RAF Fylingdales


RAF Fylingdales
Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg
Near Whitby, North Yorkshire in England
Solid State Phased Array Radar at RAF Fylingdales.
AN/FPS-126 Pave Paws Solid State Phased Array Radar System at RAF Fylingdales.
RAF Fylingdales crest.png
(Latin for 'We are Watching')
RAF Fylingdales is located in North Yorkshire
RAF Fylingdales
RAF Fylingdales
Shown within North Yorkshire
Coordinates54°21′32″N 000°40′11″W / 54.35889°N 0.66972°W / 54.35889; -0.66972Coordinates: 54°21′32″N 000°40′11″W / 54.35889°N 0.66972°W / 54.35889; -0.66972
TypeBallistic Missile Early Warning station
Height820 feet (250 m)
Site information
OwnerMinistry of Defence
OperatorRoyal Air Force
Controlled byUK Space Command
Open to
the public
Radar typeRaytheon AN/FPS-126 Solid State Phased Array Radar System (SSPARS)
Site history
Built1962 (1962)/63
In use1963–Present
Garrison information
Wg Cdr Thomas Colledge
PAVE PAWS and BMEWS coverage

Royal Air Force Fylingdales or more simply RAF Fylingdales is a Royal Air Force station on Snod Hill in the North York Moors, England. Its motto is "Vigilamus" (translates to "We are watching").[1] It is a radar base and is also part of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS). As part of intelligence-sharing arrangements between the United States and United Kingdom (see, for example, the UKUSA Agreement), data collected at RAF Fylingdales are shared between the two countries. Its primary purpose is to give the British and US governments warning of an impending ballistic missile attack (part of the so-called four minute warning during the Cold War). A secondary role is the detection and tracking of orbiting objects; Fylingdales is part of the United States Space Surveillance Network.[2][3][4] As well as its early-warning and space-tracking roles, Fylingdales has a third function – the Satellite Warning Service for the UK. It keeps track of spy satellites used by other countries, so that secret activities in the UK can be carried out when they are not overhead. The armed services, defence manufacturers and research organisations, including universities, take advantage of this facility.[4][5]


Cold War

The radomes at Fylingdales in 1986
The Solid State Phased Array Radar (SSPAR)

The station was sited on a former wartime mortar range on Snod Hill, which had to be comprehensively cleared by RAF Bomb Disposal before building could begin.[1][6] The station was built by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1962, and was maintained by RCA (Great Britain), now Serco Group plc. RAF Fylingdales consisted of three 130-foot (40 m) diameter 'golfballs' or geodesic domes (radomes) containing mechanically steered radar. Operation of the Fylingdales Site transferred to RAF Fighter Command on 15 January 1964[7] although the site became operational on 17 September 1963.[8][9] It became a local tourist attraction as a result.[10] Coach tours to the nearby coastal town of Whitby drove past the site, at which point drivers would typically switch the radio on and allow passengers to listen to the interference caused by the radars.

Between 1989 and 1992, Raytheon, the US defence contractor, completed a contract that saw the domes replaced by the current tetrahedron ('pyramid') structure, housing the AESA phased array radar. The site is 820 feet (250 m) above sea level and the structure is nine floors high rising from its ground level to 120 feet (37 m) high.[11][12]

National Missile Defense

In the late 1990s, the United States decided to pursue a National Missile Defense plan fully, and RAF Fylingdales attracted further publicity.[13] To improve tracking capabilities (for launches from Africa and the Middle East) the United States wanted the use of Fylingdales as part of its NMD network. After receiving a formal request from the US, the British Government agreed to its use as an NMD tracking facility, in 2003. The decision was criticised, because the proposed NMD system was solely for US benefit.

A £449 million upgrade for RAF Fylingdales to become an NMD tracking facility is now underway by Boeing, with Raytheon as the major subcontractor. It will replace many internal systems – computers, displays, etc. – to improve resolution and tracking accuracy. No external changes are being made in direct relation to these upgrades and no power increases will occur.

According to the BBC, The Independent reported that the British Government secretly agreed to a US request to station NMD missile interceptors at Fylingdales Moor in late 2004. This has subsequently been denied by the Ministry of Defence.[14]



While the radar station remains a British asset operated and commanded by the Royal Air Force, it also forms one of three stations in the United States BMEWS network (the United States also funds the cost of the radar units). The other two stations in the network are Thule Air Base, Greenland and Clear Space Force Station, Alaska.[15] The data obtained by Fylingdales is shared fully and freely with the United States, where it feeds into the US-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs. To this end a United States Space Force liaison officer is stationed at the base.

The British Government advised in March 2018, that as of the beginning of that month, fewer than five United States military personnel and ten US contractors worked at the station.[16]

Space Delta 4 of the United States Space Force, maintains a liaison officer at Fylingdales to act as link to US missile warning operations and advises the RAF station commander on operational issues.[17]

The secondary role of detection and tracking of orbiting objects, also called Space Situational Awareness (SSA), as part of the United States Space Surveillance Network is carried out in conjunction with RAF High Wycombe.[4][18]


The primary radars of RAF Fylingdales are active electronically scanned array (AESA) phased array radars, mounted on each face of a truncated tetrahedron, typically referred to as the "pyramid" or the SSPAR (Solid State Phased Array).[11] This makes Fylingdales unique amongst its peers in that it covers a full 360 degrees. Each of the three arrays is 84-foot (26 m) across[15] and contains around 2560 transmit/receive modules; mean power output is about 2.5 MW, with a tracking range of 3,000 nautical miles (5,600 km; 3,500 mi).[19]


The functions of RAF Fylingdales have been subject to criticism from opposition groups, such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), leading to protests being held on occasion. These stem from concerns regarding the base's association with nuclear warfare and the militarisation of space. They argue against the UK assisting the US National Missile Defense (NMD) programme with RAF Fylingdales' ability to detect attacks, saying it is destabilising US and European relations with Russia, makes the UK the front line in any future conflict[20] and it could be information from Fylingdales that initiates a nuclear response from the US and/or the UK to a perceived threat – real or false; intended or accidental.[2] The radar beam has created serious concern of radiation risks due to leakage from the sides of the beams -“side lobes”. Although the radiation levels are within UK limits (NRPB), it would be harder for the base to keep within the tighter EU limits (INIRPB), which the UK may soon adopt, though pulling out of the EU makes this less likely.[2]

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) defends the use and role of the facility, regarding RAF Fylingdales as part of the UK's contribution to counter a military threat. The MoD states that, although ballistic missile attack is a minor threat currently, this could change in the long-term future, if as yet unknown enemies develop missiles as a means to overcome large distances to strike at the UK.

2019 Bomb Hoax

On 26 August 2019, Laura Woodwardsmith made a hoax threat to 'blow up' RAF Fylingdales. She told a North Yorkshire Police operator that she had secreted explosives around the perimeter of the base whilst claiming they can be activated by her mobile phone. She then contacted someone on base by phone and repeated the threats. When police firearms commanders contacted Woodwardsmith via mobile she claimed to have 'a bomb and was making her way to the base'. Just after midnight on 27 August, Woodwardsmith contacted the base once more to claim that she was being targeted by the Government and she was a victim of 'gang-stalking', and then demanded that only the Ministry of Defence Police can come to her home in Goathland. (village neighbouring Fylingdales) She claimed if officers from the Home Office arrived at her home she would 'shoot them in the face'. From 00:14 to 05:30 the base was locked down due to a compromise to one of the most strategic assets in the country. At 05:25 police officers arrived at Woodwardsmith's home by which time she was 'half-asleep' and dressed in a nightie, and had admitted to drinking two bottles of wine before making the hoax call, and also claimed to hope to have been shot by means of suicide by police.[21]

Cultural references

  • The monitoring function is referred to in the Jethro Tull song "Fylingdale Flyer" which appears on the album A and in the Slipstream video.[22][23]
  • In the Doctor Who story Remembrance of the Daleks, the Doctor asks Group Captain Gilmore to contact multiple space-capable radar installations, including Jodrell Bank and "the Fylingdale installations".
  • In the 1983 film The Day After, the Fylingdales facility is referred to 'as some place in England' with response to the early detection of a Nuclear strike by 2 radar facilities.
  • RAF Fylingdales can be seen in earlier episodes of the 1960s set ITV Drama Heartbeat, filmed in the village of Goathland just a few miles away.
  • Turning Fylingdales Inside Out is a Newcastle University project to make RAF Fylingdale's history visible to the public for the first time[24]

See also



  1. ^ a b "The changing faces of RAF Fylingdales". The Whitby Gazette. 30 August 2013. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  2. ^ a b c "Fylingdales – Yorkshire Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament". yorkshirecnd.org.uk. Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  3. ^ Commons, The Committee Office, House of. "House of Commons – Defence – Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence". publications.parliament.uk. Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  4. ^ a b c Pike, John. "RAF Fylingdales". www.globalsecurity.org. Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  5. ^ "Subbrit: RSG: Sites: Fylingdales". www.subbrit.org.uk. Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  6. ^ "North York Moors early warning station marks anniversary". York Press. 17 September 2013. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  7. ^ Wilson, B.C.F. (1 January 1983). A History – Royal Air Force Fylingdales. Royal Air Force Flyingdales (1 January 1983). ISBN 0950852104. [plaque in the Tactical Operations Room] This plaque commemorates the commissioning of Royal Air Force Fylingdales as Site III of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System on 17 September 1963. This site is a joint enterprise of the United States of America and Great Britain for the protection of both the North American Continent and the United Kingdom.
  8. ^ "Early Warning System has Important Role in NORAD". The Othello Outlook. Othello, Washington. 26 November 1964. p. 6.
  9. ^ "Fylingdales marks first 50 years". The Yorkshire Post. 16 September 2013. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  10. ^ Willis, Joe (4 October 2013). "The mysterious base keeping watch over our skies for 50 years". Darlington and Stockton Times. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  11. ^ a b "Rural landmarks hiding science fiction technology". The Yorkshire Post. 6 February 2012. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  12. ^ Mortimer, James (2004). "Surveying the Reptiles [at RAF Fylingdales]". Sanctuary. Tilshead, Wiltshire: Ministry of Defence (33): 38. ISSN 0959-4132.
  13. ^ "UK ready to help 'Son of Star Wars'". BBC News. 2003. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  14. ^ "MoD denies US missiles set for UK". BBC News Online. 17 October 2004. Retrieved 27 July 2013.
  15. ^ a b Historic England. "RAF Fylingdales (1309868)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  16. ^ Lancaster, Mark (6 March 2018). "USA: RAF Fylingdales:Written question – 130642". UK Parliament. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
  17. ^ "Fact Sheet – Space Delta 4 – Missile Warning". Buckley Air Force Base. US Space Force. Retrieved 2 August 2020.
  18. ^ Bowen, Bleddyn (Summer 2019). "A Familiar Frontier: British Defence Strategy and Spacepower". Air and Space Power Review. Royal Air Force. 22 (2): 6–14. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  19. ^ "RAF Fylingdales – Equipment". Ministry of Defence. 4 May 2012.
  20. ^ "CND calls 'No to US Missile Defence' demo at Fylingdales radar this Saturday – Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament". 9 June 2009. Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  21. ^ "2019 Bomb Hoax". The Scarborough News. 2 December 2019. Retrieved 15 December 2020.
  22. ^ Cornick, Scott Allen Nollen ; foreword by Ian Anderson ; afterword by David Pegg ; with the participation of Glenn; Perry, Doane (2002). Jethro Tull : a history of the band, 1968–2001. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. p. 159. ISBN 0-7864-1101-5.
  23. ^ Moore, Allan F., ed. (2004). Analyzing popular music (2 ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr. p. 162. ISBN 978-0-521-77120-7.
  24. ^ "Opening the History of RAF Fylingdales to the Public". Newcastle University FROM blog. Retrieved 11 March 2021.


  • Halpenny, Bruce Barrymore (1982). Action Stations: Military Airfields of Yorkshire v. 4. Cambridge: Patrick Stephens. ISBN 978-0850595321.
  • Missile Defence: A Public Discussion Paper, Ministry of Defence, 9 December 2002
  • Upgrade to RAF Fylingdales Early Warning Radar: Environment and Land Use Report Ministry of Defence, 16 June 2003
  • Wilson, B. C. F. (1983). A history : Royal Air Force Fylingdales. Royal Air Force Fylingdales. ISBN 0950852104.

External links

  • Official RAF Site