Hawaii Omega Station

Omega Station Honolulu, Hawaii

OMSTA Haiku, Hawaii

Long before adventurous hikers dared to scale its summit, Oahu’s steepest mountain trail, known these days as the 3,922-step “Stairway to Heaven” by most folks, actually served as a Naval information station.

The controversial Stairway to Heaven in Ha‘ikū Valley, consist of 3,922 steps over 2,420 feet of elevation — starting at an elevation of 400 feet — on the ridgeline of the Koʻolau Mountains, was built as a means to reach antennae and transmission facilities on the mountain ridges, used to broadcast signals from the top-secret Ha‘ikū Radio Station commissioned during World War II. What started as a relay station to communicate with naval ships became an Omega navigation station in the 1960s, one of eight stations worldwide. Each Omega station transmitted a very low frequency signal which consisted of a pattern of four tones unique to the station that was repeated every ten seconds. Because of this and radionavigation principles, an accurate fix of the receiver's position could be calculated. OMEGA employed hyperbolic radionavigation techniques and the chain operated in the VLF portion of the spectrum between 10 to 14 kHz. Near its end, it evolved into a system used primarily by the civil community. By receiving signals from three stations, an Omega receiver could locate a position to within 4 nautical miles using the principle of phase comparison of signals.

The OMEGA radionavigation system developed by the United States Navy for military aviation users, was approved for full implementation in 1968. When the eight-station chain became operational, day to day operations were managed by the United States Coast Guard in partnership with Argentina, Norway, Liberia, France, Japan and Australia. Coast Guard personnel operated two US stations - one in LaMoure, North Dakota and the other in Haiku, Hawaii.

The initial construction of the Naval station was one of the most difficult jobs undertaken during the war in the Pacific using innovative engineering techniques and cutting-edge radio technology. The Naval Radio Station at Haiku Valley began construction in 1942. The Naval Radio Station was built in a horseshoe-shaped valley, using the topography of the surrounding cliffs, the most innovative technology of the time, and sheer determination to create an antenna system that reached almost 3,000 feet. The Haiku Radio project was completed in December of 1943. As a result of the radio tower’s presence, the verdant Haiku valley remains a relatively unspoiled sanctuary to this day.

Omega stations used very extensive antennas in order to transmit their extremely low frequencies. Specifically, they used grounded or insulated guyed masts with umbrella antennas, or wire-spans across fjords. Some Omega antennas were the tallest constructions on the continent where they stood or still stand.

In 1971 the design of the new Omega antenna system began. The system was the most advanced and complex of its time. The modernization of the system was finished in 1975. Like the original Naval radio system in Haiku Valley, this system also was a very low frequency station. The new station could radiate transmissions at a power of 10,000 watts and over an 8,000-mile radius. In July, 1972, the first Coast Guard personnel arrived. Prior to that, the Omega station operations had been handled by civilian contract personnel. In February of 1973 the station operations were changed over from civilians to the Coast Guard and the existing antenna was erected. The antenna system reaches 7,200 feet across Haiku Valley and is 1250 feet above the ground. The anchors weigh over 180,000 pounds. Unlike the original construction, a helicopter, helium balloons, and hot air balloons were used in erecting the anchors and placing the wires. The underground grid system covers almost 70 acres and consists of buried copper mesh, rods, and wires. On February 27, 1975 the station was commissioned as a U.S. Coast Guard unit.

The Coast Guard Omega Station (OMSTA) is located on the windward side near the mouth of the Trans-Koolau Tunnels. Haiku Valley is one of the most beautiful valleys on the island. A volunteer group devoted to preserving Hawaiian culture sought to turn the transmitter building of the Coast Guard Omega Station into a Windward Oahu museum. The Haiku Ladder, or Haiku Stairs as it is alternately called, is the name given to the locally famous 3,922-step stairway ascending the summit of the Ko`olau mountain range. Haiku Valley's popular hiking spot-- the "Stairway to Heaven" -- were first built by the Navy in 1942 to access transmission facilities at the top of the ridge. The wooden stairs were later replaced with those made with galvanized steel.

The 52-mile-long interstate system was planned to solve Oahu's projected traffic demands and connect the island's major military centers. This network consists of three freeways: H-1, H-2 and H-3. The 15-mile-long H-3 connects the Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station to the Pearl Harbor defense bases, passing through the Koolau Mountains to join the windward towns of Kailua and Kaneohe to the leeward cities of Pearl City and Honolulu.

OMSTA causes large insulated objects near the station to become energized, providing a small shock to anyone coming in contact with these items. HDOT was concerned that "surprise shocks" to workers on H-3 might result in a fall or other accident. In some cases, workers in sensitive areas were required to wear gloves or rubber boots. To prevent any effect on H-3 travelers, a device known as a Faraday Shield was installed over a short section of the highway near the mouth of the tunnels to reduce the electric field. The shield consists of six three-eighth-inch-diameter wires on each side of the road spaced one vertical meter apart and eight three-eighth-inch-diameter wires overhead. A wire mesh is incorporated into the pavement below to complete the shield.

For 55 years, from 1942 to its official closure in 1997, Haiku Valley and its mountaintop beacon reigned as a world leader in radio technology — and it was believed to have saved countless lives because of its vital message transmissions and deliverance of intelligence data.

Despite having the most advanced and complex antenna system of its time, the Omega Station went through a decommissioning ceremony and shut down 30 September 1997 when GPS took over.