Saratoga Springs Air Force Station

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Saratoga Springs Air Force Station (1952-1977) - A Cold War Air Force Radar Station first established in 1952 near Stillwater, Saratoga County, New York. Initially known as Schuylerville Radar Site, named Saratoga Springs Air Force Station on 1 Dec 1955 after a nearby location. This site assumed coverage from Lashup Radar Site L-7 in Schenectady, New York. Initially assigned a Permanent ID of P-50, later a Sage ID of Z-50. Abandoned in 1977.

Saratoga Springs AFS, Long View, Empty Tower & Commercial Cell Tower.
Saratoga Springs AFS Cantonment Area from Housing Area
Saratoga Springs Air Force Station Entrance L-R Commercial Microwave Tower, BOQ Bldg., Motor Pool Bldg., Gate Shack.

History of Saratoga Springs Air Force Station

Established on 1 Feb 1952 and became operational in 1952 as Saratoga Springs Air Force Station manned by the 656th 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.

Initial equipment included the FPS-3 and FPS-5 radars.

SAGE Transition

The transition to the automated SAGE system began with installation of the GPA-37 analog intercept control system in 1958 which allowed local controllers to vector interceptors to their targets. Operation of the GPA-37 continued even as the site was being upgraded for the automated SAGE system with the FST-2 installation and the search radar upgrade to the FPS-20.

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.

The site began operation as a SAGE System site in 1958, initially feeding the Stewart SAGE Direction Center DC-02. The search radar was upgraded to an FPS-20 in 1957 and two FPS-6 height-finder radars were installed in preparation for SAGE System operation. The FPS-20 was upgraded to an FPS-65 in 1961 and later changed out in 1963 for an FPS-27. In 1963, the two FPS-6 height-finders were changed out for one FPS-90 and one FPS-26A. This site became an ADC/FAA joint-use facility in 1964.

Control of Saratoga Springs AFS was transferred from Stewart SAGE Direction Center DC-02 to the Hancock SAGE Direction Center DC-03 on 1 Apr 1966 and it remained there until Saratoga Springs AFS closed.

Gap Fillers

Saratoga Springs 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 Saratoga Springs AFS gap-filler radars were located at New Preston, CT, Andes, NY and New Salem, MA.

Saratoga Springs AFS Gap Filler Radar Sites (edit list)
ADC NORAD Location State Type From To GPS Notes
P-50A Z-50A New Preston CT FPS-14, FST-1 1957-06 1968-06 41.72698,
Building still exists
P-50B Z-50B Andes NY FPS-18, FST-1 1958-12 1968-06 42.22025,
Building & tower still exist
P-50E Z-50E New Salem MA FPS-14, FST-1 1957-06 1968-06 42.51036,
Building still exists


Saratoga Springs AFS and the 656th were deactivated on 30 Jun 1977.

Physical Plant

Saratoga Springs AFS Housing Area.

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 9 unit housing area for critical married personnel. A separate Ground to Air Transmitter/Receiver (GATR) radio site housed the radio equipment for directing aircraft intercepts.

Saratoga Springs AFS Major Equipment List
Search Radar HF Radar Data Systems
Unit Designations
  • 656th Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron (1952-1958)
  • 656th Radar Squadron (SAGE) (1958-1974)
  • 656th Radar Squadron (1974-1977)
656th Assignments
  • 1 Jan 1951 - Assigned at Schenectady, NY, assigned to the 540th AC&W Gp.
  • 6 Feb 1952 - Transferred to the 32nd AD.
  • Feb 1952 - Moved to permanent site at Schuylervilie, NY.
  • 16 Feb 1953 - Transferred to 4707th Def Wg.
  • 1 Dec 1955 - Site redesignated Saratoga Spgs AFS, NY.
  • 18 Oct 1956 - Transferred to 4622nd AD Wg.
  • 8 Jan 1957 - Transferred to Boston ADS. (Stewart)
  • 15 Dec 1958 - Redesignated from AC&W Sq to 656th Radar Sq (SAGE).
  • 1 Apr 1966 - Transferred to 35th AD (Hancock).
  • 19 Nov 1969 - Reassigned to 21st AD.
  • 1 Feb 1974 - Redesignated 656th Radar Sq.
  • 30 Jun 1977 - Inactivated.

Current Status

Saratoga Springs AFS Marker.

In private hands. Many of the old Air Force buildings remain standing but in deteriorating condition in the cantonment and main site. The main site appears to be in use with a cell tower and a tall tower with microwave antennas in place. Some of the radar temperate towers are still standing without the radomes. Many of the cantonment area buildings are still standing but in deteriorated conditions. A locked gate bars entry to the cantonment area and main site. The housing units remain, with the units in private hands.

Location: Stillwater in Saratoga County, New York.

Maps & Images

Lat: 43.01139 Long: -73.6825

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 157.
  • 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 142.
  • USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Database Entry: 2091469


Visited: 12 Jun 2016

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