'Golf Ball' tower has a rich history

FAA installation was once Bedford Air Force Station

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BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. – High atop Apple Orchard Mountain, not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway, sits a tower that looks like a huge golf ball, all teed up and ready to be struck off into what must be a certain landing in the rough. 

It rises above the highest point along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

Footage from the 10 News archives tells some of the story.  It’s the tale of what was once the 649th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron, an Air Force base on top of the mountain. It was home to as many as 200 troops at one time. During the Cold War, it was part of the nation’s early-warning system.

At one time, there were three of those “golf balls” on the side of the mountain, (see photo below) along with barracks and support systems for the small base.

“So the Air Force Base was really great to have this close to town,” said Jennifer Thomson with the Bedford Museum, who has gathered clippings about the facility over the years. “It was anything you would find at a military base, just smaller,” Thomson said.

The base, officially known as Bedford Air Force Station offered a two-lane bowling alley and other amenities to keep the men entertained, but accounts from those stationed there indicate it was boring atop the mountain, so they went to town whenever they could, much to the delight of local women, according to Thomson.

“The story is that if it wasn't for the Air Force base, a lot of the local women wouldn't be married today,” she said.

The public was fascinated with the technology, and 10 News archival footage shows tours being given – complete with a Coca-Cola stand.

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