Site Records

Site Name: RAF Gailes ('FUL') R8 GCI ROTOR Radar Station

OS Grid Ref: NS32963618

Sub Brit site visit 17th August 2004

[Source: Nick Catford]

RAF Fullarton was established as a Ground Control Intercept (GCI) radar station (13G) during WW2. It went through first two stages of development: 'mobile', 'intermediate transportable' but did not reach 'final'. Early stations (from 1940) had equipment on wheeled caravans and temporary wooden hutting; these were replaced by intermediate stations which had the aerial arrays mounted above and below a wooden gantry, with operations carried out from wooden huts.

Final stations, built from 1942, had brick operations blocks, known as 'Happidromes'. These stations had a single rotating aerial array with the transmitter and receiver housed in a well below ground designated an R7. Although the happidrome at Fullarton was started on 10.9.1942 work was halted at the end of December and Fullarton remained as an intermediate GCI station where the Ground Controller working from his PPI (Plan Position Indicator) display screen would be able to talk directly to the pilots of the fighters they were controlling giving them directions to intercept the enemy aircraft that were within range of the aircraft's own intercept radar. An aerial photograph taken on 1.8.45 shows the happidrome to be incomplete without a roof.

RAF Fullarton closed at the end of the war and was placed on care and maintenance until the early 1950's when that station was selected to take part in the ROTOR programme. By 4.12.1950 most of the buildings from the old GCI station had been cleared away ready for the new station which was to be known as RAF Gailes. The Happidrome was sold and for some time the building was used as a concrete products factory. As the station was on the west coast underground protected accommodation was not required. Initially an R6 technical block was planned but this was later changed to a less substantial SECO R8 building made of prefabricated asbestos and wood fibre board.

Photo:The R8 at Gailes during CAA days in the early 1970's. a 25' rotor gantry can be seen to the rear of the R8 with the Type 80 modulator building to the left.
Photo by Paul Ravenscroft

As planned, the station was to be fitted with the following radars one Type 7 Mk. II, one Type 11 mobile Mk. VII, two Type 13 Mk. VI, three Type 13 Mk. VII, one Type 14 Mk.VIII and one Type 14 Mk. IX. It was also intended that a Type 80 should also be fitted at a later date once development of this new radar had been completed. The projected completion date for RAF Gailes was 19.7.1953 with the camp ready for occupation by 1.12.1953. There was to be no purpose built camp or married quarters for Gailes, instead the station would share the Dundonald Army Camp.

With the forthcoming installation of Type 80 radar the two Type 14's and the Type 7 radars were deleted on 27th February 1952

Photo:The R8 at Gailes during CAA days in the early 1970's
Photo by Peter Berry

On 27.1.53 Fighter Command's requirement for an American AN/FPS3 long range search radar for Ventnor (Isle of Wight) was switched to Gailes and as completion of the station had been delayed this was fitted in a temporary operations hut Type B. At the same time, the Type 11 mobile was also deleted as this was no longer required. Gailes was promoted to No. 8 on the fitting list with the standby set house due for completion by April 1953 and the station on line by 1954. Gailes was No 1 in order of priority of six stations awaiting production of Stage1A (T80) radar but despite this the Type 80 was deleted from the programme in November 1953 before the station was completed even though its modulator building had already been finished.

Planned layout of RAF Gailes

Construction and fitting was further delayed and the station was finally handed over to the RAF as a readiness GCI station on 22.2.1956. Its order of priority in the control and tracking list of radar stations was 24 out of 29; a readiness station requires notice before it can be brought fully on line. The technical transfer of Gailes to the RAF marked the completion of the Rotor 1 programme on 22.2.1956. The station was also provided with remotely sited Chain Home Extra Low (CHEL) radar at NS35863353.

The station was short lived however and a hand written amendment to Chapter 3 of 'Operational Rotor 3' states that 'there will be no further requirement for the Rotor 1 GCI station at Gailes when Killard Point (Northern Ireland) becomes operational, i.e. when fitted with AN/FPS3'

Photo:Aerial photograph of Gailes 11.9.1973. The Type 80 modulator building can be seen top right.
Reproduced with kind permission of Simmons Aerofilms Ltd.

In September 1956, 157 Signals Unit at Gailes was disbanded and the station placed on care and maintenance. The air traffic control functions were transferred to Prestwick. The station was not required for the 1958 plan. In 1962 the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) moved in to the redundant buildings at Gailes with the installation of the first Scottish area control radar on the Ayrshire coast, this involved an extension to one of the buildings to house the CAA radar. It worked in
conjunction with a procedural area control centre at Redbrae House next to Prestwick Airport.

The Type 7 and Type 14 radars from the original 1953 ROTOR installation were in civil use until about 1977 when they were finally decommissioned before they literally fell apart.

Photo:The site of RAF Gailes in 2004
Photo by Nick Catford

The CAA remained at Gailes until 1978 when operations were transferred to the new function at Atlantic House in Prestwick. The Gailes station was decommissioned and dismantled over the following year and the site was transferred to Irvine Development Corporation for housing. Possibly due to the deep sandy soil or simply no interest by builders to build outside of the main developments and town of Irvine, houses were never started and the site lay unused except for a few sheep and a halfhearted attempt at forestry. The site was developed into a golf course in 2004.

It's not known when the R8 was demolished; it is shown on the 1974 Ordnance Survey Pathfinder map but by the 2001 Explorer map it had gone. When visited in August 2004 the only evidence was some recognisable rubble on the site of the R8 and some fencing along the northern site boundary

For further information and pictures about RAF Gailes click here

[Source: Nick Catford]

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Last updated 3rd November 2004

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