THE STATION

RAF Boulmer is situated near Alnwick, the county town of Northumberland.  Part of 2 Group, it is a key station of the RAF's Battlespace Management Force, providing surveillance of UK airspace and tactical control of combat and support aircraft.

The core to RAF Boulmer's operations is its Air Surveillance and Control System (ASACS), which is used to defend UK airspace and train for contingent operations.

Number 19 Squadron provides operations personnel to conduct this task 24/7, while Number 20 Squadron is the ASACS Operational Conversion Unit.  Both Squadrons are supported by the engineers and technicians of Engineering and Logistics Wing, and the staff of Support Wing.

Around 1,000 Service, civilian and contracted personnel work at RAF Boulmer.

Commander

Group Captain David Keighley MA RAF

Group Captain David Keighley is Station Commander, RAF Boulmer and Director, Battlespace Management Operations.

Commissioned into the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1990 as an Air Operations (Surveillance) Officer, he spent the first 4 years of his professional career engaged in air surveillance duties, which included tours at Control and Reporting Centre, RAF Neatishead; 303 Signals Unit in the Falkland Islands; and RAF Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides.  He then returned to the mainland for a training management staff tour at Headquarters No 11 Group, RAF Bentley Priory. In 1996 Group Captain Keighley began a 20-year run of space-related posts with tours including RAF Fylingdales, Buckley Air Force Base, HQ Air Command, Afghanistan, UK Air Warfare Centre, returning to Royal Air Force Fylingdales as the Station Commander in January 2014.  After relinquishing command in 2016, he was seconded to the European Union’s Liaison and Planning Cell in Tunisia, where he worked alongside the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (based in Tunis).  He returned to the UK in August 2020 to assume command of RAF Boulmer.

Who's based here

Where we parent

KEY DATES

  • 1940    RAF presence established at Boulmer as a decoy 'K' airfield.
  • 1943    Spitfires of 57 OTU's Advanced Training Squadron arrive for pilot training.
  • 1953    Establishment of 500 Signals Unit, with radars and underground operations rooms.  RAF Boulmer becomes a RAF Station in its own right.
  • 1962    'Border Radar' Air Traffic unit forms at RAF Boulmer.
  • 1975    'A' Flight of 202 Squadron arrive to perform Search and Rescue duties with Whirlwind and then Sea King helicopters.
  • 1990    Arrival of the School of Fighter Control from RAF West Drayton.
  • 1995    Establishment of Number 1 Air Control Centre as a deployable radar and tactical control unit.
  • 2004    RAF Boulmer becomes the primary 24/7 Control and Reporting Centre for UK airspace.
  • 2012    Air defence operations for the London Olympic Games.
  • 2021    Allocation of 19 and 20 Squadron numbers to the Control and Reporting Centre and Operational Conversion Unit.

HISTORY

Although RAF Boulmer has been operational as an Air Defence unit for over 60 years, the RAF has had a presence in the area since 1940, when land near Boulmer was used as a decoy airfield to draw attacking enemy aircraft away from the operational fighter station at RAF Acklington.

From 1941 onwards the enemy air threat to the UK reduced and the RAF expanded; the expansion led to a requirement for more Training School and Operational Training Units (OTUs). Shortly after Number 57 OTU moved to RAF Eshott in November 1942, the decoy airfield at Boulmer was upgraded to full airfield status.  The OTU's Advanced Training Squadron flew Spitfires from Boulmer until 6 June 1945.  The airfield then acted as a 'Relief Landing Ground' for aircraft from RAF Acklington until it fell into disuse at the end of the 1960s.

As the Cold War set in, RAF Boulmer was selected to host a new hardened, underground air defence Control and Reporting Centre and associated radars and communications.  Construction was completed in 1953, and in June RAF Boulmer opened as a Station in its own right with the establishment of Number 500 Signals Unit.

Throughout the Cold War, RAF Boulmer was periodically upgraded with new radars and command, control and communications equipment.  It maintained a continuous watch over its assigned airspace and control of air defence fighters. From 1962, an Air Traffic unit was also established at Boulmer; 'Border Radar' operated until the late 1980s when Air Traffic Service provision was centralised at West Drayton and Prestwick.

The role of RAF Boulmer was expanded in 1975 with the arrival of 202 Squadron's 'A' Flight in the Search and Rescue role.  Initially with Whirlwinds, it re-equipped with the Sea King in 1978.  The disbandment of the RAF's Search and Rescue Force saw the final departure of the Sea Kings in 2015, with the Flight having rescued over 4000 people in its time at RAF Boulmer.

In the 1990s, RAF Boulmer saw the arrival of the School of Fighter Control (SFC) from RAF West Drayton, and the establishment of a deployable radar and tactical control unit, Number 1 Air Control Centre (1ACC). In 2009, the SFC was re-named the School of Aerospace Battle Management (SABM).

In 2004, a major equipment upgrade saw RAF Boulmer selected to become the main Control and Reporting Centre for the entire UK, a role it has held since.  At the same time, No 1ACC re-located to RAF Scampton.  RAF Boulmer was responsible for the air security operation to guard the airspace over the London Olympic Games in 2012.  Modifications to the Air Battle Management training system in 2019 led to the departure of the initial training capability of the SABM to the Defence College of Air and Space Operations at RAF Shawbury, with the bulk of live training staying at RAF Boulmer under the new ASACS Operational Conversion Unit (OCU).

In 2021, RAF Boulmer was honoured to have the Control and Reporting Centre allocated Number 19 Squadron, while the ASACS OCU was allocated No 20 Squadron, recognising the key part those units play in the delivery of air power.

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