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Radar Hill

What follows is some text written in response to an inquiry about long-ago corporate memories of the Ohio University Radar Hill Laboratory, operated in the 1960s and 70s by the Department of Electrical Engineering's Avionics Research Group. This group later became the Avionics Engineering Center, which is still a highly successful program at the University.

Radar HillThe south-most dish was the 30-foot steerable one, used for moon-bounce and Echo Satellite work at S-band, later expanded to include some DoD satellite work (IDCSP birds) at X-band. The two fixed dishes facing sort of East were monitoring Parkersburg's VOR (PKB at the time), looking for terrain effects at various seasons. This was thesis work done a thousand years ago (1963?) by MS student Joe Keesey.

The first Radar Hill Laboratory building was just to the left of the left-most fixed dish, built into the (east) side of the hill. It was brick (naturally, for Georgian-centric Ohio University).  Later, a second steerable dish was installed just about where the yellow trailer site is in one picture, and a second brick building was built into the west side of the hill nearby.

That little orange device sticking up at picture right was the "gun director," from Navy days. We mounted a telescope on it for optical tracking of satellites, and its servos steered the 30-foot dish.  Later, we steered the big dish manually from the control room using printed(!) computer outputs from an old vacuum tube computer I brought up from campus (the old Royal Precision LGP-30, a drum machine with 110 vacuum tubes and a 14 msec cycle time). We had a moon and satellite look angles program on it, though!

...The State of Ohio owned the whole place (still does?). The property, as I remember it, was borrowed from the State Hospital, and eventually it became part of the University when the Ridges were transferred. I don't remember any agreements with the University's planning office relating to "reoccupation" by Electrical Engineering.

There was a decent road (gravel/cinders in those days) accessed through the Athens Mental Health Center (now part of the University and called The Ridges). The road is still there, with a closed gate just past the newer buildings and the new water tower on the hill above the main Ridges buildings. ...You go toward the new water tower on the hill west of the "big" Ridges building. There's a road which splits off to the left, and there's a locked gate there. The road is (was) unpaved from there on. ...

...Follow the road - big left curve and then back to the right. Stay on the ridgeline, past an old dump on the right and an orchard on both sides (if it's still there).  The road may split here and the left fork heads south down the hill. The fork which goes straight on westward is the one. Generally, the rule is, "keep going up". When you get to the highest point anywhere nearby, you are there.

There were at least 10 acres of cleared ground in those days, with the site on a significant rise in the middle.  There were many antennas and two buildings (all gone now, because the University was worried about liability, and people were going up there to smoke dope, etc.). But the foundations are probably still there.  You should see some old foundations for the big dish - four concrete pillars with bolts sticking out?

Utilities were fine -- we operated a 10,000-watt transmitter up there in my day, and communicated using a simple phone line -- no network in those days!  Utility wire came to the fence and then underground to the main building. We went downtown to campus to do batch computing and bring the results to the lab. Much later, I believe Prof. Jim Gilfert set up a surplus microwave system between Clippinger Labs on the campus and the Hill. I don't know how well it worked.

The horizon mask was almost perfect. Except for the WOUB-TV/FM tower and a few other point obstructions, the terrain mask was a maximum of 0.5 degrees all around.

Back then, the place was electrically quiet. The nearest power transmission lines were over a mile away. I think there has been a power substation and maybe some cell-phone or microwave facilities erected on hilltops nearby, so this might bear some investigation when radio-frequency interference and noise are considered.

There was also a square tower with lab rooms built at the top located on the brow of the hill north of the main site, looking over the valley. That's gone too, but the foundations may still be there...

For more details, contact the Avionics Engineering Center at http://www.ohio.edu/avionics/ -- they still have the reports in the file, I'm certain. Ask about EER 1-1 and 1-2. That's right, we started the series!

Any future tenants will have to be careful to respect the sanctity of this hallowed ground...!

Robert Lilley, Ph. D.,
Director Emeritus 
Avionics Engineering Center
February, 2002


Avionics Engineering Center
Russ College of Engineering and Technology
131 McFarland Avionics Building
Ohio University
Athens, OH 45701
Tel: (740) 593-1515

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