Saint Albans Air Force Station
Saint Albans Air Force Station (1951-1979) - A Cold War Air Force Radar Station first established in 1951 on Bellevue Hill near Saint Albans, Franklin County, Vermont. Initially named Belleview Hill Air Force Station it was renamed Saint Albans Air Force Station after the nearby town. Initially assigned a Permanent ID of P-14, later a Sage ID of Z-14. Abandoned by the Air Force in 1979, a portion was retained by the FAA and is now Saint Albans FAA Radar Site with an FAA ID of QHB.
Established in 1951 and became operational in September 1951 as Belleview Hill Air Force Station manned by the 764th AC&W Squadron. The station initially had both a Ground-Control Intercept (GCI) and early warning mission. The early warning mission involved tracking and identifying all aircraft entering their airspace while the GCI mission involved guiding Air Force interceptors to any identified enemy aircraft. Controllers at the station vectored fighter aircraft at the correct course and speed to intercept enemy aircraft using voice commands via ground-to-air radio.
This configuration established the basic requirements for the 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 System site in 1959, initially feeding the Topsham SAGE Direction Center DC-05. The search radar was upgraded to one FPS-7C in 1962 and one of the FPS-6 height-finder radars was replaced in 1963 by a FPS-26A. On 1 Aug 1962 control was shifted from Topsham SAGE Direction Center DC-05 to Stewart SAGE Direction Center DC-02. On 1 Apr 1966 control shifted from Stewart SAGE Direction Center DC-02 to Hancock SAGE Direction Center DC-03 where it remained until the site closed.
Saint Albans 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 Saint Albans AFS gap-filler radar sites were located at Blue Mountain Lake, NY and Bangor, NY.
Saint Albans AFS and the 764th were deactivated on 29 Jun 1979. A small portion of the site was retained by the FAA and is now Saint Albans FAA Radar Site.
The FAA assumed control of a portion of the radar site and operated a FPS-67B search radar in the former FPS-107 radar tower. The site was data-tied into the Joint Surveillance System (JSS). Circa 2015, the FPS-67B legacy radar was replaced with the minimally attended FAA Common Air-Route Surveillance Radar CARSR Radar set. FAA ID of QHB.
A FYQ-47 Common Digitizer was probably placed in service by February 1973 when the USAF/FAA FST-2 to FYQ-47 replacement program was completed. By 1990 the site was equipped with an FPS-67B search radar and a CD-2A Common Digitizer. The Saint Albans CD-2A was scheduled to receive an upgrade kit to implement three level weather data processing in September 1992.
Mode S Beacon System
The Saint Albans FAA Radar Site was selected in the 1990s to become one of 21 long-range radar sites to have a Mode S radar beacon system installed. The Mode S system allowed operation in the existing beacon modes but added features to improve beacon operation by allowing aircraft identification with a single interrogation and two-way digital communication between controllers and pilots.
Besides the 21 long-range sites, there were other short-range radars to be upgraded for a total of 137 sites on the implementation list. Saint Albans was #127 on the list, scheduled to receive the Mode S equipment on 30 Jun 1995. Installation required interfacing with the radar system, addition of a beacon antenna on top of the search radar antenna, a new larger radome, interfacing with the Common Digitizer (CD-2) if installed, additional communication lines and equipment.
The nationwide replacement program converting FAA legacy radar systems to the CARSR radar configuration was completed by 17 Aug 2015 and Saint Albans FAA Radar Site was a part of that program. Legacy FAA radars underwent a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) that replaced key components in the vintage ARSR-1, ARSR-2, FPS-20, FPS-66 and FPS-67 radars. The CARSR program replaced legacy klystron radar transmitters with a solid-state transmitter as well as renovating the radar receiver and signal processor. The CARSR modification also included common digitizer functionality making a separate common digitizer unnecessary. The Saint Albans FAA Radar Site is now operating with the CARSR radar. At the time of the CARSR changeout, the legacy radar in place was an FPS-67B and the CARSR conversion included a 1561 Antenna. The secondary radar for the site is the Mode S Beacon set.
The radar site data is now available to the USAF/NORAD Battle Control System-Fixed (BCS-F) operations centers (EADS & WADS) as well as the FAA Boston ARTCC (ZBW) and adjacent ARTCCs. Other federal agencies have access to the data under the Homeland Security umbrella.
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 nine-unit housing area for married personnel.
A separate radio site housed the radio equipment for directing aircraft intercepts. Like most early radar stations, Saint Albans 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 Saint Albans AFS GATR facility provided 26 UHF Ground to Air channels, time-division data link GKA-5 and a 20kw amplifier FRT-49.
Abandoned by the Air Force in 1979, a portion was retained by the FAA and is now Saint Albans FAA Radar Site. The housing area remains now in private hands. The majority of the cantonment area has been leveled. The main site has been reconfigured to house the FAA radar site. No remains of the operations building or other radar towers.