What Did Go On at the

US Air Force Base – Blue Knob, PA?

Weekly History 

For Nike, three radars were used. The acquisition radar searched for a target to be handed over to the Target Tracking Radar (TTR) for tracking. The Missile Tracking Radar (MTR) tracked the missile by way of a transponder, as the missile's radar signature alone was not sufficient. The MTR also commanded the missile by way pulse-position modulation, the pulses were received, decoded and then amplified back for the MTR to track. Once the tracking radars were locked, the system was able to work automatically following launch, barring any unexpected occurrences. The computer compared the two radars' directions, along with information on the speeds and distances, to calculate the intercept point and steer the missile. The entirety of this system was provided by the Bell System's electronics firm, Western Electric.  For more details on this, visit Wikipedia Project Nike.

During that era, the United States had aircraft in the air 24 hours a day – 7 days per week with nuclear weapons.  The F102 and F106 were Mach 2 aircraft capable of shooting down Soviet aircraft.  Mach 2 is generally a speed of approximately 1,500 mph or slightly less depending on altitude.

If Blue Knob had detected Soviet aircraft flying south, they most probably would have contacted the location of missile batteries on the mountain off route 30 east of McConnellsburg, PA.  On top of the mountain approximately 100 yards from a current restaurant and bar on top of the mountain was the site of NIKE missiles.

One side note on the relationship to Claysburg, PA, way before the days of bank ATMs and credit cards, the Air Force paid their personnel with cash. In the 1950's on every payday, a contingency of two jeeps - one in the lead with armed Air Force guards, the Air Force commander's car in the middle and a follow-up jeep with armed Air Force guards would arrive in Claysburg to pick up the cash to pay the Air Force personnel. They would arrive at the old two story red brick bank building of First National Bank of Claysburg slightly north of the Claysburg-Kimmel School District on the opposite side of the road while kids as well as adults would watch in amazement as this routine played out.

While curiosity and conjecture about what was going on way up there on the mountain was always rampant, no one ever really did get a good explanation of what was going on. This information confirms some of it.

If nothing else, it always makes a great conversation when discussing it and reminiscing.

It's time for a history day in Claysburg or Blue Knob!

High on Blue Knob Mountain at 3,146 feet long before there was a Blue Knob Ski Resort, there was a U.S. Air Force Base at the same location. Blue Knob is the second highest spot in Pennsylvania.

The Air Force Base began operations sometime before 1941 when construction began under the auspices of the US Navy Department as a weather station and later came under the command of the US Air Force and continued in operation until May, 1961. During that time, the base was a highly secure location and stirred up much speculation throughout the area as to what was actually going on high on top of the mountain.

It was called a Radar Base and was supposedly monitoring air space over the United States. Locals both young and old speculated that the base was actually spying on Russia since Russia was the big threat to the United States during the Cold War.

The most direct route from Russia today or 50-65 years ago is the same.  The route is directly from Russia over the North Pole and southward past Alaska, Canada and the northern United States.  The distance over the North Pole from Russia to the continental US is only 3,500-4,000 miles depending upon the destination.  Back then in the 1950’s and early 1960’s during the cold war, the concern was that Russia might bomb the continental United States and target large cities like New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and especially Washington, DC.  If headed to Washington, DC, the route would have been directly over central PA.

Blue Knob is the second highest mountain point in Pennsylvania behind Mt. Davis in Somerset County.  However, it is the highest isolated mountain in PA.  Mt. Davis is on a plateau.  This high point allowed for detection in the air above Blue Knob, and it also allowed for detection if a plane was attempting to fly “under the radar” in the valleys below since Blue Knob could also monitor below the mountain.

The US Air Force base at Blue Knob was part of the DEW Line or Distant Early Warning Radar Line.  Blue Knob was part of a series of bases from Alaska, Canada including Vancouver and Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, the northern Midwest area of the US and southward with Blue Knob being one of the most southern and closest to Washington, DC.  They were monitoring and watching for Soviet aircraft and ICBM missiles.  For more information, check out Wikipedia Distant Early Warning Line.

Aircraft monitoring and the Nike antiaircraft system was developed by the US Army and later transferred to the Air Force.  The project delivered the United States' first operational anti-aircraft missile system, the Nike Ajax in 1953.

For more Claysburg History, please click the following link:


U S Air Force Base - Blue Knob, PA

weekly history


Bell Labs' developed the technology and the proposal would have to deal with bombers flying at 500 mph (800 km/h) or more, at altitudes of up to 60,000 ft (20,000 m). At these speeds, even a supersonic rocket is no longer fast enough to be simply aimed at the target. The missile must "lead" the target to ensure the target is hit before the missile depletes its fuel. This means that the missile and target cannot be tracked by a single radar, increasing the complexity of the system. One part was well developed.

The base also had three (3) large silver domed balls each about the size of a two story house that could be visibly seen from some areas down below in the valleys especially in the valley where Klahr and Queen are located.

Part of the concrete foundations or piers are still visible at the Blue Knob Ski Resort on top of the mountain. Few photos are known to be available of these three large silver domes as a group.

The Air Force base had barracks for their personnel as well as housing for families and was very self-sufficient. Children from the base attended Claysburg-Kimmel Schools and were driven daily to the school by Air Force personnel drivers in Air Force cars. Some of the Air Force personnel were transferred from one of the Alaska bases when Blue Knob became an Air Force Base.  Because Blue Knob was always colder than areas down off the mountain, some of the personnel called it “Little Alaska.”  Personnel who were stationed in Alaska contended that Blue Knob winters were actually worse than living in Alaska.

The real stories have never been published, but Blue Knob Air Force base was part of a strategic set of bases located to detect possible incoming Soviet long range capable bombers and ICBM or Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.


A south central Pennsylvania town with beautiful scenery.  

The area is nestled between the Appalachian Front to the west and Dunnings Mountain of the Ridge and Valley Region to the east!