North Charleston Air Force Station
North Charleston Air Force Station (1955-1980) - A Cold War U.S. Air Force Radar Station established in 1955. Located near North Charleston, Charleston County, South Carolina. Initially assigned a Permanent ID of M-113 and a Sage ID of Z-113. Closed in 1980.
Established in 1955 and became operational in 1955 as North Charleston Air Force Station manned by the 792nd Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron.
Initial equipment included the MPS-7 search radar. By 1956, GPS-3, MPS-14, and MPS-8 radars had been added. In 1959 a FPS-20A search radar was installed. In 1961 the FPS-20A search radar was upgraded and redesignated as a FPS-66. By August 1962, a GPA-37 Course Directing Group, weapons directing analog computer system, was in operation at North Charleston AFS running manual radar intercepts. The installed radar configuration (a SAGE qualified long-range search radar and two SAGE qualified height-finders) met the requirements for transition to SAGE System operation.
SAGE System Transition
The transition of the manual GCI system to the automated SAGE system began with the installation of the FST-2 coordinate data transmitter and search radar upgrades. The FST-2 equipment digitized the radar returns and transmitted the digital returns to the SAGE direction center. Under the SAGE System, interceptor aircraft were directed to their targets by the direction center computers and controllers, greatly reducing the need for local controllers and equipment at every radar station.
The FST-2 was a very large digital system using vacuum tube technology. Over 6900 vacuum tubes were used in each FST-2 requiring 21 air-conditioned cabinets, 40 tons of air conditioning, 43.5 kva of prime power, and usually a large new addition to the operations building. The FST-2B modification added two more cabinets but with newer solid-state (transistor) technology to process coded responses from aircraft transponders.
SAGE System Operation
The site began operation as a SAGE site on 1 Jul 1961 initially feeding the Fort Lee SAGE Direction Center DC-04. On 25 Mar 1962, the squadron designation was changed from the 792nd AC&W Squadron to 792nd Radar Squadron (SAGE) indicating the new SAGE System role.
In 1964 the site received a FPS-27 search radar. In the early 1970s, the vacuum tube FST-2 Coordinate Data Transmitter was probably replaced with a solid-state FYQ-47 Common Digitizer. On 1 Jul 1974, the 792nd was redesignated as the 792nd Radar Squadron. The MPS-14 was modified to become a FPS-116 height-finder about 1977. The FPS-26A height-finder was retired circa 1979. The facility came under TAC (ADTAC) control in 1979 when ADC was eliminated.
North Charleston AFS and the 792nd Radar Squadron were deactivated on 1 June 1980. The GATR facility remained operational until the JSS switchover, circa 1984.
FAA Joint Use
In late 1959 the Air Force radar site was also performing air traffic control duties for the FAA with the FPS-20A search radar and MPS-14 height-finder. The FPS-20A was upgraded to a FPS-66 about 1961. In 1966, the FAA departed along with the FPS-66 search radar.
North Charleston AFS was responsible for the maintenance of three remote unattended gap-filler radar sites. The unattended gap filler sites were placed in locations where the main search radar lacked coverage. These sites were equipped with short range FPS-14 or FPS-18 search radars and FST-1 Coordinate Data transmitters that sent digitized radar target data to a SAGE direction center and to the main radar site. Both the radar set and the FST-1 were dual channel to increase site up time. Maintenance teams were dispatched for regularly scheduled maintenance or when fault indicators on the FSW-1 remote monitoring equipment suggested the site had problems. The FSW-1 also allowed remote operation of specific functions such as channel changes for the radar and for the FST-1, it also allowed remote operation of the diesel generators at the gap filler site. The North Charleston AFS gap-filler radars were located at Stateburg SC, Georgetown SC, and Parris Island MCAS, SC.
The physical plant of the site was divided into a main operations site, a cantonment area, a housing area, and a radio site. The main operations site housed the operations buildings, the radar towers, and the backup generators. The cantonment area housed the enlisted barracks, the bachelor officer's quarters, the orderly room, the dining hall, the motor pool, and other support buildings. Apart from the main site was a small 22 unit housing area for married personnel.
A separate radio site housed the radio equipment for directing aircraft intercepts. Like most early radar stations, North Charleston originally had a radio transmitter site and a separate radio receiver site used by local controllers for voice direction of fighter interceptors to their targets. With the SAGE System, the SAGE Direction centers had the primary task of directing intercepts and the local radio sites were reconfigured, usually into a single site that was known as the Ground to Air Transmitter Receiver (GATR) site. The GATR site communicated with the interceptors from either the local site or the SAGE direction center via voice commands and/or a digital data link.
Note: Reported dates overlap and may be incorrect or reflect periods of intermittant temporary command.
The main site has been leveled and overbuilt with North Charleston Public Works buildings. Only the cantonment area has any signs of the Air Force Station buildings and only some of the foundation pads remain. The housing area is gone with no signs at all of the housing units.
Visited: 14 Feb 2018