Aiken Air Force Station
Aiken Air Force Station (1955-1975) - A Cold War U.S. Air Force Radar Station. Located near Aiken in Aiken County, South Carolina. Initially assigned a Permanent ID of SM-159 and later a Sage ID of Z-159. Closed in 1975 and transferred to the FAA as Aiken FAA Radar Site.
The official opening ceremonies took place on 17 Sep 1955 and the site became operational in December 1955 as Aiken Air Force Station manned by the 861st Radar Squadron (SAGE).
Initial equipment included the FPS-3 search radar, one each MPS-14 and TPS-10D height finder radars. By 1958 the FPS-3 had been replaced by a FPS-20 search radar and the TPS-10D had been removed leaving just the MPS-14 height finder.
SAGE System Transition
The transition of the manual GCI system to the automated SAGE system began with 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 airconditioning, 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 in 1961 initially feeding the Gunter SAGE Direction Center DC-09. On 1 Nov 1961 the squadron designation changed from the 861st AC&W Squadron to 861st Radar Squadron (SAGE) indicating the new SAGE System role. With the closure of the Gunter SAGE Direction Center DC-09 in 1969, control was shifted to the Fort Lee SAGE Direction Center DC-04.
By 1963 the site was operating a FPS-7C search radar, a FPS-26A height finder radar and the original MPS-14 height finder. The FPS-20 was deactivated about 1964 and the MPS-14 height-finder was removed in 1968.
The official public deactivation ceremony at Aiken AFS took place on 31 Mar 1975. Aiken AFS and the 861st were deactivated on 30 Jun 1975. Aiken AFS was one of five radar sites to be turned over to the FAA on that date. The list of sites turned over included Benton AFS, Bedford AFS, Boron AFS, Fallon AFS and Aiken AFS.
The FAA operated the FPS-7C search radar for a few years after the Air Force deactivated the site. After the abandoned Air Force cantonment area was converted into a minimum-security prison, the FAA relocated to Lincolnton, Georgia. At Lincolnton they operated the Lincolnton FAA Radar Site with a ARSR-3 radar (now a CARSR minimally attended 3D radar).
The physical plant of the site was divided into a main site, a cantonment 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.
A separate radio site housed the radio equipment for directing aircraft intercepts. Like most early radar stations, Aiken originally had separate radio transmitter and receiver sites 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. Most entries above were gleaned from local newspaper accounts of events and ceremonies.
The main site and the cantonment area have been leveled and there are no visible remains except for road remnants.