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RAF Spadeadam


RAF Spadeadam

RAF Spadeadam
Near Gilsland, Northumberland in England
'Si vis pacem para bellum'" (If you seek peace, prepare for war)
RAF Spadeadam is located in Cumbria
RAF Spadeadam
Shown within Cumbria
Type Royal Air Force station
Site information
Owner Ministry of Defence
Operator Royal Air Force
Site history
Built 1957 (1957)
In use 1957 – present
Garrison information
Wing Commander G J Davis

RAF Spadeadam (ICAO: EGOM) is a Royal Air Force station in Cumbria, England close to the border with Northumberland. It is the home of the 9000 acre (36 km²) Electronic Warfare Tactics Range, making it the largest (by area) RAF base in the United Kingdom.


A ZSU-23-4 as static display

Its primary purpose is to provide a location for teaching electronic warfare to RAF and other NATO aircrew. Spadeadam was remote and largely uninhabited until 1957 when the Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile Test Centre was built for the Blue Streak Project. The RAF took it over in 1976 and it became Europe's first Electronic Warfare Tactics Range in 1977. The range contains ground-based electronics warfare equipment to act as a simulated threat to training aircrews. Some of the equipment was manufactured in the Soviet Union; some simulates emissions from potential enemy systems. It also has real and dummy targets such as airfields, a "village" of portable buildings, tanks, aircraft and vehicle convoys.

The site's role in Britain's Cold War nuclear weapons programme was made public in 2004 when tree-felling uncovered remains of abandoned excavations for a missile silo. A survey of the site by the RAF and English Heritage has attempted to record and interpret what was previously so secret that no plans from the period exist. Spadeadam was chosen as a launch site because of its isolation combined with nearby infrastructure capable of supporting it with such as a plentiful water supply, access to the National Grid and road connections. A stretch of the road to the site from Gilsland had to be bypassed to make access easier for heavy trucks and the abandoned section is still known as "half-shaft" due to its unfortunate effect on vehicle transmissions. Spadeadam was probably intended to be one of 60 launch sites but these were never built and it was only used as a test facility for engine firings and testing electronics and ground installations.

One of the rocket-firing stands for the Blue Streak missile at RAF Spadeadam

The Rocket Establishment, as it was called, was divided into five areas: an administration and assembly block, a British Oxygen Company compound for on-site liquid oxygen fuel manufacture, a component test area, the engine test area and the static firing stands.

The engine test area at Prior Lancy Rigg consisted of four concrete stands into which the engines could be mounted for test firing. Three remain, copied from a Rocketdyne design used at their California Santa Susana Field Laboratory site; the fourth has been demolished. This lost stand seems to have been built to a different design, using an innovative application of pre-stressed concrete to contain liquid oxygen spills. The area is now managed by DNV GL, and used commercially for hazardous industrial tests.

Two rocket-firing stands themselves stood at Greymare Hills and were large enough to accommodate a full Blue Streak missile. All firings were controlled from command centre bunkers connected to the stands by tunnels or surface cabling ducts.

Construction of the site required hundreds of men, mostly Irish labourers who lived in a temporary settlement nearby which locals called 'Paddy's Camp'.

The outlying moorland landscape of the site is of increasing importance for its visual quality and for nature conservation. The area includes a pristine peat bog, populations of all three species of British newt and forestry habitat suitable for endangered red squirrels.

External links

  • Official website
  • Photos from a visit
  • RAF Spadeadam on Priorlancy rocket engine test area Rocket & missile test area at Graymare Hill
  • missile siloK11Plans of the Blue Streak
  • GL Noble Denton - Spadeadam Test Site
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