Business as usual as base prepares for anniversary

RAF Fylingdales feature''Wing Commander Rayna Owens sampling some dishes for the anniversary dinner''w133602b

RAF Fylingdales feature''Wing Commander Rayna Owens sampling some dishes for the anniversary dinner''w133602b

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Walk into this office and you’ll see a painting, done by a daughter for her Dad to hang proudly on his wall, besides a mounted bagel jokingly addressed to ‘Bagel Boy’.

Up the corridor there’s a classroom where a group of new recruits are embarking on a training course.

RAF Fylingdales feature'' E Crew''w133602n

RAF Fylingdales feature'' E Crew''w133602n

At first glance this building appears like any other office block, but then you notice there aren’t any windows, and some of these doors are solid metal and a foot thick.

This is life in and around RAF Fylingdales, the world’s most sophisticated ballistic missile radar station.

Eighty RAF personnel join around 300 other contractors, military police and various other staff in calling the base home.

In the officer’s mess, station commander Rayna Owens is sampling the VIP menu ahead of the base’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

RAF Fylingdales feature''Corporal Jamie Bowlam''w133602h

RAF Fylingdales feature''Corporal Jamie Bowlam''w133602h

“We are a family,” she said, when asked to explain what made RAF Fylingdales so special. She added: “We are very close and everyone needs everyone else.”

A keen birdwatcher, Wing Commander Rayna Owens has helped oversee the conservation of land surrounding the base, where 80 rare species of birds and plants live.

She added: “If you take the air force out of the equation, the average time from people have worked here is about 12 to 20 years and that gives you an idea of the sense of community. In my staff I am yet to meet anyone who doesn’t enjoy coming to work every day.”

The anniversary dinner will be for up to 72 distinguished guests including local dignitaries and four-star generals. Catering manager Garvie Semons will have the responsibility of making sure every dish is fit for Royalty. However, this holds no fear for the ex-fisherman, who has previously cooked for the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh.

RAF Fylingdales feature''Flying Officer Jim Garlick coming through the bunker door''w133602f

RAF Fylingdales feature''Flying Officer Jim Garlick coming through the bunker door''w133602f

While the anniversary celebrations are taking place, including a parade, air display and various other events, the base’s mission will continue as usual. In 50 years, there have only been 14 hours where the radar has not been operational and RAF Fylingdales’ press officer and resident basketball coach Flight Lieutenant Rich Weeks escorts us over to the radar itself.

All the energy needed to operate the radar is generated by an on-site power station and the radar’s 7,500 antennae can emit an electromagnetic radio wave which is so powerful it would be deadly if anyone was to get in the way.

However, this strength of signal is necessary if the base is to complete its primary objective - the detection of potentially-hostile missile launches.

In the main control room it’s business as usual for E Crew, the self-proclaimed ‘best-looking team’ at RAF Fylingdales.

RAF Fylingdales feature''Catering manager Garvie Semons ''w133602d

RAF Fylingdales feature''Catering manager Garvie Semons ''w133602d

Around 12 times a year the unmistakable alarm sounds which signifies a missile launch somewhere in the world. They then have just 60 seconds to discover the cause of the alert. Crew commander Jim Garlick, who will in the next few weeks be promoted to Flight Lieutenant, said: “It can be horribly unpleasant but at the same time it’s what we are here to do and so it’s exciting. We have a minute to make a decision as to whether the radar is working properly or if World War Three has started.”

But these events are rare and for the remaining 99 per cent of the year, the five men crew spend the majority of their 12-hour shift working through a list of targets, sent through from the United States, that they must track in space.

“None of us signed up for space, but that’s what we deal with,” said Squadron Leader Steve England, who is in charge of base operations and also happens to be a keen amateur guitarist.

From being seen as the RAF’s ‘graveyard shift’, the growing importance of space has meant RAF Fylingdales has taken on an increasingly important role in the life of every human on the planet.

Sqdrn Leader England explained: “If space stopped tomorrow we would be back in the Dark Ages by the end of the week and so Fylingdales has become the place to be.”

It takes just three months for staff assigned to the base to be trained up and start their role staring out into space and Corporal Jamie Bowlam said the experience has been “mind-blowing”. He added: “People come here from such a variety of backgrounds, but the experience of learning about orbital mechanics is incredible and you get a real sense that we are just an asset that’s a vital part in a bigger picture.”

RAF Fylingdales feature''Flt Lt Rich Weeks and Squadron Leader Steve England having a jamming session''w133602c

RAF Fylingdales feature''Flt Lt Rich Weeks and Squadron Leader Steve England having a jamming session''w133602c

The 50th anniversary of RAF Fylingdales on September 17 will see the base celebrate its developing and increasingly-important role in the global picture. With members of the community invited along to celebrate its success, the base is also set to acknowledge that, despite its eyes forever looking to the sky, it owes a debt of gratitude to the local community who have supported it throughout its lifetime.

RAF Fylingdales feature''w133602a

RAF Fylingdales feature''w133602a

RAF Fylingdales feature''New recruits in training''w133602m

RAF Fylingdales feature''New recruits in training''w133602m