Manual AC&W Operation

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Typical pre-SAGE AC&W Radar Site - Othello Air Force Station FPS-3 Radar in the Bubble and two FPS-6s on the Temperate Towers. Operations building on the Right. The overhead pipe system brought in steam from a central heating plant.

The primary AC&W radar site missions were to track and identify unknown aircraft within their 200+ nautical mile range (surveillance) and to conduct ground controlled intercepts (GCI) of potentially hostile aircraft by directing fighter aircraft to those targets. With the GCI mission, fighter aircraft were directed to potential targets by weapons controller teams using voice commands over ground-to-air radio links. These operations became known as the "manual" Aircraft Control & Warning system. Most radar sites had the surveillance mission but only selected sites had the GCI mission.

Patrick AFB Radar Site Operations, Tracks picked up on UPA-35 PPI Scope are passed to plotting board in Background.

At each radar site a operations building housed a darkened room containing the radar scopes and communications equipment necessary to track the aircraft. Tracks were manually plotted on a large plexiglass plotting board overlaid with map of the covered area. Grease pencils were used to plot the path of the radar tracks across the plexiglass map. Telephone headsets were to communicate the track positions from the radar scopes to the plotters and to adjacent radar sites.
Once an unknown target had been identified, a weapons controller team would scramble a jet interceptor from a nearby air base and vector the interceptor to the target for a visual identification. If the target could not be contacted or identified it might be forced to land, if determined to be hostile it could be shot down. The manual system was in place through the late 1950s until the semi-automatic SAGE System replaced it.


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