Squadron at Hill Air Force Base assist in restoring massive long-range radar

Sep 5, 2023, 7:30 PM | Updated: Sep 7, 2023, 1:19 pm

The Common Air Route Surveillance Radar, or CARSR, was replaced at Battle Mountain, Nevada, June 20...

The Common Air Route Surveillance Radar, or CARSR, was replaced at Battle Mountain, Nevada, June 2023. The long-range radar suffered a catastrophic failure on Dec. 27, 2022, when snow accumulation caused the protective dome to collapse onto the antennas within. (U.S. Air Force photo)

(U.S. Air Force photo)

SALT LAKE CITY — A team at Hill Air Force Base is being credited with helping to fix a massive piece of radar equipment on the top of a mountain in Nevada. It’s equipment that helps protect the airspace in Utah and other western states.

The 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron worked with NORAD and the Federal Aviation Administration in restoring a long-range radar on top of Battle Mountain in northern Nevada (pictured below) after it was crushed by snow, twice.

“It is a long-range surveillance radar primarily used by the FAA for air traffic control, but it’s also used by the Department of Defence and Homeland Security,” 84th Radar Evaluation flight chief Darrell McFarland told KSL NewsRadio. 

It’s called The Common Air Route Surveillance Radar, or CARSR. 

The first collapse

The radar was first damaged on December 27, 2022. McFarland said there was just a massive amount of snow that crushed the giant golf ball-like structure that protected the antenna.

“The storms just piled so much snow and ice that it collapsed onto the radar inside…basically stopping it from rotating,” he said.

The FAA was in charge of rebuilding that structure, but couldn’t get up to Battle Mountain for a couple of weeks because of the conditions. McFarland reports snow was higher than the poles that measure the sides road — which sit at around 10 to 12 feet.

“It was completely unsafe to go up there,” he said.

By the middle of January 2023, FAA crews were finally able to go up. They did what they could to stabilize the radar, but a couple of weeks later another storm hit and collapsed the now-exposed massive orange antenna.

“It was completely destroyed,” McFarland said.

And that left Utah and other western states with less airspace coverage. When operating, the radar provides the primary airspace coverage in northern Nevada, eastern California, Western Utah, and southern Idaho. 

“That created a hole in the airspace. We did not have primary radar coverage during that time,” McFarland said. 

‘You can’t go down to Walmart to pick one up.’

The first step of finding and rebuilding the antenna was no small feat. Then, FAA crews had to lug it up to the top of a mountain.

The groups also had to clear and restore road access to the top of a 10,000-foot mountaintop and remove the destroyed equipment.

“The antenna like the one that was destroyed was built in the 1950s and ’60s…there aren’t any of them just lying around…you can’t go down to Walmart and pick one up,” McFarland said.

The FAA was able to find one at a test facility in New Jersey. It took five months to refurbish it and get it back up the mountain piece by piece. That happened in June 2023.

The new antenna was 60 feet by 45 feet and weighed 5.5 tons. 

“The fact that it was able to be done in the short amount of time that was was an absolutely incredible feat,” McFarland said.

He credits the collaboration of the FAA for fixing it, experts from the National Airspace System, and his squad of around 100 people at Hill Air Force Base who are then in charge of making sure the radar works again. Personnel from the Salt Lake City Air Traffic Control Center were also part of the team.

“We go in and tweak all of the parameters on the radar system to make sure they’re operating as best they can in that environment,” said McFarland.

“Litterally in this case it took a nationwide effort to put this system back on the line as quickly as we did,” he said.

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Squadron at Hill Air Force Base assist in restoring massive long-range radar