From February 2020 to February 2023 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 holds a collection of objects, documents, magazines 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.
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?
Image: Interior view of Fylingdales Archive, Room 319 (2021) with BMEWS Radome Panel (1962).