Cold Lake, AB

1962 – Memories of Cold Lake – Penny King

Pinetree Line Web Site Note:

The radar station located at Cold Lake has remained something of a mystery and we have not been able to obtain any detail which explains the operational picture during the early years of Cold Lake.

Our records (unconfirmed) indicate that the unit became operational on 1 August 1954 and that the unit became SAGE operational in June 1963. But what took place between 1954 and 1963? Was this location operational as a Pinetree Line CGI or early warning unit – similar to other long range radar stations such as Foymount and Senneterre – or, as has been suspected for a number of years, was Cold Lake simply functioning as a control unit for jet fighter operations which originated in Cold Lake? There were also unconfirmed stories to the effect that the AC&W facilities were being used as a training unit for AS/FtrC personnel (Officer controllers).

Many of the Officer controllers took their basic trade training at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida – while the FCO’s (enlisted personnel – also known as FtrCops) completed their basic training at Clinton Ontario, before being transferred to one of the operational Pinetree Line stations.

We have been fortunate to communicate with Penny King – a female FtrCop who served at Cold Lake between September 1962 and January 1964. Penny has provided some valuable information which confirms the situation during the time that she was stationed at Cold Lake.

Memories of Cold Lake
1962 to 1964 - Three Different Roles

After spending 38 months at St. Margarets, I received a posting to 42 AC&W Squadron at Cold Lake and arrived at the beginning of September, 1962. It was the last posting to Cold Lake for a female Fighter Control Operator (FtrCop).

42 AC&W in September, 1962

When I arrived, 42 AC&W was not an operational unit. We provided control of aircraft when required, and in that respect working at Cold Lake was just like being at any other AC&W. But the rest of the unit was not operational at that point. The Scope and Ops Rooms were used only for exercises for students who were attending the Controller's School.

But that soon changed. When I arrived, the last course was in residence, only 3-4 weeks from graduation. The equipment and methods used for controlling aircraft were both about to change, and Cold Lake was not able to provide the new training. The school at Cold Lake closed, and eventually found a new home in North Bay.

42 AC&W - October 1962 to June 1963

Immediately after the school closed, 42 AC&W began to operate on a 24-hour basis, finally becoming a fully operational station performing both the control and warning functions. We became part of the Great Falls (Montana) Air Defence Sector.

Although the historical summary entitled "News From the Base" (# 1) states that we switched to SAGE in 1962, I was there and I am positive that we did not have SAGE at that time. For the next eight months, 42 AC&W operated as a manual station.

SAGE - June, 1963

I believe that the hook-up was completed by March, 1963. But there was a test period, and it wasn't until June 1963 before we received the directive to cease manual operations. When the word came, it brought big changes for everyone at the unit.

It was the end of the employment of Controllers at Cold Lake, and their jobs moved to another level. The service did not change, however. Our radar and communications facilities were still available. Everything we had was linked to SAGE, and other Controllers could now do the job from a distance.

It was also the beginning of the end for female FtrCops. Cold Lake might have been the last AC&W to become operational, but we were close to the top of the list for SAGE and started the big "shuffle" that accompanied the closing of the trade to us. The original plan was to post all of the female FtrCops to other units, and I was included on the first list. I was supposed to go to Parent, but at the last minute somebody decided to keep me at Cold Lake. So I ended up in the very unusual situation (for an Airwoman) of staying at a unit beyond the conversion date and actually working in the new system for a while.

42 Radar Squadron

SAGE was quite a change from manual operations. The FtrCops that stayed behind moved out of the main building and into new quarters. Our crews were very small, with two people in the DMCC and one needed for PBX. I stayed until January, 1964, when I was released from the RCAF.

I noticed that the article on the General History of Cold Lake (# 2) that was prepared by the NBC Group says that the unit was officially re-designated as "42 Radar Squadron" in 1967. We never bothered to wait for anything official. We started calling it "42 Radar Squadron" the day we began to operate as a SAGE station. That was sometime back in June 1963.


Penny King provided this material for use on the Pinetree Line web site in December 1999.