A Last Look at the Abandoned Fortuna Air Force Station: part I

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station was an abandoned Air Force radar station located in Divide County, about 6 1/2 miles from Canada and 8 miles from Montana.  Like the Minot Air Force Station, Fortuna AFS was a GCI (Ground Control Intercept) base designed to detect unidentified aircraft and coordinate interception. Originally opened in 1952, the mission evolved over several decades to suit changing technology until it was partially deactivated in 1979.  It was closed for good in 1984.

The radar dishes and domes were removed long ago, and the site has since been heavily vandalized and scavenged.  The salvage rights were sold some years back and the team that did the salvage knocked holes in the walls of most of the buildings to remove boilers and scrap metal.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Here’s a shot of the base circa 1977, sent to us by a former airman stationed at the base.

We got word that this base was to be demolished in 2013, so we set out to photograph it before it was too late. Upon arrival, we started with the former family housing units on the south side of the base and worked our way through a gate and up the hill on foot to the former site of the radar tower. The site is expansive and we got hundreds of photos, so we’ve decided to break it up into several galleries.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Nature had reclaimed much of the neighborhood where families once lived.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Above: The tower top-center had the radar dish shown in the photo at the top of this page, and the structure on the right was topped by the spherical rubber dome. The building lower-left is a former single family home for base personnel.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Inside a former family housing unit.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Even though this base is gone, you can still get your hands on many of these photos. We devoted 19 pages of our hardcover coffee table book, Ghosts of North Dakota Vol. 3, to Fortuna AFS.

Fortuna Air Force Station

We hoofed it up the hill in wet grass, looking for a gate that would allow us access to the former radar facilities at the top of the hill. We discovered this.

Fortuna Air Force Station

After we hiked up to the road, we could see this at the bottom of the hill — barracks, mess hall, motor pool, and more… but we’ll get to that later.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Above: Looking down on the former family housing units on the base’s south edge. If you look closely, you can see our white car parked in front of the house on the far left.

UPDATE: Almost all of this site was demolished in 2015. Josh Axt sent us this email with the details.

I took a trip up to Fortuna Air Force Station Yesterday on the 12th Oct 2015 since I was in the area. I am sad to say that demolition is about 90% complete. The residential area is gone as are the steel radar towers and the underground had been sealed. Piles of scrap steel and some cement pads are all that is left of the station. The generator house is only a skeleton of a steel frame with bits of pieces of wire and sheet metal hanging and swinging in the wind giving off an eerie sound before it is meets it’s final demise in the next week or so. The radio shed still stands but I doubt it has much time left either.

The one thing to survive the teardown will be main 5 story cement radar facility. It has been refitted with power and is currently being used as a server hub and tower for rural wireless internet and cell phone coverage. It is funny to see the technology of today take up three small steel server lockers in a small corner of one on the levels in comparison to the original intent and tech of the day, the structure which was designed to house one gigantic computer that took up three entire floors just to operate one radar dish.

Fortuna Air Force Station
Fortuna Air Force Station

Below: Its big rubber dome was long gone and most anything of value that could be stripped from these things had vanished by the time we visited in 2013. The stairs were still intact though, so we were able to go inside and get some photos.

Fortuna Air Force Station
Fortuna Air Force Station
Fortuna Air Force Station
Fortuna Air Force Station
Fortuna Air Force Station

After the rest of the base is completely demolished, this concrete tower will be the only remaining structure from Fortuna Air Force Station.

Inside the Tower:

Fortuna Air Force Station

Above: Troy walks down a heavily overgrown path to the former site of the dome.

Fortuna Air Force Station
Fortuna Air Force Station

Let’s head up:

The stairs and platforms are all of sturdy metal construction, but you still can’t help but get a little uneasy after so many years exposed to the elements…

Fortuna Air Force Station

Above: About three stories up, looking out. Not much between you and a quick trip down.

Fortuna Air Force Station
Fortuna Air Force Station

I walked up to this door and pushed it open to discover the walkway outside the door has been removed. Another quick trip to the ground awaits for someone who pushes through here a little too recklessly.

We  took a lot more photos of Fortuna Air Force Station. Click here to see Part 2. 

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2013 Sonic Tremor Media

71 Comments on “A Last Look at the Abandoned Fortuna Air Force Station: part I

    • Fortuna was my first assignment from tech school. Arrived Mar 1961,departed November 1964. I worked in R&U doing air conditioning & refrigeration. As time went on I liked Fontana, great hunting & fishing . Not being in electronics I was blessed to be on radar sites for 15 years. I think Fortuna was the coldest place in the USA. It is sad to see the pictures in this article. I think site duty was the best in the Air Force.

  1. That’s pretty fascinating stuff. I couldn’t believe the stuff in the fridge! Thank you for posting.

  2. Fascinating pictures. I was statioined at Fortuna Air Station 1960 – 1963. It brings back a lot of good memories. Their were actually 2 Domes versus 1. Before the large search radar was installed there was a dome to cover the search radar and another for the height finder radar. I worked on the computer systems that processed the data from the radar. The 1st computer I worked on was a GE GPA37 which was made up of vacuum tubes versus transistors or integrated circuits. The 2nd computer was a Burroughs ANFST2 which consisted of a system that was partially vacuum tubes and the newly invented transistor. The is Computer was digital with Flip Flops, Invertors, etc. type of logic versus the GE computer was analog. This computer was tied to the main computer located at Minot AFB which then processed the data for transmission to the main North America computer facility located in a Colorado mountain.

    Thank You for the pictures.

        • The main search radar was an FPS-35 which sat on the large square concrete tower. There were two height finders, which in the 1972 to 1975 period were an FPS 6 or 6A and an FPS-26 I an not sure of the date when the FPS-26 replaced one of the two earlier FPS 6

  3. Brilliant photos but sad to see. Was there 2X in 1995 and 2001. I have an installation sign from one of the
    fences hanging in my garage. For me this place, along with Finley AFS & Opheim AFS, was my entire AD
    AF career. Site dentist to all three locations 1970-72. (Ret. Col. Army Dental Corps…got stiffed by the AF
    for promotion to Maj., my fault not theirs, so I joined the Army). Look forward to any future photos. Thanks!

    • Doc,

      I, too, was stationed at Fortuna – Oct 72-Ar 74. Recall a dental checkup / treatment but don’t remember when. Tech / hygienist was the dentist’s spouse, and had worked for my hometown dentist – fellow by the name of Marshall, in State College, Pa.

      Wife and I stopped at the site this previous May…nostalgic / melancholy thoughts. Early 70’s was a great time, personally, and I realized that Fortuna was a great place to be. Hope you enjoyed your circuit up there.


      • The dentist after me was Richard Sproul who is now an endodontist I believe in Oregon. I
        never met him as I left in July of 72 so the person you speak of is not him. He did go to
        Pitt dental school but I never had any conversation with him except once. I’m back in OH now
        and am in the processing of selling my practice. My tech and I also went to Finley AFS, ND
        and very remote Opheim AFS, MT (last 26 miles all gravel though they have since paved it).
        Almost bought it my last trip there as I was caught in a blizzard within sight of the station
        but was rescued by a farmer looking for his son…it was close. Merry Christmas from
        a former Fortuna survivor. LMT DDS

        • Doc: Found your name on here along with comment. I was a WD up the hill lived in the BOQ with a couple others. I’ve never been back but was assigned to Malmstrom back in the early 80s.

  4. A great bunch of pictures that will no doubt bring back floods of memories for so many!

  5. (Officers club was inside the compound, I think it was the front section of the officers quarters building. NCO club was outside the gate.)

    • It was, and put in around 1961. Prior was back section of NC club outside main gate.

    • That is correct. I was stationed there 63-64 as a newly commissioned 2nd Lt and we had “officers’ call” every Friday afternoon in the front lounge area of the BOQ.

  6. Was at the 926th at Frobisher Airport on Baffin Island in 1961-1962. Isolated or not Fortuna and the 780th was paradise compared with Frobisher. Have explored Opheim and Havre, but never got to Fortuna. USA Today in their daily state glance about three years ago announced that Divide County was to receive a $250,000 grant from the US Dept. of Agriculture to demolish Fortuna AFS and return it to pasture land. I’d have thought it would have long happened by now. Guess there’s a lot of bureaucratic paperwork necessary before hand.

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  8. We lived there from 1976 to 1978. Was a different world, my son was born in Minot. Thank you for the pictures, wonderful memories.

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  10. I remember driving with my parents from Williston to Regina for vacations and seeing the big radar dish spinning round and round from miles away. The turnoff to Regina was east of the base, so we never really got to drive by it. Great photos, nonetheless.

  11. Fantastic photos and great comments from so many. Thanks, Steve, and others for all. Great website!!

  12. Such a great gallery! My family purchased one of the family houses and has since repurposed it into a home on Blacktail dam. So great to see so many reminders of our trip there around 2005 and what the house used to look like.

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    • I grew up in the shadow of the base, on a farm about 3-4 miles to the southeast. Every time the big tower rotated, it caused a little “beep” on our TV and radio stations. Lots of great memories of going to school with “Base kids”, playing baseball in real uniforms, paid for by the Base. As I aged we played for dances in the NCO Club. The base added a lot of diversity and unique personalities to our primarily Scandinavian community. Many of our young ladies in the community ended up marrying young Air Force personnel. It was a good part of my early life experience.

  15. I was a Burroughs field engineer at Fortuna AFS to replace another who went to Hawaii ( great trade eh?) from July to end of year taking care of AN/GSA-51 (BUIC III air defence transistorized system). Lived in basement of post office after roaming AF dentist went to next site. My understanding was, the bldg was owned by the Postmaster who had been appointed by President Truman. He was also the sherriff and mayor. He owned 24 mobile homes South of the hwy which were leased to the AF as housing. There was one general store and one bar. When the bar closed for the night, you could drive past the AFS to Plentywood, MT, which was in the next time zone so the bars were open for another hour, I think Fortuna also had a curling rink. Census data says Furtuna now has a population of 22

    • Just wanted to confirm – yes, Fortuna DID have a curling rink – half a dozen of us from the site had a heck of a good time there during the course of the two winters I spent at the 780th. Often baby-sat for one of my compatriots in the Q-47 shop – he and his wife lived in one of those 24 trailers, and I have no idea how they were able to stay warm in the winter.

    • Hello Sir,

      I read your comment, and learned you were a Burroughs engineer !

      I live in Belgium and stayed in the US for the SWIFT project in 1973 in Paoli at GVL Labs and there was also an engineer with the same name, could that have been the same person ?

      Have a nice day.

  16. I graduated in ’79 from Williston. That summer, I worked for Conlin’s Furniture. Made a few deliveries to the base housing in that time. I was in AWE! As a kid, I remember all the UFO sightings in the early to mid 70’s around Williams/Divide Counties. A lot of people would call the base and report their observations. Never heard if the Air Force scrambled any planes from Minot or Glasgow AFB’s. I also remember when two AF jets collided near Alamo. I imagine Fortuna AFS sent MP’s to secure that crash site. ??? GREAT PHOTOS!

  17. My dad was a civilian which cooked in the mess hall up til they shut it down in 1979 and he also worked in NCO CLUB so I have lots of good memories of the Fortuna Air Force Base.

  18. My dad told me about this place several years back and I have been dying to get out there and see it before it goes. That, and the one by Nokoma. Both are on my bucket list.

  19. I was there from 1969 to 1971. Sad to see it like this. I was there with a great group of people.

    • Hey Dave,
      Remember me? “Travelling dentist” 70-72. I still have my yellow shot record with your initial entry.
      Still have your, yellow as I recall, Dodge Challenger?
      Len Tomsik

      • Hi Len,
        I apologize for not responding but I did not see your note until you posted a new one today. The yellow Challenger is long gone but what memories it brings back of my time at Fortuna. I do remember you but cannot recall if your vehicle was a Ford Bronco??? May have been the Dr. right before. Thanks for the great dental work…still have all those teeth!
        Dave Wild

        • Hi Dave,
          I had a red VW Beetle. Evan Y Ewing had an older model BMW. BTW I still have my original shot record with your signature for one of the vaccinations. (I remember your Dodge because you gave me a ride to Capt Will Harper’s house for a T-Giving dinner and then right after I left for an oral surgery course at Ent AFB Colo. Spgs that Evan Ewing set up for me. Now the base (small as it was) has been converted to the National Olympic Trg. Ctr. as we were just there a few weeks ago to visit…they give guided tours. We purchased a townhouse in Colo. Spgs. last Oct. as once I completed that OS course I always liked the area though we still live here in Ohio).

          • The Bronco must have been Dr. Ewing’s second vehicle. I am thinking it was an older model also. I remember once I was taking it somewhere for him, probably a Ford dealership, and I was stopped by an AP before I left the base. They were doing a seat belt check and had a gift for the first person wearing one which I was.
            I also enjoy CO. Have been out there skiing every year for the past 23 years. I am retired and for several years have spent two months in Breckenridge. Living on Lake of The Ozarks in Missouri now. I was originally from Chicago, went to work for Chrysler for 28 years after college and moved 11 times with them. Always wanted to take a trip back to Fortuna…maybe someday!
            Great to hear from you,
            Dave Wild

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  21. My grandpa was stationed at FAB a few times. They own land right as you pull into fortuna Across from the firestation. I had lived there with my mom there for a while. I remember about 6 years ago going up there with my late uncle and taking many pictures.(he is now barrier beside his brother at the cemetery there.) If the base from the fence. We didn’t want to get in trouble for jumping the Fence. And the part at writing rock ( am I correct on the park name?) the slide and swing are still there today I hope to take my kids in late spring to play on real playground equipment. I hope to on day get up there at the right time and get some awesome pictures of the old catholic church.

    • The church was St. Bernard. My dental assistant & I were the only personnel from the radar site that I can recall attending. The priest alternated services (mass) between Fortuna and some other parish churches I can’t recall which ones. I wish I could recall his name but do not. I do recall, just before leaving there in 1972, that he was
      most proud to show me the new car he purchased…a bright yellow Chevy Impala convertible! He said most priests only drive dark colored cars but “he decided to treat himself” and he did!

      • That was Father Gavett that had the yellow Impala. He had a very deadpan sense of humor. He once somehow bruised his face with the car door while opening/closing it and was asked how he received the bruise. He replied, “Someone yellow hit me.” The parishioners had a good chuckle over that.

        • Hi Blaine,
          I don’t recall you but good to read your response to my comment. I was there 1970-72 as well as
          at Finley AFS and Ophleim AFS. We went back up there 2X in ’95 and 2001. I have a couple of the
          metal “warning” signs hanging proudly in my garage here in Ohio.

  22. It was great to see the old radar site once again since leaving there in Jan. 1972. I was assigned to the security police unit we worked out of the trailer at the bottom of the hill opening and closing the gate it every time staff needed to enter or exit the hill. When stationed there I remember the commander being a Lt. Col. Singleton and the First Sgt. with the last name of Bland. The community of Fortuna didn’t have many businesses. I do remember the post office and Lee’s gas station which I ended up there filling up all the time because of my blue 1968 Dodge Charger RT 440 mag. what a gas hog it was and the trailers across the highway for the married personnel. I brake out the old photo album every now and then just to relive my younger days in uniform. Where have all the years gone?

    • Yes always good to hear from previous personnel. I was there 1970-72 and you may have been one or our patients in the dental clinic (which they called the dispensary). I also went to Finley AFS ND & Opheim AFS MT. All gone now as we went up there to revisit in 1995 and 2001 (I actually have some of the fence signs “acquired” hanging in my garage). Since I sold my practice (in Ohio) we hope to go up there again and see the Int’l Peace Gardens and revisit Regina. (LTC Singleton was one of my 4 commanders; the others being Jack L. Breid, Maj. Smith & LTC Dixon Nichols).
      Len Tomsik, DDS
      ret. Col. Army Reserve Dental Corps

    • JT, I think our paths crossed. If I am not mistaken you and I were stationed at Fortuna at the same time.

  23. I was stationed there in the late 70’s to 1980. I worked at the GATR (Ground Air Transmit Receiver) station which was only a couple of miles away from the station. When the site closed, they decided to keep the GATR staff onsite for a few more years to maintain the radio communications equipment.

    I met some very nice people both military and civilian there that I still know to this day! I even had orders to Florida, but swapped them for this North Dakota site (Long story! Sad but true) Before North Dakota, I had not even seen snow much before. What a culture/weather shock for a native Californian growing up in the bay area.

    It was one thing to be stationed at Fortuna AFS with a AFS full of people, but when the site closed there was only a hand full. Longest year and a half of my life! I will NEVER forget my time at Fortuna AFS. Did you know that there is a yahoo group for people stationed at Fortuna?

    If you were stationed there, send me a follow-up post

    • Yep, I was stationed there 1970-72 as the dentist on site. Had similar duties TDY to Finley AFS, ND and Opheim AFS, MT (now that place was really isolated). Went back 2X in ’95 & 2001. Have one of the metal warning signs proudly hanging in my garage here in Ohio. That assignment was my entire “Air Force career.” Though I did manage to retire thru the Army Reserve as a dentist making 0-6….long story but I did not get promoted to Maj. in the AF Reserve….my fault not theirs. I still stay in touch, once/year, with my faithful male dental assistant living in Maryland. One time we sent an open invitation to any girls at the nursing school up in Weyburn, Sask. and very surprisingly 2 came down to visit! (Retired now also from my private practice and intend to go back up there agin to visit the “remains” and probably go back up once again to Regina).
      Len Tomsik, DDS

      • Col Tomsik you are correct Opheim was really isolated. I was there 1956-57. Was assigned as a Controler but was made the Supply Officer. I left active duty became a Dentist also joined the Army Reserve to get promoted. Retired as O-6… I never visited Fortuna had some friends stationed there. I served 44 years total 1946 to 1990 active and reserve. James E. Duke,D.D.S. , COL,AUS,Ret. ,11 Arnold Drive, Texarkana,AR, 71854 jeduke46@gmail.com

      • Doc: not sure if you still look at this site. Do you remember those nurses names? Ron went out with Shirley & you with a lady named Carol. Cute gals& nice people.

  24. Was stationed there years ago security police. Lived in Plentywood, MT. The photos are sad. Joseph E. Barnes, CMSGT, USAF ( Ret)

      • Hey Joe, I think I worked with you in Plentywood for awhile at union 76. Many years ago, You lived on our block in Plentywood.

        • Hey Dennis how you doing? Does Ray still own the station? What have you been up to?

          • Noted comments about Fortuna, re. 76 station in Plentywood. I was stationed there 72-74 (Q-47 shop) – wondered if Glenn Gephart (former sky-cop) was still around. Believe he lived in Plentywood, and worked part-time at 76 station. We were through Fortuna in May of this year – was SORELY disappointed to see all but the -35 tower razed. 🙁

  25. I was in High School in both Crosby ND and Westby Mt in the late 1960,s living at Fortuna Air Force Station. My dad was stationed there in 1967 and we left in 1969. It was one of my favorite places to live. We had moved there from Clark Air Base P.I. so a bit of a change in weather.

    • I came to Fortuna site from Anderson A F B., Guam., and prior to that was at Charleston A F S., Maine. Talk about change. Lol

    • My father (Howard McVay) was stationed at Fortuna from June 64 to June 66, ran the NCO Club. Lived in Wesby for six months then moved to the new housing then to the old housing on base. Had five boys, Steve 8 and 9 grade, Terry 6 and 7 grade, Mike 5 and 6 grade, Greg 3 and 4 grade, Scott 1 and 2 grade. Came from Clark in the P.I. 1960 to 64 went back to Clark 67 to 69.

  26. Enjoyed the pictures My Husband Lawrence Bowman was stationed there from 1957 -1958.

  27. I was stationed at Fortuna AFS at the closure of the site. I worked at the GATR station. I just read that all of the buildings except one were destroyed. I only was stationed there as I swapped an assignment to Florida to North Dakota when I used my TDY money on my car running as did not get it running before I had to leave my previous station in Washington state. I car-pooled from Washington to North Dakota in 1978. Being a native Californian in the bay area, North Dakota was an eye-opening experience for me. I am back in the Bay area/Silicon Valley, but I will never forget my experience in North Dakota EVER. It is etched in my memory forever. There was reunions in the past and I did not attend, now that all of the buildings are destroyed, I am upset that I did not do it. Left Fortuna AFS, the 780th Radar Squadron in 1980 to take my final duty station in California. I hope that someone will put up a plaque near the entrance road to remind people that the station and the people that served there was part of the defense of our nation during the cold war.

  28. Hi all,
    I was stationed there from 69 to my departure from the USAF in 71. Came to Fortuna from Otis AFB in Massachusetts. There were some great times there, I worked at the Ground to air communications facility about 2 miles from the main station. Ahhhhhhhhh, memories.

  29. I was stationed there 66-67 worked FPS-26.
    Both good and sad to see the images. Wife and I hope to get up there and see it again before its all gone.

  30. Served as radio tech at the GATR site off-base ’65 – ’66. Loved my duty at 780. (but not enough to re-enlist ) Good food! Col. Peebles, commander, treated us to lobster in the mess hall when we won an outstanding unit award. We GATR troops put together 3 demolition derby cars for events in Williston. After some time in the barracks -and many card games- I brought my wife and new son to live in Plentwood, close to the fabled Union 76 station. I was in several combos there that played the NCO club and Dagmar??. In one we talked the Hamm’s guy into buying us matching shirts and we called ourselves “The Blue Sky Boys” and talked up their beer when going on break.
    What was supposed to suck duty-wise (it snows horizontally there) -didn’t. Cold? Yes. but he people of P’wood, Fortuna, Westby and Crosby couldn’t be warmer. Fond memories.

  31. As the senior Air Surveillance Officer at the SAGE center at Malmstrom AFB which was the SAGE center to which Fortuna sent its radar data in the 70ies I can answer the UFO question. Most of the UFO’s reported were SR-71s which flew over the area but which we were barred from reporting due to their being classified. There was one UFO in 1974, as I remember, which was a true UFO and F-106s were scrambled on it

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  33. Jim Boller,
    Arrived at Fortuna AFS in January 1961 and left in June 1964. Worked in the GATOR facility across the
    highway from the main base. It housed the Ground to Air Transmitter and Receiver Equipment, the GKA-5
    Data Processors and the Klystron Amplifier for long range data transmission to intercept aircraft. There were
    2 of the Klystron systems, each comprised of 3 large bays that were about 6 to 8 feet wide, about 8 feet tall
    and 8 feet deep. The power supply unit had 2 vacuum tube diodes that must of been 4 feet tall sitting on top
    of a massive oil filled transformer. They Klystron tube itself was about 6 feet tall and installed in a cage with
    4 to 6 circular magnets. We had an outside antenna farm in our compound. Many fond memories of my assignment there. Great hunting and fishing and friends. I was married and actually lived in Westby Montana a few miles West of the base. A lasting memory is of one winter when the warmest daytime temperature was a frigid -20 degrees for about 2 weeks. It got colder at night. If you had a car, you had a heating system to keep your liquids moving and warm.

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