Penhold, AB

1997 – General History – The NBC Group

Penhold is situated 11 miles southeast of the southern Alberta city of Red Deer. It is almost equidistant between the provincial capital of Edmonton to the north and the oil city of Calgary to the south. 

Penhold’s history dates back to the early days of World War II. In August 1941, when an RCAF Manning Depot was formed. The Royal Air Force took over the station as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan with No. 36 Service Flying Training School which operated the twin-engine Airspeed Oxford. With victory in Europe achieved, the school closed down in October 1944, having trained 1,555 students. The airfield lay dormant until 1951 when it was reactivated as RCAF Station Penhold, to support No. 4 Flying Training School. The first class of Canadian and foreign students from member NATO countries flying the North American Harvard commenced in June 1952.

Construction of the radar station (site C-54) began on 14 August 1961, 14 miles east of Penhold. The 12 acre range radar facility was built atop a glacial esker some 1,000 feet higher in elevation than RCAF Station Penhold. It was one of the last radar stations to be completed as part of the Pinetree Line. The major equipment installation was complete by mid June 1963.

During this time the radar station was SAGE-capable and 43 Radar Squadron commenced limited operations in February 1964. The unit was supported by RCAF Stations Penhold and Namao (Edmonton). Flying operations ceased at RCAF Station Penhold on 19 May 1965, and the station subsequently transferred from Training Command to Air Defence Command. From the outset the squadron was a SAGE unit with the FPR-27 Search, FPS-26 and FPS-506 Height Finder radars as well as the FTS-2 Data Processor and the GATR site.

The station became a Canadian Forces Base in 1967 due to unification. During 1973-74, an Air Defence Command school was formed to administer the Junior Leadership Course offered to Non Commissioned Officers within ADC. In August 1984, the squadron became part of Canada West ROCC. Later the station added the FPS-27 School which taught the intricacies of the FPS-27A Search Radar and UPA-62 Display Console. The last FPS-27A course to run through this school graduated on 20 February 1986 and the last UPA-62 course graduated on 5 June 1986. The school was closed on 23 June 1986.

On a much lighter note, the nearest adequate lecture room for members of 43 Radar was 14 miles back at Station Penhold. Radar personnel decided to improvise, so a large common area, that had been used for relaxation during breaks and lunch hours, was made into a lecture room by careful use of clothing lockers and backs from metal shelves. Consequently, this was not the most attractive lecture room in the world; nevertheless, 43 Radar Squadron had the distinction of having the only “armor-plated” lecture room in Air Defence Command.

43 Radar was declared non-operational on 1 January 1986 and by 31 July 1986 the station was declared closed and placed into caretaker status. 43 Radar Squadron was then officially disbanded as of 1 August 1986.

–The NBC Group – Don Nicks, John Bradley, Chris Charland.

1986 – 43 Radar Squadron Closure – National Archives of Canada


  1. The following is a status report on closure activities at 43 Radar Squadron Penhold.
  2. 43 Radar Squadron property is basically in two parcels – the main site comprising radar towers, operations and administration buildings and power plant and water distribution buildings; and the GATR site comprise of one building.
  3. The are no bidders active on purchase of the GATR site.
  4. The Atmospheric Division of Alberta Research Council (ARC) has been an active bidder for the main site. However, recent realignments in the Alberta Government and budget restraints appear to be placing this bid in some jeopardy. In spite of the lack of a formal acquisition by ARC of the site, the dismantling has proceeded on the assumption that ARC would acquire the site and selected pieces of equipment. These equipments have been left intact. They are:
  1. FPS-27 Antenna, turning gear, pedestal, low-power rotary joint and spares;
  2. FPS-27 Radome and air handling equipment and spares;
  3. Ea. 2 cabinets of FPS-27 equipment associated with SIF data processing;
  4. Ea. 2 UPX-14 SIF radars, spares and antenna;
  5. FYQ-47 Common Digitizer data processing equipment and spares;
  6. GPA-501 Coder/Decoder group and spares;
  7. Selected pieces of test equipment required for the maintenance of the above items; and
  8. External transformers supplying power to towers.


  1. The following is a brief status report on activity to date:
  1. All PBCs and PCB contaminated components have been removed from all equipments scheduled for disposal;
  2. All radioactive components removed and segregated from all equipments scheduled for disposal;
  3. GATR site equipment declared surplus scrap and being transported to CFB Penhold scrap compound. Removal of antenna, antenna cabling and poles is to begin as soon as frost conditions permit;
  4. FPS-6X Height Finder dismantled. The antenna is to be mounted at CFB Penhold as a monument to 43 Radar Squadron. SAVE list items have been shipped to CFS Barrington. The remainder was declared surplus scrap and is to be moved to CFB Penhold scrap compound soon;
  5. FPS-27 Dismantling well along – SAVE list items removed and authority received 4 Apr 86 to ship items to Supply depot after 21 Apr 86. Remaining to be dismantled is equipment in the high voltage vaults, cooling tower and equipment on first floor of tower. The second, third and fourth floors are stripped as is redundant equipment in radome. All scrap to date has been transported to CFB Penhold;
  6. SAGE Annex equipment, except items required by ARC, have been scrapped;
  7. Selected distribution account items returned to supply. The balance is being retained pending decision on ARC bid;
  8. Power plant untouched. Bids are being received for sale of the four turbines and no dismantling is being done pending sale of these turbines; and
  9. GPA-124 SIF equipment, UPA-62 Consoles, OA-1163 RAPPI and printer, and test equipment designated for return to USAF have been shipped.


(6) – All (four) civilians employed at the Squadron were reassigned to equivalent jobs at CFB Penhold.


(7) – We have had few problems and the ones we have had were more annoyances than anything. These are:

  1. preparation of PCB contaminated components for shipment. Conflicting advice or lack thereof complicated the procedure and actually resulted in our doing more work than was necessary. Pre-positioning of plastic packaging materials in various sizes and a plastic heat-sealing machine will save time. Sites should also take oil samples prior to dismantling as it could save needless expense and effort. Pre-positioning of barrels, etc. is also very important in order to avoid delays;
  2. Disposal of SAVE list items created a bottleneck in that a great deal of space was devoted to the storage of this equipment on site. This created difficulty in the dismantling process, PCB and radioactive material removal, etc. Sites should have instructions on where these items are to go before site closure if at all possible. This also applies to any spares, stocks, etc. to be returned to supply. Pre-positioning of packing materials is essential;
  3. Uncertainty of sale of sites. This is creating some problems in that the “want” list by the prospective buyer is extensive and involves most of the Squadron Distribution Accounts. Very few items on DAs have been returned and DA holders are getting nervous. I have tentatively set 1 May 86 as a decision point. If no sale advice is received by that date, I am going to begin returning DAs to supply;
  4. Sale of power plant turbines – the unit is unaware of any information pertaining to the sale of this equipment. It would be of some advantage to us to know the terms and especially cut off dates for bids and last date for removal of equipment.


(8) – The Squadron closure is not as complex as the closure of other radar stations in that the closure only involves the operational sites of 43 Radar Squadron. The Squadron is a little ahead of our own schedule for closure.

This detail was obtained from the National Archives of Canada. It appears to have been prepared in mid-April 1986.

1974 – 43 Radar Squadron – Assorted Sources

43 Radar Squadron
Penhold, AB

43 Radar Squadron was located at Penhold Alberta. Unlike other Pinetree Line radar stations, this unit was quite unique. Our records indicate that construction of what was to become the Operations site commenced on 14 August 1961 and that the site became operational in February 1964 in a SAGE environment. The site ultimately ceased operation on 1 August 1986.

The typical Pinetree line site consisted of two distinct areas. The operations site and the domestic site. As a rule, the operations and domestic site were relatively close together, and combined, they formed the station. Penhold was an exception to this rule of thumb.

In 1971, the Air Base was known as CFB Penhold – although there was no flying taking place at that time. The radar station was known as 43 Radar Squadron and was a lodger unit to CFB Penhold.

The radar squadron was located some 11 miles east of CFB Penhold. There were two routes which were used to travel between CFB Penhold and 43 Radar Squadron. The primary route was the direct route and covered a distance of 11 miles. The secondary route via Highway 42 was 16 miles distance, give or take a yard or two. The reason for the two routes was that in the winter the direct route was hard to keep clear and after a heavy rain in the summer, it became a mud skating rink.

There were regular runs from CFB Penhold to C-54 for all shifts. Transportation was provided by MSE personnel from CFB Penhold and the trip took approximately 20 minutes. Those who lived in PMQs would have a short walk to catch the bus run. Personnel who lived in Red Deer and the surrounding local area could drive onto the base and catch the run directly to C-54. In addition to the shift runs, there were several mail and supply runs from the base on a daily basis.

The CFB Penhold Communication Center and the Provincial bunker were located on the east side of Highway 2A. You would pass these sites on the direct route to C-54.

The Operations site had the usual mesh wire fence around it and there was a guard house at the main gate. The guard house was manned with Commissionaires. All of the buildings which formed the Operations site were connected with the exception of the guardhouse. There were three radar towers – FPS-27, FPS-26 and the FPS-6B. There was a power plant as well as a heating plant at the Operations site. The site had Natural gas-fired Orenda turbines for power and these could be changed to JP4 if the gas failed – as once happened during a severe storm which dropped the line pressure so badly that those at CFB Penhold couldn’t even boil a kettle. There was a kitchen/eating area which was normally manned during alert periods. It was used Monday to Friday at lunch times with meals being sent up from CFB Penhold. The administration office at the Operations site was used just for local administration matters.

All of the administrative aspects which would normally be found in the domestic site of a radar station were found at CFB Penhold. This resulted in a sort of a “mixed-bag” as CFB Penhold catered to personnel who were stationed at CFB Penhold as well as the personnel who were stationed at 43 Radar Squadron.

Single status personnel from 43 radar squadron were housed in the barracks at CFB Penhold. Married status personnel from 43 radar squadron were housed in PMQs or trailers which were at CFB Penhold. CFB Penhold also had a recreation center that housed a cinema, a snack bar, a bowling alley and a swimming pool. The Exchange was located in the recreation center with the gas pumps at the old MSE buildings. These buildings were equipped with vehicle hoists so you could work on your vehicle. The MSE was, at this time, making use of one of the hangers.

CFB Penhold also had the standard Officers Mess, WO/Sgts. Mess, as well as a Junior Ranks Mess. The Officers Mess had its own kitchen and the WO/Sgts. Mess and the Junior Ranks kitchen was combined.

There was an MIR on the base with the hospital and doctors in Red Deer being used for consultations.

Normal administration, supply buildings and MSE maintenance and operations were all located in a hanger.

The local school on the base handled classes up to grade 8 with the higher grades going to Red Deer. Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, Brownies and Girl Guides were all available to military dependents at CFB Penhold.

Other units at CFB Penhold were the Communications Center, the Junior Leadership School, and the Air Cadets during the summer with their usual courses and pilot training for gliders. In addition to the FPS-27 school, in February 1974 the CD/AIMS school from CFS Foymount was re-located to CFB Penhold as a lodger unit attached to 43 Radar Squadron. The school taught FYQ-47 and GPA-124 equipment courses as well as the CD/AIMS Supervisors Course and a FYQ-47 Troubleshooting Course. This school was later relocated to CFB Kingston in 1976.

The RCMP had a Police Dog training school south of Innisfail and they would bring their dogs to CFB Penhold for training – using the empty buildings on the base.

The runway and some of the hangers at CFB Penhold were being used by commercial concerns in the early 1970s – and the remaining buildings and hangers were being used by the military. Aircraft were flown by a private company out of CFB Penhold. They were seeding thunderstorms in the area to try and keep the hail hazard down. The pilots did not sleep on the base, but they used motels in Red Deer.