Dauphin Island Air Force Station

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Dauphin Island Air Force Station (1958-1970, 1973-1980) - A Cold War Air Force Radar Station first established in 1958 at Pelican Point on Dauphin Island, Mobile County, Alabama. Named Dauphin Island Air Force Station after the location. Initially assigned a Permanent ID of TM-196 and later a SAGE ID of Z-196. Abandoned in 1970 and reactivated in 1973 with a new SAGE ID of Z-249. Finally abandoned in 1980.

Dauphin Island AFS Repurposed Radar Tower
Dauphin Island AFS Repurposed Barracks
Dauphin Island Air Force Station, the Radar Tower has Become a Part of the Sea Lab's Estuarium


Established in 1958 and became operational in January 1959 as Dauphin Island Air Force Station manned by the 693rd AC&W Squadron. The station initially had both a Ground-Control Intercept (GCI) and an 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-20 search radar and two FPS-6A height-finder radars. In this period before SAGE System implementation, a GPA-37 Analog Computer Course Directing set was installed to provide an efficient platform for weapons controllers to manually direct intercepts of unknown targets. The GPA-37 equipment allowed a single controller to simultaneously conduct six separate intercepts. When the SAGE System equipment (FST-2) became operational the GPA-37 equipment was removed.

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 Gunter SAGE Direction Center DC-09
SAGE Direction Centers & Sectors
Assigned Direction Center Sector
1 Nov 1959 - 1 Apr 1966 Gunter SAGE Direction Center DC-09 Montgomery Air Defense Sector
1 Apr 1966 - 14 Nov 1969 Gunter SAGE Direction Center DC-09 32nd Air Division
14 Nov 1969 - 19 Nov 1969 Fort Lee SAGE Direction Center DC-04 33rd Air Division
19 Nov 1969 - 30 Sep 1970 Fort Lee SAGE Direction Center DC-04 20th Air Division
1 Jan 1973 - 30 Sep 1980 Fort Lee SAGE Direction Center DC-04 20th Air Division

The site began operation as a SAGE site in 1960 initially feeding the Gunter SAGE Direction Center DC-09. The search radar was upgraded to an FPS-7.

Gap Fillers

Dauphin Island AFS was responsible for the maintenance of two remote unattended gap-filler radar sites. The gap-filler sites were placed in locations where the main search radar lacked coverage. These sites sent digitized radar target data directly to a direction center. Maintenance teams were dispatched from Dauphin Island AFS for regularly scheduled maintenance or when fault indicators suggested the site had problems. The two Dauphin Island gap-filler sites were located in Gulfport, Mississippi and New Orleans, Louisiana.

Dauphin Island AFS Gap Filler Radar Sites (edit list)
ADC NORAD Location State Type From To GPS Notes
TM-196A Z-196A New Orleans Louisiana FPS-14/FPS-18, FST-1 1957 1970 30.02793,
TM-196B Z-196B Gulfport Mississippi FPS-18, FST-1 1961 1970 30.40722,


In August 1969 Hurricane Camille struck the Mississippi Gulf Coast and directly impacted Dauphin Island inundating 70% of the Island and damaging the Radar Station. The site was closed and declared surplus in 1970 and occupied in April 1971 by Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) along with the remaining Air Force civilian caretakers.


The station was reactivated 1 Jan 1973 in conjunction with the establishment of the Southern Air Defense Sector (SADS) to counter a perceived threat from Cuba and Russia via the Gulf Coast. The 635th Radar Squadron was assigned to man the station operating an FPS-6 height-finder and an FPS-93 search radar. The squadron was assigned to the 20th Air Division, Fort Lee SAGE Direction Center DC-04 and also furnished radar data to the SADS manual direction center using an FYQ-47 Common Digitizer.


The 635th Radar Squadron was deactivated 1 Jul 1974. The radar site then became an operating location of the 630th Radar Squadron at Houston, and later the 678th Air Defense Group at Tyndall who was operating a BUIC III System. The site closed for good on 30 Sep 1980.

Physical Plant

The physical plant of the site was divided into the main site, a housing area, and a radio site. The main site housed the operations building, the radar towers, two enlisted barracks, the bachelor officer's quarters, the orderly room, the dining hall, the motor pool, and the backup generators. Apart from the main site was a small housing area for married personnel. A separate radio site housed the radio equipment for directing aircraft intercepts. The radar site was located on Pelican Point immediately adjacent to the historic Third System Fort Gaines.

Dauphin Island AFS Major Equipment List
Search Radar HF Radar Data Systems
Unit Designations
  • 693rd Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron (1958-1961)
  • 693rd Radar Squadron (SAGE) (1961-1970)
  • 635th Radar Squadron (SAGE) (1973-1974)
Unit Assignments
639th AC&W Sqdn 635th Radar Sqdn

  • 1 Jul 1974 - Assigned OL-AG of 630th Radar Squadron at Houston

  • Unk - Assigned OL-?? 678th Air Defense Group at Tyndall
  • 30 Sep 1980 - Deactivated

Current Status

Part of Dauphin Island Sea Lab on Dauphin Island, Mobile County, Alabama. Part of the search radar tower and several repurposed cantonment buildings remain. Two barracks buildings have been repurposed as dorm rooms for the Sea Lab. The Air Force dining hall is now a cafeteria and the one remaining radar tower is a part of the Sea Lab's Estuarium facility.

Location: Dauphin Island, Mobile County, Alabama.

Maps & Images

Lat: 30.25028 Long: -88.07833

GPS Locations:

See Also:


  • Department of Defense Appropriations for 1974: Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, House of Representatives, Ninety-third Congress, First Session, United States. Congress, pt. 5, U.S. Government Printing Office, Google Books 1973
    • Pages 770-773 Southern Air Defense
    • Pages 774- Retention of one active BUIC and 11 semi-active
  • 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 94.
  • 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 155,165.
  • USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Database Entry: 1699986


Visited: 23 Dec 2011, 10 Dec 2009

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