Coming soon…

The Project

Since February 2020 an interdisciplinary research team from Newcastle University funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) have been examining archive material held at RAF Fylingdales as part of a significant research project. This project aims to turn RAF Fylingdales inside out, making its practices and functions visible and demystifying its operations in space monitoring and ballistic missile early warning.

The Royal Air Force, which operates this highly secure site, is acutely aware of the need for greater public knowledge and understanding about the station and its functions, and are project partners in the research along with English Heritage. In the absence of wider public understanding, fictions and fantasies about the station dominate – that it hosts nuclear weapons, for example, or that it has privileged insight into extra-terrestrial life-forms, or it is involved in monitoring our electronic communications (it doesn’t do any of these). The research team are motivated by a commitment to greater academic and public understanding of space monitoring and nuclear deterrence, which remain little known and poorly understood beyond specialist circles.

Fylingdales Archive, RCA Data Take Off, installation view, 25 February 1963. Crown Copyright.

RAF Fylingdales

RAF Fylingdales is the UK’s ballistic missile early warning and space monitoring station. It is part of the UK/US nuclear deterrent, watching space for signs of missile activity, and it also monitors a swathe of northern hemispheric space.

The latter function is vital for the maintenance of economic and social life around the world; RAF Fylingdales tracks the 1,700 operational military and civilian satellites in orbit, including those that enable technologies such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to function. It is part of the infrastructure that supports the International Space Station. It also monitors the 43,000 pieces of space debris which orbit earth.

Fylingdales Archive, Solid State Phased Array Radar (SSPAR) opening, 1992. Crown Copyright.

The aims of Fylingdales Archive

Fylingdales Archive holds a collection of objects, documents and photographs of RAF Fylingdales dating back to 1959.

The principal task of this online resource is to make public the collection of Fylingdales Archive. The collection has been preserved since 1963 by a number of US and UK service personnel based at the station.

The archive holds technical manuals, base administration documents, day-to-day operational records and a large collection of photographs spanning the clearance of the site from 1959 and its opening in 1963, to the replacement of the famous ‘golf balls’ in 1992 with the current Solid State Phased Array Radar (SSPAR), and to the present. These items capture the technical advances in radar and space monitoring from the late 50s and early 60s. The Fylingdales Archive also shows how this technology developed in response to the geopolitical tensions of the time, brought about by the development of extremely powerful nuclear weapons and advances in space technology. The research into RAF Fylingdales’ history and operations which forms this research project, seeks to highlight the complete assemblage of RAF Fylingdales; its role in UK/US defence from 1960s to now, its cultural legacy, the political implications of its location in the UK and its mission. The project asks: how do we understand RAF Fylingdales in 2020? What did it do? And what does it do now?

Fylingdales Archive, Radome under construction, 1962. Crown Copyright.

One Key Magic (OKM)

One of our approaches in the project is an innovative use of creative research practice to gain insight into how practices of space monitoring and ballistic missile early warning interact the world beyond the fenced perimeter of RAF Fylingdales. One Key Magic uses music and sound to make audible the electronic atmospheres produced by radar operations over the North York Moors. In doing so, the pieces reveal the interconnections between innovations in music production and radar technology by Radio Corporation of America, an electronics giant that built and maintained the radar at RAF Fylingdales during the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and which also released the records of ABBA, David Bowie and Iggy Pop.

Fylingdales Archive, Radome construction, 1963. Crown Copyright.