The Highlands Center site is currently closed to the public. Check back for updates on specific public events in the summer of 2023.
Cold War History: North Truro Air Force Station
Caught up in the excitement of transforming the Highlands Center at Cape Cod National Seashore into a thriving community for the arts, science and education, it’s hard to think of a time when the site housed the United States’ first line of defense against potential enemy bombers. But look closely, and you’ll notice clues that point to a time when the Highlands Center site had a very different mission.
Station Mission: Detect, Identify, Intercept and Destroy
The Highlands Center sits on the site of the former North Truro Air Force Station. From 1951 to 1985, radars positioned at the station provided vital data to our nation’s air defense system. The radars were positioned to scan the airspace around the Cape and to detect Soviet bombers moving across the Arctic Circle. Anyone who remembers schoolyard “Duck and Cover” drills also remembers the pervasive fear that the Soviets would send an atomic bomb our way. One nation’s reaction to this fear was the establishment of bases like North Truro, whose mission was to “Detect, Identify, Intercept and Destroy” hostile aircraft.
Early Military Uses
The site’s military history began during World War II, when the Army used it to train artillery crews. The same features that made the site suitable for artillery training made it ideal for a radar station. Fairly remote, with no tall buildings or natural features to obstruct or impair the range of radar technology, the coastal site was the perfect space for one of the Air Force’s first radar squadrons to occupy in 1948.
The Cold War Heats Up
President Truman’s announcement in September of 1949 that the Soviet Union had detonated an atomic bomb kicked the North Truro Air Force Station’s role into high gear. The station became home to one of the first radar squadrons in the nation’s newly developed air defense system. The 762nd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron was activated in 1950, and in December of that year the first fifty airmen arrived in North Truro.
Texas Towers: Extending Defenses Seaward
The North Truro station’s defense system wasn’t limited to land and air. In December 1955, the station became the support base for the Georges Shoal Tower Annex, located 110 miles off the coast of Cape Cod. The tower was the first of three towers built off the Atlantic seaboard and equipped with long-range search radars. These towers were nicknamed “Texas Towers” for their similarities to offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. The towers extended east-west radar coverage 300 to 500 miles seaward. This extra coverage gave the Air Force at least thirty more minutes of warning and preparation time in the event of an incoming bomber attack.
North Truro AFS in the Post-Cold War Era
Things have changed dramatically at the Highlands Center site since the days of missile warning systems and fears of a nuclear attack. Reflecting a national shift away from cold war fears, the Air Force deactivated the station in 1985. A portion of the land was transferred to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which now operates the long-range search radar as part of the FAA/Air Force Joint Surveillance System. The FAA uses this radar as the primary tracking radar for international flights flying into Boston’s Logan airport and New York’s Kennedy airport. The Air Force continues to use the radar to identify and track civilian and military aircraft.
Re-Raising the Flag
When the North Truro Air Force Station closed in June 1985, a ceremony was held featur-ing poignant speeches, jets soaring overhead, and the lowering of the flag. Guest speaker and Truro Selectman Bruce Tarvers said of the station’s personnel, “You’ve become more than friends and neighbors, you’ve become part of us.” For nearly 25 years after, no flag flew over the site.
Solar Arrays at Highlands CenterAs a participant in the Climate Friendly Parks program, Cape Cod National Seashore belongs to a growing network of parks nationwide that are putting greenhouse gas reduction and climate friendly behavior at the forefront of sustainability planning. The Seashore has made the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strive to achieve net zero energy use in the future through renewable energy sources.
The Highlands Center Solar Roof Project was completed in 2016 atop the park’s Biological Lab (NACL) and Atlantic Research & Learning Center (ARLC) Classroom roofs. It consists of a total of 91 solar photovoltaic (PV) panels with a total system capacity of 28.665 kW. The estimated annual production is equal to the annual electric consumption of 6 houses. Building #14 (ARLC Classroom) has 40 panels and Building #45 (NACL) has 51 panels. Electric offset to annual electric bills is estimated at 63% of projected electric energy use for both buildings.
Last updated: February 1, 2023