11 secrets of Buckley Air Force Base and the radomes

Posted at 2:50 PM, Jul 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-28 01:16:01-04

The giant golf balls.

The white domes.

The Buckley balls.

Whatever you call them, the big white domes have been part of Buckley Air Force Base for decades.

But did you know that inside these giant domes are satellite dishes and other crucial equipment used to detect missiles?

“All of the missiles launched on the planet are detected here,” according to Buckley Air Force Base commander Col. John Wagner. “[We] look for the most dangerous weapons on the planet.”

While this area is normally off-limits, to the public and media, Denver7 & team were recently granted exclusive access inside the radomes, or SRS (Satellite Readout Station) -- the official name of the “golf balls.”

Secret No. 1:
The radomes were built to cover giant satellite dishes, protecting the antennas from hail, high winds and other weather. They’re rated to withstand an F5 tornado.

Secret No. 2:
The white panels may look like fabric, but they’re are made of fiberglass.

It's a strong fiberglass like you would use on a boat. There are more than 800 tiles on each dome and each tile weighs more than 300 pounds.

Secret No. 3:
The radomes are about 100 feet tall. And each one has about 100 tons of materials.

The dish inside is about 60 feet tall. The dishes move – just one degree per second. They can move vertical and horizontal. 

Secret No. 4:
There’s a speaker and a red light outside the building.

 That’s a radiation warning used when the dish is transmitting.

Secret No. 5:
Like your car, they have to change the oil in the gear boxes for the dishes.

It's important because the motors are moving 55 tons of steel. And like your car, they use Mobile Synthetic Lubricant. (Check out the process in this YouTube video.)

Secret No. 6:
To clean off the snow, you grab a rope. Really. You grab the rope mounted on the side of the radome and start walking.

The rope helps you knock the snow off the sides.

Secret No. 7:
The radomes are usually unmanned, except when there’s maintenance work to be done. Instead the workers are in a nearby building called the MCS — Mission Control Station.

They track infrared energy released around the world, determine if the energy is from a missile and alert the appropriate people.

“Our job is to detect and report,” Wagner said. “A core piece of the defense of our nation happens here. We can’t fail in this mission — lives depend on it."

Secret No. 8:

The missile alert is called Brenda because the voice that announces the missile alert sounds like a woman.

The missile alert warning sounded at Buckley about 400 times last year.

"There were more than 10,000 non-missile infrared events – things that were hot enough to be picked up by our operators," said public affairs officer, 1st Lt. Trevor Zakrzewski.

Secret No. 9:
While there are about a dozen radomes at Buckley Air Force Base, there’s much more to the base. All five military branches are represented here — Air Force, Army, Marines, Coast Guard and Navy.

Why would the Navy and Coast Guard be in a landlocked place like Aurora?

They train and handle operations for reservists in the area. The base actually was a Naval Air Station at one time (1947-1959) because Aurora was a good refueling location for cross-country trips.

The Navy and Coast Guard also have intelligence units stationed here at Buckley.

Secret No. 10:
While many aircraft can use Buckley, four aircraft are based there. The Air Force flies F-16’s from Buckley. The Army flies Chinook, Lakota and Black Hawk helicopters.

The helicopters are often used for search and rescue, relief efforts during fires and floods and high altitude training.

“It’s an active runway,” said Wagner.

Secret No. 11:
13,000 people work at Buckley including the military personnel, contractors and dependents. More than 1,400 people live at Buckley Air Force Base. There’s plenty of space to expand. Buckley is only about one-third built out.

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