A Last Look at the Abandoned Fortuna Air Force Station: part I
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.
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.
Nature had reclaimed much of the neighborhood where families once lived.
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.
Inside a former family housing unit.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Above: Troy walks down a heavily overgrown path to the former site of the dome.
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…
Above: About three stories up, looking out. Not much between you and a quick trip down.
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