Abu Dhabi’s first land­mark tower

The National - News - The Review - - Time Frame -

Back in the mid-1960s, it would have been hard to miss this struc­ture in Abu Dhabi, tow­er­ing more than 90 me­tres over the town.

It is a Decca Nav­i­ga­tor Sys­tem mast, part of a vi­tal net­work of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for ships nav­i­gat­ing through the Ara­bian Gulf, which was be­com­ing in­creas­ingly congested with oil tankers.

With­out go­ing too far into the tech­ni­cal de­tails of the op­er­at­ing sys­tem, the mast was part of a chain that en­abled users to de­ter­mine their po­si­tion by re­ceiv­ing con­tin­u­ous low-fre­quency sig­nals from sev­eral fixed po­si­tions.

At the cen­tre of each sys­tem was a mas­ter sta­tion sur­rounded by three “slaves” that formed an equi­lat­eral tri­an­gle. Das Is­land was the mas­ter sta­tion. Each slave sta­tion was code-named red, green and pur­ple. Abu Dhabi was pur­ple, with Doha red and La­van Is­land off the coast of Iran, green.

An ac­count sur­vives of that time – un­for­tu­nately un­cred­ited – by a young Bri­tish en­gi­neer. In 1966, the sta­tion, he re­called, was “an idyl­lic lo­ca­tion on the beach, only a few yards from high-wa­ter mark, along what would be­come the Cor­niche, be­tween the Ro­man Catholic church and the fu­ture Hil­ton ho­tel”.

The mast in this pho­to­graph sur­vived un­til 1973, when the sta­tion was re­lo­cated. The UAE sys­tem was dis­con­tin­ued in 1999 to be re­placed by GPS, al­though some Decca sta­tions con­tin­ued to op­er­ate un­til 2001.

The site of the mast is ap­prox­i­mately near the site of what is now the Na­tion Tow­ers, whose sky­bridge is, ap­pro­pri­ately, the high­est in the world. Time Frame is a se­ries that opens a win­dow into the na­tion’s past. Read­ers are in­vited to make con­tri­bu­tions to yourpics@then­ational.ae

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