Radar page Radar page

Radar Equipment.

Some extra information on RAF Buchan by John Dell.

Buchan also had a Type 80 radar (out of shot on the picture - it would have been away to the left). You'll see a tarmac road leading down from the Radome - that led to the "digital link" building which had a microwave link to Mormond Hill which in turn was linked to the tropospheric scatter network.  On the BIF building itself the window on the extreme right was the crewroom/canteen (meals were not cooked there, they we brought up from the Mess at the bottom site). The other window was a briefing room.  In later years a big portacabin style extension was added beside the BIF building (to the left side on your picture) that housed the radar simulator system.

The equipment inside the BIF was composed of a mixture of stuff surplus to requirements after the closing down of the mobile "No 1 Air Control Centre" (1ACC) and equipment brought back from Singapore. This was initially all assembled and tested at RAF Wattisham. The GRIS team that had the job of sorting out the equipment that had been in storage after coming back from Singapore all got dangerously ill. It turned out all the cables had been sprayed with rat-poison. Luckily they all recovered. At first it was planned to use a Marconi Elliott 920B computer, but that was upgraded to a 920C (the "dual-processor" version, each processor had 16 K of memory). The system used Plessey MK V displays and the bigger "fishpond" versions of the display. The 920C computer automated the height-finding of the TPS-34 radar. Using a trackball the operator would put circular trace over each of the two echos in turn and get a readout of the height. Within a year of the BIF opening it was incorporated into the ERAPDS system, using Ferranti Argus 700 computers. I believe at the time that constituted the biggest computer network outside the USA. The entire ops room and "radar office" area of the BIF was built on suspended floors. - You could take up any area of the floor using a suction handle and then drop down into the "void" below  (about 4 foot high) where all the cables were routed. - very similar to the voids under the radar office in the R3 bunker.

I was involved in the installation of the equipment in the BIF and then worked in it for a number of years. My training was on the 920C and Argus 700 computers.

Some typical service anecdotes to do with the BIF installation. Pull up a sandbag.

Of course, like any good Ops room the BIF had lots of transparent perspex tote boards for the Scopies to stand behind and write up information backwards. You might remember it seemed at the time that the RAF ran on perspex, it was everywhere. Table-tops were covered with the stuff with printed information underneath it. Anyway it was part of our job in setting up the BIF to help put up these tote boards. There was one corporal who always had a brown paper package about a foot square when he got on the bus to go down to the bottom site. It later turned out he had built a huge greenhouse in the garden of his married quarters from all the one-foot squares of perspex he had nicked.

The Ops room had to have special red lighting so that it was dark enough to see the radar displays and yet still be light enough to move around without bumping into things. This had all been worked out by the architects and sub contractors came in to install it, overseen by the Chiefie in charge of the install (one Chief Tech Rheim - brilliant bloke).  They consisted of big units suspended from the ceiling with neon tubes in them (a bit like the units that used to hang over the tables in big snooker-halls). This was all done and tested and the chief went away on a well-deserved two week leave. We worked on in the BIF using the normal "white" light while we were installing consoles and cables.  The Wing Commander Ops sticks his head in one day and demands to see the red lighting in action. No one there had been involved in the install and testing, but eventually we find the proper switches, switch off the white light and switch on the red. - The Wing Commander Ops declares the light much too garish - he goes and gets a succession of high-up big wigs and they decide this light just will not do. They curse the poor Chiefie for not knowing what he's doing, but without waiting for him to come back they go and get some other contractors to come in, take down all the lighting and reinstall it so it points UPWARDS. The result, now it's too dark. So they get another lot of contractors to come in and paint the entire ceiling of the Ops room white (it had been black). The result is still not perfect but they are happier with the result. The Chief comes back off leave and is hauled in front of the big-wigs who demand to know why he let the original contractors off-site when the lighting was so obviously bad. He scratches his head for a minute and then says "you did take the neon tubes out of their shrouds didn't you?" - They look puzzled. Turns out that these neon tubes come in various colours, but before they are switched on they all look identical - white. So to help people distinguish which colour tubes they had the manufacturer wrapped each tube in a "shroud" - a thin film of coloured plastic that was meant to be taken off before they were operated. - The original contractors had done their tests with a full set of unshrouded tubes and then fitted brand-new ones before they left. - So they ended up painting the ceiling black again and turning all the light-fitting around. - Money down the drain....

I don't know who's job it was to work out the "preventative maintenance" scheme for RAF radar equipment - but whoever came up with the scheme for the BIF decided that as part of the "yearly maintenance" the void under both the ops room and radar office should be inspected and all build-ups of dust and cobwebs cleaned out.  A couple of years after the BIF became operational I was on duty the night this was due to be done (a Sunday night). The Sgt in charge of the Engineering watch (Sgt Bill Stewart) let us watch the first television showing of the film Alien late that evening before we started work on the "void" - which was expected to take the rest of the night. (By chance I found this Youtube video of a trailer for the film that night https://youtu.be/npJd6FgsSvI - The date of 1982 fits exactly). After the film was over we pulled up one of the tiles and a couple of bods dropped down into the darkness of the "void" with torches, clothes and short brushes to start the clean-up. They had only been down there five-minutes when they came out very shaken. "There's something down there moving around." they said. At first the Sgt thought it was a wind-up, especially as we had just watched "Alien". He went down and returned soon after, equally shaken having seen something moving himself and a "pair of glowing eyes". Not to be outdone he pulls up another tile in the Ops room and we went down as two teams to corner whatever it was. We left one person to guard the entrance of each hole to ensure whatever it was did not escape. Down we went. It was obvious there was SOMETHING there, but in the confined space the shadows cast by the torches made whatever it was look monstrously big, and as it started to dart around the void everyone shouted warnings to each other. Up at the entrance in the Radar office the JT left there heard the shouts. He peered down into the darkness (the teams that had gone down had taken all the torches with them). Suddenly, out of the darkness, something leaps out and smothers his face, exactly like the the "face-hugger" in Alien. Sharp claws fasten around his neck and the back of his head. In sheer terror he runs around the radar office, trying to scream but the "thing" on his face won't let him. The two teams emerge from the void and go to his aid. - And manage to prise a big Scottish Wild-Cat of his face! (not without almost everyone else getting scratched in the process). With it safely locked away inside a box we went back down into the void and found four cute baby kittens, and a further search found the hole in the cable-run up to the TPS-34 where the cat had got in. The following morning the cat and kittens were released in the shelter of an old disused shed on the far corner of the site.

John Dell ©2020

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