MacDill Air Force Base Radar Site
MacDill Air Force Base Radar Site (1954-1980) - A Cold War U.S. Air Force Radar Station established in 1954. Located on MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, Hillsborough County, Florida. Initially assigned a Permanent ID of M-129 and a Sage ID of Z-129. Closed in 1980.
Established by 1 Aug 1954 and became the first mobile radar site to achieve operational status on 6 Dec 1954 as MacDill Air Force Base Radar Site manned by the 660th AC&W Squadron.
Initial equipment included the MPS-7 mobile search radar and by 1958 it included a GPS-3 search radar and a MPS-14 height-finder radar. In 1959, the MPS-7 and the GPS-3 were replaced by a FPS-20A search radar and a FPS-6B height-finder radar.
This configuration was one height-finder short of meeting the requirements for transition to the SAGE System (a SAGE qualified long range search radar and two SAGE qualified height-finders) but a second height-finder was in the plan and the transition began in 1959.
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 site in 1960 initially feeding the Gunter SAGE Direction Center DC-09. On 1 Mar 1961, the squadron designation was changed from the 660th AC&W Squadron to 660th Radar Squadron (SAGE) indicating the new SAGE System role.
Around 1966 the MacDill radar site became a joint-use USAF/FAA site with the FPS-7B upgraded to the FPS-7E configuration. Also in 1966 the FPS-26 was modified to be an FSS-7 SLBM detection & warning radar, part of the 14th MWS network.
The FST-2 was probably replaced by February 1973 with a FYQ-47 Common Digitizer. The initial 18-month FYQ-47/49 USAF/FAA replacement program was completed in February of 1973 and the MacDill FYQ-47 would have been in place by then.
On 1 Feb 1974, the 660th Radar Squadron (SAGE) was redesignated 660th Radar Squadron dropping the (SAGE) identifier.
The MacDill radar site and the 660th Radar Squadron were deactivated on 15 Nov 1980. The FSS-7 SLBM detection & warning radar (the last one in operation) remained in use for about a year, operated by Det 1, 20 MWS. The FSS-7 remained active to provide additional coverage over Cuba.
The Joint Use USAF/FAA radar function moved to the newly completed Fort Lonesome FAA Radar Site where coverage was picked up by a newly installed FAA ARSR-3 search radar and a USAF FPS-116 height-finder.
The GATR site remained operational until the 1983 JSS switch-over. The GATR radios were maintained by the 1928th Communications Squadron on the base.
MacDill 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 MacDill AFS gap-filler radars were located at Winter Garden FL and Inverness FL.
The remaining structures have been repurposed.