Initially Ulster Radar was a 24 hour operational unit and was manned accordingly to cover its two peak traffic times which were 0400 - 0800 for the East bound flow and 1300-1700 for the West bound flow. Traffic levels of course depended on the North Atlantic Organised Track Structure so if the NAT tracks were North about Ulster was kept very busy but if the track structure was South about the unit was much quieter. In perparation for the planned closure of Ulster Radar a new NATS area radar came on-line at Stornaway and was fed to ScATCC sector 25 proceedural controllers who for the first time had a radar directly available to them. As a result of this development the operational status of Ulster Radar changed with it being officially on standby from 1800 - 0400. This had the effect of educing evening and night staff to one controller and one assistant. Staffing levels, particularly amoung controllers began to reduce through natural wastage with a number of retirements to the point where additional staff were required for the unit. As the unit had an operational life of less than three years left it was not possible to transfer controllers on permanent postings. This problem was resolved by detaching controllers to the unit and through time there were more detached controllers than permanent ones. The net result was a change in shift patten to commence the shift cycle with nightshifts and finishing with mornings to give detached controllers the maximum time at home on the mainland.
Origionally Ulster was scheduled to close at the end of March 1978 but this was dependent on the new Scottish Control Centre at Atlantic House, Prestwick being operational by then. Unfortunatly by late February it became obvious that this would not happen and ScATCC staff were refusing to re-locate during the busy summer months. Hence closure was defered until the end of October 1978. This created some difficulties for Ulster permanent staff who were living in temporary accomodation in that the houses they were renting were required for summer lets. I recall one visit by the Controller NATS when he came into the ops room and began asking if we had secured accomodation at our new units. Before we could respond our SATCO (Senior Air Traffic Control Officer) retorted that some of use where having difficulty in finding accomodation at our present unit due to the delayed closure and the requirement of rented homes being required for summer lets.
Sadly the time came at the end of October 1978 for the closure of the unit. It was decided that the closure would be marked by a wake organised jointly by both civil and military staff. Most of the remaining civil staff who were not rostered came in for this and the official closure time was to be midnight. Obviously the closure had to be marked by one last radio transmission and of all nights there were no aircraft operating within the Scottish sector 25 region at all. In order to acheive this historic last transmission the duty radar controller had to "borrow" an aircraft from LATCC (London Air Traffic Control Centre) for a few minutes. Immediately after that a joint civil / military buffet was held and the formalities concluded with the carrying out of a coffin (a suitable disguised empty filing cabinet) to symbolise the death of Ulster Radar and transfering of staff to other units across the UK.
The radar site at Killard was soon removed and it reverted to a greenfield site where no visible evidence of Ulster Radar remains. The airfield at Bishopscourt remained for a few years under RAF control and at one point new bunkers were built and a mobile radar was installed around 1982. Within a couple of years or so of this the decision was taken to close RAF Bishopscourt and all equipment was removed and the airfield closed completly. It was then put up for sale and now is used for motor racing and car rallying events.
Of the many staff that passed through the doors of Ulster Radar many assistants became controllers and some controllers reached the higher ranks within NATS. One thing all the staff had in common was their feeling that Ulster Radar was probably the best unit within NATS with regard to location and environment. Ulster Radar may be physically long gone but many former staff will carry it memory as long as they are alive.
Front page; About Ulster Radar; Radar; Operational; Coms; Closure; History; More History; Photos; Links