A Compact Little Community With a Big Job
Prince George Citizen
Badly Hughes is a compact little air force community 26 miles west of Prince George which is home to some 160 men, officers and their families.
That’s one side of the picture. The other is a wind-blown cluster of five storey-high radar domes under which electronic equipment ceaselessly probes the sky for signs of a sneak enemy air attack on Canada or the United States.
The men refer to the installation and camp respectively as "up-the-hill" and "down-the-hill". "Up-the-hill" means the top of a 4,500 foot peak, one-and-a-half miles from camp.
For a story in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the RCAF, Wednesday, the command of Baldy Hughes permitted a Citizen reporter-photographer team to go "up-the-hill".
The first step was to get red tags from the armed guard at the gate.
The tags, which read "Restricted Area Pass". Are issued to visitors only after clearance from the base commander, proof of identity at the gate, promises to limit photography to non-classified topics and the good word of an officer who invites the visitor.
Then, with the red tags pinned in plain view, it’s up the twisting road to the summit where the five domes glint against the sky, looking like huge baseballs on narrow pedestals.
The 40-foot-diameter domes contain revolving radar antennas which electronically listen for the echo of beams bouncing back from objects in the sky.
Beneath the domes there are four floors of electronic equipment.
On a ledge a short distance below the summit, a long, narrow building hugs the mountain side. A sign on the door warns against entry of unauthorized persons.
Inside, a long corridor leads past offices to the "nerve centre" of the installation.
The only sound is a steady, dull mum from the tons of equipment.
The sound never stops.
Our guide, Flying Officer Francis McDonnel, first led us to a large dark room glowing with green and orange radar scopes and panels of sparkling lights.
Some of the equipment was surrounded by high black screens.
"Top Secret" explained F/O McDonnel.
In an adjoining room, the radar data is processed on a 30-foot-long computer and this information is transmitted to the North American Air Defence Command area headquarters in Seattle.
"The whole operation takes less than a minute". "Seattle is hooked up with other radar bases in the west and they can see how the overall picture looks", said F/O McDonnell.
Next stop was a radar tower, reached after a long climb up ramps and hundreds of stairs.
"Make sure you mention the stairs", said F/O McDonnel, "The men have to climb up and down several times a day and we keep hoping somebody will do something about them".
The radar towers contain equipment too complex for the layman to comprehend.
One level contains sending equipment, another contains receiving equipment and another contains refrigeration equipment to cool the high-frequency radar beams which would otherwise melt the equipment.
Some equipment in the tower was screened from view.
"We are always moving something new in here", said F/O McDonnel as he pointed out new pieces of equipment and some that looked as old as the base itself.
Baldy Hughes, named after a colorful hermit who once frequented the area, was built by the United States Air Force in 1952 as one of the westernmost links of the Pinetree radar warning line.
Ten years later the RCAF took over the base as partial payment for the sale of US warplanes to Canada.
The base is staffed by 160 officers and men and 75 civilian employees. Married officers and men live in Prince George. "The rapport between the base and Prince George is excellent", said F/L Graham Craig.
"Trouble just doesn’t exist".
The air force goes out of its way to keep the men happy at Baldy Hughes, even to providing them with guns and boats for off-base recreation.
"More men per capita sign up for additional tours of duty at Baldy Hughes than at any other base I know of, he said".
This article was written by Vern Lacey, Citizen Staff Writer and published in the Citizen on Monday, March 30, 1964. The detail was made available to the Pinetree Line by John Coburn in June 2000. You are encouraged to check out a number of photos which formed a part of this article – Baldy Hughes, photos – 1964.