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.
See the "post-card" color
The 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
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
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. I saw it on my last visit to
Ohio in 2001, but I did not walk up to the Hill itself. There was a nice
apple orchard along the road, at least back then, cared for tenderly by
an old, old inmate who was really a pretty colorful guy with a good sense
of humor. We all thought he wasn't crazy (at least no crazier than we were),
but just old, and with nowhere else to go. Guess those people are all "mainstreamed"
and on the streets now... progress...
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. (Sounds like the beginnings of computer game ZORK
or Dungeons and Dragons, doesn't it...?)
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
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.
I have good memories of a
lot of good work at the Hill. It was a great hide-out for a few graduate
students who became lifelong friends as we saw each other through the project
work, and marriages and first-children and first automobiles and pets and
practical jokes. We did a lot of constructive growing up out there, while
we built a successful laboratory with remarkably little brand-new stuff.
We were accomplished scroungers.
Names I remember include
Tom Clabaugh, Ralph Burhans (who started his OU career there), John Lee
Barnum, Andy Dudash, Ron Huff (then a young faculty member), George Bush
(the handyman from the Plains, not the other Bushes...), Bob Evans (the
super technician), Mike Barilla, John Day, Anne Shuman and others. Dick
McFarland started the place, with help from Jim White and supporters Louise
Mullenix and later Emma Cade. There are others I'm leaving out, and maybe
some will write to remind me of those good times.
There are great stories about
a lab station wagon that got loose and wound up at the treeline south of
the buildings...about one engineer's discovery of the audio tape "The Battle
at Thunderblow" and the fun we had listening to that at slow moments...the
goofy intercom tapes recorded during tracking missions while the team turned
out superb satellite and moon tracks...the time we saved the $10,000 klystron
tube by using CO2
fire extinguishers to cool the transmitter when its water cooling system
failed...the Radar Hill kite with about 2 miles (really!) of string...We
never wrote our memoirs, and we should have!
For more details, contact
the Avionics Engineering Center at 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
Avionics Engineering Center
Santa Barbara, California