Roanoke Rapids Air Force Station

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Roanoke Rapids Air Force Station (1956-1978) - A Cold War U.S. Air Force Radar Station established in 19555. Located near Roanoke Rapids, Halifax County, North Carolina. Initially assigned a Permanent ID of M-117 and later a Sage ID of Z-117. Closed in 1978.


Established in 1955 and became operational in 1956 as Roanoke Rapids Air Force Station manned by the 632nd Aircraft Control & Warning Squadron.

Initial equipment included one MPS-11 search radar and one TPS-10D height-finder radar. In 1958 the TPS-10D was replaced with one FPS-6 height-finder radar and one FPS-6A height-finder radar. This 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

Former Fort Lee SAGE Direction Center DC-04
Roanoke Rapids AFS Direction Centers & Sectors
Assigned Direction Center Sector/Air Division
Fall of 1955 - 1 Mar 1956 Dobbins Manual Direction Center M-87 35th Air Division
1 Mar 1956 - 1 Sep 1958 Andrews Manual Direction Center SM-171 85th Air Division
1 Sep 1958 - 1 Apr 1966 Fort Lee SAGE Direction Center DC-04 Washington Air Defense Sector
1 Apr 1966 - 19 Nov 1969 Fort Lee SAGE Direction Center DC-04 33rd Air Division
19 Nov 1969 - 30 Sep 1978 Fort Lee SAGE Direction Center DC-04 20th Air Division

The site began operation as a SAGE site on 1 Sep 1958, initially feeding the Fort Lee SAGE Direction Center DC-04. On 1 Oct 1959, the squadron designation was changed from the 632nd AC&W Squadron to 632nd Radar Squadron (SAGE) indicating the new SAGE System role.

In 1966 an FPS-27 search radar replaced the MPS-11 search radar. Sometime in the early 1970s, the vacuum tube FST-2 Coordinate Data Transmitter was probably replaced with a solid-state FYQ-47 Common Digitizer. The FPS-6A height-finder radar was removed in the mid-1970s leaving only the FPS-26A height-finder and the FPS-27 search radar active on the site.

On 1 Feb 1974, the 632nd Radar Squadron (SAGE) was redesignated the 632nd Radar Squadron dropping the SAGE identifier.


Roanoke Rapids AFS and the 632nd were deactivated on 1 July 1978.

Gap Fillers

Roanoke Rapids AFS was responsible for the maintenance of two 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 Roanoke Rapids AFS gap-filler radars were located at Engelhard, NC and Elizabeth City, NC

Roanoke Rapids AFS Gap Filler Radar Sites (edit list)
ADC NORAD Location State Type From To GPS Notes
M-117B Z-117B Engelhard NC FPS-18 replaced FPS-14,
1959-02 1968-04 35.49709,
Building exists
Tower gone
Equipment to Goldstone
M-117C Z-117C Elizabeth City NC FPS-14, FST-1 1957-09 1968-04 36.24619,
Building exists
Tower gone

Physical Plant

The physical plant of the site was divided into the main site, a cantonment area, a housing area and a radio site. The main 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 27 unit housing area for married personnel and a small trailer park.

Roanoke Rapids AFS Composite Plan.

A separate radio site housed the radio equipment for directing aircraft intercepts. Like most early radar stations, Roanoke Rapids 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.

The GATR Site for Roanoke Rapids AFS was located approximately 126 miles south-southeast from the main site. This site was originally tied to the Cherry Point MCAS Radar Site (Z-117).

Roanoke Rapids AFS Major Equipment List
Search Radar HF Radar Data Systems Radio
Unit Designations
  • 632nd Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron (1956-1959)
  • 632nd Radar Squadron (SAGE) (1959-1974)
  • 632nd Radar Squadron (1974-1978)
632nd Assignments

Roanoke Rapids Air Force Station Partial Commanders List (edit list)
Assumed Relieved Rank Name Cullum Notes
1955-10-01 1957-10 Major Milonas, George T. N/A
1973 1974 Major Higginbotham, Edwin N/A
Major Clasing, Harold N/A

Note: Reported dates that overlap and may be incorrect or reflect periods of intermittent temporary command.

Current Status

Scattered remains of buildings within the Main site include the operations building, the diesel power building, and foundations of the FPS-27 tower. The cantonment area has some buildings still standing including the recreation hall, some barrack buildings, and the dining hall. From satellite views, the remaining buildings seem to have condition issues. The housing area is in private hands and appears to be in good condition. The trailer park is empty.

Visit of 4 Apr 2018 found the road into main site blocked with cable fence and No Trespassing signs. The housing area is outside the fence and occupied by private owners.

Location: Roanoke Rapids in Halifax County, North Carolina. Zoom way out to see GATR Site location.

Maps & Images

Lat: 36.43972 Long: -77.72528

  • Multi Maps from ACME
  • Maps from Bing
  • Maps from Google
  • Elevation: 289'

See Also:


  • Cornett, Lloyd H. & Johnson, Mildred W., A Handbook of Aerospace Defense Organization (1946-1980), Office of History ADC, Peterson AFB, Colorado, 31 Dec 1980, 179 pages, Pdf, page 154.
  • Winkler, David F., Searching the Skies: the Legacy of the United States Cold War Defense Radar Program, USAF Hq Air Combat Command, 1997, 192 pages, Pdf, page 144.
  • USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Database Entry: 2089931


Visited: 4 Apr 2018

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