Hundred twentieth edition of the N&O column / Spooks newsletter

(Date: August 2007)

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The Kiev woodpecker

The first Over-The-Horizon-Radar (OTHR) experiments of the Soviet Union are from the late 1950s. In the early 1970's the first Duga radars appeared. (Duga is Russian for arch or bow) The Duga-1 and Duga-2 OTHRs were built near Nikolaeyev in Ukraine. Both were prototypes but still enormous. The Duga-2 was a huge operational plant that included 300+ transmitters, a transmitting antenna of 210 meters wide and 85 meters high and a receiving antenna of 300 meters wide and 135 meters high. A new system was built which became operational in 1976. This was the Duga-3. Unlike the first two systems, the Duga-3 used a transmitter and a receiver site separated by ca 60 km. The transmitter was located just SW of Chernobyl while the receiver was located west of Chernihiv. I could not find information about possible dismantling of the C-2 antennas. Google Earth still shows the antennas but I don't know how recent the picture is. I have made link to the map:,30.067939&z=16&hl=nl&t=h A second Duga-3 installation was built near Komsomolsk-na-Amure in Siberia. The latter has been dismantled. A very nice collection of pictures of the C-2 antennas can be found on the following websites. Quite impressive I must say.

I also found a short movie about the demolission of the Nikolaeyev radar.

My old friend Väinö Lehtoranta wrote three articles in Finnish about the Kiev Woodpecker. The most recent article has been translated into English by Jari Perkiomaki. Väinö kindly permitted me to publish a slightly altered version of the article in "Numbers & Oddities".

"The Woody Woodpecker Story"

by Väinö Lehtoranta, OH2LX

The Kiev Woodpecker was a high-power OTH (over-the-horizon) radar which operated in Europe during the period 1976-1986 and which used a pulse frequency of 10Hz. Now, in the 2000's OTH stations from many other countries can be heard on HF. The Woodpecker was, and will be remembered as a unique phenomenon that generated more interference reports and speculations than any other radio emission.

The Woodpecker operations ultimately ended on 26 April 1986 at 01:23:40 when the ChNPP (Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant) Reactor #4 (U4) ran out of control and exploded, causing one of history's worst eco-catastrophes ever. Interestingly, the disaster-related documents completely fail to mention the peculiar OTH radar operations that were practised in the vicinity of the reactor.

Russian-language discussion forums have hints to even more official opinions. There are persons in these forums that claim to have been designing the station, working there, etc. Some people have been able to take photographs of the OTHR antenna monster that is located 12 km west-northwest of the city of Chernobyl. Likewise there are photographs of surrounding buildings, housing schools, clubs, etc. All discarded and corroded, in other words, there has been no activity after the 1980s. No photographs have been found of other Ukrainian stations – although there are some scenery photographs with a mast in Lyubech.

Information from the C-2 Station Commander in 2001

Mr Vladimir Musiyets, the former Commander of the Chernobyl-2 (C-2) OTH station, stated in an interview with several magazines (Fakti, Kurier Trud) that his job started in the autumn of 1976, "a few months before the station was connected to the EW radar network", and ended in August 1988 when the project was closed down.

The goal was to follow the launches of the US intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Within the radius of less than 60 km from this station known as "Chernobyl-2" (C-2) two other stations were found. On satellite photographs they look very much alike. The stations are "Lyubech-1" ( 58 km) and "Goncharovsk-1" ( 54 km). In connection with Lyubech, mentions were made of the transmitter but almost nothing else. Musiyets says that C-2 operated as a receiving station. Another station, the Siberian OTHR, was beamed towards the USA and was also synched into the network.

The biggest directional HF antennas in the world

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant after disaster

In the morning of the nuclear power plant disaster at 11 o'clock, Musiyets and chemical expert, Major Olga Shevchenko had received an order to go to the OTHR station, 9.7 km away from the reactor. They said that, at the station, the air flow systems had been blocked-up, and computers and other electronic devices had been destroyed. After that, the C-2 did not work anymore, says Musiyets. The majority of experts thinks that the entire Soviet Woodpecker Project already reached the end of the road before the disaster. Almost no-one believes that any radiation - or any voltage or current spikes - from the broken nuclear reactor could have destroyed the Soviet electronic devices of that time. The three other Chernobyl reactors remained operational, each for whatever period of time.

Also metal dealers and thieves have been interested in perhaps the most massive antenna construction in the world. The mass of the C-2 antenna is estimated at 14,000 tons when, in comparison, the mass of a 320-meter-tall YLE/Digital TV/FM mast is 170 to 200 tons. There is no information available about possible dismantling of the C-2 antennas, although the other known Soviet OTHR antennas have been dismantled.


In a curtain antenna, the multi element antenna array made of broadband dipoles forms a large radiating plane. With the metal screen behind the array the radiation is directed to the upper half space. With a ground plane, the radiation should take off obliquely - this is familiar to everyone. In theory, an antenna is regarded as "broadband" if the ratio of its lower and upper operating frequency is greater than 1.5:1. Building a modern curtain antenna with a frequency ratio of 2:1 so that there is no spark formation in its countless fastenings when inconceivably huge transmitting powers are used, is quite an art form.

The designation code for the larger C-2 antenna could be an HR(S) 30/10/0.2, at least with the following remarks:

  1. the parallel stacks are overlapping, and the dipole supports are fastened to the sides of the towers at regular intervals;
  2. slewing differs from that of a broadcasting antenna in a sense that a radar has continuous slewing;
  3. the dipole lengths are perhaps approximately 22 metres, the vertical element spacing is approximately 12 metres ( 6 metres);
  4. How is slewing arranged? The feed line would seem to come from the front side corner of the towers (thin tubes);
  5. The Russian designation for the curtain antenna is SGD, and not HRS.

Voice stations | Morse stations | Various modes
Military stations | Utility round-up
Intelligence profile : Kenya | The Kiev woodpecker | Logs