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]

RAF Fylingdales
Air Force Ensign of the United Kingdom.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 byNo. 11 Group
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 Alun Walton
PAVE PAWS and BMEWS coverage


Cold WarEdit

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 DefenseEdit

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]

Health fearsEdit

In June 2003, concern arose locally that RAF Fylingdales was emitting harmful emissions, after a possible cancer cluster was discovered around a similar radar facility on Cape Cod in the United States.[15] The issue was investigated by the local NHS organisation, the Scarborough, Whitby and Ryedale Primary Care Trust, and a report was released in December. It concluded that there was no link between RAF Fylingdales and local cancer rates, nor any abnormal risk, as cancer rates in the immediate area proved to be normal.[16] A 2003 MoD report on the impact of the NMD upgrade at RAF Fylingdales reiterated that the base was within health guidelines and would remain so.



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 Air Force Station, Alaska.[17] 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 Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. To this end a United States Air 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 (US) military personnel and ten US contractors worked at the station.[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[17] 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.[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.

Cultural referencesEdit

  • The monitoring function is referred to in the Jethro Tull song "Fylingdale Flyer" which appears on the album A and in the Slipstream video.[21][22]
  • In the classic 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".


  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 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. ^ "plaque in the Tactical Operations Room". Retrieved 6 March 2014. "This plaque commemorates the commissioning of Royal Air Force Fylingdales as Site III of the Balistic 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. ^ "Radiation fears about radar base". BBC News. 2 June 2003. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  16. ^ "No cancer link to base". BBC News. 30 November 2003. Retrieved 27 July 2013.
  17. ^ a b Historic England. "RAF Fylingdales (1309868)". PastScape. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  18. ^ Lancaster, Mark (6 March 2018). "USA: RAF Fylingdales:Written question - 130642". UK Parliament. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
  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. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Moore, Allan F., ed. (2004). Analyzing popular music (2 ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr. p. 162. ISBN 978-0-521-77120-7.


External linksEdit