blank flat roof over the secure area. Beyond that are the eight muffler exhaust stacks of the main power plant generators. On the right is the Prelort tower with missing antenna.
9 - Topo map detail of site.
10 - 1998 photo of telephone equipment in the secure area. The roof has been gone for several years.
11 - Bore-sight tower and housing trailers from antenna "D". Microwave dish was Lenkurt 74 radio to Pillar Mt. Lenkurt 45 mux was used.
12 - Close-up of bore-sight tower with helix antenna.
13 - Generator room showing 8 exhaust pipes and fiberglass radome.
14 - Back of the composite building.
15 - USCG 400 MHz relay site. "T" hill portion of AF station. In 1984 this site had a diesel generator running full-time to power the radio relay from Kodiak to Narrow Cape LorSta. In 2000, the tower is still standing but the building is gone. LorSta Narrow Cape now uses a satellite link. The tower was removed sometime around 2002.

Undated Pictures from VFW collection

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Undated Pictures from Bill Beaty estate

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Date: Mon, 7 Dec 1998 22:25:14 -0700


Great Kodiak page, sir!

My father was CO of the AF tracking station at Chiniak from July '63 through June '65. I was 11-13 then, lived in town with my Mom & sister, and remember the incredible beauty of the island. I also remember the earthquake and the devastation of the tidal waves and the summer of '64 spent at the Cape. Lt. Col. Lawton K. Bannister, USAF, Ret. passed away in January '98 at 87.

Because Corona - the satellite tracked and controlled by Chiniak - remained deep black until the '90's, I'm only now learning what Dad did as a military officer. I know he began with missiles and space in '50 and stayed with the "communication satellite" program until 1967. He spoke only briefly about the program, but now I know the benefit of it. Real knowledge of Soviet nuclear capability - it was far less than had been estimated before Corona - was gained by the effort of many. The correct knowledge significantly reduced US willingness to launch, a willingness that may have been high enough to snuff us.

I'm devouring everything I can find on the Corona program from books and web pages, including histories of each mission, anecdotes - stories mostly from Washington and Sunnyvale - and an incredible amount of technical detail gleaned from declassified NRO and CIA documents.  I'd really like to contact anyone who can fill in the blanks about Chiniak.  I'd sure love to hear from anyone from the Chiniak Lockheed & Emerald crew of '63-'65.

Steve J Bannister

To: Delta-S (at) world.net.att.net
Cc: TTSanders (at) Webtv.net
Date: Thu, 14 Jan 1999 10:34:09 -0800
Subject: Kodiak History
From: edwinknapp (at) juno.com (Ed P Knapp)

I read your letter regarding the history of the Chiniak Tracking Station and your desire to have anyone associated with the station to "fill in" some of the blanks. I was the Project Manager for the logistics when Burtonshaw had the contract. Lockheed Space and Missile had the telemetry contract but many of the Philco members stayed on to work with Lockheed. Bob Jacques was the Project Engineer for that contract. I started working there in 1962 when Jimmy Walker and Pete Holmes were handling the contract for Burtonshaw which was a concern out of Bellingham, Washington. The site had over one hundred personnel plus an Air Force CO. I started as a mechanic and took over as the Project Manager in the first part of 1963. Before I left the site, I organized the workers for a Local #302, Operating Engineers Union so as to prevent underbidding by contractors from the South who were using cheap labor to do the work at the base. Had the AF known that I was organizing the workers, they would have probably lynched me. I was also a Minister for the church of Christ in Kodiak and a WW-2 veteran pilot. I was asked to photograph the Russion fleet which was secretly monitoring our telemetry data by posing as a fishing processing plant. A Coast Guard photographer took the pictures as I flew low over the fleet. Only one pass was possible as the Russions would have shot us down for the over flight. We got the pictures but the FAA agents were waiting at the airport when we landed. The word from Russia and Washington DC about this invasion traveled faster than my plane. I received a reprimand but petty officer Turner got away with the photos posing as my civilian passenger. We were tracking the Russion satellites at the time which was called a "Russion Graveyard" by Lockheed. My job was to maintain the power plants, motor pool, roads, air field, hire workers, payroll which amounted to $250,000 annually. In July of 1963 I left the job and a Navy Commander took over the logistics project. All supplies came from the USAF in Anchorage with an AF Colonel as the base CO. I have long since forgotten his name. I have a great deal more to say about the year that I was there but will leave it up to you if more is desired.
Doctor Edwin P. Knapp Sr.

Comments from Chuck Mackey 1999 January 14 having lunch at King's Diner, Kodiak:

Emerald Maintenance was headquartered in Sand Point Idaho. I visited their office there once. It was in the home of the owner. I can't remember his name, but Dale Finlay probably knows. He hired kids and paid low salaries then charged the Air Force full rate. Their contract was cost plus ten-percent. I handled 2-4-D herbicide which was very toxic. Every time I used it, I wore long sleeve rubber gloves and rain gear which I threw away afterward. Hobart Dawson worked for Thompson Transfer and drove the fuel truck which took 136 trips to completely fill the tank at the station. Later Hobart worked for Emerald. (He now lives on Lightfoot St.)

[Editor note: Chuck retired from Kodiak Electric Association as a power plant operator. He worked in several maintenance fields at the station and in the power plant there. Chuck was a ham, WL7EM, so was Bill Beaty.] [Update: Bill Beaty died in 2006. His service was held at King's Diner. Chuck Mackey is also gone.]

Date: Sat, 16 Jan 1999 16:05:09 -0800
Subject: Re: Kodiak History
From: edwinknapp (at) juno.com (Ed P Knapp)

Joe, I just finished reading Tony Smaker's history of the Chiniak Tracking Station history and he made a few errors in it. First one is that it was BURTCO who got the contract in 1962, Burtonshaw was a big restaurant owner in Bellingham Washington. He put up the money for the bid. Jimmy Walker, an ex air force pilot on WW-2 was the Burtco agent. Herb Long was his first Project Manager. Herb goofed up a few times in 1962 and I replaced him as the PM. He later came back in 64 and took over the contract himself funded by some other Millionaire. Herb was a chronic boozer and had a chronic hangover every day. Tony Reed was his buddy and favored to follow him in authority but he was an ex police officer in Kodiak and a mediocre electrician. I had to call in a Kodiak electrician a few times to solve the air-conditioning system which was vital to the telemetry department. Smaker never mentioned Bob Jaques who was the PE for Lockheed Space and Missile. The technicians were heavy drinkers and demanded special favors from me for extra food hours, more vehicle time for trips to town and steaks, lobsters and special desserts that exceeded our AF budget. When Herb Long was the PM, he had a few "shutdowns" in the generator room which was a no-no when the telemetry was activated. A shut down causes a furor in Sunnyvale and Air Force officials are vicious with the contractor. As long as Herb stayed out of the Generator room, everything went fine.
More later

Date: Mon, 05 Jul 1999 10:54:54 -1200
From: vincecappelletti vincecappelletti (at) cwix.com
Subject: Chiniak aka KODI

Dear ? ( not sure who I should address this too !)

Yesterday afternoon I had a msg from a former Philco-WDL & Lockheed buddy, Dal Leyva who now resides in Louisiana. Dal alerted me to the web-page featuring Tony Smaker's book, and I spent a couple of hours renewing a lot of old memories, and was delighted.

It brought back a lot of old memories, some good and some not-so- good, but mostly great!

The only thing that raised the hair on my neck was the bad- mouthing of Herb Long by his former employer, (justified in his mind or not) I believe it was unnecessary.

When you read through the chapters by Tony, I believe he confirmed that. Herb may have been a bear at times, but he was at heart, a kind bear. Having spent time at BOTH Chiniak, and Donnely Flats (near fort Greeley) when Herb was handling the base support contractors role, I think the demeaning statements were uncalled for, and served no purpose other than to reveal the nature and character of the writer. I have no idea where Herb is at this writing, and have no idea whether or not he is still with us, but I'm sure he'll be judged appropiately when his time comes.

I spent considerable time there at Chiniak, (granted, not as long as Tony and some of the others) first as an Installation Team Leader from Philco-WDL (Later Philco-Ford, then Aeronutronic, then Ford Aerospace) installing a number of ECP's (Engineering Change Proposals) and later a stint as the station DCM (Data Configuration Manager) where we tried to confirm and record all of those ECP's that were installed over the years. The latter was from August of '65 through August '68. When I departed and headed for INDI to take up the same task there.

Going through the chapter on the naming of the various portions of the road, I felt slighted as no mention was made of the sweeping Cappelletti-Curve, where I rolled a near-new '67 Blue Mustang-GT-Fastback Coupe. It was on a high bluff not too far from the base, and I managed to total that lovely car on a bright sun-shiny morning when I hit a patch of gravel, going a bit too fast and it just "went over the edge" and kept on rolling. Fortunately we rolled off the in-land side of the road, and not towards the beach/ocean and it was a pretty smooth roll. Though we landed on the roof, we were both wearing the latest 3-point seat belts and there we were suspended up-side down. I was married at the time, and my then-spouse was with me.

She worked for Herb in his Supply/Logistics section. We were occupying a "Shack" behind the "Rendezvous" at Middle Bay, and made the run to/from the base every day, rain or shine, sleet or snow. I believe one winter, must have been February of '66 or so, when the ice was so prevalent on the road, I was indeed running chains on all-four wheels, just to maintain steering capability, and I still managed to slide off the edge of the road. When that happened, and it happened to a lot of us, we merely got on the Chiniak CB-net, and let the Comm-center know where we were, and the condition of the road. Herb always made sure that the mail truck or the road grader would come and pull us back on the road so we could make it to work.

I know I've got a scrap-book upstairs in storage with some photos, and would be pleased to send them along to whoever is maintaining some sort of scrapbook of like at Chinak during that period. Just let me know when to send them, and who to address the package too.

Also, where can I purchase a copy of Tony's book?
With thanks and warmest regards,
Vince Cappelletti
28521 Highgate Drive
Bonita Springs, FL. 34135-6806

[Note: There never was a published book. It exists only as xeroxes of the manuscript.]

Subj: 1964 Earthquake.
Date: 2/20/00 5:40:41 PM Pacific Standard Time
From: bubbasip (at) aol.com

I just found out this web existed and am excited to share that night of the big Kodiak Earth Quake party, some good, some tragic.

I am in the process of writing a book about my nine years in Kodiak. I just found the Tony Smaker book who I worked with several years with.

I' m trying to contact him with tons of pictures and goofy true stories I have.

I have done things there and have movies no one has. I was the only one at the Tracking Station to shoot a Kodiak Bear and a Polar Bear. I had a picture taken of me and the Polar Bear in front of the Welcome to Air Force Satellite Control Kodiak Tracking Station.(SIGN) This was accomplished the last year the Polar Bears went on the Extinct Species list, around 1964 or 65. I jumped it 150 miles north of Point Barrow on the ice. That town is a trip and half

I was station ay the Chiniak Tracking Station June 1 1963 thru June 1 1972 working for Lockheed Missiles and Space Co. I was in town for a party and bar hoping. Oh what an afternoon and night it was. A frigging marine damn near shot me. I was in town that night up by the police station and help. I have or hop I have that is still good, a mm color of the town a few days later. I remember the 96' fishing boat the seeliff setting up by the red school house.

If your interested or anyone is interested I would be interested CO authoring material I have 60 good chapter of material and am interest in making a book and possibly a movie. Money is good. Let me know what's cooking and maybe I can add some flavoring bubbasip (at) aol.com BOB