RAF Spadeadam

Date Visited: May 2007

RAF Spadeadam is the largest base in the RAF. Situated in North Cumbria, it is best known as the home of the British rocket programme in the 50's and 60's, most notably the Blue Streak. Since the cancellation of that programme, it has been used as an electronic warfare range, initially run by the USAF, but since the early 90's by the RAF.

The main idea of the range is to give aircrew realistic training in the kind of electronic warfare they are likely to encounter when on deployment. Hence, the equipment around the site is mainly old and Russian. It was strange to be driving round a corner of Cumbria in a luxury coach and see convoys of cold war Russian equipment parked in fields, missiles ready for launch! Even stranger were the mock ups of equipment, crumby from the ground, but apparently surprisingly realistic when you're thrashing along at 500mph in a Typhoon! Unfortunately no photos of these as a) we didn't stop and b) it was throwing down and the coach windows were steamed up and covered in raindrops. Would have loved to have got some pictures of the massive Scud missile launcher they have - it's actually owned by a guy in Duxford whose leant it to the RAF for 5 years. Only problem is, it doesn't work, and all they've managed to do so far is tilt the missile on it's end.

Of most interest (to me) though were the old Blue Streak facilities. However we only stopped to look at one, the monumental Engine Testing Area. These have recently been visited by the BBC who'd left the gate unlocked so we went right up to it to wander round. All the ancillary equipment is long gone, leaving just a large angular concrete framework that, to me, was strangely magnificent. Wandering round it's base, it was strange to think that this would once have supported a rocket capable of going into space, or taking a nuclear warhead to Russia.

We also went to see the Engine testing stands, a large concrete testing area that originally had four bays, but one was blown up by special forces 'to see what would happen'. Couldn't stop here unfortunately, would have been interesting as there are tunnels underneath this bit.

The Engine Testing Area was the only thing I was able to photograph. Note the smashed up telly - no idea what that was doing there.

As you may have guessed, this was an 'official' visit - it's a live RAF base after all!