Texas Tower 4
Part of Air Defense Command (ADC)
Image of Texas Tower 4
Coordinates39°48′N 72°40′W / 39.800°N 72.667°W / 39.800; -72.667
TypeOffshore air defense radar
Site history
Built1956 (1956)-1958
Built by United States Air Force
In use1958–1961 (1961)
FateCollapsed 15 January 1961 (1961-01-15)
EventsAll 28 crewmen lost in collapse
Garrison information
Gordon (Larry) T. Phelan
646th Radar Squadron
4604th Support Squadron

Texas Tower 4 (ADC ID: TT-4) was a United States Air Force Texas Tower General Surveillance Radar station, located 63 miles (101 km) south-southeast off the coast of Long Island, New York in 185 feet (56 m) of water.[1] Hurricane Donna struck the tower in September 1960, seriously damaging it. The tower was the site of an accident and was destroyed by a winter storm on January 15, 1961. None of the twenty-eight airmen and civilian contractors who were manning the station survived.[2]

Texas Tower 4 was one in a series of manned radar stations called "Texas Towers" because they resembled the oil-drilling platforms of the Gulf of Mexico. Air Defense Command (ADC) estimated that the Texas Towers would help extend contiguous East Coast radar coverage some 300 to 500 miles seaward. This would provide the United States with an extra 30 minutes of warning time in the event of an incoming bomber attack by the Soviet Union.


Early history

Texas Tower 4 began construction in December 1956 in South Portland, Maine, after construction was awarded to J. Rich Steers, Inc. of New York City in collaboration with Morrison-Knudsen, Inc., of Boise, Idaho. On 28 June 1957, it was successfully floated and towed to its site and erected. During transportation, two or three structural supports were dislodged in rough seas. The Air Force considered two options: whether to fix the problem before or after erecting the radar platform. The latter was chosen, which affected the structural integrity of the platform.

In 1958, enough of the structure was complete that one AN/FPS-3 search radar and two AN/FPS-6 height finder radars developed by Air Force Rome Air Development Center [RADC] New York, were installed.


Personnel from the 646th Radar Squadron, stationed at Highlands Air Force Station, NJ operated the tower. The 4604th Support Squadron (Texas Towers) at Otis AFB, MA provided logistical support. The Tower communicated with the Highlands Air Force Station via the AN/FRC-56 Tropospheric scatter communications system. Originally 70 personnel manned the station under the command of Lt. Col. Robert Cutler. Life aboard Texas Tower 4 was difficult. Both the structure and its crew suffered from the near-constant vibration caused by rotating radar antennas and diesel generators. The surrounding ocean and tower footings also transmitted distant sounds along the steel legs, amplifying them throughout the entire structure.

By early 1961, the crew had been reduced to 14 Air Force personnel and 14 repairmen due to concerns over the inability of successive repairs crews to halt the movement of the structure. Prior to the collapse, the tower had weathered two cyclones over a two-year period.

Collapse and investigation

Texas Tower 4 suffered severe structural damage during Hurricane Donna in September 1960, resulting in the decision to reduce the crew down to the level of 28. By January 1961, the tower's commanding officer, Captain Gordon Phelan, made repeated requests to evacuate the tower completely, but this was rejected on grounds that the station was constantly monitored by Soviet ships, and abandoning it would enable the Soviets to board it and capture its highly advanced radar equipment.[3] Finally at 4 pm on 15 January, after receiving numerous reports of serious damage to the station throughout the day, the Air Force authorized full evacuation of Texas Tower 4. With a heavy storm making helicopter operations impossible, Navy and Coast Guard ships were dispatched to the station. At 6:45 pm, the station sent out a distress call reporting "We're breaking up". None of the approaching ships reached it in time, and it vanished from radar contact at approximately 7:20 pm.[3] The tower had collapsed into the sea, taking with it the lives of all twenty-eight airmen and civilian contractors who were manning the station. Only two bodies were recovered.[2]

A Board of Inquiry was convened at Otis Air Force Base.[citation needed] By 21 March 1961, at the direction of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and Secretary of the Air Force Eugene M. Zuckert. A colonel, the acting commander of the Boston Air Defense sector, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and two other officers, commanding officer and executive officer of the 4604th Air Support Squadron, were charged with dereliction of duty.[4] Charges against the CO and XO were dropped in June 1961.[5] A court martial board dismissed all charges against the colonel on 24 August 1961.[6]

In May 1961, hearings chaired by Senator John C. Stennis on the collapse of the tower were held before the Preparedness Investigating Subcommittee of the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services.[7] The committee concluded that human error, on the part of engineers, building contractors, the Air Force and the Navy, was responsible for the accident. The Navy was mentioned for its supervision of the construction and repair of the tower.[8]

Current status

Today the wreckage of TT-4 remains at the bottom of the ocean, and has become a site for scuba diving. However, its depth of about 185 feet (56 m) limits access to the wreckage to advanced divers.

The site is also the location of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration buoy.[9]

Units and assignments



See also


Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency

  1. ^ "The locations". thetexastowers.com. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011.
  2. ^ a b Southall, Ashley, "Obama Recognizes Men Who Died in the Collapse of a Radar Tower in 1961", New York Times, 9 February 2011; retrieved 14 February 2011.
  3. ^ a b "The Texas Tower Wreck New York and New Jersey's (Wreck Valley)". Archived from the original on 20 October 2006.
  4. ^ "Colonel Charged in Texas Tower Fall Fatal to 28". Sarasota Journal. 22 March 1961.
  5. ^ "Blame laid to Colonel". The Sumter Daily Item. 10 June 1961.
  6. ^ "Court Martial Acquits Banks". The Evening News. 24 August 1961.
  7. ^ United States Senate Committee on Armed Services (1961). Inquiry into the Collapse of Texas Tower No. 4. United States Government Printing Office.
  8. ^ "Texas Tower Tragedy is blamed on Human Error". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. 1 April 1962.
  9. ^ "Station 44066 – Texas Tower #4 – 75 NM East of Long Beach, NJ". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 16 January 2014.