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Feb 11, 2009 9:48 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Former Westhampton missile base boasts rich history

Feb 11, 2009 9:48 AM

Because planes could fly very high and fast in the 1950s, non-nuclear missiles were not guaranteed to hit an incoming airplane, Mr. Bright said. A nuclear bomb detonated many miles up in the sky, however, would destroy the attacking planes, Mr. Bright explained.

The impact of a nuclear-tipped warhead colliding with a plane carrying another nuclear warhead would not have been as bad as some have speculated, according to Mr. Bright. “It would cause some destruction, but it would not be horrific,” he said.

He explained that because the bombers would be flying so high, the radiation from one of the BOMARC missiles would not have rained down on Long Island. Mr. Bright said that radiation requires some sort of matter, like dirt or buildings, that it can adhere to and cause damage.

Mr. Chun agreed with Mr. Bright’s analysis. However, he added that an atomic explosion would have created an electromagnetic pulse that could have crippled or destroyed electronic devices in the area.

The missiles were never fired and after the base was decommissioned by the Air Force in 1964, technicians removed their nuclear tips and dismantled the weapons. “Some of the missiles they launched for other purposes, or used for targets or tests,” Mr. Bright said. “Some of the insides of the missiles were taken out and put on display.”

The BOMARC facility was decommissioned when the Air Force realized that the Soviets no longer needed bombers to drop atomic bombs on the United States. Rather, advances in technology allowed them to launch nuclear missiles targeting the continental United States from silos located as far away as eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. These advances made the BOMARC sites obsolete.

But before the sites became obsolete, Mr. Bright explained that the missiles would have honed in on their targets utilizing radio signals. “It was a sophisticated tracking system,” he said. If a Soviet bomber approaching the East Coast was picked up on radar, an “elaborate calculation would be made by computers to determine which of the 10 locations BOMARC [missiles] should be launched from,” Mr. Bright said.

Once a site was selected, radio signals from Air Force bases would guide the missile to the attacking bomber, he said. The radio signals controlled the missile’s engine and fins, the latter of which controlled the weapon’s direction.

While the BOMARC base was not a secret, many Westhampton residents were not aware that the missiles featured nuclear tips. Even Mr. Doyle, who guarded the missiles during transport, said he was not fully aware of their power.

“We really knew very little about it,” Mr. Doyle said. “We just knew how dangerous it might have been because it was guarded so well.”

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The real story here should be the amount of contamination that was caused by all of these military sites, the amount that was dumped into the water, the pine barrens and what seeped into the land. Just bearing witness to what was left behind shows the carelessness of this operation. Governor Pataki declared Brownfield Sites at the airport, there seems to be plumes from Speonk to Quiogue I wasn't here back then but I live just south of the airport and its disturbing to think of what lies beneath ...more
By shock (70), whb on Feb 9, 09 8:36 PM
Back in that time they didn't realize how toxic this stuff was.Or didn't care because they had bigger worries , think Cold War.
By PrivateerMatt (390), Weesuck Creek , EQ on Feb 10, 09 11:01 AM
The real story is the history of the area and its part in the Cold War defense system. The Press got the story right. Note to "shock"-the airport was there long before you chose to live in Quiogue.
By Lefty46 (56), Westhampton on Feb 10, 09 11:26 PM
I don't live in Quiogue by the way I have no problem with living near an airport just what has happened to all the nuclear waste, and the proper responsiblity of the cleanup , I look at the whole picture not just the past history but the future as well
By shock (70), whb on Feb 11, 09 8:16 AM
Hey, come over to Northampton -- it's nowhere near any flight patterns, former military installations or matériel dumps, and the biggest "highway" anywhere near us is the Moriches-Riverhead Road.

It's quiet, peaceful, one of the most secluded but accessible areas east of the Floyd, and we've got a nice deep lake that doesn['t have olive drab desks, typewriters and file cabinets at the bottom.

On second thought, stay away!
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Feb 11, 09 10:49 AM
Great idea to clean it up - and the $$ to the County is much needed.

Why use a middleman? The County has trucks & people who could take all the scrap directly to recycling facilities. Why settle for half and use a company that is a HUGE
political donor?

I'm sure with budget & service cuts coming - some County employees would be happy to have the work clearing the site. Just a thought.......
By G (342), Southampton on Feb 12, 09 11:10 AM
"G" - you hit the nail directly on the head ! It seems whenever politicians or County officials ( same thing! ) get invilved there is a built in 'slop' factor where the project is mismanaged and money is diverted to "friends" or contributors. Thanks for your perspective, we nedd to keep the crooks somewhat honest, if that's possible.
By Bill in Riverhead (190), Riverhead on Feb 15, 09 8:32 AM
Elyse, You are 100 % correct in your assumption that the plume may have originated from the old BOMARC base, look at the mess from the old fuel depot at Gabreski - the people on Peters Lane all had to be converted to county water, and I doubt that the plume was ever totally cleaned up, since the government was once again investigating itself!
By Bill in Riverhead (190), Riverhead on Feb 15, 09 8:37 AM
Lefty, you once again missed the point - it doesn't matter one bit who was there first, it matters a great deal that the airbase contaminated the groundwater in the area, possibly for a very long time. Try to keep up Lefty!
By Bill in Riverhead (190), Riverhead on Feb 15, 09 8:43 AM
Oh the luxury of hindsight. The island depends on aquifers , but we have landfills, agricultural chemicals, gasoline additive contamination, etc. We all have been very cavalier about what would eventually migrate to our drinking water.
So stop using today's standards against the 1950's. As the news article stated both Bomarc and Nike-Hercules missiles contained nuclear warheads--please read some history of the cold war. Ground water contamination was not part of the equation then.
When ...more
By Rich213 (1), Northport on Mar 29, 09 11:08 AM