CARIBOU — It looks like a giant golf ball waiting for the Jolly Green Giant to tee off.
In reality, the large sphere on Caribou’s eastern horizon is a radar aircraft-tracking device that will provide a service once provided by Loring Air Force Base.
While the newly constructed system may not increase access to air travel in Aroostook County, it will allow the region to keep what service the County has.
“There’s no question that had we lost it [radar coverage], it would have had a significant impact,” said Greg Willard, manager of the Northern Maine Regional Airport in Presque Isle.
When Loring Air Force Base closed about 18 months ago, its radar continued to provide signals for controllers sitting in Bangor.
Without air traffic control, Aroostook County’s major airport could not exist as it does today. An aircraft could still take off from and land at the Presque Isle airport, but procedures would change greatly, Willard said.
To maintain radar coverage, the Federal Aviation Administration is constructing a $15 million radar tower in Caribou that will relay information to air traffic controllers at Boston Center in Nashua, N.H. The new radar will cover a 250-mile radius, according to Mike Calabrese, an FAA transportation system specialist stationed at the former Loring AFB.
The new system is being built because it provides for a greater range than the old system, which covered just 60 miles. Also, the FAA uses a different radar system than the Air Force. With the Air Force gone from Loring, the FAA wouldn’t be able to perform routine maintenance on the Loring radar equipment.
Surrounded by potato fields in a former Air Force communications site, the 75-foot structure stands out to motorists as they enter Caribou on Route 1.
The new radar system is scheduled to in operation on Sept. 30, according to Calabrese.