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by Tom Mahood

 
Northrop Grumman's Tejon Ranch RCS range--view of the antenna array from downrange.
 

Radar Ranges of the Mojave Desert

 

Tejon RCS Facility - Northrop Grumman

Location

The facility is located at the northwest end of the Antelope Valley, on the slopes of the Tehachapi Mountains, at the mouth of Little Oak Canyon. It is 18 miles due west of the town of Rosamond.

Its remote location on unnamed dirt roads makes discerning a site address difficult, but two have been found. A notice on the access gate refers to "8900 Waynes Road" and a Northrop filing with the FCC refers to 7000 230th Street West.

History and Property Ownership

According to published reports, the range was constructed "in the early 1980s".

Attempts to track down official records on the facility have proven a most curious affair. The facility is located primarily on Sections 25 and 36, of T10 N., R16 W., SBM. This puts it within the County of Kern, the county seat being Bakersfield.

A visit to the Assessor's office in Bakersfield revealed the property in question is owned by the Tejon Ranch, a massive property owner in the Tehachapi Mountains. The records also show that the surrounding land to the south and east consist of a multitude of smaller parcels, all in a large number of different hands. Strangely, the Assessor's records show that there are no improvements on the parcels upon which the RCS facility sits. Further, they show the use to be an agricultural preserve, and taxed at a very low rate.

Confused by this, I ended up speaking with several of the Assessor's staff. It turns out they are aware of the facility , but stated, "we're not allowed to set foot on it." One of the staff told me he attempted to visit the site a number of years ago, but was turned away by armed guards. The Assessor's staff told me it is "a secret government installation." When I replied it was my understanding it was owned by Northrop, they suggested that Northrop was perhaps the operator, but that the improvements were in reality owned by the government. I asked what paperwork they might have identifying the improvements as government owned (they referred to what they called a "government exclusion"), thus authorizing them not to carry the facility on their tax rolls. They told me verbally that they did not know of any.

After submitting a written request for clarification to the Assessor's office, it turns out the improvements are indeed listed, but as "unsecured property" on a different set of tax rolls. The owner is listed as Northrop Grumman, with an assessed valuation of approximately $7 million. It therefore appears the facility is not owned by the government.

I also paid a visit to the Kern County Fire Station in Rosamond. They have jurisdiction for doing fire inspection for all commercial and industrial development in that part of Kern County. They told me that it was a secret facility and were not allowed on the property. They said any inspection was done by the government.

Facility Description

The facility has a total of four ranges, the two largest of the four being from the original installation and the remaining two being somewhat newer (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Tejon RCS Facility, aerial view. (Photo by Tom Mahood)

Figure 2. Northrop Grumman Tejon RCS Range, Aerial
View. (Photo by Tom Mahood.)

The two older ranges are asphalt ground plane ranges radiating directly from the main antenna array at the operations complex (Figure 3). One range is 1,500' long and the other is 3,000'. The 3,000' foot range has target positions at the 3,000' position and also at 1,500', thus providing for three target positions between the two ranges.

Figure 3. Tejon RCS Facility, Operations Area. (Photo by Tom Mahood.)

Figure 3. Northrop Grumman Tejon RCS Range,
Operations Area. (Photo by Tom Mahood.)

The target positions are the light colored "diamonds" in the middle of the asphalt range (Figure 4). These diamonds are, in actuality, large concrete slabs surrounding the pylon locations and are typical of outdoor RCS ranges. They perform two functions.

Figure 4. Tejon RCS Range, Target Pylon. (Photo by Tom Mahood.)

Figure 4. Northrop Grumman Tejon RCS Range,
Target Support Pylon. (Photo by Tom Mahood.)

First, and most important, they provide a foundation for the pylon itself. The pylons are bolted to these massive reinforced concrete slabs, (some may even have piles below) which act as counterbalances to the large bending forces generated by heavy models placed on the forward leaning pylons. The pads must also be large enough to spread the vertical loads over a sufficient area.

They serve another purpose in the mounting of the models. Since there appear to be no sophisticated mechanisms at this facility to retract the pylons for model mounting, the models (as well as the pylons themselves) must be put in place with cranes. Since the thin asphalt surface is relatively fragile, the concrete pads provide a firm foundation for crane operation. The reason for the pads' diamond shape is to minimize any radar returns from the asphalt/concrete interface.

Curiously, most of the pylons at this site are a sinister black, instead of the usual white color. Why this might be is not known, but it is obviously an indication the forces of darkness are at work.

Just uprange of each of the target positions are visible small mounting locations for calibration shapes.

The large "X" painted on the longer of the ranges (as well as being found at other RCS facilities) is an indication to pilots that they should not attempt to land there, that it is not a useable runway. Beyond the problems of a thin surface and pylons poking up in the middle of it, the range slopes rather steeply as it runs downrange.

The two smaller ranges are newer additions (Figure 5). Unfortunately, little is known about them, so what follows is speculation based upon observation from both the air and ground.

Figure 5. Tejon RCS Range, Newer Range. (Photo by Tom Mahood.)

Figure 5. Northrop Grumman Tejon RCS Range, Newer
Range Area. (Photo by Tom Mahood.)

At the uprange end of both ranges, the antenna arrays are plainly visible. From the very small size of the dishes, as well as the short length of the ranges, it suggests that very high frequencies are being utilized for these two ranges.

The larger of the two ranges is particularly intriguing. Midway down the range are two barriers, one large and one smaller, set across the range and tilted back vertically. These are known as "radar fences". They are used to prevent radar beams reflected off the surface of the range from hitting the target. Since this ground plane reflection, as it is called, often becomes troublesome at very high microwave frequencies, the presence of the radar fences tend to reinforce the idea that this is indeed a very high microwave frequency range.

At the end of this range is a trailer next to a horizontal device on a large mount (Figure 6). During visits by myself and others to the site, this device has been observed apparently rotating. In some ways, it suggests a search radar, but that would seem to conflict with its placement at the target end of the range. It may be that it is simply some sort of target holder, perhaps for an inverse synthetic aperture radar, in which the radar transmitter is held steady and the target is moved or rotated. Another possibility is that it is a holder for radar receiving antennas and is used to measure the sensitivity and response of antennas in various angular positions.

Figure 6. Tejon RCS Range, Target Rotator. (Photo by Tom Mahood.)

Figure 6. Northrop Grumman Tejon RCS Range,
Target Rotator. (Photo by Tom Mahood.)

Range Capabilities

A published account in 1985 stated that the range has the ability to test at frequencies from 2 GHz to 18 GHz.

Range Security

No remarkable security arrangements exist. The initial gate into the area is unmanned and unlocked, and posted against trespassing (It provides access to other property owners in addition to Northrop). Another gate, apparently manned, is reached a mile up the road. The facility itself is fenced off with some rather dilapidated barbed wire cattle fencing. The surrounding land is private and vacant, some posted with No Trespassing signs.

Other Information

Of all the RCS facilities in the Mojave, this one is the most visible. It sits high on the sides of the valley, and can be seen from twenty miles away. Further, there appears no clever mechanisms to quickly hide secret test items. Yet the lack of a paper trail for this facility suggest some strangeness.

In spite of the high visibility of this installation, or perhaps because of it, there have been a number of odd "glowing orb" sightings near the facility. While other RCS facilities have generated a few such reports (most easily dismissible), there seems to be a disproportionate amount at the Northrop site. Again, a great many of these might be dismissed based upon the credibility of the witnesses. However, I am aware of some reports from apparently substantial observers, that for my part, I find difficult to ignore. While I'm not ready to accept the idea of flying discs regularly visiting the site, I am inclined to think there may be ongoing testing of something very interesting, something that from a distance appears as a glowing orb. What this "something" might be, I don't know.

After examination of the site from both the air and the ground (and review of photo enlargements), there were absolutely no indications of any type of "underground facilities". This would include access points, ventilation fixtures or utility feeds. The operation is apparently just what it appears; a rather mundane, somewhat low-tech RCS range. But those glowing orb reports are intriguing...

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Update:

In 1998, Northrop Grumman purchased the land on which the Tejon RCS facility is situated, from the Tejon Ranch Company. (Northrop had been leasing the property since the early 1980s.)

This image released in 2010 identifies the principal components of the northern part of the facility:

Northrop Grumman Tejon RCS Facility Layout

For a documentary for the National Geographic Channel, Northrop Grumman's RCS model shop built a full-size model of the Horton 229, a prototype German fighter from the last months of World War II. In early 2009 the model was measured at the Tejon RCS range. The film provides 'outsiders' a very rare glimpse of the work that is conducted at these facilities, where almost all of the development projects are highly classified. Here are a few images from the documentary:

Tejon Ranch RCS Range: a view of the antenna array; the larger dishes on the right are aligned to Range 2, and the smaller antennas on the left are for Range 1Tejon Ranch RCS Range: antenna array viewed from downrange on Range 2
The Ho229 at Northrop's RCS range: The airplane model is monted on the 50-foot pylon with its nose pointing at the Range 2 array, visible on the right edge of the photo.The Ho229 at Northrop's RCS range: In this view from the Range 2 array, the model appears as a tiny dot just above the horizon near the left edge of the photo.
The Ho229 at Northrop's RCS range: Installing the Ho229 model on the RCS pylon.The Ho229 at Northrop's RCS range: The National Geographic crew filming the Ho229 model.
Tejon Ranch RCS Range: the Range 2 anntennas.Tejon Ranch RCS Range: a closer look at the Range 2 antennas, with the Range 1 array in the backgrond.
The test target, viewed from the base of the target pylon, with the range operations area in the backgrond.

More details about the facility, its capabilities, and equipment can be found at GlobalSecurity.org.

See the Center for Land Use and Interpretation entry for the Tejon Ranch RCS Facility.

Updated satellite imagery of the Helendale facility is available at Virtualglobetrotting.com.

 
 

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